Investigations, hypothetical and otherwise

In an interview yesterday with Chris Wallace, did Donald Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow state that the president is being investigated by Robert Mueller ("Jay Sekulow on reports Bob Mueller has widened investigation", Fox News 6/18/2017)? It certainly sounds like he did:

But Chris Wallace is frustrated to find that a few seconds later, Sekulow nevertheless asserts that he didn't say any such thing.


Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)


Putting the kibosh on bosh

In the "Cultural disappropriation" section of the current The Economist, there's an entertaining and informative article on the latest attempt to purify Turkish:

"Turkey’s president wants to purge Western words from its language:  A new step in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign against foreign influences"

The whole business is both humorous and hopeless:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)


"As many people as not"

A reader from India, apparently not satisfied with the responses from WordReference and StackExchange, writes to express his problem with the phrase "They kill as many people as not", found in an article by Anne Lamott ("Anne Lamott shares all that she knows: 'Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared'", Salon 4/10/2015).

"As many people as __" is routine, so presumably the problem is "as not".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)


Death by french fries

The Daily Telegraph did not do much for its reputation, at least in my eyes, when it confused the defense with the prosecution after a celebrity sexual assault mistrial. Nor when it recently consulted me about whether there were grammar mistakes on a banknote, learned that there clearly were not, but went ahead and published the claim that there were anyway. Now for a sample of the Telegraph's science reporting, written by Adam Boult, who I suspect didn't complete his statistics course:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


The most important word in Finnish

Of course there are many words in any language that are similarly protean. In English, try "Okay". Or just "mm"…

Comments (13)


Defense counsel for the victim?

A truly Freudian slip in a story in the UK conservative newspaper the Daily Telegraph, speaking volumes about what goes wrong with so many rape and sexual assault prosecutions:

Camille Cosby, wife of the entertainer, issued a statement, read out by an associate on the court steps in a dramatically-delivered speech.

She attacked the judge as biased, and said the defence were "totally unethical."

The defense? Andrea Constand and the other brave women who have accused Bill Cosby (they say he drugged them so he could enjoy sexual gratification without their consent) were not in the dock, and the lawyers arguing their case were not the defense team, but the prosecutors. The Telegraph journalist, Harriet Alexander, has apparently reversed the roles of the accused's defense and the district attorney.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off


Steven Bird's new job

 

 

Comments (3)


Bird language

From an anonymous correspondent:

I had wanted to ask you about niǎoyǔ 鸟语 ("bird language") after listening to an interview with Garry Kasparov. During the interview, he and the interviewer, the economist Tyler Cowen, get into a fairly abtruse discussion of chess. I'll paste the most relevant part of the transcript:

KASPAROV: Now you move back to these things, chess computers, and there’s certain things that people should realize. I hate talking about these things. We say in Russia it’s using a “bird language,” because you’re asking me questions and I’m not sure that — 99 percent of our listeners — they understand exactly what we are talking about.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)


Xdisciplinary

An anonymous correspondent reaches out (cf. "May I ask you a question?" [6/12/17]):

So, from one jargonista to another: here’s a frustrating set of related neologisms, again from my increasingly confused and pathetic campus administration:

We’ve gone from “interdisiplinary” and “crossdisciplinary” to “multidisciplinary”, but the new buzzword on our campus is “transdisciplinary” (not sure if hyphens are used in some cases). Our entire campus is trying to recluster itself around 5 key “Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence”, of all things.

Perhaps not worth analyzing, but a deplorable sign of the times, when academic institutions are focused on “branding”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)


Simplified characters for Hong Kong? No thanks!

On July 1, the government is sponsoring a spectacular fireworks display that will light up the sky over Victoria Harbor to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial control to the People's Republic of China.  Trouble is, the show will begin with the words "China" and "Hong Kong", but the form in which they will be written has made local residents unhappy:

"Hong Kong fireworks display for 20th handover anniversary sparks controversy over use of simplified Chinese characters:  City’s most expensive fireworks event since 1997 to run 23 minutes over Victoria Harbour at cost of HK$12 million" (Jane Li, SCMP, 6/12/17)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)


David Bonderman no longer talking for Uber

J.P. Mangalindan, "LEAKED AUDIO: Uber's all-hands meeting had some uncomfortable moments", 6/13/2017:

Uber held an all-hands meeting on Tuesday, during which the board announced that CEO Travis Kalanick would take a leave of absence. Furthermore, management shared recommendations from the law firm Covington & Burling on how the embattled ride-hailing startup can fix its culture after complaints of sexual harassment. […]

While speaking, Huffington pointed out that Uber was adding a woman to its board, Wan Ling Martello.

“There’s a lot of data that shows when there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on the board,” she said around six minutes into the recording.

“Actually what it shows is it’s much likely to be more talking,” Uber board member David Bonderman said.

“Oh. Come on, David,” Huffington responded.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)


How swift we misoverestimate

How swift we forget echoes in my head as a familiar cliché, a precomposed adaptable drop-in phrase rather like a snowclone but without customizable parts. I thought it might even be a quotation from some famous source. When I happened to Google-search it today, I was expecting to see millions of hits. Instead there was exactly one, in an utterly obscure short comment on the HeroClix discussion forum. This astonished me. I figured all the millions of others must correct swift to its adverb form swiftly. So I repeated the search on How swiftly we forget. And I was astonished again. Just 26 hits, with some repetitions and duplicates so similar that Google didn't want to show them. Only 70 hits even if you force the display of the duplicates. Given the size of the web today, that should be regarded as approximately zero.

I mention this only because it reminds me that while we all have vague impressions of how often we hear or read something, vast numbers of those impressions are probably wrong (especially when we imagine we have been hearing something more often recently). And it seems to me that this must have some sort of relevance for the cognitive scientists who believe language learning is based on subliminal perceptions of the frequency of encountered word sequences. Though my feeling that it must have some sort of relevance is probably wrong too. It is a mysterious business, language. (Just ignore me. I'm merely ruminating in public. I shouldn't. I'm just wasting your time. Please go on with whatever you were doing.)

Comments off


From "reach out" to "outreach"

In response to "May I ask you a question?" (6/12/17), we've been having an energetic discussion about the origins and meaning of the expression "reach out", culminating (as of this moment) in Nick Kaldis' good question:

This topic causes an interesting related neologism to come to mind: when did “outreach” come into currency? Our campus has, for instance, a “Community Outreach” office.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)