Archive for Words words words

"Is it the passive voice you don't like?"

Mary Harris, "Newsflash: Coronavirus Ain’t Going Nowhere", Slate 8/9/2021:

I was a little hesitant to speak with Dr. Bernard Ashby. Ashby works in Florida, taking care of COVID patients. He is bearing witness to that state’s record-breaking surge of infections at the moment. It’s not that I didn’t think Ashby would have interesting things to say. It’s just: How many times can you repeat the exact same thing? Wear a mask indoors. Get vaccinated. Support health care workers.

But when we got on the phone, Ashby sounded just as frustrated as I am: “The transmission rate is ridiculous down here. Patients are coming in by the boatload. They’re younger, they’re sicker. And unfortunately, we weren’t really prepared for the surge that we’ve gotten” […]

On Monday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Ashby about what it’s like inside Florida’s surge. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. […]

Ashby: This is indicative of our health care system as a whole. Vaccination rates have always been low in certain demographics prior to the pandemic. Access to care has always been an issue in certain demographics prior to the pandemic. We talk a lot about disparities, and I actually dislike those terms: disparities and inequality, all that, yada, yada.

Harris: Is it the passive voice you don't like?

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Better PR for bats

A link from Michael Glazer, with the note "Bats have been getting a bad name recently epidemiologically, so it’s nice to hear them mentioned in a positive way": "Nathan Ruiz, "Young bats offer hope…", WaPo 7/27/2021.

Well, OK, the full headline makes the real context clear: "Young bats offer hope as Orioles fall to Marlins". But as Michael observes,

Zoologically, we’ve got three of the Vertebrata subphylum’s seven Classes here. Stuff in Sidewinders and Sharks, and there’s another two. Jawless fishes and amphibians strike me as a bit more challenging in the way of sports team names. The Mar-a-Lago Lampreys? The Calaveras Jumping Frogs? I dunno.

And his closing: "I leave you to identify a linguistics hook!"

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"Washing" playing cards and Mahjong tiles

From Bryan Van Norden:

There is a style of shuffling that is used in both Western card games and in Mahjong, called "washing" in English and xǐ 洗 ("washing") in Chinese. As you probably know, a common theory is that playing cards were invented in China during the Tang dynasty, so I wonder if it is more than a coincidence that "washing" as a method of shuffling is a similar metaphor with poker and Mahjong?

Washing Playing Cards:

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Thought process

I just watched a video of a man interviewing people in Washington Square Park, New York.  He asked each of them a series of leading questions about why they were still wearing masks outside when it was so hot and they had all been vaccinated, and some of them had even contracted the disease and developed immunity to it, plus even the government and the New York Times said there was no longer a need to wear the mask under such conditions.  When many of the people being interviewed said they were going to continue wearing a face mask nonetheless, his next question was "What's the thought process there?"

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Cantonese chatting

[This is a guest post by Tom Mazanec]

I recently became curious about the origins of the Cantonese word king1 gai2 傾偈 ("to chat"). Though I've never formally studied Cantonese, I'm picking up bits of it from my wife and in-laws, who moved to the U.S. from Guangzhou about 30 years ago and use Cantonese to speak to each other and to my children. I like to think I know it slightly better than my 1-year-old and almost as well as my 3-year-old. My in-laws use the term king1 gai2 often, especially in light-hearted tone to describe the kids' pre-verbal babbling when they were under 1.
 
The equivalent phrase in Mandarin is liáo tiān(r) 聊天(兒), which appears to have no relation to king1 gai2. So this got me wondering about where king1 gai2 came from. On its surface, the characters appear to mean "pouring out gāthās" (gāthā: "song" in Sanskrit; "Buddhist verse" in Chinese). This makes little sense (though it would've been nice to put it into my T'oung Pao article on gāthās a few years ago), so I suspected the characters 傾偈 were used in a purely phonetic manner. Sure enough, the word is also sometimes written as 傾計 (king1 gai2). 

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In Case of Emergence…

From Kris V.:

The attached image is of a door in the LRSM building on Penn's campus this morning. The sign in the upper right made me think of your recent Language Log post about "emergent". It's probably just a typo, but I didn't hang around to see what might emerge from the door.

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Pipehitters

From former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo:

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Thinking outside the pants

Thomas Clayburn, "Realizing this is getting out of hand, Coq mulls new name for programming language", The Register 6/15/2021:

After three decades, Coq, a theorem-proving programming language developed by researchers in France, is being fitted for a new name because it has become impossible to ignore that it sounds like bawdy English slang.

Once referred to as CoC, short for Calculus of Constructions, the programming language became Coq when work on version 5 began in 1989.

The name – according to software engineer Théo Zimmermann's initial entry to the Coq GitHub wiki on April 6 – is a reference to the French word for "rooster," to the Calculus of Constructions, and to the contributions of Thierry Coquand, one of the creators of the language.

Coq also happens to sound like "cock," which while it means both "a male rooster" and "to tilt," can be used informally to refer to the male anatomy. And for some people, that deters community participation.

"This similarity has already led to some women turning away from Coq and others getting harassed when they said they were working on Coq," the project wiki, last updated on Friday, explains. "It also makes some English conversations about Coq with lay persons simply more difficult."

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A re-emergent meaning?

Jennifer Henderson, "UnitedHealthcare to Crack Down on 'Non-Emergent' ED Claims", MedPage Today 6/8/2021:

UnitedHealthcare plans to take a closer look at emergency department (ED) claims beginning July 1.

In a June network bulletin posted to its website, the insurer said that it will assess ED facility commercial claims to determine if an event was emergent or non-emergent. Claims determined to be non-emergent will be subject to no coverage or limited coverage.

ED claims will be evaluated on many factors, UnitedHealthcare said, including the patient's presenting problem, the intensity of the diagnostic services performed, and other patient complicating factors.

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Odoriferous Mandarin term for "copycat"

A gēnpìchóng 跟屁虫 (lit., "follow-fart-bug / worm") is somebody who tags along after someone else so as to smell his farts, i.e., someone who follows another person all the time, a copycat, a shadow, a flatterer, sycophant, boot / ass licker, kiss-ass, yes man.

And here's a cute little tutorial about how to be a gēnpìchóng:  

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New Sino- words in the OED

From the latest updates to the online OED, new senses added to these words:

Sinicism, n., sense 2: “A Chinese word, phrase, or idiom borrowed into, or introduced into a sentence in, another language.”

Sinitic, adj. and n., sense B: “The languages of East Asia considered collectively; spec. the branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family to which the Chinese dialects belong.”

Sino-Tibetan, adj. and n., sense A.2a: “Linguistics. Of or relating to a variety of the Tibetan language strongly influenced by Chinese, e.g. in having numerous Chinese loanwords or using…”

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Ultracrepidarian

I came upon this curious word by chance in the following article:

"Know your English — What is the meaning of ‘ultracrepidarian’?", by S. Upendran, in The Hindu (9/2/13; updated 6/2/16)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of the word. The first two syllables are pronounced like the word ‘ultra’, and the following ‘crep’ rhymes with ‘prep’ and ‘rep’. The ‘i’ is like the ‘i’ in ‘bit’, ‘hit’, and ‘sit’, and the ‘dar’ is pronounced like the word ‘dare’. The word is pronounced ‘ul-tra-krep-i-DARE-ien’ with the stress on the fifth syllable. An ultracrepidarian is someone who is in the habit of giving advice on matters he himself knows nothing about — like a politician! This Latin word literally means ‘beyond the shoe’.

*My ultracrepidarian uncle will be spending two weeks with us.

The story goes that when the Greek painter Apellis displayed his beautiful painting of Alexander the Great, a shoemaker pointed out that the sandals in the painting did not have the required number of loops. The artist thanked him, and immediately set about making the required changes. Once they had been carried out, the emboldened shoemaker began to comment on other aspects of the painting — the shape of Alexander's legs, his robes, etc.

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Anti-Neanderthal prejudice?

“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms […] And the last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking, that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”

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