Archive for August, 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong and his "one small step"

Since the death of Neil Armstrong on Saturday, many remembrances have told the story about his famously flubbed first words on the moon. From Ian Crouch on The New Yorker's News Desk blog:

When the lunar module, named the Eagle, touched down, following moments of radio silence that terrified the folks back in mission control, he relayed: "Houston: Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Later, as he made his way out of the lunar module (or LM), he described his progress in banal terms that, because of where they were coming from and what they conveyed, rose to the level of magic: "I'm going to step off the LM now." And then he issued what is among the most famous proclamations of the last century—a jubilant counterbalance to F.D.R.'s "Day of Infamy" speech and a capstone to J.F.K.'s declaration that "we choose to go to the moon"—a statement that Armstrong had composed and prepared just hours earlier, in between the more pressing business of operating space equipment, according to Armstrong's biographer, James Hansen: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

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"and/with/on its X"

In "Believed ham", I asked

When did French-language menus start using possessive pronouns, in constructions like et ses/son/sa X "and its/their X", to describe secondary or accompanying ingredients? When did English-language menus start copying this construction? And is it as awkward and odd in French as it is (restaurant tradition aside) in English?

The picture, from a restaurant-reviewing blog, illustrates an "Onglet de black Angus avec ses frites" ("Black Angus hanger steak with its fries"). The only connection that the fries have with the steak is that they're served together — so in what sense are they "its" fries?

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The place and time of Proto-Indo-European: Another round

A note yesterday from Russell Gray:

Hi Mark, we have a paper out in Science today.  I've attached a copy plus a link to a website where we give a more accessible account of the paper.  I expect this will be rather controversial again but we have been very thorough both with improving the quality of the data and with testing the robustness of our geographic inferences.

The link is http://language.cs.auckland.ac.nz

That link goes to an excellent and freely-available site, which contains essentially all of the information in the Science paper, presented in a more accessible way with additional background. There are even animated maps!

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Pail / Bucket

In a comment on "'Over the pail'", Ken Brown asked

Is "pail"/ bucket more common in US English than in British? It seems a bit quaint to me. Neither it nor "pale"/fence are a productive part of my use vocabulary I think.

And Brett responded:

"Pail" also sounds a bit quaint (or perhaps "cutesy") to my American ear. There are contexts in which use of "pail" would be completely unremarkable, but they are contexts that are generally quaint or cutesy already—for example: milking a cow by hand, shoveling sand at the beach, or picking blueberries.

Here's a map of the traditional pail/bucket isogloss, from Hans Kurath, "A word geography of the eastern United States", 1949  (via William A. Kretzschmar Jr., "Quantitative areal analysis of dialect features", Language Variation and Change 1996):

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Believed ham

PMW writes:

The recent menu posts on LL reminded me of a photo I took circa 2003 in a busy tourist spot on the Cote d'Azur, France. I'm not sure I've seen a sign in Europe with such a diversity of translation errors.

The menu describes a set of prix fixe alternatives, including for the first course

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"Over the pail"

Several people have written to note the odd phrase used by Paul Ryan in answering questions about Todd Akin's "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down" remarks ("In Exclusive Interview, Paul Ryan Distances Self From Todd Akin", KDKA CBS 2, 8/21/2012):

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"His statements were outrageous, over the pail. I don't know anybody who would agree with that. Rape is rape period, end of story," Ryan told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano.

I suspect that Mr. Ryan aimed at the familiar expression "beyond the pale" and missed, maybe due to blending it with "over the line". Perhaps he himself thinks that the expression is a metaphor for trying to put six gallons of milk into a five gallon pail, or perhaps the eggcorn-suggesting spelling was due to the transcriber at KDKA. (I note that the original article has now substituted "pale" for "pail".)

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"And the greatest Japanese export to China is…"

That's the headline of an article in today's shanghaiist.

What is the greatest Japanese export to China?  Language!

As anti-Japanese protests and riots swirl across China (over some tiny, rocky, contested islands in the middle of the sea between Taiwan and Okinawa), Xu Wenguang, program director of CCTV 1, made this remarkable statement:

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Tape bacteria, risotto cowboy, burning denim, and better to die

Martyn Cornell sent in these entries of a menu from a cheap-and-cheerful "Italian" restaurant in North Point, Hong Kong run by local Chinese:

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One little adjective

Todd Akin, nominee of the Republican party for a Senate seat in the fairly conservative state of Missouri, was being asked on TV about his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape, and was trying to clarify why he does not want to make rape grounds for an exception to his no-abortion stance. He said:

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.

It's perfectly clear that by "if it's a legitimate rape" he meant "if it's genuinely a case of rape, legitimately classified as such." But what he said was a telescoping of that: "legitimate rape." And that one little ill-considered nominal — that attributive adjective paired with that noun — has caused a political firestorm. His candidacy may well go up in smoke as a result.

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Little big car

Martin van Velsen writes:

I've recently been fascinated by the use of diminutives in Dutch. It seems to me intuitively that in the last 5 years the frequency of usage has gone up drastically. It all started a few days ago with a conversation I had with my sister, the contents of which mimicked an article I read today in a Dutch newspaper. Both my sister and the article consistently used language describing the Curiosity Rover using the diminutive as in: small car or small vehicle.

In the most traditional and conservative Dutch newspaper, comparable to the Wall Street Journal, I found the following fascinating sentence:

"En dan is Curiosity ook nog eens het grootste (zeg een Ford Ka), zwaarste (900 kilo) en beste uitgeruste Marswagentje ooit."

Roughly translated it says:

"And then to imagine that Curiosity is also the largest (roughly a Ford Ka car), heaviest (900 kilograms) and best equipped Mars-vehicle-diminutive ever".

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Rendering "Pussy Riot" in Russian

With the international attention given to the trial and conviction of members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot on charges of "hooliganism," many have wondered online whether Pussy Riot is a translation of a Russian name. But no: the band consistently uses Pussy Riot (in Latin characters) on its official LiveJournal blog, even though most of the text is in Russian (in Cyrillic characters). This isn't too surprising among punk/alt-rock bands worldwide. Whether it's the Japanese noise rockers Boredoms or Russian ska-punks Distemper, musicians very often use English in Latin script for the names of their bands (and titles of albums and songs), even when their lyrics are in their native language. But how have Russian sources identified Pussy Riot?

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Liable

RIchard Pérez-Peña, "Student Paper Editors Quit at University of Georgia", NYT 8/16/2012:

Much of the staff of the University of Georgia's student newspaper, including the top editors, resigned Wednesday, claiming interference, even censorship, by the nonstudent managers hired to oversee it.

Polina Marinova, the editor in chief of the newspaper, The Red and Black, said in a statement that "recently, editors have felt pressure to assign stories they didn't agree with" and "take 'grip and grin' photos." […]

The walkout came after Ms. Marinova obtained a draft memo written by a board member that contained proposed guidelines for the newspaper. The memo listed, among "bad" news that was to be played down, "content that catches people or organizations doing bad things."

The author, who was not identified, added, "I guess this is 'journalism' "

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