Blooming, embellishment, and bombs

In the comments to a recent post about the length differential between French and English, the concept of "blooming" was introduced.

The ensuing discussion prompted one Language Log reader to spell out her thoughts at greater length.  I should provide a bit of background about this anonymous contributor, namely, she lived through the bombing of Berlin and other cities (which she has described to me in graphic detail in various messages), worked in Germany for awhile after WW II, and then immigrated to the United States.

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Fun with commas

For your reading pleasure this morning: Kenneth Adams, "Bamboozled by a Comma: The Second Circuit’s Misdiagnosis of Ambiguity in American International Group, Inc. v. Bank of America Corp.", 16 Scribes J. Legal Writing 45 (2014–15):

In its opinion in American International Group, Inc. v. Bank of America Corp., the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invoked the principle of construction that this article refers to as “the comma test under the rule of the last antecedent”: if in a sentence a series of nouns, noun phrases, or clauses is followed by a modifier and the modifier is preceded by a comma, the modifier applies to the entire series, not just the final element in the series.

But as the opinion inadvertently demonstrates, that principle of construction is inconsistent with English usage and should be rejected. The opinion also serves as a reminder that judges cannot always be counted on to understand how ambiguity operates; courts should permit expert-witness testimony on ambiguity.

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Of mynas and miners, bells and whistles

Over at Spicks & Specks, Greg Pringle has a virtuoso post on "The Bell Miner:  How orthography and ornithology catalysed a new folk etymology" (8/9/15).  It's about an Australian honeyeating bird — Manorina melanophrys — that used to be called the Bellbird, but was renamed Bell Miner through association with the South Asian bird called in Hindi the mainā मैना (" starling").

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Recommended For You

Alexander Spangher, "Building the Next New York Times Recommendation Engine", NYT 8/11/2015:

The New York Times publishes over 300 articles, blog posts and interactive stories a day.

Refining the path our readers take through this content — personalizing the placement of articles on our apps and website — can help readers find information relevant to them, such as the right news at the right times, personalized supplements to major events and stories in their preferred multimedia format.

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Sandra Bland: Talking While Black

Below is a guest post by Nicole Holliday, Rachel Burdin, and Joseph Tyler:


Sandra Bland’s traffic stop and the tragic series of events that occurred afterwards have been the subject of many recent think pieces, but few authors have examined why the initial traffic stop went wrong in the first place. The most obvious explanation might be simple racial profiling, which almost certainly played a role, but the dash cam video of the event also shows an interaction that escalated at an alarmingly rapid pace. The conversation between Sandra Bland and police officer who stopped her, officer Brian Encinia started out relatively calmly, but clearly didn’t stay that way. Amid the frustration, heartbreak, and demands for justice, everyone wants to know, how did a seemingly simple traffic stop turn into verbal and physical violence, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to Bland’s death?

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From Alphabet to Google

Google has picked "Alphabet" as the name for its new parent company:

"‘Alphabet,’ From Ancient Greece to Google", by Ben Zimmer, in Word on the Street, Wall Street Journal (8/13/15)

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Free souvenirs

From Randy Alexander in Xiamen / Amoy, Fujian / Hok-kiàn, China:

Saw this on my trail run today and got a laugh. It's easy to see how this came about — verbs get translated with "to" mindlessly stuck in front of them.

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Printing error on a Chinese lunch delivery bag

Eric Pelzl sent in this photograph of a bag from a lunch delivery that contains an interesting printing error:

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"Linguists have a name for this kind of analysis"

Gordon Smith is enthusiastic about a recent opinion of the Utah Supreme Court, as he explains in "Corpus Linguistics in the Courts (Again)", The Conglomerate 8/14/2015:

Yes, yes, yes!

The point at issue is important and ubiquitous in legal argumentation, and his blog post explains the reasons for his (well justified) enthusiasm at least as well as I could. So go read it!

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One for Diogenes

The philosopher Diogenes of Sinope was eccentric, to say the least — he begged for a living, slept in a large ceramic jar in the marketplace, and discarded the wooden bowl that was his only possession, deciding that it was excess baggage. He refuted the Platonic definition of human as "featherless biped" by exhibiting a plucked chicken. In response to the hypothesis that humans are rational animals, he wandered about in daylight with a lantern, explaining that he was looking for a rational individual — usually described in modern versions as looking for an honest man. Plato described him as "a Socrates gone mad".

But if Diogenes were still around, I'd put a tetradrachm or two in his hand, and urge him to go have a talk with Keith Chen.

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Vowel movement

JH Rand sent in this intriguing photograph taken in the Philippines:

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"Cuckservative"

Alan Rappeport, "From the Right, a New Slur for G.O.P. Candidates", NYT 8/13/2015:

As Republican presidential candidates offered careful answers to questions about education, immigration and foreign policy at last week’s debate, streams of tweets panned their responses as too soft or disingenuous. Senator Marco Rubio is beholden to corporate interests, one said. Former Gov. Jeb Bush is weak on immigration, crowed another. Many of them were adorned with a cryptic hashtag bearing a new word: “cuckservative.”

Yesterday, Alan Rappeport wrote to me to ask "how and why such language gets popular".

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Still more on "mother"

A week or so ago, I wrote a post about the notion of "mother" in Indian phonology (with a link to an earlier post written over a year ago about the concept of "mother" in linguistics more generally):

"More on mother' (focus on India) " (8/5/15)

Ben Buckner has called additional information to my attention.  Because the new material is fairly substantial, I did not want it to get buried as a comment to the previous post, which is no longer active.  Consequently, I am presenting this additional material from Ben as a separate post of its own.

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