I have commented before on the psycholinguistics of signs painted on roads: in the USA it is apparently assumed that drivers will read the words in the order in which their front wheels reach them, so that what appears to be a display with "ONLY" above "LANE" above "BIKE" is supposed to be read as "BIKE LANE ONLY". In the UK, the opposite assumption is made: that drivers will read the whole display as a text that starts at the top. However, in one startling recent case in Bristol, south-west England, the people who painted the sign on the road warning of a bus stop never read it at all, in either order. They just stencilled "BUP STOP" on the roadway and packed up and left. Photographic evidence supplied herewith, just in case you cannot believe anyone capable of holding down a local government job could be unable to spell "BUS".
Yesterday I was skimming the digital New York Times and clicked on the second-from-the-right item in the panel below, without noticing the "paid post" superscript:
This took me to an article about a new smartphone app called Somebody:
Here’s how Somebody works: when you send your friend or loved one a message through the app, it doesn’t go directly to them, but uses GPS to locate the Somebody user nearest to him or her. This person (probably a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in.
In a number of posts, we have discussed departure from stipulated tonal configurations in speech, e.g.:
In this post, we will focus on the wide variation of tone in names for some family relationships. Read the rest of this entry »
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In the course of writing about the "fourth highest of five levels", I looked around at how the pattern "Nth Xest" is used in general. I found that uses of such expressions overwhelmingly count from the "top" where X names a top-oriented scale (high, big, long, etc.), and count from the "bottom" where X names a bottom-oriented scale (low, small, short, etc.) In other words, unsurprisingly, "Nth Xest" normally counts (up or down) from whatever end of the scale "Xest" names.
Another (less logically necessary but still unsurprising) thing I noticed is that top-oriented counts are always a lot bigger than corresponding bottom-oriented counts, and that counts decrease almost-proportionately as N increases. Thus from Google Books ngrams:
We culturally-evolved plains apes often have problems dealing with scalar predicates, flipping direction even when negation isn't involved. Here's the UK "terror threat level" scale:
On Friday, the British government raised the level from "substantial" to "severe". Several news outlets described this as "the fourth highest" level — thus Laura Smith-Spark, Andrew Carey and Greg Botelhom, "UK raises terror threat level, citing risks out of Syria, Iraq", CNN 8/30/2014:
The UK government raised its terror threat level Friday from "substantial" to "severe," the fourth highest of five levels, in response to events in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS militants have seized a large swath of territory.
There's been a to-do over whether Hello Kitty is a cat or a human, a massive uproar of tweets and retweets:
- "Hello Kitty is not a cat, plus more reveals before her L.A. tour" (LA Times, 8/26/14, where the story first broke)
- "Newsflash: Hello Kitty has never been a cat" (Washington Post, 8/28/14)
- "Hello Kitty fans tweet shock after hearing she's not a cat" (Today [NBC], 8/28/14)
Some folks believe that the confusion over whether Hello Kitty is a feline or a human may be based on the misapplication or mistranslation of the term gijinka 擬人化. See "Hello Kitty isn’t a cat!? We called Sanrio to find out!" (Rocket News 24, 8/28/14).
"Uyghur linguist sentenced to 18-month prison term in China", LSA News 8/28/2014:
The LSA has learned from news reports published this week that Abduweli Ayup has been ordered to pay a large fine and continue his detention in a Chinese prison for the next six months. The LSA had sent a letter earlier this year to government officials in China and the U.S., seeking details about Abduweli's alleged crimes, and legal intervention on his behalf, consistent with international covenants on human rights. Friends of Abduweli's have established a fundraising page on the YouCaring website to assist in raising a portion of the $13,000 (USD) fine imposed by the Chinese government.
This sign from a Nagoya subway is for waxing and other hair removal.
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Photograph courtesy of Nathan Hopson.
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The "technology is destroying our humanity" trope has been around for thousands of years, certainly since the invention of writing devalued textual memorization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were analogous complaints about the invention of the spear.
The most overhyped version of this trope that I've ever seen was the 2009 "Twitter numbs our sense of morality and makes us indifferent to human suffering" scandal, where hundreds of media outlets wrung their hands over a study that had nothing to do with either Twitter or morality (see "Debasing the coinage of rational inquiry: a case study", 4/22/2009). Running a close second is the 2005 "emails, text and phone messages are a greater threat to IQ and concentration than taking cannabis" kerfuffle (see "An apology", 9/25/2005).
But the current "Access to Screens is Lowering Kids' Social Skills" paroxysm is offering some stiff competition to these classics in the anti-technology nonsense department.
Matt Murphy, "Is 'unbecoming' becoming a sexist word? Warren Tolman apologizes after calling opponent Maura Healey unbecoming during debate", State House News Service 8/27/2014:
BOSTON — Democratic attorney general candidate Warren Tolman apologized on Wednesday if anyone was offended by his use of the word "unbecoming" to describe his opponent Maura Healey's criticism of his private sector record, as female Healey supporters blasted the comment as "sexist."
Tolman used the word during a Boston Globe Opinion debate Tuesday as Healey criticized him for not being forthcoming about his registration as a federal lobbyist while working as an attorney at Holland & Knight.
The episode conjured memories of a 2002 debate when former candidate for governor Mitt Romney drew the ire of prominent women like Teresa Heinz Kerry and Hillary Clinton for describing then Treasurer Shannon O'Brien's attacks on his abortion position as "unbecoming."
D.C., who sent in the link, wondered whether "'Unbecoming' is to women as 'Burly' is to African-Americans?"
Michael Newton has called attention to this Chinese sign on Twitter:
— Michael Newton (@mikenewt) August 28, 2014
Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011:
The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder.
About two feet tall, the bronze statue of the goddess is modelled after the Statue of Liberty.
"She is the symbol of Dalit renaissance," says Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer who came up with the idea of the Goddess of English.
"She holds a pen in her right hand which shows she is literate. She is dressed well and sports a huge hat – it's a symbol of defiance that she is rejecting the old traditional dress code.
"In her left hand, she holds a book which is the constitution of India which gave Dalits equal rights. She stands on top of a computer which means we will use English to rise up the ladder and become free for ever."