Archive for February, 2014

Avoiding the goober

Eric Zorn, "The 'gubernatorial' war", Chicago Tribune 2/12/2014:

Does your eye stop and and stumble, as mine does, on such phrases as "the four Republican governor candidates"? Or "Governor candidate Bill Brady"?  

If so, you are a fellow casualty of the war on the word "gubernatorial," an admittedly odd, Latinate word that every four years I feel duty bound to remind readers comes from the Latin verb "gubernare" means to steer or lead.  

Consistency would demand that the state leader be the gubernor, not governor (from the Old French "governer"), or that we refer to the "governatorial race," but we don't.  

Instead we are adopting "governor candidate" and even — horrors! — "governor race" ("governor's race" seems OK, though) in order to avoid the goober.

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Where to keep your pubic hair

The worst choice of preposition-phrase modifier placement anywhere in the world last week was probably the one at the E! online page. The headline read as follows:

Cameron Diaz Encourages Women to Keep Their Pubic Hair in Her New Book

Women of the world, listen to Language Log: stop keeping locks of your pubic hair pressed between the pages of Diaz's book. This whole craze is the result of a misunderstanding that should have been foreseeable. It is quite the opposite of what Ms. Diaz intended. The only fortunate thing about the incident is that it really does illustrate and underline the importance of syntax.

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Charles J. Fillmore, 1929-2014

Arnold Zwicky shares the sad news that the Berkeley linguist Charles J. "Chuck" Fillmore passed away yesterday. Arnold quotes Amy Dahlstrom's Facebook update:

Charles Fillmore died yesterday at age 84 after a long battle with cancer. A brilliant linguist, especially in the field of lexical semantics, who influenced so many of us Berkeley students and colleagues elsewhere. He was sweet and funny and loving, and deeply devoted to [his wife, Berkeley linguist] Lily Wong Fillmore. The loss of my Doktorvater feels like the loss of a parent.

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Rocking the snark

Today's Doonesbury:

This is actually a re-run of a strip from 1/8/2013, and not everyone got it then:

Apologies for the non-sequitur, but in today’s Doonesbury strip a character uses the phrase “to rock the snark”. Does anyone know what this phrase means?

Nobody answered the question on that 2013 comment thread, but we're here to offer lexicographic help to those who may still be puzzled a year later.

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Darling train tickets

In celebration of Valentine's Day, special commemorative train tickets for a trip between Dàlín (大林) and Guīlái (歸來) were a big hit in Taiwan this morning.

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"Plagiarism" vs. "ghostwriting" again

Jim Romenesko, "Brent Bozell urges liberal media to 'tell the truth,' while he fibs about writing a column", 2/13/2014:

The conservative Media Research Center often urges liberal news outlets to TELL THE TRUTH, but the Reston, VA-based press watchdog isn’t telling the truth about its own leader: Brent Bozell doesn’t write the syndicated column that appears under his byline. 

It is longtime MRC media analysis director Tim Graham who writes “almost everything published under [Bozell's] name,” a former MRC employee tells me in an email. “That includes his weekly column. Same goes for his books, which at least carry Graham’s name in a secondary billing, but also aren’t written by Bozell (but Bozell keeps 80-90% of the advance and all profits!)”

Two other people with ties to MRC confirmed that Graham is Bozell’s ghostwriter – and that Graham is not happy with the assignment.

“Tim just resents having to do it,” says a former employee.

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How Sid Caesar learned double-talk

The obituaries for the great comic Sid Caesar invariably mention his proficiency in "double-talk," mimicking the sounds (but not the sense) of foreign languages. (On the phenomenon of double-talk, see Mark Liberman's posts on yaourter here, here, here, and here.) It turns out that this was a talent Caesar had cultivated ever since he was a boy clearing tables at his father's restaurant in multi-ethnic Yonkers.

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Sunlamp, Monday, Tuesday…

A friend of Brendan O'Kane in Beijing posted this screenshot of the Chinese-localized interface for her new Jawbone UP fitness tracker (alarm function) on Weixin last night:

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"Hemingway" on Hemingway

Several people have written to me about the so-called "Hemingway" app, which offers to give you detailed stylistic advice about your writing.  One useful way to evaluate programs of this kind is to see what they do with good writing — and given this effort's name, it makes sense to check out its opinion about the prose of Ernest Hemingway.

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Synonymy and quotational contexts in New Jersey

The "Say What?" feature on the Doonesbury site quotes this error correction from the New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper, about the misreporting of something Governor Chris Christie's chief spokesman Michael Drewniak said:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Drewniak referred to the Port Authority's executive director as a 'piece of crap.' While Drewniak did call him a 'piece of excrement,' it was David Wildstein who referred to the executive director as a 'piece of crap.'

What do we learn from this? (Remember, this is Language Log, not New Jersey Politics Log.)

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Whales from space

Jonathan Amos, "Scientists count whales from space", BBC News 2/12/2014.

It's amazing how sensitive the measurement and modeling of gravitational perturbations of exoplanet systems has become, but detecting the effects of whales is a whole new level.  Anyhow, apparently, whales are Out There…

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Whom loves ya?

What a fool I've been, thinking all the time that the important stuff was about evidence and structure and the search for genuine syntactic principles — trying to find out through study of competent speakers' usage what are the actual principles that define (say) marking of accusative case on pronouns in Standard English. God, I've been wasting my life.

Wired magazine has published (just in time for Valentine's Day) a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads (and let me say here that I am deeply grateful to Charles Hallinan for pointing it out to me). Much of the survey relates to the words used in the ad. For example, mentioning yoga or surfing in your ad has a positive influence on the number of contacts that will result. Some of the discoveries are curious: for men, it is much better to refer to a woman using the word "woman", but a woman's ad will do better if she refers to herself as a "girl". And (the point that has turned my life around, made on the infographic here), it turns out that men who use "whom" get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents.

This changes everything! It's not just about the inflectional marking of relative and interrogative pronouns any more, people; it's about getting more sex!

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EU gets tough with mean kids

"EU rules ‘mean children can't get life-saving cancer drugs’", Euractive 2/11/2014. Death panels in the Nanny State? As Ali G said to Sir Rhodes Boyson, "Wikkid, man."

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