Archive for Words words words

"Just another day"

Andrew Gelman sent a link to blog post (with a rather long title): "Just another day at the sausage factory . . . It’s just funny how regression discontinuity analyses routinely produce these ridiculous graphs and the authors and journals don’t even seem to notice", with the note "You might enjoy the statistics content in the main post, but I'm sending to you because of the phrase-origin discussion".

That discussion happened in a comment asking about the origins of the phrase "another day at the sausage factory", and Andrew's response was

I have no idea where the phrase comes from! I didn’t even know it was a phrase, at least I don’t think so. It derives from the saying that you don’t want to see sausage or legislation being made . . . ummm, let’s google *sausage legislation* . . . here’s Quote Investigator which is always my favorite source for this sort of thing. They cite Fred Shapiro who dug up the earliest known version: “The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that ‘Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,’ and this may be the true origin of the saying.”

As to the exact phrase, “Just another day at the sausage factory”: maybe I read it somewhere and it lodged in my unconscious? A quick google turns it up in various places, for example this news article by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times. So my guess is that it’s just a natural formulation that has been independently coined many times, derived from the well known saying about sausage and legislation.

I don't have anything to add to Quote Investigator's story about sausages, but there's more to be said about "Just another day".

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Kleptogenesis?

Lorraine Boissoneault, "Genetic Mystery: The all-female salamanders of the Great Lakes", Great Lakes Now 11/2/2021:

Looking at them, you wouldn’t guess that the unisexual Ambystoma salamanders are any different than the other members of what was once considered their group.

These interlopers were previously grouped with five other mole salamander species: the tiger salamanders with yellow stripes; the blue-spotted salamander, marked as its name suggests; the brownish smallmouth salamander and Jefferson salamander; and the pale streamside salamander. All five species have lithe, wet bodies, bulbous eyes, and cutely smiling faces.

What sets the mysterious unnamed Ambystoma species apart is something that can only be seen by looking at their genetics. They’re an all-female lineage—and they steal genetic material from all five other species of salamander in their region, a feat that would seem impossible if not for the fact that these lady salamanders have been around for more than 5 million years.

“We often get asked, ‘What is the species name for these organisms?’ And the answer is that we don’t have one because they don’t play by the rules of what we would typically call a species,” said Rob Denton, professor of biology at Marian University.

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Transpoosion

A new (to me) word: transpoosion, meaning "fecal microbiota transplant", by way of blending poo and transfusion.

I'm not sure who invented it when, though it's clearly been around for a decade or more.

Are there other blends where a single syllable of a Latinate (or similar) compound is replaced by a monosyllabic word from ordinary language, differing only in a single consonant or vowel sound? It's easy to make up bad examples, like transpiguration, blending pig and transfiguration.

 

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Nominations for Japanese words of the year

Mezurashii / めずらしい / 珍しい ("amazing; wonderful; rare").  Love 'em!  Such creativity!  Such imagination!

"Japan’s Words of 2021: Nominees Announced for Annual List"
Language Nov 4, 2021

On November 4, the publisher Jiyū Kokumin Sha announced its list of nominees for the words and phrases best representing the year 2021. Our complete list of the nominees with explanations.
New Words for a Pandemic Year

Each year Jiyū Kokumin Sha, the publisher of Gendai yōgo no kiso chishiki (Basic Knowledge on Contemporary Terminology), an annual guide to the latest terms in use in the Japanese language, holds its contest to decide the Words of the Year. For 2021, the nominating committee selected a list of 30 terms that have made themselves a part of the spoken and written landscape in Japan this year.

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Word of the day: Agnotology

Cecilia Tomori, "Scientists: don’t feed the doubt machine", Nature 11/2/2021:

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been saddened at how science has been hijacked. Arguments around herd immunity exemplify this: proponents claimed that acquiring immunity by infection was fine for most people and also that communities were well on their way to achieving herd immunity. The messages downplayed dangers for those with high risks of exposure or severe illness. Technical arguments over infection rates silently cemented the assumption that disabled or immunocompromised people did not merit collective protective action; nor did the workers whose jobs required dangerous public contact.

Although many scientific champions did provide appropriate context, I watched several respected colleagues step into debates on when, or if, society would reach herd immunity without realizing that the discussion was not simply a scientific debate. Their too-narrow focus unintentionally helped to promote controversy and doubt, and that ultimately impeded an effective public-health response. The same happened around mask use, vaccination and school policies. This helped to shift public opinion on which public-health measures were ‘acceptable’: the fewer the better.

The field of agnotology (the study of deliberate spreading of confusion) shows how ignorance and doubt can be purposefully manufactured. Famous scholars include David Michaels, Marion Nestle and Naomi Oreskes. In September, Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, quoted environmentalist Bill McKibben on Twitter in regard to climate change: “We spent a long time thinking we were engaged in an argument about data and reason …. But now we realize it’s a fight over money and power.” Hayhoe elaborated: “‘Objections’ were always, entirely, professionally, and verrrry cleverly couched in scientific terms. They [industry] focused their lasers on the science and like cats we followed their pointer and their lead.” Some elements of manufactured doubt in this pandemic might seem fuzzier, especially when vested interests are not always clear. Nonetheless, the same lessons apply.

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Ask Language Log: "England's death bowling superhero"?

RW writes "I'm English and have some understanding of cricket, but this one has got me beaten!"

He's referring to a Halloween-y headline: Barney Ronay, "Tymal Mills answers bat signal to be England's death bowling superhero",  The Guardian 10/27/2021.

The syntax of that headline is fairly straightforward. And presumably RW can decode the literary reference involved in answering a bat signal, despite the referential overlap between willow-wood blades and mammals of the order Chiroptera. So the puzzle is, what's "death bowling"?

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"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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