Point of no Breturn

The portmanteaux just keep on coming — most recently in "Brexit's fallout: Adrift", The Economist 7/2/2016, we get a section heading "Point of no Breturn". For previous forays into the  lEUxicon, see

"Grexicography", 6/22/2015
"OtherCountries_ExitFromTheEU: better portmanteaux", 6/23/2016
"You Brexit, you bought it", 6/25/2016

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Pinyin literature contest

I wish to call your attention to the Li-ching Chang Memorial Pinyin Literature Contest.  The purpose of the contest is to commemorate the life and work of Li-ching Chang (October 5, 1936-June 20, 2010), who was an outstanding teacher of Mandarin at the University of Washington, the Oberlin center in Taiwan, Middlebury College Summer School, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College.

The contest will offer more than US$13,000 in prizes for works in the following categories:

  • novella
  • short story
  • essay
  • poem

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"Modal verbs? Not a clue!"

A couple of years ago, a LLOG guest post by Richard Hudson proposed "Three cheers for Michael Gove" in recognition of his role in "the re-introduction of grammatical analysis n the British School curriculum".

Now Ben Hemmens draws our attention to A L Kennedy's recent BBC 4 manifesto, "The power of language", which introduces the topic this way:

My work has been translated into more than twenty languages, I've won national and international awards, even, and yet I have no idea what a fronted adverbial is. Modal verb? Not a clue. In three high-functioning decades, I've never needed that language to describe my language, my personal voice rendered in writing; and I am lost for words when I learn that primary school children are now forced to scramble over unwieldy syntactical terms in order to communicate.

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Siege lions and procedural apes

Nancy Friedman came across the website of RippleInfo, a technology company in Suzhou.  Nancy doesn't read Chinese, so she submitted it to Google Translate, whereupon she discovered a section titled “Suzhou Siege Lions Have Caused”.  That led her to a statement from the CEO that included this sentence:

If the siege lion apes and procedures are not happy, how to write perfect code?

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"Among the New Words"

Ben Zimmer, Jane Solomon, and Charles Carson, "Among The New Words", American Speech May 2016:

In this installment we continue our consideration of items nominated at the American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year proceedings […]

The overall winner is considered here: they used as a singular third-person pronoun, a gender-neutral (or “epicene”) alternative to the binary of he and she. One might object that there is nothing particularly new about singular they, as the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.) includes examples
back to the fourteenth century […]

What is genuinely new, however, is the use of they to refer to a known person in order to transcend the binary of he and she in the construction of a “non-binary” gender identity, such as transgender, gender-fluid, genderqueer, or agender.

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Ironic echoic fragments

There's a hip/ironic rhetorical technique that involves mocking a statement by repeating bits of it as phrasal fragments. I was surprised to see this technique employed extensively in the "Plaintiffs' response in opposition to defendant Donald J. Trump's motion for summary judgment, or in the alternative partial summary judgment":

Donald Trump is too busy to be honest. So says Trump himself, who explains that he reviewed his own promises about his Trump University (“TU”) only “very quickly.” And therefore, he deserves summary judgment. Because he was too busy. To be honest. In addition, Trump explains that he was incapable of being honest because he “is not a lawyer.” And therefore, he deserves summary judgment. Because he was incapable of being honest. Due to not being a lawyer. Due to his integrity infirmities, Trump explains that he resorted to “marketing BS” to induce students to enroll in his Trump University. And therefore, he deserves summary judgment. Because he resorted to “marketing BS.” To induce students to enroll in his illegal “Trump University.”

Trump denies operating and managing the “fraudulent marketing scheme” alleged here because he only starred in the marketing materials; signed the marketing materials; corrected the marketing materials; and approved the marketing materials. And therefore, he deserves summary judgment. Because he did not operate and manage the Trump University “fraudulent marketing scheme.” He only starred in the marketing materials. Signed them. Corrected them. And approved them.

Trump wrote his motion for summary judgment for a District Court in Bizarro World. In this District Court, however, it is wholly without merit. Plaintiff respectfully requests that the Court deny Trump’s motion and set this case for trial as quickly as possible. On earth. In the Southern District of California.

Perhaps some of the lawyers among our readers can comment on whether this document is as unusual as it seems to me to be.

[h/t David Wessel]

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Britannia waives the rules

"'Britannia waives the rules': The EU Brexit in quotes", BBC News 6/28/2016:

Martina Anderson, MEP for Irish republican party Sinn Fein

Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the EU. The vote could mean major changes to security on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"If English votes drag us out of the EU that would be like Britannia waives the rules. There was a democratic vote. We voted to remain. I tell you that the last thing that the people of Ireland need is an EU border with 27 member states stuck right in the middle of it."

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Systematic wanting

Says Bagehot, the pseudonym-cloaked correspondent of The Economist who writes a page of comment on British affairs every week (25 June 2016, p. 27 in Brexit-delayed UK edition; not present in the US edition dated June 25):

As early as January a top Brexiteer freely admitted to Bagehot that his campaign planned to turn the public against its leaders; it wanted systematically to delegitimise Britain's pro-EU political, bureaucratic and business elites.

Is that the first time you've heard anyone talking about systematic wanting? It's a first for me. But of course The Economist is just sticking to its dreadful policy of syntactic self-harm, by mechanically moving adverbs to the left so that they don't follow to in an infinitival complement.

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Affinity — a curiously multivalent term

Richard Warmington has pointed out that "affinity" is a contronym (a word with two opposite or contradictory meanings).  Another example of a contronym is "sanction", which can signify both "penalty for disobeying a law" and "permission or approval for an action".

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Change orders pressure

An impressively ambiguous headline: Benjamin Kabak, "Second Ave. change orders pressure December completion", 6/27/2016.

[h/t Anschel Schaffer-Cohen]

Update — as Anschel Schaffer-Cohen observed in sending this in, the ambiguity is likely to send many readers down a garden path and catch them up short at some point around "December". Those who are all too familiar with "change orders" are likely to avoid this problem.

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Misnegation correction

Dahlia Lithwick, "The Ideal Allies", Slate 6/27/2016:

Make no mistake, Whole Woman’s Health is a massive win for choice, even though nobody believed that the very core of Planned Parenthood v. Casey wasn't in peril this term.*

*Update, June 27, 2016: This story also originally said nobody believed that the very core of Planned Parenthood v. Casey was in peril this term. The author meant to propose the opposite.

Don Monroe, who sent in this addition to the misnegation files, noted that the revision

is correct but seems to exacerbate rather than reduce the challenge of interpreting it. I would have said “even though nobody doubted that the very core of Planned Parenthood v. Casey was in peril this term.”

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Parrot as witness?

Peter Holley, "Foul-mouthed parrot may be used as evidence in murder trial, prosecutor says", WaPo 6/26/2016:

Family members believe Bud, an African gray parrot, may have witnessed the shooting that left Martin Duram dead and his wife severely injured.  

They believe this because the bird’s latest phrase — the one he won’t stop shouting at the top of his lungs mimicking his owner’s voice — is a chilling one: “Don’t f—ing shoot!”  

Duram’s body was found near his wife, who suffered a gunshot wound to her head but is alive. Although police initially assumed she was a victim of the shooting, police reports obtained by WOOD-TV revealed that she eventually became a suspect in the slaying. […]

Relatives told the station that they think Martin Duram’s final moments were imprinted in the bird’s memory and that he continues to relive the slaying. They noted that Bud mimicked both the victim and his wife.

 

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Some speech style dimensions

Earlier this year, I observed that there seem to be some interesting differences among individuals and styles of speech in the distribution of speech segment and silence segment durations — see e.g. "Sound and silence" (2/12/2013), "Political sound and silence" (2/8/2016) and "Poetic sound and silence" (2/12/2016).

So Neville Ryant and I decided to try to look at the question in a more systematic way. In particular, we took the opportunity to compare the many individuals in the LibriSpeech dataset, which consists of 5,832 English-language audiobook chapters read by 2,484 speakers, with a total audio duration of nearly 1,600 hours. This dataset was selected by some researchers at JHU from the larger LibriVox audiobook collection, which as a whole now comprises more than 50,000 hours of read English-language text. Material from the nearly 2,500 LibriSpeech readers gives us a background distribution against which to compare other examples of both read and spontaneous speech, yielding plots like the one below:

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