COVID-19 testing: a warning

Everyone is talking about the importance of more extensive COVID-19 testing in determining who is infected, and (eventually) who has been infected.

But nearly all the discussion that I've heard and read has been based on the assumption that the relevant tests are accurate.  And this assumption is false — the available tests for this condition seem to be even less accurate than medical tests generally are. Thus Saurabh Jha, "False Negative: COVID-19 Testing's Catch-22", Medpage Today 3/31/2020:

In a physician WhatsApp group, a doctor posted he had a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit and muscle ache, gently confessing that it felt like his typical "man flu" which heals with rest and scotch. He worried that he had coronavirus. When the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for the virus on his nasal swab came back negative, he jubilantly announced his relief.

Like Twitter, in WhatsApp, emotions quickly outstrip facts. After he received a flurry of cheerful emojis, I ruined the party, advising that despite the negative test, he assumes he's infected and quarantine for two weeks, with a bottle of scotch.

It's believed that the secret sauce to fighting the pandemic is testing for the virus. The depth of the response will be different if 25% of the population is infected than 1%. Testing is the third way, rejecting the choice between death and economic depression. Without testing, strategy is faith-based. But what'll you do differently if the test is negative?

That depends on the test's performance and the consequences of being wrong. Though coronavirus damages the lungs with reckless abandon, it's oddly a shy virus. The Chinese ophthalmologist who originally sounded the alarm about coronavirus, Li Wenliang, had several negative tests. He died from the infection.

In one study, RT-PCR's sensitivity – that's the percentage of infected testing positive – was 70%. Of 1,000 with coronavirus, 700 test positive but 300 test negative.

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Tocharian love poem

From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

This English translation is modified based on pages 26-28 of the article — Adams, Douglas Q: "More thoughts on Tocharian B prosody," Tocharian and Indo-European Studies 14 (2013), 3-30.

A fragmentary manuscript in Tocharian B, ca. 600 AD, excavated in Kucha (Qizil Miŋ-Öy), Berlin Turfan Collection. Now stored at Frankfurt. No. THT 496, B 496.

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GFOOEOPQ

This period of prudent isolation is a good time to remember that linguistic analysis applies not only to sound, structure, and sense, but also to social interaction. As the first in a series of posts on this topic, we feature Eve Armstrong's brilliant application of simulated annealing to a problem currently on hold, but sure to re-emerge in full force when our lives de-virtualize: "An Artificially-intelligent Means to Escape Discreetly from the Departmental Holiday Party; guide for the socially awkward" (4/1/2020)G:

We shall employ simulated annealing to identify the global solution of a dynamical model, to make a favorable impression upon colleagues at the departmental holiday party and then exit undetected as soon as possible. The procedure, "Gradual Freeze-out of an Optimal Estimation via Optimization of Parameter Quantification" – GFOOEOPQ, is designed for the socially awkward. The socially awkward among us possess little instinct for pulling off such a maneuver, and may benefit from a machine that can learn to do it for us.

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Mud season in Old English

[This is a guest post by Pamela Crossley]

I was recently doing something with my old undergraduate major, Old English, and was reminded of the word Salmonath (Solmonath), which put me in mind of this old conversation on your blog:

"Mud season in Russia: Putin, Rasputin" (3/31/18)

So you'll like this one. Like the others we were discussing before, the Anglo-Saxons referred to a mud season, specifically the "muddy month" of February — Salmonath or Solmonath. There has been a lot of confusion about exactly what Salmonath means. A passage in Bede has been interpreted as saying that he translated "Salmonath" as "cake month," but I think the passage only means that people also called Salmonath "cake month." Somebody else said it was "Sol" as in the sun, obviously silly. Virtually everybody eventually agrees it means "muddy month" but they don't go any further with what this "Sal" or "Sol" is supposed to be. The most illuminating discussion I have now read is in Wedgwood, A Dictionary of English Etymology (1865), Vol III, pp. 25-256, which you can now read online. Turns out, this word is very well attested in other Germanic languages. It is only very distantly related, if at all, to "soil," which comes to English from French; "soil"'s original meaning was place, spot, ground, that kind of thing. Solid.

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More on "écriture inclusive"

Following up on "Écriture inclusive" (10/9/2017), Eloy Romero Muñoz sent in a link to a June 2019 "Édition augmentée" of the Manuel d'Écriture Inclusive.

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Take stalk of: thoughts on philology and Sinology

In a note I was composing to some friends, I just wrote "let's take stalk of…", was surprised and smiled, corrected myself, and continued writing.

But then I paused to reflect….

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"Hard to understate the importance"

Peter Beinart, "Trump's Break With China Has Deadly Consequences", The Atlantic 3/28/2020:

Now that COVID-19 is sweeping across the United States, cooperation between Washington and Beijing remains essential. "It's hard to understate the importance of the U.S.-China relationship in getting through this," Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me.

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"The information we're getting is that … Yeah. No."

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Looking on the bright side

According to the BBC, a police boat in London was playing Monty Python's "Always look on the bright side of life" for listeners near the Thames last week:

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Turkic kaymak and Sinitic sū: a dairy product and a food texture

From Jacob Reed:

Inspired by Miss Gao's 小高姐's latest video, I've been trying to track down how 酥 acquired its present, seemingly contradictory connotations of "crispy" and "soft / relaxed". Paul Kroll's Classical / Medieval dictionary lists that it originally comes from the Persian for kaymak / clotted cream. 汉语大词典* indicates that this meaning is first attested during the Tang period.  Neither provide any indication of how we got from kaymak / clotted cream to "crispy" (the use of butterfat in pastry?).

In any case, I'm now curious if there's a more general trend of Sinitic dairy terms (like horse-related terms) coming from Central Asia, which would only make sense.

[VHM:  *Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Sinitic)]

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Captivating translation: young Turk with flowing charm

In my Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) seminar yesterday evening, Diana Shuheng Zhang submitted this translation:

Even more there is the young Turk with flowing charm,
who could take advantage of you with his coiled-up turban.
His horse white, his robe blue, his wide-open eyes bright ­–
Probably he is truly a debauchee at heart!

gèng yǒu fēngliú shè núzi
néng jiāng pánpà lái qī ěr
báimǎ qīngpáo huō yǎn míng
xǔ tā zhēnshi chá láng suǐ

更有風流歙奴子
能將盤帕來欺爾
白馬青袍豁眼明
許他真是查郎髓

Li She 李涉 (fl. 806-835)《Què guī Bālíng túzhōng zǒubǐ jì Táng Zhī yán 卻歸巴陵途中走筆寄唐知言》 "Returning Once Again to Baling, Written Hastily [lit., Running My Brush] En Route to Confide in Words to Tang Zhi"

The entire poem in 44 lines may be found here.

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The musicality of Changsha tones

With approximately six million native speakers centered on the capital of Hunan, the province just to the south of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has been raging for the past three months and more, Changsha topolect (Chángshā huà 長沙話) is a significant form of Sinitic:

Changsha dialect (simplified Chinese: 长沙话; traditional Chinese: 長沙話; pinyin: Chángshā-huà; Xiang: tsã˩˧ sɔ˧ ɣo˨˩) is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is not mutually intelligible* with Standard Mandarin, the official language of China.

(source)

[*VHM:  I like the way they put that — "not mutually intelligible".]

I don't know if the tones of Changsha topolect are innately more musical than those of other Sinitic topolects, or indeed of varieties of speech in non-Sinitic language groups, but it seems to be a thing to represent them musically.

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Cats and dogs and garden paths

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

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