Archive for Humor

Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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A different kind of "matched guise" test?

In a "matched guise" test, subjects are asked to evaluate "various traits including body height, good looks, leadership, sense of humor, intelligence, religiousness, self-confidence, dependability, kindness, ambition, sociability, character, and likability", for the same content presented by the same speaker in different languages, or perhaps by the same speaker associated with different pictures. The goal is to uncover linguistic or ethnic stereotypes.

This twitter "experiment" takes the idea in a different direction, using an associated picture to shift the interpretation of an ambiguous word:


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Sumomomomomomomomo

That's the name of a three-year-old filly who had a maiden win at a Tokyo racecourse on November 1, 2021, as described in "Japanese Tongue Twisters", by Richard Medhurst, nippon.com (Nov 17, 2021).

The horse takes her name from the following Japanese tongue twister: Sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi (スモモも、モモも、モモのうち), meaning “Both sumomo and peaches are kinds of peaches.”

A sumomo is a kind of plum (Prunus salicina), sometimes called the “Japanese plum,” although not to be confused with the famous ume. Botanically, it cannot really said to be a kind of peach (momo), which is only a close relation (Prunus persica). Still, the linguistic connection might be enough; at the word level, at least, we could say a sumomo is a kind of momo.

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More pronoun confusion

…but this time it's the second person, in an outtake from the Laura Ingraham show that's been widely discussed in the media, posted several times on YouTube, and apparently viewed millions of times on TikTok:

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Robotic anaerobic Rodak erotic rotisserie

In yesterday's "Lively Blind Men" post, Ben Zimmer was appropriately amused by Zoom's speech-to-text mis-recognition of Lila Gleitman's name. But as everyone now has opportunities to learn, speech-to-text systems continue to make strange (and often amusing) mistakes in transcribing words and phrases that they haven't been trained to recognize. There are plenty of examples in pretty much any automatic transcription, and the 10/26 edition of the "Spectacular Vernacular podcast", which Ben co-hosts with Nicole Holliday, doesn't disappoint.

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Lively Blind Men

Last weekend, there was a memorial service at Penn for  Lila Gleitman, who passed away in August. The hundreds of people physically present were joined by a large crowd on Zoom, where the automatic closed captioning was turned on. And so the audience got to see a large sample of speech-to-text versions of Lila's name, of which this was my favorite:

(Click the picture for a larger version with more context…)

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Oont ze knakkers

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Word play of the month

Featuring Bready Mercury:

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Borcester shots

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Japanese giggle words

Japanese giggle words

Daniel Morales has a fun article in Japan Times (7/2/21):  "‘PPAP,’ ‘golden jewels’ and other words that make the Japanese giggle".  It begins:

Unintentional comedy is actually relatively easy to pull off. All you have to do is trip and fall.

Intentionally getting a laugh, on the other hand, takes practice. Especially in a second language. What’s funny in Japan may be different from what’s funny in other countries, but one common thread is that humor can be found in the way you wield the language — any language — not just ドタバタ喜劇 (dotabata kigeki, slapstick).

Knowing the funny words, so to speak, can give students of Japanese a leg up and, fortunately for us, in 2019 the online comedy site オモコロ (Omocoro) conducted an extremely “scientific” survey of 356 Japanese-speaking individuals on the internet to determine the funniest Japanese words. What it found suggests that there are certain patterns that make some words funnier than others in Japanese.

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Intonation in "human emulation mode"

Dave Itzkoff, "Elon Musk Hosts a Mother’s Day Episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’", NYT 5/9/2012 ("The much-discussed Tesla and SpaceX executive took a self-deprecating approach, telling viewers, 'I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.'"):

Musk, the billionaire chief executive of Tesla and founder of SpaceX, appeared in several “S.N.L.” sketches this weekend, playing characters that included a doctor at a hospital that caters to Generation Z patients, the producer of an Icelandic TV talk show and the video game villain Wario.

He used his opening monologue to share some personal details about himself, introducing viewers to his mother and discussing his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome —  […]

Musk took a self-deprecating tone in his “S.N.L.” monologue, telling the audience: “Sometimes, after I say something, I have to say, ‘I mean that,’ so people really know that I mean it. That’s because I don’t always have a lot of intonational variation in how I speak. Which I’m told makes for great comedy.”

The question of intonational variation in the speech of people on the autism spectrum is an interesting one. In the literature and in clinical presentations, I've seen phrases like "As is well known, autistic individuals have monotone intonation", and also "As is well known, autistic individuals have singsong intonation".

This apparently reflects the fact that most observers of intonation only notice differences between what they expect and how people talk. So depending on  their relationship to the speakers and the contents and contexts of interaction, they might perceive the same speakers' intonation as inappropriately monotone or inappropriately varied. There may also be relevant subgroups within the large and extremely varied space of people "on the spectrum" — autism is one of the many DSM-defined behavioral categories that are "phenotypically diverse", which a clinician friend explains is the Greek translation of "We have no f-ing clue"…

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A new derivation of the Sinogram for verb "fly"

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Xy McXface wins again

Mary Divine, "Plowy McPlowFace plows through the competition to win snowplow naming contest", Pioneer Press 3/2/2021:

After all the votes were tallied, it wasn’t even close. Plowy McPlowFace won the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s inaugural “Name a Snowplow” contest with 65,292 votes. The next-closest vote-getter was Ope, Just Gonna Plow Right Past Ya, which garnered 29,457 votes.

[For those who don't know ope,  Wiktionary glosses it as "(Midwest) an exclamation of surprise; oops", and Tod Van Luling discussed it at length a couple of years ago in the Huffington Post.]

Plowy McPlowFace will soon be plowing streets in the Metro District; Ope, Just Gonna Plow Right Past Ya will make its home in District 4 in west-central Minnesota.

The other winning names, in order of vote totals, and their future homes are: Duck Duck Orange Truck in District 1 (northeastern Minnesota); Plow Bunyan in District 2 (northwestern Minnesota); Snowbi Wan Kenobi in District 6 (southeastern Minnesota); F. Salt Fitzgerald in District 7 (south-central Minnesota); Darth Blader in District 3 (central Minnesota); and The Truck Formerly Known As Plow in District 8 (southwestern Minnesota).

MnDOT officials invited people in mid-December to submit possible names for snowplows. Among the submissions were a number of Minnesota-themed names, including Joe Plow-er, Justin More-snow, Kent Brrr-bek, Raspberry Brrr-et and Purple Snow.

One of the most popular suggestions was the phrase “Abolish ICE,” according to an analysis by the Minnesota Reformer, an independent news website, which obtained the almost 23,000 entries in a public-records request. The name, a play on the rallying cry of critics of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ranked No. 2 among the entries, the Reformer determined.

But MnDOT officials excluded it from its list of 50 finalists.

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