Archive for April, 2011

Yagoda on semantic change

Ben Yagoda shows in this article in Slate (not for the first time) that he is one English professor cum journalistic writer who really is smart as well as witty when writing about language. In this article he actually does some empirical research on the extent to which the prescriptivist conservatives are holding their ground — he makes an attempt at quantitative assessment of the extent to which recently shifting word meanings have caught on (the words whose meanings he studies include decimate, disinterested, eke, fortuitous, fulsome, momentarily, nonplussed, presently, toothsome, and verbal).

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The thing thing

Among a number of culturally and linguistically interesting points in the "Asians in the UCLA Library" rant, Jay Livingston focuses on the speaker's use of the phrase "the tsunami thing".

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Bonferroni rules

The most recent xkcd illustrates the problem of multiple comparisons:

(As usual, click on the image for a larger version.)

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Bad Egg

In "Roll out of here, Mubarak," I pointed out that gǔndàn 滾蛋 ("roll out of here like an egg") is highly insulting and indicated that I would write a separate post on the semantics of the invective usage of dàn 蛋 ("egg").  This is an early fulfillment of that promise.

I've always found gǔndàn 滾蛋 ("to roll [away] like an egg") to be a most curious expression. I've even heard people say Gǔn nǐ de dàn 滾你的蛋 ("roll your egg[s] out of here!!").  Of course, I know that gǔndàn 滾蛋 means something like "Get the hell out!", but I'm not quite sure what the egg imagery in this expression is all about.  I suspect that it may be related to wángbā dàn 王八蛋 [lit. "turtle's egg"] / wàng bà dàn 忘爸蛋 [lit., "egg that forgot its father"] ("bastard; son of a bitch").

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"Ingenious herd of charcoal fire"

From the menu of the Istanbul Kebab House near Times Square in New York City:

Putting aside the possibility that the author is a frustrated poet forced by parental pressure into the restaurant business, we can conclude that "vertical split" for "vertical spit" is an L2 malapropism, and that the reference to "ground" in place of "sliced" meat is a similar simple confusion about what "ground" means. But what about that "ingenious herd"?

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Double positives

An old joke, attributed originally to Sidney Morgenbesser, is replayed in cartoon form at YourMometer for 3/31/2011:

{Hat tip to Alex Baumans.]

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The synod decided

According to yesterday's Sunday (Irish) Business Post, "Bishops agree sex abuse rules":

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Roll out of here, Mubarak

Jonathan Smith sent me this photograph of a man holding a bilingual sign during the protests in Egypt:

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"I don't have any R's at all. That proves I belong here."

Last night, Connecticut beat Kentucky 56-55 and advanced to the NCAA title game in men's basketball.  As a hoops fan who grew up near UConn's campus, I was paying attention.  And I already knew that the two coaches, UConn's Jim Calhoun and Kentucky's John Calipari, had a long-standing personal rivalry. What I didn't know, until I read about in during the run-up to the game, was that the rivalry has a linguistic dimension.  According to Greg Bishop, "Coaches Calhoun and Calipari share a genuine dislike", NYT 4/1/2011:

The contentious relationship between Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Kentucky’s John Calipari is perhaps the longest and most entertaining coaching feud in college basketball. It started so long ago that Calipari has held five jobs since. […]

[T]heir first major act of competition […] went to Calipari, then a young, brash hotshot at the University of Massachusetts who in 1993 went to Calhoun’s state and plucked a high school center from Hartford named Marcus Camby. […]

Calhoun considered Calipari an outsider with no background to talk about basketball in New England. He mocked Calipari, calling him Johnny Clam Chowder — pronounced with an “er” at the end, not an “ah” — and not behind his back.

At this point, many readers will need some background on chowders and rhoticity.

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"Case and point"

I've noticed recently that some people seem to have learned the expression "a case in point" as "a case and point". (And Ben Zimmer entered this one in the eggcorn database back in 2005…) For example, David M. Goodman, The demanded self: Ethics and identity in modern psychologies:

It is singularity of one's own voice, a coagulation of multiple introjected voices stagnately setting the basis of one's present voice. This can be seen in eating disorders as well. Autism is a case and point.

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Oice-vay Earch-say

According to the Official Google Research Blog,

As you might know, Google Voice Search is available in more than two dozen languages and dialects, making it easy to perform Google searches just by speaking into your phone.

Today it is our pleasure to announce the launch of Pig Latin Voice Search! […]

To configure Pig Latin Voice Search in your Android phone just go to Settings, select “Voice input & output settings”, and then “Voice recognizer settings”. In the list of languages you’ll see Pig Latin. Just select it and you are ready to roll in the mud!

It also works on iPhone with the Google Search app. In the app, tap the Settings icon, then "Voice Search" and select Pig Latin.

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X pants

A couple of days ago, Jessica Dweck wrote me with a question:

In the last few months there have been a couple of books out with "pants" in the title (Bossypants, Mr. Funnypants). So we were curious how people started adding "pants" to different words. In the OED, it looks like "fancy pants" came first, followed by "smarty pants." Using Google's n-gram (an admittedly imperfect tool), it looks like the use of "fancy pants" and "smarty pants" really took off around the year 1940. Do you have any theories as to why people started adding "pants" to words, and why the practice rose so precipitously in the latter half of the 20th century? Often the terms are paired with an honorific for comedic effect (e.g. Mr. Funnypants). How did that practice become popular?

I sent a quick answer, and a day later, sent a bit more. But meanwhile, Ms. Dweck's deadline had intervened ("How Did Tina Fey’s Pants Get So Bossy?", Slate 3/30/2011). So in keeping with my general practice, I'll post the rest of our Q&A.

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At last, the truth from The New Yorker

Well, with this post yesterday I finally tempted a New Yorker staff member (whom I cannot name for obvious reasons) to let me in on the secret about the ban on subject-verb inversion in clauses with preposed direct quotation complements. You will recall that the august magazine refuses ever to publish a clause with a structure like "Good Lord!" cried the bishop, his mitre all a-quiver, and his vestments in disarray. The strictly enforced house rules require the alternative order: "Good Lord!" the bishop, his mitre all a-quiver, and his vestments in disarray, cried. The strange policy turns out to be due to one irascible and much-feared man, subeditor Mortimer Thelwell-Hart. His reaction to a lexical verb preceding its subject is to go apeshit. And neither the contributing writers nor the management know what they can do about it.

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