Archive for December, 2011

Green's Dictionary of Slang: An Appeal

In the April 3, 2011 issue of the New York Times Book Review, I appraised Jonathon Green's wonderfully comprehensive three-volume reference work, Green's Dictionary of Slang (GDoS to its friends). I concluded the review essay thusly:

It's a never-ending challenge to keep up with the latest developments in the world of slang, but that is the lexicographer’s lot. Green plans to put his dictionary online for continuous revision, which is indeed the direction that many major reference works (including the O.E.D.) are now taking. In the meantime, his monument to the inventiveness of speakers from Auckland to Oakland takes its place as the pièce de résistance of English slang studies. To put it plain, it’s copacetic.

Now, at year's end, it turns out that Green's plan to make GDoS available online has run into some trouble. He asked me to post the following appeal on Language Log, responses to which should be directed to him (email address below).

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Telegraphic language

Following up on various recent discussions of how Twitter and other new communications media may be affecting the English language, I'd like to draw your attention to a well-reasoned consideration of this issue from an earier era: Robert Lincoln O'Brien, "Machinery and English Style", The Atlantic Monthly 1904:

In every age since written language began, rhetorical forms have been to a considerable extent influenced by the writing materials and implements which were available for man's use. This is a familiar observation in studies of the past. Is it not, then, time that somebody inquired into the effects upon the form and substance of our present-day language of the veritable maze of devices which have come into widely extended use in recent years, such as the typewriter, with its invitation to the dictation practice; shorthand, and, most important of all, the telegraph? Certainly these agencies of expression cannot be without their marked and significant influences upon English style.

Were the effects of these appliances limited to the persons actually using them such an inquiry would not be worth making. […]

But, unfortunately, no man writes to himself alone. The makers of the popular vocabulary decree to a great extent the words which the recluse of the cloister must select. If the typewriter and the telegraph, for mechanical reasons purely, are encouraging certain words, certain arrangements of phrases, and a different dependence on punctuation, such an influence is a stone whose ripples, once set in motion, wash every shore of the sea of literature.

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The Fox at folks

Josh Marshall, "The Murdoch Primary, Let's Call It", 12/30/2011:

Taken together the Murdoch media is a huge, huge voice in the US political conversation. But it’s an overpowering voice in intra-Republican questions. So who gets the Murdoch, Ailes and company nod, is a big big deal in a GOP primary race. Thus, the Murdoch primary.

So who won? It sort of slipped by in all the Newt craziness. But looking back over the last month we can see pretty clearly what happened. In late November the Fox at folks pretty clearly said WTF in response to the Newt surge, called it for Romney and got to work big time.

A nice example of lapsus calami (though I guess it should really be called lapsus digitorum): two phonologically-similar nouns swapping places.  Unless it's a joke that went over my head.

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Sexual accommodation

You've probably noticed that how people talk depends on who they're talking with. And for 40 years or so, linguists and psychologists and sociologists have referred to this process as "speech accommodation" or "communication accommodation" — or, for short, just plain "accommodation".  This morning's Breakfast Experiment™  explores a version of the speech accommodation effect as applied to groups rather than individuals — some ways that men and women talk differently in same-sex vs. mixed-sex conversations.

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Hashtags' mission creep

Sam B. writes:

I've noticed that the hashtag has bled out beyond its origin as a way of grouping similar messages on Twitter by topic (ie #TahrirSquare, #fukushima, #election, etc)

Now, they're sort of being used in a bizarre syntax of their own, as an aside at the end of a statement.

In these cases, the hashtag is just adding some parenthetical meaning, whether it's sarcastic or sincere. But it's being used in places where there's no character limit as there is on Twitter, so it's completely out of place and without function. It seems like a digital tic of sorts. Instead of just saying what we want to say, or saying what we think or feel, people are writing a statement and then adding a hashtag at the end and expecting that to have sufficient meaning.

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Empathic vs. empathetic

"James" asked

A few folks at work are engaged in a debate about the difference, or lack thereof, between empathetic and empathic. Could someone from LL elaborate? Our turn to the dictionary only explained that they have the same meaning and usage as a form of speech. Thank you!

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Winter Storm

'Tis indeed the season to announce seasonal schools. From Monday 1/9/2012 to Friday 1/20/2012, the University of Maryland’s NSF-IGERT program in Biological and Computational Foundations of Language Diversity will be holding Winter Storm 2012,

"a FREE 2-week intensive training session for language scientists. It takes place on University of Maryland campus, Monday through Friday, January 9 -20. Daily activities include a morning course on data analysis with R software, advanced R sessions, faculty lunch talks, professional development series, special interest groups, and so much more!"

You can register here.

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Meat patty explode the stomach

Minru Li sent me this photograph which appears at the top of the China English blog:

Upon first glance, I was mystified because of the large space between the first three Chinese characters and three English words in red, and the last two Chinese characters and two English words in green. Within two seconds, however, I figured out what had happened to bring about such a hilarious translation, but was still curious what the missing top half of the first character was.

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Penalties for passive misidentification are too weak

Many have begged me to give up on my campaign to get journalists to stop using the term "passive" in its grammatical sense when they have no idea what it means. Some warn me that the quest is hopeless and no one will ever listen; some say I have failed to see that some sort of metaphorical passivity is being alluded to and I should get with the lexicographical program; and some just find the experience of me pointing these cases out is like being repeatedly hit over the head with The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. But I will not give up. I will never surrender. If we are going to be told on a weekly basis that evil is being done through the dastardly use of passive clauses — crimes being concealed, lies smuggled into our brains — then it is my job to warn Language Log readers that grammatical falsehoods are being retailed. Today we have a good example of Matt Taibbi making the usual blunder:

Obama is simply not telling the truth about the supposedly insufficient penalties available to regulators. Employing the famous "mistakes were made" use of the passive tense, Obama copped out in his December 6 speech by saying that "penalties are too weak."

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Logic! Language! Information! Scholarships!

’Tis the season to announce seasonal schools. Geoff Pullum announced a short course on grammar for language technologists as part of a winter school in Tarragona next month, and Mark Liberman announced a call for course proposals for the LSA's Linguistic Institute in summer 2013. But what if you can't make it to Tarragona next month, and can't wait a year and a half to get your seasonal school fix? Well, I have just the school for you!

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Kanji of the Year: the tie that binds

We're waiting eagerly for the English Word of the Year for 2011 (to be announced on January 6, 2012) and have already had the Chinese "Morpheme(s) of the year".  Now arrives the Japanese Kanji of the Year:  kizuna 絆 ("bond").

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Tracking funds consultants raise

Headline from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Are some consultants funding their salary increases by tracking things — maybe by tracking *us*? Has something been revealed about a raise awarded to the consultants to "tracking funds", whatever those might be?

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Court Interpretation in Peru

Joran van der Sloot, the leading suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005, was arrested in Peru in 2010 and charged with the murder of Stephany Tatiana Flores Ramírez in Lima. According to news reports, the reason that he has not yet come to trial is that there are no certified Spanish-Dutch interpreters in Peru.

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