Archive for November, 2020

Eat up with coronavirus cases

From Charles Belov:

A story on COVID-19 in Mississippi, "After Big Thanksgiving Dinners, Plan Small Christmas Funerals, Health Experts Warn", includes the following sentence:

“If I were in DeSoto, I wouldn’t go out,” Dr. Dobbs said during the MSDH roundtable late last week. “I would stay in my house as much as possible. Because DeSoto is eat up with coronavirus cases.”

I'd never heard "is eat up" before, so I wondered whether it might be a typo. I searched on the phrase "is eat up" and, aside from coincidental other occurrences, found "Wife's stepsister is eat up with BLM" and "I’m from South Carolina and my Facebook is eat up with this dumb crap!!!" so apparently it is a part of English.

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Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week

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"No word for X" meets snowcloning

[This is a guest post by Scott de Brestian]

I am an avid Language Log reader, and so am familiar with two ongoing series that your blog has – first, the posts debunking the “Eskimos (or people X) have unusually many words for snow” myth (which I believe drew me to your blog in the first place), and another series, on the “Language has no word for (concept)”. So I was excited when I found a quote that seems to unite these two genres, but with a twist.

The quote is said to come from Allan R. Becker’s Problems in Desert Warfare (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Combat Development Command, 1990), page 4 (I have not verified with the original source*):

[*VHM:  The report, no. 82-0205, is available online here.  The quote, as given below (sans ellipsis), is on pp. 3-4.]

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Vaccine Efficiency?

Recently, two vaccine companies have presented evidence that their vaccines are respectively “90% effective” and “94½% effective”. True or False: Assuming these results hold up, the chances are respectively 9 in 10 (945 in 1,000) that if you get vaccinated you won’t get Covid? If you said True you are both woefully mistaken and doubtless far from alone. The articles report that the same large number of people got the vaccine and a placebo and of the first 95 people to show up with the disease 90% (94½%) came from the group that didn’t get the vaccine. In other words, if you got the disease the chances are 9 in 10 you didn’t get the vaccine. That is not the same thing as: if you got the vaccine the chances are 9 in 10 you didn’t get the disease.

Hypothetically — to make the arithmetic easy, but not unrealistically — suppose the number of volunteers in each group was 10,000 and of the first hundred people to get the disease 10 got the vaccine and 90 the placebo. Thus 90% of the infected folks came from the placebo group and it is reported that the vaccine was “90% effective”. If 90% effective means that 90% of vaccinated people didn’t get the disease and 10% got the disease, we have to look at the fraction of people who got the vaccine and also got the disease, which was 10 divided by 10,000 or .001, i.e., .1%, one tenth of one percent, not 10%.

Suppose, now, in an alternative experiment the experimenters had waited longer, until they had, not 100 but 1,000, infected volunteers and the same ratio of vaccine-to-placebo held: 900 infected volunteers from the placebo group and 100 from the vaccinated group. Then the fraction of people vaccinated who got the disease would be 100 divided by 10,000 or .01 or 1%, ten times as great as in the earlier experiment with only 100 infected volunteers, despite the ratio of vaccinated to placebo volunteers in the infected group remaining the same. The ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated people in the infected group bears no direct relation to the probability that vaccination prevents infection. In the words of the drug companies, the vaccine would be 90% effective in both experiments, whereas nether experiment suggests anything like what most people would take “90% effective” to mean. The drug companies are evidently very good at creating vaccines and disastrous at talking about them.

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Daughter of Holy Cow

I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that's reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as "daughter" — at least in the popular imagination.  Even in a scholarly work such as that of D.N. Jha, The Myth of the Holy Cow (New Delhi:  Navayana, 2009), p. 28, we find:

Some kinship terms were also borrowed from the pastoral nomenclature and the daughter was therefore called duhitṛ (= duhitā = one who milks).

That somehow seemed too good to be true, a bit dubious on the surface.  To test the equation, I began by bringing together some basic linguistic information acquired on a preliminary web search.

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What makes an accent "good" or "bad"?

Lacey Wade, a postdoc in the Penn Linguistics Department, is featured in the most recent episode of Big Ideas for Strange Times:

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The meanings of "New World Order"

I was puzzled by apparently mixed messages in the protest sign featured here:

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UK Supreme Court plans an attack

A headline in today's Guardian tells us that "Supreme court plans an attack on independent judiciary, says Labour" — but you'll probably guess without even following the link that plans is a plural noun rather than a 3rd-person singular tensed verb, and that the phrase "Supreme court plans" probably refers to someone's plans for the court, rather than the court's plans for something.

But here's the first line of the story, anyhow:

Government-backed plans to reduce the size of the supreme court and rename it have been condemned by Labour as an assault on the independence of the judiciary.

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Kamala Harris and the Prosody of Parody

I’ve been working on a description of Kamala Harris’ distinctive prosody for a while now, so when I saw Maya Rudolph’s parody of Harris’ victory speech on SNL last Saturday (which happened less than 3 hours after the original!), I wondered if it might shed more light on what’s happening with Harris herself.

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Horse culture comes east

In Friday's New York Times:

"A Record of Horseback Riding, Written in Bone and Teeth:  Close examination of horse remains has clarified the timeline of when equestrianism helped transform ancient Chinese civilization", by Katherine Kornei (11/13/20)

More archeological evidence that the horse, horse riding, and related equestrian technologies and culture came to East Asia from the Eurasian interior before the rise of extensive trade along the Silk Road during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-9 AD), and that these developments had a profound impact on the civilization and political organization of East Asia.

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The Wikipedia entry for Gritty, cited in my post "Liberté, Égalité, Gritté", used the modifier "outcoming" [emphasis added]:

When Philadelphia played an outsized role in determining the 2020 presidential election, social media users depicted Gritty, as the city personified, defeating outcoming incumbent Donald Trump.

Philip Anderson quickly objected in the comments:

But “outcoming” (as an adjective) in the Wikipedia quote? Incoming or outgoing, surely?

Some discussion ensued, with opinions on several sides of the question.

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Lawyers set to be executed

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Crazy captions

Watching this this CNN story on YouTube I noticed some really weird closed-captioning. You can try it for yourself — open the story on YouTube, turn CC on using the controls on the bottom right of the video panel, and see what you get.

In case it gets fixed, or your environment is different for some reason, I recorded a short sample:

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