Self-refuting sentence of the week

An anonymous Op-Ed in The Guardian asserts that English has no word for politeness ("What's the worst thing about cycling? Other cyclists", 7/5/2014):

Interestingly, while we're on the subject of Japan, it has a large cycling population and many cycling laws – all of which are completely ignored. Cyclists regularly ride on paths and, indeed, police will even direct them on to walkways if they see them on roads. And yet cyclists, drivers and pedestrians get along fine. How does it work? In a word, politeness – one of those Japanese concepts with no direct translation into English.

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Headbanging and hairfloating

Ariyan Islamian et al., "Chronic subdural haematoma secondary to headbanging", The Lancet 5-11 July 2014:

A 50-year-old man presented to our neurosurgical department in January, 2013, with a 2 week history of constant worsening headache affecting the whole head. He had no history of head trauma, but reported headbanging at a Motörhead concert 4 weeks previously. His medical history was unremarkable and he denied substance misuse. Neurological examination and laboratory studies, including coagulation screening, were normal. Cranial CT showed right-sided chronic subdural haematoma with pronounced midline shift (figure). He underwent burr hole evacuation of the haematoma and closed system subdural drainage for 6 days after surgery.1 His headache resolved and he was discharged home after 8 days.

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Emotional contagion

As usual, xkcd nails it:

Mouseover title: "I mean, it's not like we could just demand to see the code that's governing our lives. What right do we have to poke around in Facebook's private affairs like that?"

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Writ in water

In a Beijing park last week:

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Happy. Fourth.

In anticipation of the 4th of July weekend, I was compelled to read this very interesting (July 1 draft) manuscript: "Punctuating Happiness", by UPS Foundation Professor Danielle S. Allen of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. A political theorist friend's Facebook post led me both to the article and to this front-page NYT piece on it: "If Only Thomas Jefferson Could Settle the Issue: A Period is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence", by Jennifer Schuessler (July 2 online, July 3 print).

Professor Allen makes a thorough and compelling case for her claim that the second sentence of the actual Declaration of Independence parchment has a comma after the well-known phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" — and not a period, as the most frequently reproduced version of the document, an engraving made by printer William J. Stone in 1823, would lead one to believe. The matter can't be resolved via visual inspection; the parchment is extremely faded, and Allen presents some evidence — suggestive but not conclusive, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there — that it may have already been sufficiently faded at the time of Stone's engraving. Allen thus "advocate[s] for the use of hyper-spectral imaging to re-visit the question of what is on the parchment".

For everyone's reference, here is the relevant "second sentence" of the Declaration of Independence, as transcribed on pp. 2-3 of Allen's manuscript, with the "errant period" highlighted in green.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

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Canada Day: Sorry!

Apparently it's a stereotype that Canadians are always apologizing. Thus Jordan Rane, "10 things Canada does better than anywhere else", CNN 7/1/2014:

In Canada, apologies happen constantly — "sorries" flying in from all sides like swarms of affable killer bees.

Apologies are issued not just for some negligible mishap, but for actually having the gall to be on the receiving end of one.

A Queen's University poll titled "Sorry … I'm Canadian," found that 90% of Canadians aged 18-25 will immediately apologize if a stranger bumps into them.

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Ben Zimmer on Jeopardy

"Jersey City man to compete on Jeopardy", Hudson Reporter 6/29/30:

Ben Zimmer, a linguist and language columnist from Jersey City, will compete on Jeopardy! on June 30 at 7 p.m. on WABC-TV.

 

 

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Is the Urdu script on the verge of dying?

Hindi-Urdu, also referred to as Hindustani, is the classic case of a digraphia, so much so that there has been a long-standing controversy over whether they are one language or two.  Their colloquial spoken forms are nearly identical, but when written down, the one in the Devanāgarī script, the other in the Nastaʿlīq script, they have a very different look and "feel".

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对 (duì)

Listening to people around Beijing over the past few days, I've noticed a couple of things about a common Chinese word. The Wiktionary gloss for 对 (dui4) suggests the pattern:

Yes! Correct! I agree!; The word is used often in spoken language. It is common to repeat the word three times when you want to make clear that you understand and agree.

My impression is that a single duì is common, and three-fold repetition is also common, and sometimes even five in a row (grouped 3+2?), but not two or four. (I think I heard a double duì once, but it was more like two phrases "duì, duì".)

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What I look like

… to an enterprising Beijing street artist, who sketched most of this while walking unnoticed alongside me, and then offered to sell it to me while adding the last few strokes and the caption. Shengli Feng cheerfully bargained him down to a third of the asking price.

The air was good — blue sky and clouds were visible, which I gather is rare for Beijing these days — but it was quite hot and humid, so the artist gracefully ignored a few beads of sweat.

I haven't noticed the prominent brow ridges in the mirror or in photographs, but it's true that my genographic profile is 4% Neanderthal…

 

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Supreme Court steps away from fetishization of dictionaries, strikes a blow for usage and practice

Below is a guest post by Jason Merchant:


Yesterday, the US Supreme Court announced its decision in the case NLRB v. Noel Canning, a case that turns on the interpretation of the Recess Appointments clause, Art. II sec. 2, cl. 3 of the US Constitution:

"The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session."

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Suspect

Keith Ablow, the Fox News Channel's resident expert on psychiatry, on Outnumbered, 6/26/2014, explaining why the World Cup is a plot to distract the masses from Benghazi or whatever:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I'm suspect. Uh I am suspect. Because here's the thing,
Um why at a time when there're so many national issues that-
and international issues that are of such prominence,
I- I'm a little suspicious of yet another bread and circus routine.
Let's roll out the marijuana, pull back the laws, and
get people even more crazy about yet another entertainment event.

Since this is Language Log rather than Paranoid Politics Log, my interest here is not the content of Dr. Ablow's outburst, but its form: specifically, his use of suspect to mean suspicious.

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Greater and lesser conveniences

From Facebook, via Victor Steinbok, comes this notice from Shun Tak Holdings Property Management Limited:


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The concept of "mother" in linguistics

I began drafting this post around Mother's Day, which we recently observed, but got distracted by other things.  This is an old topic that I've been thinking about for years.  Namely, I've long been intrigued by the use of mǔ 母 ("mother") in linguistic terms, such as zìmǔ 字母 ("letter", lit., "character mother") (e.g., sānshíliù zìmǔ 三十六字母 ["36 initial consonants"]), shēngmǔ 声母 ("initial", lit., "sound mother") and yùnmǔ 韵母 ("final", lit., "rime mother").  The first two go back to the Song period (960-1279), but I don't know how old the latter two are. See here, here, and here for references.

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Usage masochism

I think it is time to make public my private suspicion that most of the customers for prescriptive usage guides are masochists. They want to be punished for imaginary grammar crimes. I plan to speak out. My paper at the Cambridge English Usage Guides Symposium this Friday afternoon will be entitled "The usage game: catering to perverts." Abstract here.

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