Archive for October, 2015

Charged with prejudice and paranoia

Peculiar ad for a portable charger from AliExpress:

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Another casualty of austerity

Several people have pointed me to this article, which has circulated again recently despite being eight years old — "Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs", The Onion 11/30/2007:

Faced with ongoing budget crises, underfunded schools nationwide are increasingly left with no option but to cut the past tense—a grammatical construction traditionally used to relate all actions, and states that have transpired at an earlier point in time—from their standard English and language arts programs.

A part of American school curricula for more than 200 years, the past tense was deemed by school administrators to be too expensive to keep in primary and secondary education.

"This was by no means an easy decision, but teaching our students how to conjugate verbs in a way that would allow them to describe events that have already occurred is a luxury that we can no longer afford," Phoenix-area high-school principal Sam Pennock said. "With our current budget, the past tense must unfortunately become a thing of the past.

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Beijing Noshery

An old photograph in my files (from about five years ago):

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More Flesch-Kincaid grade-level nonsense

Matt Viser, "For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates" (" Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level"), Boston Globe 10.20/2015:

When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, he decried the lack of intelligence of elected officials in characteristically blunt terms.

“How stupid are our leaders?” he said. “How stupid are they?”

But with his own choice of words and his short, simple sentences, Trump’s speech could have been comprehended by a fourth-grader. Yes, a fourth-grader.

The Globe reviewed the language used by 19 presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, in speeches announcing their campaigns for the 2016 presidential election. The review, using a common algorithm called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test that crunches word choice and sentence structure and spits out grade-level rankings, produced some striking results.

The Republican candidates — like Trump — who are speaking at a level easily understood by people at the lower end of the education spectrum are outperforming their highfalutin opponents in the polls.

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Together, let's do what?

I happened to be walking past the Abramson Cancer Center this afternoon, and this reminded me that every day last summer in Paris, I walked past the Institut Curie, whose building was adorned in several places with the slogan "Ensemble, prenons le cancer de vitesse" — as on the home page of their web site:

The first time I saw the slogan, I only caught the "… le cancer de vitesse" part, which seemed like part of an appeal to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak, avoiding the metaphorical cancer of excessive dedication to speed above all. But then the first couple of words came into my visual field, and I briefly thought that it was a prank or a protest or something, meaning "Together, let's get cancer quickly".

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Austin Ramzy, "Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia, Raises Eyebrows With Emojis", NYT 10/22/2015:

What, exactly, does that scowling, red-faced emoji mean? I’m mad? Frustrated? Sunburned?  

The question, which has plagued more than a few text-message exchanges, became a topic of debate in the Australian Senate on Thursday, when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s liberal use of emojis came under question during a committee meeting.

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On the DramaFever website, Brendan Fitzgibbons has an interesting article that shows how "New font lets anyone learn Japanese" (10/17/14):

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Oral history to be exempt from IRB review?

Donald Ritchie, "Good news for scholars doing oral history! The federal government is preparing to grant them a right to be excluded from IRBs", History News Network 10/13/2015:

Here are the details according to an announcement on the website of the Oral History Association: "On September 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a set of recommended revisions to the regulations concerning human subject research. Specifically, it recommended that oral history be explicitly excluded from review by institutional review boards, or IRBs, and alluded to the fact that oral history already has its own code of ethics, including the principle of informed consent."

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Describing events

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "The thrower started hitting the bats too much, so the king of the game told him to leave and brought out another thrower from thrower jail."

A French friend who recently stayed with me for a while clearly experienced baseball in roughly this way (except without the focused attention).

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Protection from Carson and Trump

"Donald Trump and Ben Carson ask for 24-hour secret service protection", The Guardian (Reuters) 10/19/2015 [emphasis added]:

“The Department of Homeland Security has now received official requests for secret service protection from both the Carson and Trump campaigns,” spokesman SY Lee said.  

The requests, if approved, would activate 24-hour protection from the two candidates, involving 260 agents, Fox News reported on Monday, citing unidentified sources.

[h/t Mark Dowson]


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Alien encounter

I read Ancillary Justice, the first book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series, at some point in the spring of 2014, and so I was not at all surprised to find Brad DeLong referring to her as "an extremely sharp observer […] author of the devastatingly-good Ancillary Justice", in a blog post "Ann Leckie on David Graeber's "Debt: The First 5000 Mistakes": Handling the Sumerian Evidence Smackdown", 11/24/2014, where he quotes at length from her blog post "Debt", 2/24/2013.

And if you haven't read Ann Leckie's trilogy, you should do yourself a favor and start doing so right away. But this is Language Log, not Science Fiction Book Review Log or Unreliable Economic History Log, so why am I bringing up Ann Leckie now?

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Handwriting legibility

Calvin Ho sent in the following photograph:

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Monkey wrench

Peter Reitan, previously involved in "Solving the mystery of 'off the cuff'" (2/21/2015), has now pointed us to an improved history of monkey wrench. His email:

Your Language Log post of March 22, 2009 about "Monkey Wrench" mentioned the traditional folk-etymology associated with the term; namely that it was widely believed to have been invented by a "London Blacksmith who invented an adjustable wrench."  All of the early recitations of that folk-etymology (early 1880s), however, attribute the wrench to Charles Moncky, said to have sold his invention for $2000 and to then be living in a small cottage in Brooklyn, New York.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the 1880 census for Brooklyn, New York reports a man named Charles Monk – "tool-maker "- living on Sixteenth Street in Brooklyn.  He may have inspired the folk-etymology; but he does not appear to have invented, inspired, or coined the "monkey wrench."  He was only twelve years old when the earliest-known, date-certain references for "monkey wrench" were published in 1840: See Peter Jensen Brown, "Charles Monk, Monkey Wrenches and 'Monkey on a Stick' – a Gripping History and Etymology of 'Monkey Wrench'", 10/14/2015.

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