Ig Nobel Onomastics

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Polish Driver\'s License

First, a new twist on a story that our legal desk covered back in February: at the annual Ig Nobel awards ceremony earlier tonight, the Prize for Literature was awarded to the Garda Síochána na hÉireann (i.e. the Irish Police Force) for the 50 or more speeding tickets they’ve issued in the name “Prawo Jazdy”, Polish for “driver’s license.”

And as if that wasn’t enough onomastic excitement, the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for Veterinary Medicine was awarded for work reported in Bertenshaw, C. and Rowlinson, P., Exploring Stock Managers’ Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People and Animals 22:1, pp. 59-69, 2009. Specifically, Dr. Bertenshaw and Dr. Rowlinson share the prize for their demonstration that (and here I quote from the article’s abstract): “On farms where cows were called by name, milk yield was 258 liters higher than on farms where this was not the case (p < 0.001).”

Yet all this groundbreaking research leaves me with more questions than answers. What is the causal direction behind the correlation? And if my cow produced 238 liters too little milk, would I admit to the researchers the names I used for her? And how much milk can an Irish policeman get from a speeding Polish cow?Cow



33 Comments

  1. Kenny V said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 1:32 am

    My wife will be interested to hear about this. She’s writing her thesis about the language we use to talk about animals (mostly in oppressive contexts, but this pertains).

    It was nice to see you at the bank earlier today, Dr. Beaver!

  2. rone said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:37 am

    Regarding “hÉireann”, i’ve seen that weird capitalization in Irish before, where the second letter is capitalized instead of the first. Why is that?

  3. peter said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:43 am

    “On farms where cows were called by name, milk yield was 258 liters higher than on farms where this was not the case (p < 0.001).”

    Having grown up amidst dairy farmers, this statement is not at all surprising to me. Most farmers know that different cows have different personalities and respond differently to the same treatment. Both farmers and cows are readily able to distinguish and recognize members of the other species. Particularly when milking was done by hand, getting maximum yield from each cow requires a personal, individual approach.

  4. Victoria Martin said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:47 am

    I really don’t see why the cow research qualifies for an IgNobel – to what kind of mind is an interest in animal welfare so intrinsically pointless that it qualifies for a stupidity award? Giving cows names is hardly up there with Prince Charles talking to plants in the bizarro behaviour stakes. And since most humans do, in fact, give names to animals that they have an emotional attachment to, it seems a rather sensible way of measuring whether the farmer regards his/her stock with affection or purely as milk-producing units.

  5. D.O. said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:50 am

    But… it is an Irish cow! We need an Irish policeman and a Polish cow.

    Thanks. Now clarified. -dib

  6. D.O. said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:57 am

    And, by the way, Bertenshaw C. is actualy Catherine and can not be a messieur.

    Thanks. Yes indeed… now corrected to a genderless term. -dib

  7. KindKit said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 4:49 am

    @Rone: The “h” isn’t exactly part of the proper noun Éire (Ireland). In the genitive case the noun becomes Éireann; “na hÉireann” is the construction for genitive plus definite article. The orthographic convention is that the “h” isn’t capitalized.

    (It’s been a long while since I studied Irish, so I hope I didn’t get any of that wrong.)

  8. Dougal Stanton said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 5:15 am

    @Victoria:

    The Ig Nobel prize is for Improbable Research, which “is research that makes people laugh and then think”. No mention of stupidity anywhere. Plenty of interesting research gets highlighted by the Ig Nobel awards. Having a sense of humour in the pursuit of science shouldn’t be a reason to denigrate the findings.

  9. rolig said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 5:26 am

    I’m with Victoria. There is nothing “ignoble” about research that shows that treating animals with respect (e.g. by giving them names) can be economically profitable.

  10. Evan said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 7:19 am

    Are we far enough off topic yet :^)
    I then offer this:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/103/45/17053/suppl/DC1
    I’m kind of a hardcore physical science guy but have started to feel respect for animal consciousness deserving some new respect. An animal behaviorist, Frans de Waal, spoke at Hunter College last week and the supporting information that went with his study was a series of elephant videos filmed at the Bronx Zoo. The videos address the question Does an elephant have a sense of “I”?

  11. Panu said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 8:17 am

    the Prize for Literature was awarded to the Garda Síochána na hÉireann (i.e. the Irish Police Force)

    Note that it would be wrong to use the Irish definite article in Garda Síochána na hÉireann, because there already is one definite article there, the na h-. Actually, this is an interesting question: is it correct to use the English article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann?

  12. Acilius said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 8:26 am

    I don’t think it’s the research topic that makes the publication laughable. I think the silly part is “(p < 0.001).”

  13. Justin said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 8:36 am

    I don’t know if it’s technically incorrect to use the English definite article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann, but it’s certainly jarring to read. Or at least it was for this Irish speaker.

  14. Chris said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 8:49 am

    peter @2:43: It seems to me that your remarks suggest that cow naming is functioning as a proxy for developing a human-to-cow relationship, and that farms with nameless cows may be shuffling around their human staff or otherwise failing to develop such an individualized knowledge of the cows by the humans and/or vice versa.

    In other words, it doesn’t necessarily show that names have anything to do with the phenomenon being observed.

  15. Bob Lieblich said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 8:54 am

    @Panu —

    I doubt that the hoi polloi would object to the English definite article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann. I’m sure the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn’t (if they even understood the question).

  16. Sili said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 9:43 am

    I doubt that the hoi polloi would object

    I see what you did there.

    It does indeed seem obvious that the naming is no more than a proxy for the farmer’s relation to his cows. It’s just easier to collect that sorta data than trying to get a more ‘objective’ measure of animal welfare. But I’ll suggest it to my sister who’s in the business.

    Now, what I want to know is if speaking to the cattle in different accents influences the yield. Is there a Mozart Effect for dialects? Somebody ask John Wells!

  17. rpsms said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 11:05 am

    The next step in their research is to see whether whispering in the cow’s ear works even better than remembering their name.

  18. mollymooly said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    is it correct to use the English article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann? … I doubt that the hoi polloi would object to the English definite article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann.

    Funny joke, but seriously, I’m sure nobody in Ireland would say/write “the Garda Síochána na hÉireann”: those with enough Irish know it’s unidiomatic, those without enough Irish couldn’t spell it all anyway.

    In both English and Irish, the full formal title Garda Síochána na hÉireann “the Peace Guard of Ireland” is rarely used.

    More usually, in descending order of formality, it may be…

    …in Irish: an Garda Síochána “the Peace Guard” or an Garda “the Guard” [abstract, collective, singular noun; the force] or na Gardaí “the guards” [plural count noun; the persons].

    …in English: “an Garda Síochána“, “the Garda Síochána“, “the Garda“, “the Gardaí“, or “the guards”.

    The force was called “the Civic Guard” in 1922-23, and its members “civic guards”; this usage persisted unofficially in English for decades after the Irish name was adopted. I think using “guards” in English springs from this rather than from the Irish garda. “Police” is almost never used.

    i’ve seen that weird capitalization in Irish before, where the second letter is capitalized instead of the first. Why is that?

    cf. un-American. “Éireann” –> “na hÉireann” is h-prothesis, a type of initial mutation. See Irish orthography: Capitalisation

  19. Panu said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 11:30 am

    I doubt that the hoi polloi would object to the English definite article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann.

    The hoi polloi certainly wouldn’t, but as my native language has no articles, I just wonder, to what extent you should observe foreign article syntax around such obviously non-English expressions.

  20. Robert Coren said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

    While I accept Bob Lieblich’s point about “the hoi polloi”, “the Los Angeles Dodgers” is a poor example of the phenomenon he refers to; it means “the Dodgers of Los Angeles”, which is perfectly sensible in both languages. (If anybody mentions “the La Brea tar pits”, I’m going to throw something.)

  21. mollymooly said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 1:18 pm

    “the Los Angeles Dodgers” is a poor example of the phenomenon he refers to; it means “the Dodgers of Los Angeles”, which is perfectly sensible in both languages.

    “I met the editor of The New York Times today” works.
    “I met the The New York Times editor today” doesn’t work.
    “I met the New York Times editor today” works.
    “I met The New York Times editor today” doesn’t work.

  22. mollymooly said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    I just wonder, to what extent you should observe foreign article syntax around such obviously non-English expressions.

    I suggest that observing foreign grammar is like observing foreign language pronunciation; the degree of faithfulness depends on the average level of familiarity L1 speakers have of L2, which may vary between different L1 speech communities.

  23. Rob P. said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

    I’d sure like to read some of the winning papers, but most, if not all, seem to be unavailable without a subscription to one service or another. I think it’s been a recurring theme here on LL that scientific papers ought to be freely available more often than they are. I agree.

  24. Acilius said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    “it means “the Dodgers of Los Angeles”, which is perfectly sensible in both languages”- well, if we’re going to look for deep structures like that, we can say that “Los Angeles” stands for “(The) City of Los Angeles,” or “(El) Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Le Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula,” with the definite article elidable in either case. But why we would want to do that I’m not sure.

  25. mae said,

    October 2, 2009 @ 7:52 pm

    Hoi polloi means “_the_ majority” — you were making a joke when you said “I doubt that the hoi polloi would object to the English definite article before Garda Síochána na hÉireann.” Right?

  26. Troy S. said,

    October 3, 2009 @ 5:24 am

    And let’s not get started with The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim i.e. the the Angels angels. This happens alot with Arabic loanwords as well that start with Al, too, e.g. the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

  27. Jonathan Badger said,

    October 3, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    The thing to remember with IgNobels is that they are giving prizes based on two different criteria 1) Cases of incompetence/fraud (as in the Polish drivers license fiasco) and 2) Completely legitimate science that just happens to be amusing (as in the cow name study). Many people say “Why did study X get an IgNobel?” are generally thinking that the IgNobels are only about 1). It isn’t always an insult to get an IgNobel.

  28. marie-lucie said,

    October 3, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

    JB, but you have to admit that these criteria can be very misleading for the general public. I too thought that 1) was the main thing, and 2) was not just “amusing” but “useless”.

  29. army1987 said,

    October 4, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    What about “the alcohol” , “the algorithm”, “the alchemy” etc.? For some reason, the people which consider “the hoi polloi” to be wrong have no problem with these.

  30. Dmajor said,

    October 5, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

    As earlier commentators have said, the criteria for getting an Ig Nobel is research or achievement “that makes you laugh, then think”. Work that satisfies those requirements can be stupid, fraudulent, or astonishingly pointless, or it can be clever, elegant, insightful, and even quite useful. The cow study is amusing, and gets attention, and then engages on the topic of animal treatment and welfare. Another award this year recognized a team of Mexican researchers who produce industrial diamond films from tequila — first you laugh, then you can learn something about chemical processes and synthetic diamonds.

    Regarding the Irish police and that ubiquitous Polish super-villain, is the Ig merely mocking the police, or noting the kinds of odd cultural encounters spawned by the expanding EU and a unifying Europe? The Ig Nobels invite audience and readers to decide for themselves.

  31. mollymooly said,

    October 10, 2009 @ 11:51 am

    I’ve just read “the newly formed An Garda Síochana na hÉireann” in a photo caption in, of all places, Tim Pat Coogan‘s autobiography. Blame the editor, I guess.

  32. Richard Humphrey said,

    November 3, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

    My recollection is that the Act of the Oireachtas (the Parliament) that establishes the Garda calls the body established “the Garda Síochana” (in English, at least). No doubt the Irish text of the same Act has the article correct.

  33. Dakkus said,

    September 29, 2012 @ 8:24 am

    Prawo Jazdy has been driving recklessly, but also the Finnish (wo)man called Ajokortti Körkort is known to have been speeding a lot in several countries around Europe. Most such reports seem to come from Germany, as Finns don’t go to Ireland all that often, but (s)he is known to have been driving unlawfully in several other countries, as well. Judging from how many times I’ve heard different Finns having been dubbed Ajokortti Körkort, I’d say you will be able to find many similar reports on web forums around Europe.

    In case that you can’t figure whether the Finnish morpheme “kortti” has something to do with the Swedish “kort” or not, you may check the two words from Finnish and Swedish dictionaries respecively :)

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