Archive for February, 2016

The Trump Insult Haiku

Josh Marshall, "Metrical Analysis of Trump Insult Haiku", TPM 2/28/2016:

Trump doesn't just tweet. He's developed a sort of twitter-based, 140 character, insult haiku literary form. […]

The metrical pattern is deceptively simple: Single clause declarative sentence, single clause declarative sentence, primary adjective/term of derision.

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Political nouniness

Ian Preston has pointed me to Aleksandra Cichocka et al., "On the Grammar of Politics—or Why Conservatives Prefer Nouns", Political Psychology (published online 1/26/2026):

Previous research indicates that political conservatism is associated with epistemic needs for structure and certainty (Jost et al., 2003) and that nouns elicit clearer and more definite perceptions of reality than other parts of speech (Carnaghi et al., 2008). We therefore hypothesized that conservatives would exhibit preferences for nouns (vs. verbs and adjectives), insofar as nouns are better suited to satisfy epistemic needs. In Study 1, we observed that social conservatism was associated with noun preferences in Polish and that personal need for structure accounted for the association between ideology and grammatical preferences. In Study 2, conducted in Arabic, social conservatism was associated with a preference for the use of nominal sentences (composed of nouns only) over verbal sentences (which included verbs and adjectives). In Study 3, we found that more conservative U.S. presidents used greater proportions of nouns in major speeches, and this effect was related to integrative complexity. We discuss the possibility that conservative ideology is linked to grammatical preferences that foster feelings of stability and predictability.

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Ask Language Log: Why are some Chinese PDFs garbled on iPad?

Mark Metcalf writes:

Since Language Log addresses lots of interesting language-related issues, I was wondering if you'd ever encountered a problem with Chinese PDFs being incorrectly displayed on an iPad. I searched the LL website and didn't find it previously addressed. I also unsuccessfully searched the Web for solutions.

Here's the issue: Last week I downloaded several articles from CNKI and they all display correctly on my Windows machine. However, when I transferred them to an iPad the Chinese text was garbled. Since I haven't had iPad problems with Chinese PDFs from other sources, one thought is is that CNKI uses a modified PDF file format that can't be properly handled by the iPad OS.

Has anyone previously addressed this problem? If so, could you point me to a solution? If not, would you be interested in addressing this on 'Language Log'? Below I've attached before/after versions of the displays.

I asked several colleagues and students whom I've often observed reading Chinese PDFs on their iPads what their experience with CNKI has been.  Here are a few of the replies that I received.

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And or ou

As we've discussed more than once (e.g. "The billion-dollar conjunction", 12/30/2015), sometimes it's not clear how to interpret the choice between and and or, even when a lot depends on the answer. Adding to the list of such examples, R.A. sends in an example where English and has been translated as French ou.

This seems to be a matter of random stylistic preference rather than a difference between the languages, in that the English version might have chosen orand (or?) the French version might have chosen et, without changing the intended interpretation in either case. But at the same time, either choice in either language might perversely be given an unintended interpretation. Lawyers beware…

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Super Tuesday bug time

Typo of the week:

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Ask Language Log: Is this a sentence?

D.M. writes:

A discussion on copyediting-l turns on whether one or more of the following are grammatical English sentences.

"That smile scares me," she said and swallowed hard.
"That smile scares me," she said and backed away.
"Anything for you, man," the captain said and extended his hand.

I'm in a minority that says they are not or that at best they are unintended examples of zeugma. What says Language Log?

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Scrambled pairings

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "The Romeo and Butt-Head film actually got two thumbs up from Siskel and Oates."

A less satisfactory alternative method would yield Romiette and Julio, or Abelise and Heloard, or Antopatra and Cleony.

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Jim Newell, "Is Donald Trump’s Favorite Term Bigly or Big League? You Make the Call", Slate 9/24/2015:

What is that word—or words—that Donald Trump throws into the middle of basically everything he says?

The consensus around the LLOG water cooler was "big league", but I don't think we ever wrote about it. The Federal News Service transcript of last night's verbal brawl agrees:

I will say this. Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed. And Harry Reid baited him so beautifully. And Mitt Romney didn’t file his return until a September 21st of 2012, about a month-and-a-half before the election. And it cost him big league.

But lots of people are convinced it's "bigly":

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Character amnesia and kanji attachment

The following short (5:48) interview video, in which a handful of Japanese speakers not only fail to remember exactly how to write some common Sino-Japanese words, but sometimes end up writing unrelated characters that share none of the same components, is a valuable addition to the ongoing conversation about character amnesia at Language Log (references below):

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Ghosts and spirits

From the Bali Airport Duty Free Section (photo taken 2/21/16):


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Eruption over simplified vs. traditional characters in Hong Kong

Even while our debate on whether Cantonese is a language or just a dialect is still burning, the Chinese government adds more fuel to the fire:

"Hong Kong outrage over Chinese subtitle switch" (BBC, 2/24/16)

Hong Kong officials received more than 10,000 complaints in three days after a popular TV programme began subtitling output in the Chinese characters associated with mainland China.

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Reading lips and tongues

From a colleague in the Netherlands:

A student of mine has developed a questionnaire in order to assess how good people are in reading lips and tongue movement. Since I think effects are relatively small, it would be good to get many people judging the short movies.

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Where are the adjectives, Bernie?

The Bernie Sanders campaign sent out a tweet at 10 a.m., reading: "Greed, fraud, dishonesty, arrogance. These are just some of the adjectives we use to describe Wall Street." That got the attention of Jezebel blogger Joanna Rothkopf, who posted it under the headline, "These Are All Nouns, Bernie." Shortly thereafter, the tweet was deleted, but I was able to grab a screenshot in time.

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