Archive for July, 2013

The "-bag" of "slutbag"

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Barbara Morgan, spokeswoman for New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, called former Weiner intern Olivia Nuzzi all sorts of names after Nuzzi publicly criticized the campaign. While the New York Times only revealed that Morgan used "several vulgar and sexist terms," the TPM report spelled it out: Morgan called Nuzzi a "bitch," a "cunt," a "twat," and most colorfully, a "fucking slutbag."

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Reaching a crescendo?

There was a language-peeve Op-Ed piece in the NYT yesterday called "A crescendo of errors", written by a violist who hates the expression "reach a crescendo". In music, a crescendo is a gradual increase, but it's widespread in non-musical contexts to use it to mean "reach a very loud state" or something like that. "But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo." (Well, of course, as many commenters noted, you can reach a crescendo in the sense of reaching the point where it begins.)

Comments were closed before I saw the piece; it got 144 comments. Many applauded the author, but what struck me was how many didn't, and instead made the point that is so often made here, that languages change, and that peeving by "purists" won't prevent change. That seems heartening.

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Clipping McDonald's

Commenters on a recent post ("Australian hypocoristics") discussed the vowel quality of the first syllable of McDonald's in detail and at length. The issues involved are interesting enough to deserve a post of their own.

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More on Juola's stylometry

Worth reading if you were interested in the computational stylometric analysis by Patrick Juola that helped to unmask J. K. Rowling as the author of The Cuckoo's Calling: an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about Juola's work.

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"Sadomasochism" in Chinese

In "Has Sadomasochism Arrived? Confrontations of power at the level of sexuality in China", author Li Yinhe approves of the translation of the term "sadomasochism" as "nuedailian" in the following paragraph:

Also known as S&M, and sometimes abbreviated as SM or S/M, the terminology, "sadomasochism," was first developed by Austro-German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. In Chinese, I use a term to signify "cruelty" and "love," first proposed by sociologist Pan Guangdan. I applaud the phrase, "nuedailian," both for its simplicity and recognition of conflicting dynamics, rather than a term that would only denote sadistic or intentionally harmful activities.

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Australian hypocoristics

I was surprised that someone of Victor Mair's broad and deep erudition was unfamiliar with mozzie ("Magic grass of queerness", 7/26/2013). So for other Americans who have not been following the adventures of our Commonwealth cousins in developing the nickname-like vocabulary items known technically as hypocoristics, here's an attempt by the Australian branch of McDonald's to join the club:

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Magic grass of queerness

The Chinese electronic commerce company called AliExpress offers for sale this unusual product:

Magic grass of queerness diy desktop mini plant bonsai mosquito radiation-resistant qu wencao

Because I know Chinese and am used to reading Chinglish, I could figure out this product name on the first go, but to provide an adequate exegesis for Language Log readers, I shall endeavor to recreate the Chinese upon which it is based, then retranslate it into more immediately intelligible and idiomatic English.

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The fruits of your labors

At the recent Language Diversity Congress in Groningen, one of many interesting presentations was Martijn Wieling and John Nerbonne's "Inducing and using phonetic similarity". More than a thousand LL readers played a role in the creation of this work, by responding to a request back in May ("Rating American English Accents", 5/19/2012) to participate in an online experiment.

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A decline in which-hunting?

Email from reader J.M.:

As I was perusing LL this afternoon, the title of a post you wrote caught my attention: "Metaphors which you are used to seeing in print". I know that the that/which distinction is becoming less and less distinct, but I still thought it was generally practiced in academia (I am not necessarily a proponent of the distinction, but I generally thought it was still preserved). However, in only the past couple of weeks, I have come across several examples of "restrictive which" (in your post title, a textbook for the sociolinguistics class I am teaching (published in 2007), as well as a non-fiction book on spirituality (published 2011)). Can I assume now that it is customary practice to ignore that distinction in published or collegiate writing? I didn't realize the elimination of that distinction had progressed so much from when I was in college (7 years ago).

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The ShangRing device

Francis Miller sent in this photograph of a lollapalooza of a Chinglish banner (click to embiggen):

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No word for normal parts of early childhood?

Ian Preston wrote to draw my attention to this new item for our No Word for X archive — Thomas Brewer, "Giving Childhood Diarrhea a Name", Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 7/20/2013:

Over the course of my career I’ve spent over thirty years working in various developing countries trying to better understand and fight infectious diseases. One of the things that alarmed me most was that in many places, parents and caretakers didn’t even have a word for diarrhea. Sadly, this wasn’t because diarrhea was rare. On the contrary, diarrhea was so common that it was seen as a normal part of early childhood, and thus didn’t need a name.

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Dolphins using personal names, again

As we have frequently noted here on Language Log, science stories on the BBC News website are (how to put this politely?) not always of prize-winning standard with respect to originality, timeliness, reliability, or attention to the relevant literature. In fact some of them show signs of being written by kids in junior high school. Way back in 2006 Mark Liberman commented on a BBC News story about the notion that dolphins have and use "names" for each other. He expressed skepticism, but the BBC forged ahead without paying any heed, and today, more than seven years later, we learn from the same BBC site once again that Dolphins 'call each other by name'. Yes, it's the same story, citing the same academic at the University of St Andrews, Dr Vincent Janik. (Mark's link in 2006 was unfortunately to a Google search on {Janik, dolphins}, which today brings up the current stories rather than the ones he was commenting on then.) And you don't need to leave the BBC page to see that the story contradicts itself.

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The long Xteenth century

John Darwin, After Tamerlane:

For all its drama, the Occidental ‘breakout’ of the long sixteenth century (1480–1620) had for long a limited impact.

I've read about these "long centuries" from time to time — it's a convenient way to refer to time-periods that sprawl somewhat beyond the boundaries of years ending in double zeros — but when I came upon this phrase the other day, on a long airplane ride from the Netherlands back to the U.S., some questions occurred to me. Why "long" as opposed to "wide", "broad",  "extended", or whatever? Who started this usage, and when? What are the corresponding terms, if any, in other languages?

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