BAHfest: Linguistics under-represented?

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Upcoming editions of the Festival of Bad ad Hoc Hypotheses will take place in San Francisco, Seattle, and London. If you're not sure what these are like, here's a winning entry from BahFest West 2014:

I haven't been able to find complete programs for the 2013 and 2014 events. But based on the featured presentations, it looks to me as if Bad Ad hoc Hypotheses about linguistics are sadly under-represented, given our field's natural advantages in this area.

Unfortunately, some of the most promising possibilities have already been proposed in other settings without obvious satirical intent, and so anyone entering them in a BAHfest competition would be guilty of plagiarism as well as disrespect (or even lèse-majesté).

Still, there should be plenty of linguistic BAHs still available.


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 27, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    Excellent! And it reminds me of a dictum from a friend in grad school: "'Ad hoc' is Latin for bullshit."

  2. Guy said,

    September 27, 2015 @ 12:49 pm

    We live in a world where many native English-speakers will believe that a pronoun can't have a genitive noun phrase as antecedent. The bar has been set very high/low.

  3. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    September 27, 2015 @ 1:18 pm

    I think the original intent of BAH was supposed to specifically be about evolutionary hypotheses. Not sure if it's broadened since then.

    [(myl) Well, there are plenty of hypotheses (attested and potential, good and bad, ad hoc and otherwise) about linguistic evolution, both biological and cultural.

    But two of this year's four BAHfests seem to have "Big Science" as a theme. I'm not clear if this needs to be actual "big science" (like fusion reactors or space probes or particle accelerators), or if potential "big science" counts (like giving all government employees body cameras with audio and feeding the results into a big sociolinguistic dataset)]

  4. Brian said,

    September 28, 2015 @ 7:28 am

    At last, a video that was worth the seven minutes spent viewing it!

  5. Phil Ramsden said,

    September 28, 2015 @ 5:19 pm

    That's bloody brilliant.

  6. Ken Miner said,

    September 29, 2015 @ 6:02 am

    You can't fun around with things that aren't sort of known. A linguistics BAH would go over like a parody of vampirism. Speculative Grammarian gets humor out of linguistics, but only for a minority of linguists (though it might serve more if it realized that brevity really is the soul of wit).

  7. J. Goard said,

    September 29, 2015 @ 10:57 pm

    "We live in a world where many native English-speakers will believe that a pronoun can't have a genitive noun phrase as antecedent. The bar has been set very high/low."

    Uh, say what? Never heard that one before. You mean there are people who say "John's dog bit him" is ungrammatical?

    [(myl) Yes, exactly. That's the position of Louis Menand and (implicitly) the New Yorker magazine, and more than one usage manual:

    Geoff Nunberg, "Parts of Speech; The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar and Politics", NYT 6/1/2003
    "Menand's acumen deserts him", 10/5/2003
    "Louis Menand's pronouns", 10/8/2003
    "Grammaticality, anaphora, and all that", 10/21/2003
    "In search of the Fimpossant", 10/23/2003
    "More theory trumping practice", 5/22/2008

  8. marie-lucie said,

    October 1, 2015 @ 11:33 am

    "John's dog bit him"

    I have not read the references, but isn't it rather "His dog bit John" that is condemned?

  9. Paul Kay said,

    October 2, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

    My puzzlement at Guy's comment was the same as J. Goard's. I had to read some of the posts Mark cited to learn about this insane "rule" of English usage. The most amazing thing about it is that it entails a violation of English grammar. If John's in John's dog is an adjective, then the subject of the sentence John's dog hit him is a noun phrase consisting entirely of an adjective followed by a singular count noun, and no grammar of English will allow a singular count noun accompanied only by an adjective serve as a full noun phrase, that is, a phrase that has all it needs to serve as a subject or object.

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