Archive for October, 2013

What did Justice Scalia mean?

Jennifer Senior, "In Conversation: Antonin Scalia", New York, 10/6/2013:

Q: Had you already arrived at originalism as a philosophy?

A: I don’t know when I came to that view. I’ve always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn’t mean when the people voted for it—frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?

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Snagglepuss: early avatar of emphatic even

In the face of some readers' scepticism, I'll have more to say about merely-emphatic even in a future post. Meanwhile, I'd like to suggest that current even trends may have been influenced to some extent by a 1960s pop-culture avatar of even as a wide-scope emphatic particle, namely  Snagglepuss:

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Heavens to Murgatroyd! Somebody has terribly large knuckles! To knock with, even!

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"Neither is refusing to budge an inch"

The mess in Washington is providing plenty of opportunities for misnegation. Today, John Bresnahan at Politico got tangled up in budging and cut loose with a classic — "Bad blood: Four feuding leaders":

But the personal animus extends beyond the leaders. Along with their bosses, aides to Boehner and Reid are in an undeclared war and neither is refusing to budge an inch.

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The open access hoax and other failures of peer review

Curt Rice in the Guardian, "Open access publishing hoax: what Science magazine got wrong", 10/4/2013:

Science magazine has published a blistering critique of the most sacred cow of scientific research, namely the peer review quality system. Unfortunately, Science doesn't seem to have understood its own findings. It proclaims to have run a sting operation, written by 'gonzo scientist' John Bohannon, revealing the weaknesses of the relatively new publishing model we call open access. In fact, the Science article shows exactly the opposite of what it intended, namely that we need an even wider use of open access than the one we currently have.

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Parental opacity

The most recent SMBC gives a neat illustration of some issues in the philosophy of language. Here's the set-up:

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Poetry as "Word Temple" — NOT

Andrew Shields encountered the idea — on Facebook and vigorously promoted on this blog — that the Chinese character for poetry, shī 诗, consists of two parts meaning "word" and "temple".  Furthermore, it is claimed that this is a particularly apt way to represent the notion of poetry, one that is conspicuously missing in Western culture.

Such a facile interpretation commits several fallacies, the chief of which is to misunderstand the history and nature of the character in question.  After a careful examination of the evidence, it seems far more likely that shī 诗 has to do with the ritual performance of the odes by eunuchs, i.e., by reciters or singers who were castrati, than that it means "word" + "temple".

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Annals of even

A recent statement to the Washington Examiner about the U.S. government shutdown, by Representative Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., has been widely reported:

“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Senate Democrats featured the quote on a display outside their press conference. This is an indication of how Rep. Stuzman's words were generally received, and helps explain why he quickly released a statement walking the quote back:

"Yesterday, I carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate and Speaker Boehner’s work on behalf of the American people. Despite my remarks it’s clear that the American people want both parties to come to the table to reopen the government, tackle this nation’s debt crisis, and stop ObamaCare’s pain."

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Food logistics: a sign of the times

Dachser Food Logistics is what it said on the side of a van that just went by the window of my hotel in Leipzig. Do you see why I raised an eyebrow?

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Avoiding singular they but using singular their

From the Wikipedia article on Quakers:

When an individual Quaker feels led to speak, he or she will rise to their feet and share a spoken message ("vocal ministry") in front of others.

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At Cologne

"Welcome at Cologne Airport," said the co-pilot of my flight as we taxied in to the gate and my current visit to Germany began. And of course what he said is ungrammatical.

"Arrived safely at Cologne Airport," said my email to my partner a few minutes later; and of course what I wrote is grammatical.

Aren't languages unfair?

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Suddenly turn hostile

Xiang Li took a photo of this sign while she was in Chengdu, Sichuan recently:

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Uyghur as a "dialect" — NOT

The latest issue of The Atlantic has an article entitled "The Uighurs, China's Embattled Muslim Minority, Are Still Seeking an Identity".

The comments on language usage and policy in Xinjiang will be of particular interest to many Language Log readers, since they reverberate with a number of recent discussions that we've been engaged in.

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House of Turds

The front page of the New York Daily News recently looked like this:

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