SUS as farewell formulas

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Those who enjoyed the "semantically unpredictable sentences" in the S3-WG91 Standards Working Group's test of TTS intelligibility will appreciate the latest SMBC:

There's some theoretical and practical background on SUS testing in Christian Benoit, "An intelligibility test using semantically unpredictable sentences: towards the quantification of linguistic complexity", Speech Communication 9(4) 1990; and in Christian Benoît, Martine Grice, and Valérie Hazan, "The SUS test: A method for the assessment of text-to-speech synthesis intelligibility using Semantically Unpredictable Sentences", Speech Communication 18(4) 1996. More references, including comparison to other methods, can be found in this Google Scholar search.

Meanwhile, it's not only the sentences that can be semantically unpredictable, as the SMBC after-comic suggests:


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    Is this related to the use of semantically void utterances to mean "good-bye"? Toodle-oo, ta-ta, pip-pip, cheerio.

    Or in Alfred Bester's sf version:





  2. Joyce Melton said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 11:20 am

    The final illustration is obviously a squirrel hot dog comet, not a hot dog squirrel comet which would require the squirrel to be piloting the comet. I suppose he could be a pilot but in that position he looks more like cargo. Or possibly, condiment.

    [(myl) But a cattle car is not piloted by cattle, nor is an egg carton piloted by an egg, nor …]

  3. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

    A colorless green whale's furious nightmare.

  4. CB said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    At the moment I'm bascially doing callcenter work for a couple of hours a week to increase my narrow budget as an undergrad student. One thing that's driving me insane is that when customers call to order something and I try to find them in my company's database, if I ask them to give me their ZIP code because they don't have their customer number ready, they will often spell out their name letter-by-letter instead. Maybe this is because it's their expectation of this step in a typical order-by-calling discourse?

  5. Faldone said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    Besides, it could well be (and it appears, in fact, that it is) the squirrel hot dog piloting the comet.

    [(myl) I would have said that the hot dog squirrel probably IS the comet. But technically, there are Catalan(3) = 5 possible binary parses of the four-word sequence "hot dog squirrel comet", and each binary combination in one of those parses — (dog squirrel), (dog (squirrel comet)), etc. — has the indefinitely large range of interpretation-types available to English complex nominals. So the set of possible meetings is almost any story you could make up involving the four words comet, squirrel, dog, and hot (plus the extras associated with the lexical item hot dog).]

  6. maidhc said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

    I knew an English learner who said he was very proud of himself when he finally understood why people said "slader" when they left.

    The BBC just rebroadcast their series about the songwriting team of Robert Weston and Bert Lee, and one of their big hits was Goodbye-ee:

    Goodbye-ee, goodbye-ee,
    Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee,
    Tho' it's hard to part I know,
    I'll be tickled to death to go.
    Don't cry-ee, don't sigh-ee,
    there's a silver lining in the sky-ee,
    Bonsoir, old thing, cheer-i-o, chin, chin,
    Nah-poo, toodle-oo, Goodbye-ee.

    I've always been a bit puzzled by this. I only know "chin-chin" as something you say when you clink glasses, and I'd never encountered "nah-poo" outside of this song. However Language Hat in 2006 ( said it comes from French 'il n'y a plus'.

  7. Joyce Melton said,

    November 26, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

    It's the "hot dog" part that would require, or at least imply, the squirrel to be the pilot in my parsing of the phrase. A hot dog squirrel in a comet. Whereas, what we see is a squirrel hot dog that is also a comet. It's not a squirrel comet that is also a hot dog.

  8. Barrett said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 12:17 am

    Comets don't have a pilot!

  9. suntzuanime said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 1:36 am

    If you understand the discourse function, who cares if you can parse the utterance? I used to go around saying mildly bizarre things in response to the initial "how are you?" in a conversation. About half the time they would pass without comment.

  10. maidhc said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 5:56 am

    I once knew someone who was kind of a beatnik, and he always greeted me by saying "What's happening?" I never knew how to answer; I'd always say something inane like "Not much".

    One day I determined to get in first and find out what the proper beatnik response was. As soon as I saw him, I quickly threw out my "What's happening?" before he could draw a breath. Unfortunately I didn't find out the answer, because he just muttered something like "Yeah man whatever".

    Many people have heard the stage Irish greeting "Top of the morning to you", which no actual Irish person has ever uttered within living memory. But I found out that this phrase was in use in the 19th century, and it had a conventional response "And the rest of the day to yourself". I don't know if it was used in Irish too, but structurally it would work.

    Like suntzuanime, I try to vary my answers to "how are you?" and I find that things like "keeping the ball balanced on my nose" seem to be acceptable. I remember years ago some book, perhaps it was "What do you say after you say hello?", analyzed this kind of meeting-in-the-hallway discourse, and basically the number of syllables required depends on the length of time since the previous exchange. The content is not very relevant to the social interaction.

    The same would be true in a parting interaction, and people say all sorts of things anyway. So if you did say "Hot dog squirrel comets", a lot of people would think that it was a catchphrase from some new TV show they hadn't heard of yet, and would refrain from commenting because they didn't want to admit they were behind the curve.

  11. Joyce Melton said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    @Barrett: See "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" by Mark Twain as to whether comets have pilots.

  12. Janice Byer said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    maidhc, I relate. It took me some time to accept the most logical answer to "Hey, what's up?" is "Hey, what's up?".

  13. Nyq Only said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    It is a squirrel comet that the woman has hot-dogged – as consistent with what she said she was going to do if we ignore the full-stop and treat what she said as a single sentence.

  14. MarkO said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

    I always enjoyed saying "Venezuela." It seemed just so, well, so.

  15. Mr Punch said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    @maidhc – I take the "chin, chin/Nah-poo" lyric to represent the draining of a glass.

  16. Janice Byer said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    In farm country aka the heartland or flyover states, it's my experience people traditionally ask, firstly, not how you've been, but how your weather's been. When you leave, your weather is wished well, then you.

  17. Just another Peter said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

    I have a fair repetoire of unusual responses to greetings. I quite like the reactions I get so some of them. For example,

    If I'm greeted with "What's up?" I'll usually look up and respond "ceiling" or "light" or "sky" or whatever I happen to see.

    If I'm greeted with "How are you?" I'll either respond "Much better now that I can see your lovely face" (if I'm feeling flirty) or "I'll live" (sometimes followed by "I guarantee it for… that much longer. After that it becomes iffy")

    "How's it going" usually warrants "It's going… that's step one"

  18. maidhc said,

    November 27, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

    Mr Punch: A good thought, that makes sense to me.

  19. LDavidH said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 2:51 am

    Does anybody still say "How do you do?" ? And if so, shouldn't the correct answer be "How do I do what?" ?

  20. Graeme said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 4:06 am

    Same can apply with greetings. No matter how clearly I say 'Hi ya', people respond 'Not bad'

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 10:52 am

    @maidhc: The OED says "chin chin" is "Anglo-Chinese" from ts'ing ts'ing (wow, Wade-Giles lives) and defines it as "A phrase of salutation. Also used as a drinking toast." One of their examples shows it used as a farewell. "‘M. Innes’ Connoisseur's Case iii. 34 Going on your way, are you? Well, chin-chin!"

  22. Jota said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    I note that most people seem to be trying to interpret the after-comic as a thing, described by the noun phrase "hot dog squirrel comet". But the text in the original comic is "hot dog squirrel comets", with an "s" on the end. If "comets" were a noun there, it would be plural, but that would then suggest that there should be multiples of them in the after-comic. As there aren't, that implies that "comets" is instead a verb.

    Given this, the subject of the verb is presumably the hot dog squirrel. And really, what else would you call a squirrel who insisted on pretending to be a hot dog than "hot dog squirrel"? (Perhaps you'd call it "hot dog bun-wearing squirrel" or even "stark raving loony squirrel", but those options are less rather succinct than the original.)

    Thus, the image depicts an action: hot dog squirrel comets. And neither you nor I can stop him.

  23. David B Solnit said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

    @maidhc: the correct response to "What's happening?" is "What's going on?"

  24. Janice Byer said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 2:59 am

    Alternatively, one could channel Bob Dylan and respond in nasal dulcet tones: "Something's happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you?"

  25. John Swindle said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 6:12 am

    @Jerry Friedman: Drifting off topic, I take it that "Anglo-Chinese" refers to Chinese persons of the 19th Century or so who received English missionary education. But I wonder what Chinese word was represented by Anglo-Chinese "ts'ing ts'ing."

  26. Ari said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 9:18 am

    I've also heard
    "What's up?"

  27. Dan Curtin said,

    November 29, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    My son for years answered "What's up?" with "the ceiling" or "the sky." So we avoided the phrase.

    Then one day when he was 13 or so I slipped and said "What's up?" and got the reply "your cholesterol."

    Alas it later became true!

  28. Graham Asher said,

    December 7, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    My boss in the 80s and 90s used to answer the question 'How are you?' with 'Just about surviving', in his strong Polish accent. Unfortunately it drove itself so deep into my brain that I quite often use the phrase myself, imitated accent and all. There is probably a cure…

  29. Alan Shaw said,

    December 17, 2011 @ 4:27 am

    "beatnik"? What century is this?

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