Archive for Usage

Fall between / through the cracks

Although I know it's illogical, I've always said "fall between the cracks", and most people I know say that too.  In retrospect, it makes more sense to say "fall through the cracks".

Mark Swofford did a bit of ngram research on the matter:

It looks like the expression kicked off mainly in the 1960s. Interestingly, "between" seems to have had a small edge early on; but a look at the sources reveals a lot of government documents that appear to be transcripts (i.e., recorded speech rather than formal writing that went through an editor).

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"United Kingdom (the)"

Table 1 in "Acute hepatitis of unknown aetiology in children – Multi-country", World Health Organization 5/27/2022, includes this:

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Isaac Newton on spectrums

In "Spectrums", 2/24/2022, I described a struggle with magazine editors, long ago, over whether the plural of spectrum should be "spectrums" (which they wanted) or "spectra" (which was then the norm in technical discussions of acoustics, and remains so). In a comment, rpsms noted that

Newton arguably "revived" the word spectrum (at least in scientific work) in "Optiks" and I note that he uses "spectrums." "Spectra" does not seem to appear at all in the printed work.

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Spectrums

Reading the comments on Sunday's post about verb agreement with data ("Scientist spotting",5/22/2022), I was reminded of a long-ago tussle about a different aspect of Latin morphology in English borrowings. What's the plural of spectrum? Is is "spectra" or "spectrums"?

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"Please resume to your normal activities"

I'm staying for a couple of days in a hotel in NYC, in an incredibly expensive tiny room.

Last night, a few minutes past midnight, alarms went off in the hallway outside the room: very loud blats and whoops, in somewhat irregular sequences and intervals. It wasn't exactly what I expect for a fire alarm, but it was clearly meant to be alarming, so I got dressed to evacuate.

Just as I finished, a loud loudspeaker-y voice came on: "Your attention please. Your attention please."

Then more blats and whoops.

Since I didn't smell smoke, I decided to take a minute to pack up my computer and medicines, while the blats and whoops continued. But as I finished, the voice came back: "Your attention please. Your attention please. This is your safety director. We have determined that this situation is not an emergency — please resume to your normal activities."

So I got undressed again. But the (apparently recorded) voice repeated the message, interspersed with more bouts of blats and whoops, for another hour or so. It finally ended at some point between 1:30 and 2:00am, and I finally was able to go back to sleep.

But this is Language Log, not Incompetent Alarm Silencing Log, so my focus is on the unexpected (to me) preposition to in the phrase "resume to your normal activities".

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"These items have been completely untested"

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Recte!

M. Paul Shore called my attention to a highly useful Latin expression that, in his opinion, is much needed in various scholarly communities, but that few people are aware of, much less use.

Paul writes:

For the last four-and-a-half decades of my life, from late teens to early sixties, I've had the nagging feeling that there ought to be a Latin scholarly expression that one could use when presenting the correction of an erroneous word or words in quoted material alongside the error itself. But in all my tens of thousands of pages of reading of scholarly works in the social sciences and humanities (which is not to be compared, of course, with the hundreds of thousands of pages, or more, that you must've read), I never ran across such an expression until last night, when I saw it in independent scholar Nigel Simeone’s meticulously annotated book of selected correspondence of Leonard Bernstein, published by Yale University Press. There it was, in black and white: recte! Meaning, of course, “correctly”, as in “Victor Mare [recte Mair]”, or “Edwin Pullyblank [recte Pulleyblank]”. It’s so exciting to discover this, after all these decades of desiring it, that I almost feel like applying to a graduate program at my somewhat advanced age, choosing a thesis or dissertation topic that requires the use of lots of defective sources, just so that I can splash “recte“ on as many pages of my work as possible.

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Sanctioned behaviors/ideas/methods?

In the comments on Tuesday's "Come and go" post, Andrew Gelman wrote

Here's an example: the statistician Steve Stigler quoted as saying, “I don’t think in science we generally sanction the unequivocal acceptance of significance tests.” Unfortunately, I have no idea what he means here, given the two completely opposite meanings of the word “sanction.”

and Philip Anderson responded

In British English at least, it’s possible to sanction people, or organisations/states, with the sense of imposing sanctions on them (although it sounds strained to me), but if behaviour, or an idea, is sanctioned, it can only mean permitted. So I see no ambiguity in your example.

So this morning's Breakfast Experiment™ is a preliminary peek into this issue.

tl;dr: I share Andrew's intuition rather than Philip's — but the data seems to offer Philip (at least statistical) support.

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Forms and meanings of "come and go"

"NBC created ‘boomerang effect’ by refusing to run ad calling out China, Olympics: Concha", Fox News 2/6/2022:

You just played
a- a clip from that ad, right?
And all over social media,
people are now watching this ad when maybe,
if it aired on NBC,
it would have came
and gone

The end of this clip is obviously a substitution for "it would have come and gone" — and Mr. Concha apparently noticed the problem as he spoke, resulting in the 330 msec. silence after "came":

But this is Language Log, not Minor Talking Head Speech Errors Log. So what's the point?

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"Best read stories of 2021"

Here's the header of a recent email from a newsletter that I somehow ended up subscribed to:

That use of "best" seemed odd to me. Presumably what they mean is that the cited stories were read by the most people, or at least clicked on the most times, not that they were read in the most good way…

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English vocative pronouns

On my to-blog list since last month:


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Girlie men in the PRC, part 2

Why words matter.

Just talking about this strange locution, "niángpào 娘炮" (slang for "sissy; effeminate man"), let us hear what a necessarily anonymous PRC citizen has to say about it:

I think the CCP is widening its dictatorship under the veil of / through its social morality cultivation in various aspects these days, and that it bans "娘炮" from the entertainment industry (“boycotting being overly entertaining”) functions as one of its schemes to instill the antecedent atmosphere.

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Little friend

From the Twitter account of @JiayangFan:

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