Archive for November, 2010

Annals of comma placement

John Muccigrosso writes:

What with all the foofaraw over Austen's editing, I thought you might enjoy this screen shot of the YouTube version of Disney's 1943 "Victory through Airpower".

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Retitling Strunk & White

From Ben Zimmer, who got it from Mike Klaas, who found it on the Wonder-Tonic site ("Written, Graphical, and Interactive Sundries by Mike Lacher") of 3/31/10, here:

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Rachel Brownstein on Austen's Style

GN: We asked Professor Rachel Brownstein of the CUNY Graduate Center to comment on some of the points Kathryn Sutherland raises ("'Austen's points: Kathryn Sutherland responds") and the larger questions they implicate. Professor Brownstein is the author of the forthcoming Why Jane Austen? (Columbia University Press).

I'm glad Professor Sutherland has had a chance to expand her views on the Austen manuscripts and to clarify her remarks, which in the context of a brief interview or press release came off as more tendentious and provocative than she apparently intended them to be. The big tsimmis that ensued when the online archive went live is no surprise, really, and it may in the end prove illuminating and useful. After years of Austen-related arguments about adaptations of the novels and paperback sequels and prequels, send-ups and mash-ups and more or less earnest acts of homage, the focus finally is on the texts, on Austen the writer and the real truth about the books we know as hers. The implications are unsettling.

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"Austen's points": Kathryn Sutherland responds

GN: In a Nov. 17 post "Jane Austen: missing the points," I took on the controversy that had arisen over the claim by the Oxford textual scholar Kathryn Sutherland that Austen's punctuation and grammar had been heavily edited by William Gifford, so that — as some people put it — her style was not her own (see also Geoff Pullum's post of Oct. 24). Last Thursday, Professor Sutherland posted a response in the form of a comment to my post. Since the comment appeared well after the post had scrolled out of sight (and on Thanksgiving Day, no less), Mark and I decided to turn it into a guest post, with Professor Sutherland's permission. We also invited the Austen scholar Rachel Brownstein to add her thoughts; they follow in a later post.) Professor Sutherland writes:

The brief interview NPR granted me allowed little time to expand the views that have, as Professor Nunberg says, provoked 'a storm in a teacup'. It is a storm out of all proportion to the suggestion that details of the appearance of the working draft manuscripts may offer views into Jane Austen's habits of composition which in turn bear on how we read the six finished novels. No direct manuscript evidence remains for the latter, of course. But Professor Nunberg is wrong to suggest that we cannot distinguish between the various draft states of the extant fiction manuscripts, which display considerable variety in some things and constancy in others. Nor can I, as a textual critic, agree with him that changes between manuscript and print, however small, are not a matter of interest. In Jane Austen's case and because of the intense reverence we all feel for her, they are of particular interest, suggesting a hand other than her own at work on the text.

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"Utterly noxious retail" as Search Engine Optimization

David Segal, "A bully finds a pulpit on the web", NYT 11/26/2010:

Today, when reading the dozens of comments [at] about DecorMyEyes, it is hard to decide which one conveys the most outrage. It is easy, though, to choose the most outrageous. It was written by Mr. Russo/Bolds/Borker himself.

“Hello, My name is Stanley with,” the post began. “I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

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The robot army

Randall Stross, "When the Software Is the Sportswriter", NYT 11/27/2010:

ONLY human writers can distill a heap of sports statistics into a compelling story. Or so we human writers like to think.

StatSheet, a Durham, N.C., company that serves up sports statistics in monster-size portions, thinks otherwise. The company, with nine employees, is working to endow software with the ability to turn game statistics into articles about college basketball games.

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Sr. Chávez objects

Elisabeth Malkin, "Rebelling Against Spain, This Time With Words", NYT 11/25/2010:

The Royal Spanish Academy is lopping two letters off the Spanish alphabet, reducing it to 27.

Out go “ch” and “ll,” along with lots of annoying accents and hyphens.

The simplified spelling from the academy, a musty Madrid institution that is the chief arbiter of all things grammatical, should be welcome news to the world’s 450 million Spanish-speakers, not to mention anybody struggling to learn the language.

But no. Everyone, it seems, has a bone to pick with the academy — starting with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

If the academy no longer considers “ch” a separate letter, Mr. Chávez chortled to his cabinet, then he would henceforth be known simply as “Ávez.” (In fact, his name will stay the same, though his place in the alphabetic order will change, because “ch” used to be the letter after “c.”)

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Tiggy does an infix

I think perhaps the most delicious name I have ever encountered on a real human being, certainly on anyone moderately well known, is Tiggy Legge-Bourke. I don't know why I find it so deliciously silly, but I do. Tiggy was back in the news the other day because she had a reaction to the recently announced royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton — a much less sour and disloyal one than that of the Mad Bishop), and more newsworthy than most people's, because Tiggy used to be Prince William's nanny. (For a long time the newspapers had tried to establish that she had been Prince Charles's lover as well, but that never came to anything.) Tiggy's comment on the news of the nuptials was: "fan-flaming-tastic".

That kind of infixing of an expletive in the middle of what is quite clearly a single morpheme is well known to linguists, and has some intrinsic interest, but one doesn't see it that often in the newspapers, so I cherished this instance. Coming in a story mentioning Tiggy Legge-Bourke, it was (for me) a small extravaganza of linguistic pleasures.

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Thanksgiving weekend quiz

Among the many things that we have to be thankful for is the interesting new web app that generated this fascinating list.  Two questions: (easy) what is the app? and (hard) what input resulted in this output?

In case that one's too easy, here's another.

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Political shenanigans with word counts

How to count words is sometimes an issue for people like writers and translators, but it is rarely if ever a political issue. It is now, in British Columbia.

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The diplomat, the bishop, the bomber, and the fruit bat

What speech acts are permitted under the various restrictive laws current in the British Isles, and what penalties accrue to people who step outside the bounds laid down by the law? As I have often mentioned here before, the UK has no real constitutional guarantee of free speech, so a lot of things that any American would take to be unquestionably expressible turn out to bring down fines or imprisonment if you say them in the UK. But since all the cases have hidden complexities, and the issue strikes me as important, and I am currently the only Language Log correspondent in the British Isles, I thought I would give you an update. I will deal with four cases: the Ranting Diplomat, the Mad Bishop, the Robin Hood Airport Twitter Bomber, and (perhaps the strangest of them all, a story from Ireland): Fruit Bat Fellatiogate.

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From Mark Twain's autobiography

Like half of the U.S., I've been reading the first volume of Mark Twain's recently-published autobiography. I'm sure that there's some sociolinguistics in it somewhere, but for now you'll have to be content with this rumination about discourse structure, which I present to you just in case you're in the half that hasn't bought the book yet:

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Your brain on ___?

A couple of days ago, the New York Times published another in its Your Brain on Computers series, which "examine(s) how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave". The latest installment is Matt Richtel's "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction", 11/21/2010:

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

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