Archive for January, 2014

Can it be true?

John McIntyre ("You have not seen it all yet", You Don't Say 1/17/2014) relays a correspondent's claim to have gotten this note from her college professor:

Look up Strunk and White (1918) for good rules on writing.  Also, I recommend you do not use prepositions at the beginning or end of sentences their use does not reflect well on the writers. 

I do not agree with you on your point and from now on I will mark you down if you use prepositions to begin or end ssentences as you have now been advised to do so.  Once you get out of my class use them anywhere you would like.  

Other people like Winston Churchill had the same thought as you when his editors made the same correction.  Churchill said, "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."  So you have good company of those who disagree with using proper grammar — or at least this rule in grammar.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (59)

More bee science

"Why Is This Bee Wearing a Sensor? Also, how did scientists get that sensor onto the bee in the first place?", The Atlantic 1/16/2014:

Australian scientists have devised a way to pinpoint the causes of the global die-off of bees that pollinate a third of the world’s crops: Attach tiny sensors to 5,000 honey bees, and follow where they fly.  

The sensors, each measuring 2.5 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch by 0.1 inch), contain radio frequency identification chips that broadcast each bee’s location in real-time. The data is beamed to a server, so scientists can construct a three-dimensional model of the swarm’s movements, identifying anomalies in their behavior.  

Worker bees tend to follow predictable daily schedules—they don’t call them drones for nothing—leaving the beehive at certain times, foraging for pollen, and returning home along well-established routes. Variations in their routines may indicate a change in environment, such as exposure to pesticides.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Modest proposals

Yanis Varoufakis, Stuart Holland, and James K. Galbraith, "A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis", 2013:

Europe is fragmenting. While in the past year the European Central Bank has  managed to stabilise the bond markets, the economies of the European core and  its periphery are drifting apart. As this happens, human costs mount and disintegration becomes an increasing threat.

It is not just a matter for the Eurozone. The fallout from a Eurozone breakup  would destroy the European Union, except perhaps in name. And Europe’s  fragmentation poses a global danger.

Following a sequence of errors and avoidable delays Europe’s leadership remains in denial about the nature of the crisis, and continues to pose the false choice between draconian austerity and a federal Europe.

By contrast, we propose immediate solutions, feasible within current European law and treaties.

There are in this crisis four sub-crises: a banking crisis, a public debt crisis, a  crisis of under-investment, and now a social crisis – the result of five years of  policy failure. Our Modest Proposal therefore now has four elements. They deploy existing institutions and require none of the moves that many Europeans  oppose, such as national guarantees or fiscal transfers. Nor do they require  treaty changes, which many electorates anyway could reject. Thus we propose a  European New Deal which, like its American forebear would lead to progress  within months, yet through measures that fall entirely within the constitutional  framework to which European governments have already agreed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

Please don't do nothing here: a Bengali conundrum

Sreekar Saha sent in this sign and expressed puzzlement over the English translation:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (72)

Context, context, context

Yesterday on the American Dialect Society listserv, JSB wrote:

In his news conference on the GWB (that is, Bridge) scandal, Gov.
Christe used the word "I" or first person singular pronouns 273 times
[Slate]. After some "teasing" about it, in his State of the Union
message yesterday he used "we" or "we've" 97 times [NYTimes, today].

(1) "We['ve] is the new euphemism for "I['ve].

(2) Christie's ego has apparently diminished a bit. The frequency
of the first person (singular) in his 110-minute news conference was
2.48 I's/minute. The frequency of the first person (plural) in his
45-minute State speech was 2.15 We's/minute. (Do we have a term for
a new measure of egotism?) A decrease of about 13% — approximately
equal to the percent of persons recently polled whose opinion of
Christie had decreased (16%).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Too much information

Sunday's Pearls Before Swine:

This strip illustrates a well-documented aspect of aging:

While it is clear that more people now live longer than ever before in history, it is less obvious that this is a blessing. In Greek mythology, Tithonus was the mortal lover of Eos, goddess of the dawn. Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal but failed to mention “eternal youth,” dooming Tithonus to an eternity of physical and mental decay. The tithonean account of aging echoes loudly in the literature of the psychological and brain-sciences, which portrays adulthood as a protracted episode in mental decline, in which memories dim, thoughts slow, and problem-solving abilities diminish (Deary et al., 2009; Naveh-Benjamin & Old, 2008), and where researchers seem to compete to set the advent of cognitive decrepitude at an ever younger age (Salthouse, 2009; Singh-Manoux et al., 2012). Thus, although studies indicate that older adults are, on average, happier than younger adults (Charles & Carstensen, 2010), in the light of the foregoing, even this small crumb of comfort might be seen as further evidence of their declining mental prowess.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin

Zhou Youguang, the main architect and early advocate of Hanyu Pinyin (the official romanized orthography for Modern Standard Mandarin), had his 108th birthday yesterday.  Although I've been a close friend and admirer of Professor Zhou since 1981, I've never dedicated a Language Log post exclusively to him, so it's about time that I do so.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (37)


Paul Krugman, "You're all losers", NYT 1/13/2014:

The other day someone — I don’t remember who or where — asked an interesting question: when did it become so common to disparage anyone who hasn’t made it big, hasn’t gotten rich, as a “loser”? Well, that’s actually a question we can answer, using Google Ngrams, which track the frequency with which words or phrases are used in books:

Sure enough, the term “losers” has become much more common since the 1960s. And I think this word usage reflects something real — a growing contempt for the little people.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)

Good good study; day day up

Somebody gave a friend of Rose Hill this coin purse as a gift:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (41)

Syntax and semantics at the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to take up Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board, perhaps better known as "that case about recess appointments". The issue is the interpretation of Article 2, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution,

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

You can find a summary of the case at, and complete background information at SCOTUSblog, including a recent "Plain English" summary by Amy Howe.

This case is rich in linguistic issues:  The scope of of the prepositional phrase  "during the recess of the Senate"; what "the recess" means;  what "happen" means,  and so on. There's some earlier LL discussion in "What 'the' means", 1/28/2013; no doubt there will be more to say after the oral arguments in this case, and especially when the decision is announced.

Comments (6)

Lumpatious lexicography

In the latest episode of "Sam & Cat," a teen comedy on Nickelodeon, the plot takes a lexicographical turn. As Nickelodeon describes it,

Sam and Cat make a bet with the annoying older brother of a babysitting client that "lumpatious" is a real word. When they discover it is not, they must figure out how to get it in the dictionary.

Here's a clip:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Chicken framework / rack / skeleton / trunk / carcass / whatever

Michael Robinson recently went to an interesting Toronto restaurant called Ten Mile Aroma, whose menu can be found online here.  Micheal's attention was drawn to these two menu items:

137. Fried Spicy Chicken Framework (làchǎo jījià 辣炒鸡架)
138. Chicken Racks with Soya Sauce (jiàng jījià 酱鸡架)

According to Michael, a reviewer who visited the restaurant commented that he asked about the Chicken Framework and got the reply "Just bones, no meat".  Michael says he's sure that he saw someone order one of these, and they brought a plate of chicken bones over to him.

Neither from the Chinese term itself nor from the English translations (both on the menu and online) is it very self-evident just what is at issue here.  Why would anyone want to order a plateful of chicken bones?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (32)


Comments (3)