Archive for February, 2013

Transit is departing

The electric train that runs between the different parts of Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport insists on referring to itself as a "transit".

What's more, the remarkably annoying female voice that tells you needlessly that the doors are closing and that the train is about to start moving says "Transit is departing."

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Margalit Fox, "John E. Karlin, Who Led the Way to All-Digit Dialing, Dies at 94", NYT 2/8/2013:

A generation ago, when the poetry of PEnnsylvania and BUtterfield was about to give way to telephone numbers in unpoetic strings, a critical question arose: Would people be able to remember all seven digits long enough to dial them?

And when, not long afterward, the dial gave way to push buttons, new questions arose: round buttons, or square? How big should they be? Most crucially, how should they be arrayed? In a circle? A rectangle? An arc?

For decades after World War II, these questions were studied by a group of social scientists and engineers in New Jersey led by one man, a Bell Labs industrial psychologist named John E. Karlin. […]

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Ask Language Log: "Span"?

Victoria Ward, "Rowan Atkinson's McLaren car repair costs insurers almost £1 million", The Telegraph 2/7/2013:

The actor and comedian span off the road and crashed the high-powered vehicle into a tree in August 2011, suffering a fractured shoulder blade in the process.

J.B. asks:

"Span"? I've never seen or heard this before in my life.  Is this a Britishism or just an error? It should be "spun," right?

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Annals of PP Attachment

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The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks

On Daring Fireball, John Gruber noticed something interesting about David Pogue's New York Times review of the Surface Pro: what he calls "the use of bounding asterisks for emphasis around the coughs." Pogue wrote:

For decades, Microsoft has subsisted on the milk of its two cash cows: Windows and Office. The company’s occasional ventures into hardware generally haven’t ended well: (*cough*) Zune, Kin Phone, Spot Watch (*cough*).

And the asterisks weren't just in the online version of the Times article. Here it is in print (via Aaron Pressman):

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Mid-Sagittal Music

The official music video for Sivu's Better Man Than He:

According to Gavin Lucas, "Singing in a scanner", Creative Review 1/28/2013:

Director Adam Powell's latest music video (for musician Sivu's track Better Man Than He) was "shot" using an MRI scanner at London's St Bartholomew's Hospital

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Sex in PISA

People are endlessly fascinated by average sex differences in cognitive measures, despite the fact that the between-sex differences are generally so small, relative to within-sex variation, that they have no consequential effects outside of the ideological realm. Here's a striking example — Hannah Fairfield, "Girls Lead in Science Exam, but Not in the United States", NYT 2/4/2013:

For years — and especially since 2005, when Lawrence H. Summers, then president of Harvard, made his notorious comments about women’s aptitude — researchers have been searching for ways to explain why there are so many more men than women in the top ranks of science.

Now comes an intriguing clue, in the form of a test given in 65 developed countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It finds that among a representative sample of 15-year-olds around the world, girls generally outperform boys in science — but not in the United States.

The arresting graphic that accompanies the text:

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Cho-Sen Garden

Michael Robinson sent in this photograph of a strip mall in Flushing Meadows taken by Spencer Kiser and posted on Flickr:

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Semantic gymnastics

Steve Butcher and Maris Beck, "Journalists appeal in bid to protect sources", The Age 2/5/2013:

The grounds of appeal announced on Monday state Justice Sifris erred in not finding Mr Goldberg was wrong in failing to set aside the summonses.

Five negatives. Degree of difficulty: E. Judges' score: 9.6.

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Sea Bay Restaurant

Thomas Lumley sent in this nice multilingual pun from Sydney, Australia:

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Englishy Mandarin

The following feature from the Nandu website includes many strange and droll language games:

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Everything old is new again

"Editorial: Of cats, dogs and convection", The Independent, 2/3/2013:

One of the more widespread urban myths whose veracity is disputed is that the Inuit peoples have scores, even hundreds, of different words for snow. Whatever the precise truth, it is certainly the case that those who live in the Far North have more snow-words than those in the temperate latitudes, with the implication, of course, of many different kinds of snow.

Where the Inuits lead, we may be about to follow. The chairman of the Environment Agency is warning of a new kind of rain. Convective rain, says Lord Smith of Finsbury, does not sweep across the country as a curtain, but dumps a deluge in just one place. This altogether alarming, climate-change-related phenomenon may not only add to the problem of flooding; it may also add to the language. “What’s it like outside?” could soon be followed by: “It’s coming down convective”. A useful, if worrying, addition to cats and dogs.

"Convective rain" events may be becoming more common in Britain, but most of us already have ways of referring to them — we call them thunderstorms.  And among meteorologists, the term "convective rain" has been around for a while, even in the British Isles…

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Coming up: lecture in Seattle

One week from tomorrow (Tuesday) night I give my Jesse and John Danz Lecture at the University of Washington in Seattle. And although the summary published on the registration page is entirely accurate, I would still conjecture that as many as half the people planning to attend will think that the scandal is people who write bad. They will assume that I will be dinging ordinary folks for writing (and speaking) ungrammatically. Little will they know what lies in store: that my target is the grammarians. It is the rule-givers and knuckle-rappers and nitpickers that I will be castigating for their ignorance of the content of the principles of English syntax.

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