Archive for July, 2012

"The nurse who has a low opinion of oneself"

The path of those who fail to follow the example of scripture is often dark indeed. In particular, in referring to singular quantified entities of indefinite gender,  the King James bible and William Shakespeare agree in recommending the pronouns they, them, themselves ("Shakespeare used they with singular antecedents so there", 1/5/2006; "Is 'singular they' verbally and plenarily inspired of God?", 8/21/2006; "'Singular they': God said it, I believe it, that settles it", 9/13/2006; etc.). But many people have become convinced that this is wrong; and as Horace put itin vitium ducit culpae fuga ("avoidance of error leads to fault").

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Annals of "What!!??"

D.D., who previously contributed some observations on Caribbean "What!!??", sends more:

After a general staff meeting concluded this a.m. at work, I was sitting with a few co-workers and for some reason the conversation turned to 'strange critters' that people of different cultures eat. ('Koreans eat dogs'… 'Some Africans & Chinese eat insects'… etc etc.)

Our workplace is currently being painted/renovated by 3 Caribbean men who have been there for a week or so–one of whom I've had a couple of chats & shared a few jokes with in passing.  Hearing our conversation, that one man (from St. Vincent) stepped away from his painting on the other side of the conference room and addressed me, "Did you ever eat POSSUM?"

I laughed aloud, wondering if he was serious. He seemed to be, so I asked, "Uh… is it good?"  His loud reply, "WHAT!!??" (Read: 'OMG it is friggin' delicious!')

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Hide the satisfied store in statue of Buddha

Elliot Sperling took the following photograph a couple of days ago (July 16) in Reb-gong or Rebkong (Tib.: རེབ་གོང /reb gong / Repkong / Ch.: Tongren 同仁). Reb-gong (Tongren) is about 150 km south of Xining, the capital of Qinghai (Kokonor) Province, and around 200 km to the southwest of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province, in the northwestern part of the People's Republic of China.


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Artistic touristic linguistics

Andrew Spitz and Momo Miyazaki, students at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, posted this charming video of their cross-linguistic art project:

WTPh? (What the Phonics) is an interactive installation set in the touristic areas of Copenhagen. Street names in Denmark are close to impossible for foreigners to pronounce, so we did a little intervention :-)

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It's true

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Another unfortunate crash blossom

"KOMO headline editor, your phrasing needs work," tweeted CJ Alexander regarding this deeply regrettable crash blossom (KOMO North Seattle News, July 11, 2012):


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Get Fuzzy '05

[Background: in inventorying postings with linguistically interesting cartoons, for a Language of Comics project at Stanford (directed by Elizabeth Traugott and me), the project intern has been unearthing postings from Language Log Classic whose image links no longer work. Here's one of Mark Liberman's from 2005 — "Illustrations" of 8/2/05, with two Get Fuzzy strips. I'm reproducing the posting here, with fresh, working links.

Back in 2005, we didn't have comments open on postings. But I've opened them now. Just remember: This posting is by Mark, not me. I'm just a typist.]

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Maybe the prescriptivists are right

… at least about the use of  "summative that" in certain contexts. Thus one of Paul Brians' Common Errors in English Usage is "Vague Reference":

Vague reference is a common problem in sentences where "this," "it," "which" or other such words don't refer back to any one specific word or phrase, but a whole situation.

Arnold Zwicky calls these things "summatives" ("Why are some summatives labeled 'vague'?", 5/21/2008), and I've been publicly skeptical of blanket prohibitions against their use, since it's often clear in context what the referent is meant to be, and excellent writers from the authors of the King James Bible to Bertrand Russell have been fond of them ("Poor pitiful which", 5/23/2008;  "Clarity, choice, and evidence", 5/23/2008).

But a recent political development has led me to re-evaluate my position.

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Seriously

"Seriously," said Bruce Springsteen's guitarist Steven Van Zandt, "When did England become a police state?"

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Scalia and Garner on legal interpretation

Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner have recently (June 19) published Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts, a 608-page work in which, according to the publisher's blurb, "all the most important principles of constitutional, statutory, and contractual interpretation are systematically explained".

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Bottum's plea

I somehow missed this when it was fresh (Joseph Bottum, "Loose Language", The Weekly Standard 10/25/2010:

The plural of syllabus is syllabi. Or is it syllabuses? Focuses and foci, cactuses and cacti, funguses and fungi: English has a good set of these Greek and Latin words—and pseudo-Greek and Latin words—that might take a classical-sounding plural. Or might not. It kind of depends. […]

It's common, in this context, to deride the pedants who constrict language with sterile rules of grammar. The problem, of course, is that there aren't very many of those pedants left. The recent campaign against the word syllabi appears to have begun on the "Language Log" blog, a fairly representative hangout for grammarians and linguistics types, where some of the descriptivists still seem to see themselves as embattled radicals struggling against Victorian hypocrisy. I'd more readily believe it if America had enough unrepentant prescriptivists left to fill a Volkswagen. Reading the Edwardian-style attacks on school-marm grammar, one expects to come across brave calls for free love, women's suffrage, and sentimental socialism.

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I see this a lot

Yesterday's SMBC:

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Dragon, L&H, Goldman Sachs…

Recommended reading: Loren Feldman, "Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole", NYT 7/14/2012.

This story provides a shocking example of how little investment bankers often do to earn their money, and how badly they often do it; in short, how parasitic and destructive the culture of the financial industry has become.

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