Archive for December, 2014

Location Man

Following up on Andy Bodle's exegesis of headlinese, we should take a look at the Florida Man meme:

Florida Man is a Twitter feed that curates news headline descriptions of bizarre domestic incidents involving a male subject residing in the state of Florida. The tweets are meant to be humorously read as if they were perpetrated by a single individual dubbed “the world’s worst superhero.”

Headlines beginning "Florida man" are indeed often bizarre, though not always domestic. From the current Google News index:

"Florida man causes hospital fire by smoking crack while hooked to oxygen"
"Florida Man Accidentally Kills Self While Threatening Wife’s Dog"
"Florida man leads police on 90-minute chase in stolen front-end loader"
"Florida Man arrested for stealing 6.5 pounds of cow tongue from Wal-Mart"
"Florida man fakes heart attack to steal Barbie car from Wal-Mart"
"Florida man busted for cooking up meth in park restroom"
"Florida Man Plunges Through Bakery Ceiling In Failed Robbery Attempt"
"Florida man dies after falling from ropes course at shopping mall"
"Florida man accused of cutting puppy's ears off"
"Florida man steals chain saw by sticking it in his pants, police say"
"Florida man jailed for forcing his girlfriend and three children to live with dead body while he claimed the deceased woman's social security benefits"
"Florida Man pisses on living room floor during family Thanksgiving dinner"
"Florida Man Takes Saddest Mugshot Ever After Riding His Bike Drunk Through a Taco Bell Drive-Thru"

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Mistress of orthodoxy

Nicole Perlroth, "New Study May Add to Skepticism Among Security Experts That North Korea Was Behind Sony Hack", NYT 12/24/2014:

It is also worth noting that other private security researchers say their own research backs up the government’s claims. CrowdStrike, a California security firm that has been tracking the same group that attacked Sony since 2006, believes they are located in North Korea and have been hacking targets in South Korea for years.  

But without more proof, skeptics are unlikely to simply demur to F.B.I. claims. “In the post-Watergate post-Snowden world, the USG can no longer simply say ‘trust us’,” Paul Rosenzweig, the Department of Homeland Security’s former deputy assistant secretary for policy, wrote on the Lawfare blog Wednesday. “Not with the U.S. public and not with other countries. Though the skepticism may not be warranted, it is real.”

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Andy Bodle, "Sub ire as hacks slash word length: getting the skinny on thinnernyms", The Guardian 12/4/2014 ("Headlinese is a useful little language – but it shouldn’t creep into the rest of the story. If front pages baffle you, read on for my jargon-busting thinnernymicon"):

A stranger arriving in this land, English diploma clutched tightly, might be forgiven, on catching sight of a newspaper stand, for throwing up her hands and turning homewards. “Kendra hubby’s rage at ‘sex pest’ Jake”. “Panic room bed tax victim taken to court”. “Ox aye the Roo!”

The orthography is recognisably English, but the order is all wrong; the tenses work differently, and some of the words – well, they’re in the dictionary, but that’s about the only place you’ll find them. This is because headlines don’t use English at all, but a language all their own.

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Assortative peeving

Girls With Slingshots for 12/23/2014:

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All work and no play

Richard W sent in this photograph of the packaging for a keyboard / case that he recently bought to go with his iPad:

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Dan Levin has a nice article, "Adidos and Hotwind? In China, Brands Adopt Names to Project Foreign Flair" (NYT, 12/27/14).

Be sure to watch the slide show.  Here's one of my favorites:

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Since the beginning of history

I have mentioned chinaSMACK before on Language Log, but have never featured it so directly as in this post.  The reason is that this time there's an interesting language aspect to one of their articles that is hard to pass up.

chinaSMACK specializes in translating trenchant, amazing stories from the vast amount of traffic that flows through China's microblogs and on the internet more generally.  Sometimes they are so bizarre and surreal that my initial reaction upon reading them — after being shocked senseless or laughing myself silly — is to dismiss them as Onionesque.  But that is usually impossible because they are so well documented.  In the present case, there is an initial news report and five stunning photographs.  Because the photographs are so gross and graphic, just downright disgusting, I won't show them directly on Language Log (especially not during the holidays), but readers can go to the link and see them with their own eyes.

"Excrement Tanker Explodes, Covering Everyone in Human Waste"  (12/28/14)

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Where the language diversity is

In the articles-noted-but-not-yet-studied pile: an article on language diversity in a journal that (as reader Ted McClure points out to me) linguists might easily have missed (though at least some linguistics blogs covered it): in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (281, 20133029), earlier this year, Jacob Bock Axelsen and Susanna Manrubia published a paper entitled "River density and landscape roughness are universal determinants of linguistic diversity." The abstract says:

Global linguistic diversity (LD) displays highly heterogeneous distribution patterns. Though the origin of the latter is not yet fully understood, remarkable parallelisms with biodiversity distribution suggest that environmental variables should play an essential role in their emergence. In an effort to construct a broad framework to explain world LD and to systematize the available data, we have investigated the significance of 14 variables: landscape roughness, altitude, river density, distance to lakes, seasonal maximum, average and minimum temperature, precipitation and vegetation, and population density. Landscape roughness and river density are the only two variables that universally affect LD. Overall, the considered set accounts for up to 80% of African LD, a figure that decreases for the joint Asia, Australia and the Pacific (69%), Europe (56%) and the Americas (53%). Differences among those regions can be traced down to a few variables that permit an interpretation of their current states of LD. Our processed datasets can be applied to the analysis of correlations in other similar heterogeneous patterns with a broad spatial distribution, the clearest example being biological diversity. The statistical method we have used can be understood as a tool for cross-comparison among geographical regions, including the prediction of spatial diversity in alternative scenarios or in changing environments.

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Labiality and femininity

I recently got this note from Bill Labov, following up on a conversation about UM and UH (see "UM / UH update", 12/13/2014, for a summary),

I've been thinking about the female preference for the labial gesture in hesitation forms, and this returned me to the issues raised by Gordon and Heath in their paper on sex and sound symbolism (Matthew Gordon and Jeffrey Heath, "Sex, Sound Symbolism, and Sociolinguistics", Current Anthropology 1998). I think it's an important contribution because it brings in quite a bit of data on general patterns of sex preference and it's well reviewed by the commentators. I've always been interested in G&H's efforts to explain the general principles of chain shifting that I've extracted.

Gordon and Heath develop the notion of sex differentiation by sound symbolism on an acoustic basis. I'm more inclined to look to articulatory factors, associating the female preference for movement to more peripheral vowels with the expressive gestures of lip spreading and lip rounding. These are associated with fronting and backing somewhat more than with raising. So the preference for um might go along with the female orientation to labial gestures.

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Magi, myrrh, and mummies

'Tis the season!

We all know the story of the three Magi bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.  In this post, I'll write about the two "m" words of the story, "magi" and "myrrh", touching briefly on "magi", but going into a bit more detail on "myrrh".  I'll leave it to others to talk about gold and frankincense, should they so desire, and will turn to the mummies toward the end of the post.

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End of City Limits

From David Randall via Steven Pinker:

This sign was posted near the southern edge of Loveland, Colorado. It is no longer there.

Is there a term for the strange, almost redundant phrase? Have you run across anything similar?

There are certainly plenty of other instances on the web of the same word sequence.

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Little Urban Anna

A note from David Donnell:

A friend in Urbana, IL informed me this afternoon that a fellow Urbana-ite, Melissa Applebee, was appearing on the game show "Jeopardy" this evening (12/23). However, she lamented, Jeopardy host Alex Trebec pronounced the name of her town as "Urbahna". (It reminded me of people from Colorado and Nevada lamenting that outsiders don't pronounce the penultimate syllables in those Latinate state-names as a short 'a' vowel. Whaddyagonnado?)

So I went in search of the origin of the seemingly-Latinate name of my friend's Illinois town. (Of course, in Italian, Spanish & Portuguese, it means “urban”.)

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"Suffered We Protect They"

I came across this post on a Chinese blog, and it features new propaganda from the Liuzhou Police SWAT Team.

Here's a sample, in case the author's fears of having to take it down are realized:

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