Archive for Humor

What 'IPA' means now…

I have mixed feelings about the International Phonetic Alphabet. It's good to have standard symbols for representing phonological categories across languages and varieties. You need to know the IPA in order to understand books and papers on many speech-related subjects, as well as for practical things like learning to sing the words of songs in languages you don't know. And the IPA is certainly better than the various clunky alternatives for (symbolic) dictionary pronunciation fields. So I teach it in intro courses.

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Wind head

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Bringing churches

I was puzzled for a while by a interesting error in yesterday's The Hill. A story by Jared Gans, under the headline "What Weisselberg’s guilty plea means for Trump", ended like this:

Weissmann said defense counsels requesting coverage in a plea agreement for other crimes that may have been committed is “standard,” so someone knows “there’s nothing waiting in the wings.”

He said its exclusion from the agreement is “striking” and makes him believe Bragg more when he said the investigation is ongoing.

“That made me think that we all need to sort of take a deep breath and wait to see what happens after the Trump Organization trial, and so whether other churches get brought,” Weissmann said.

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Half-vast ideas

A CNN interview with former National Security Adviser John Bolton about the January 6th hearings is getting lots of attention for his casual observation, "As somebody who has helped plan coups d'état — not here, but, you know, other places — it takes a lot of work."

Shortly before that (about 40 seconds into the above video clip), there was another notable line, in which Bolton dismissed the idea that Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results constituted "a carefully planned coup d'état":

That's not the way Donald Trump does things. It's rambling from one half-vast idea to another. One plan that falls through and another comes up.

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Conversations with GPT-3

In a recent presentation, I noted that generic statements can be misleading, though it's not easy to avoid the problem:

The limitations and complexities of ordinary language in this area pose difficult problems for scientists, journalists, teachers, and everyone else.

But the problems are especially hard to avoid for AI researchers aiming to turn large text collections into an understanding of the world that the texts discuss.

And to illustrate the point, I used a couple of conversations with GPT-3.

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Sentient AI

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A little Sinograph game

For cognoscenti.


Here's an amazing little game that was played by two of the brightest Sinology PhD candidates I've ever met.  It is a conversation between X and Y.  Y initiated the conversation by typing to X, without telling X the secret of the game.  When X received Y's first message, she immediately got what Y meant.  She understood as soon as she received his e-mail, then replied to him (by typing) in the same manner that he wrote to her.  And so off they went on their merry way in Lexiland!

Here I copy-paste this little hànzì yóuxì 汉字游戏 for Language Log readers who are well-versed in Sinographs and want to give it a try.  Even those who do not know any Chinese characters might still be able to gain a sense of how the game proceeds and what it signifies.

The "answer sheet” is at the bottom of this post. Please scroll down to the very, very end to see the answers. However, don’t look at the dá'àn 答案 ("solution") before trying really hard by yourself!


This game is devilishly difficult.

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"Anti-sink missile"

Julie Coleman, "Shocking video shows Ukrainian drone destroying 2 Russian patrol boats", Insider 5/4/2022:

Ukraine said on Monday its drones sank two Russian ships in the Black Sea near Snake Island, which the Russians had captured the day the war broke out on February 24.

Snake Island has also become a legendary symbol of resistance for Ukraine, as military defending the island refused to surrender to Russian forces on February 24, radioing "Russian warship go screw yourself," when the Russian flagship cruiser Moskva approached.


The patrol boat losses add to the mounting toll for the Russian Navy. In April, the Moskva sank after being hit with at least one Neptune anti-sink missile, the Pentagon confirmed.

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The covert pandemic

Trevor Noah's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner has gotten a lot of well-deserved praise. But what impressed me most about it was the quality of the "auto-generated" transcript associated with the YouTube version.

Assuming that "auto-generated" means "the output of automatic speech-to-text", the results are overall excellent — with a few odd glitches. For example, the transcript consistently renders "Covid" as "covert". The first one, at around 1:40 —

and uh covert risk aside can i just say
how happy i am that this event is
happening again for the first time in
three years

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John Knox as a Romance author

For reasons not at all connected with this post, I was looking for scans of the 1558 (first) printing of John Knox's infamous screed THE FIRST BLAST OF THE TRUMPET against the monstruous regiment of Women. And one of the places that Google sent me to was a link on the website of the Somerset County (New Jersey) Library System , where the work is apparently classified as a Romance novel:

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Trent Reznor Prize nomination

Today we have a worthy nominee for the Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding — Lucy Mangan, "Digested week: Ducks in the garden and Wordle are my rocks in a sea of chaos and injustice", The Guardian 4/9/2022:

Growing up in Catford, southeast London, a short walk from the gun shop under Eros House (under whose umbrous overhang took place so much teenage fumbling that – as long as the Greek god’s scope includes Mere Genital Curiosity as well as the higher forms of human longing – could not have been more suitably named), I devoured books about the countryside and all its myriad natural delights.

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VDV recruiting video

A 15-year-old recruiting video for the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), updated with amusing fake English subtitles:

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Ukraine memes

The traditional Slavic impulse to meet tragedy with humor is still strong. Among the Russian reactions to the war in Ukraine, this one is my favorite so far:

(Though of course the putative demise of the Russian stock market is not much of a tragedy compared to the destruction and loss of life in the war…)

No doubt commenters will have other candidates to suggest, including some from the Ukrainian side.

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