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Wishydig



Linguistics and English language history. Our language is changing--that's perfectly all right.



Updated: 2018-01-19T14:11:08.092-05:00

 



Good Days

2014-09-30T18:00:19.193-04:00

I'm now in another country. And not just visiting. My wife has a job teaching at a university and I've taken a break from teaching to finish my own studies and writing. Except that now that I'm in this country, I'm taking a language class. It's an odd experience, as I've never taken a language class. I took Old English, which used to be a language, but now she's dead.

Of course, while taking this class I have to bite my tongue when the teacher says something about her language (or anyone else's) that my linguistic training has taught me to bark at like a drug sniffing dog.* It hasn't been too much of a challenge because her opinions are moderate and a lot of her views are in line with current linguistic theories and accepted facts.

The first good sign was when on the first day of class she mentioned that Turkish is not a difficult language. "It's just different" she said. Good I thought. She's not going to brag about her language being more sophisticated, or other languages being less logical. Of course less than twenty minutes after saying this, she did say "Russian is a very hard language!" Merely a venial sin. There's usually a detoxing session after the class when Buffy will turn to me and say "I was wondering what you thought when she said…" Which is a nice sign that my ranting and raving has made an impression on my loved ones. They're starting to recognize what sorts of pitches I like to take a swing at.
*Don't they actually just sit down next to the drugs when they find them? Without barking? I don't know if that's true, but it feels true right now.(image)



Thirteen untranslatable words

2014-06-03T11:02:02.978-04:00

I'm a language lover. I have been since I was a kid. Just about eleven months after being born, I started saying words and I've been using them ever since. I probably use words every day and I've gotten pretty good at it.But there's still so much for me to learn. And learning languages other than English is always a fun challenge. But what makes it so much harder is that a lot of languages have words in them that we just can't translate into English. Who knows if it's because we don't have the concept in English (which makes it impossible to make up a word to label the concept) or, more interestingly, maybe we don't have the concepts in English because we don't have the word! History's first linguist, a guy named Sapir Whorf, discovered that without a word, we can't think.So in my research I went out and found some of the most amazing untranslatable words in the non-American speaking world. Here they are, in no particular order. Mamihlapinatapei This is one of the first words I learned about as an untranslatable word. It's spoken by using a ancient and primitive language from Chile, in Tierra del Fuego. (Tierra del Fuego, by the way, means "Fire, Having Land/Earth/Dirt, Which Land/Earth/Dirt Is Being This Land/Earth/Dirt".) The word, mamihlapinatapei, is unfortunately untranslatable.Toska This is a Russian word. It means… uhhh… it's sort of like… hm. Well it's a cool meaning, but you have to know Russian to understand it.Iktsuarpok The Inuits only have one word for this, and therefore altho we can't know what this word means, we do know that iktsuarpok isn't important or familiar to the Inuits, otherwise they'd have 231 words for it. Shlimazl The Yiddish word is used next to schlemiel a lot, both of them meaning something related to each other. The meaning is something close to… uhhhh… dammit this post is hard to write. Friolero No idea. Looks Spanish.The You might recognize this word, but there is no English translation of it. It is similar to 'a' and 'an' but it has a meaning that those two words just don't quite capture.Tartle Scotts talk funny, don't they?Torschlusspanik Germans use this word. You might notice it has the word "panik" in it which is close to English "panic" but those other parts mean some other sorts of things.Wabi-Sabi In Japanese culture, you have… there are these… ummm… It rhymes with itself. Like that other untranslatable word Oingo Boingo.Hwæt This Old English word used to be English when English wasn't yet old. Once it became old, hwæt became impossible to use. Cafuné Not even speakers of Portuguese from Portugal can understand this word. Only speakers of Portuguese from Brazil know what it means.L’appel du vide Altho the French have one translation of this that they can share with us (the call of the void), they have since given it another more interesting meaning that they are keeping from us. Schadenfreude This weird German word roughly translates into the English word, 'schadenfreude'. [...]



"Evacuate": the premises

2013-03-13T21:30:57.227-04:00

An hourlong wait for the answer to a simple question gets tiresome. So I'm not usually a fan of detective procedurals on TV. I suppose that's also why some people are so uncomfortable with ambiguous syntax, polysemous words, and language change more generally. Understanding is hard! Well, I do like one cop show a lot: The Wire. It's intricate, precise, and consistent. Every character on the show is fallible. Every soul is broken. By addiction, betrayal, torture, improper English usage, murder…I started watching three months ago and now I'm up to the first episode of season 5. One scene brought back memories of a conversation that took place several years ago in the language blog neighborhood. Here's the bit.Gus Haynes sits at his desk reading and typing. He calls out"Ms Gutierrez. Gutierrez! Get your ass over here.""Yeah.""You say that 120 people were evacuated.""Yeah. They were.""You can't evacuate people. I mean you can if you want. But that's not what you want to say here." Another man—the fat, bald, bearded kind—offers his analysis."A building could be evacuated. To evacuate a person is to give that person an enema. The details, Miss Gutierrez. At The Baltimore Sun, god still resides in the details."As she walks away, put in her place, the fat bald guy (Jay Spry) cries out with the anguish of all obsolete convictions. "What are we gonna do with these children today?"Not to worry. His attempt to spread uninvestigated reassurance finds a home in Alma Gutierrez's eager little soul. She has picked up her Webster's New World desk dictionary, and the camera shows her staring as she reads it. "He's right" she says. "You don't evacuate people."We have to remember that these are fictional characters. And altho The Wire is riddled with characters based on real-life Baltimorianders, we can rest assured that neither of these superstitious editors is our friend, the reasonable John McIntyre.But what lesson can we learn here? You need soft eyes. Investigate. Know your sources. Put facts together. Neglecting or, more egregiously, refusing to do all that is too often what leads to peeves, complaints, feigned confusion, and the uninvestigated reassurance that stopped Ms Gutierrez from a fuller understanding of the word evacuate.It also trips up many of our fellow web-trotters. I did a little searching to find conversations about this issue, and I came across a story about a bomb threat in Palo Alto. Three commenters—employee, darwin, and sketch—provide the action.Click to enlarge so that you can read the tiny words.Notice that sketch's attempt to defend employee's use of evacuate doesn't actually defend the distinction precisely. The entry merely supports the sense of evacuate as "leave empty". In other words, to evacuate a building is to remove people from the building. Darwin's snippy response is on point if we accept that entry as the only admissible evidence in our investigation of the word's meaning.This is similar to what Gutierrez does after Spry limits the meaning of the word for her. This is also part of what I did when I saw that she was shown consulting Webster's New World. I went and got out my own copy of that dictionary. Not to see what I should believe, but to see what the dictionary actually says. And you know what? It's possible to read that as the only meaning of evacuate that my copy of WNW gives.For the sake of this argument, let's say that we're trusting the dictionary to tell us which meanings are in common enough usage to be understood and relevant. Nothing in the entry clearly indicates that the object of evacuate can be the people (or objects) that are removed. Altho I would say that sense 3.a. can be read this way, with the evacuees as the objects of evacuate, it's a tricky transitive structure. If someone is just looking to prove, rather than learn, they could hang on to their belief and say that the implied object is "place or area" not "inhabitants". I say it's both. I say the parentheses indicate two different possible object[...]



Ahem

2012-12-10T09:20:29.906-05:00

It's been over a year since I posted anything on this blog, and I don't think the symbolism of an entirely silent 2012 is as beautiful and poignant as it is sad and discouraging. So here's a little throat clearing to keep my voice ready.

I've watched as several blogs, that were part of my regular reading, have winnowed down to archives and 404 errors. The saddest examples are those small blogs with light readership, that had something to say but felt ignored. They remind me of the timid introvert at a party who works up the courage to add something to the conversation. They speak so softly that they're interrupted and no one notices. So they stop halfway thru their sentence and look around with a nervous smile pretending it didn't hurt.

I've never felt ignored here, but I do need a drink. That'll get me talking.(image)



Possible eggcorn hits close to home

2011-12-01T00:20:53.972-05:00

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Seen in a comment from a social networking site:

"Your alive ? I thought this was a line through a wishyboard...."

I wouldn't have understood what this meant without the context. But it's pretty clear that "wishyboard" is being used here instead of 'ouija board'. So we have the alteration/substitution necessary for an eggcorn. Do we have a reasonable semantic reanalysis?

It's a tough one. Is it likely that "wishy" refers to the divining, eking, asking, and pleading that might accompany a ouija board session? Is there wishing involved in the typical seance? Wishing upon a pentagram?

And beyond the possibility of a reanalysis here, this is nonce term with extra weight on the "once". I couldn't find any relevant hits in a quick search on Google™. This might be a true one-off. But there's just something about it…(image)



On Language is turned off - The Old Grey Lady ain't what she used to be

2011-02-25T22:12:58.376-05:00

Ben Zimmer was one of the first language bloggers to notice Wishydig and occasionally direct readers this way. I still remember that almost 4 years ago he was kind enough to mention one of my posts to Mr. Verb. It was a post I had written in response to one of William Safire's not very careful On Language columns on word history. Mr. Verb, writing with the same frustration I felt, remarked that it was time someone take over for the Times' resident Language Maven. Little did we know that in only a few years, the column would be Zimmer's.

Earlier today, Zimmer announced that his On Language column, "at least in its current incarnation," is being dropped from the redesigned New York Times Magazine. He has been trusted with that space for the past year, and he repaid that trust with careful, relevant, reliable, and interesting commentary on language. To make his columns interesting he didn't resort to making up facts, exaggerating claims, or stoking fears. He's a linguist who knows that language is fascinating on its own when represented accurately and analyzed reasonably.

I don't need to speculate about the business reasons for cutting On Language from the Times Magazine. I don't like it. Rational and insightful discussions of language are rare enough in mainstream news outlets. There are too many dilettantes and dabblers who go no further than to complain about variation and throw tantrums against change. Zimmer, on the other hand, provides calm and informed commentary. I'm sure he will continue to do so at Language Log, and the Visual Thesauraus. This is a coda, ending no syllable articulated by Zimmer, but by the New York Times.(image)



Linguists know how to talk

2010-09-16T23:41:27.529-04:00

Ben Zimmer and John McWhorter have done a diavlog hosted by Bloggingheads. If you know the names, you already know if you're interested. If you don't know the names, they're real linguists who will undoubtedly replace some of your mistaken beliefs and superstitions about language with observations that will prove to be much more interesting.

Zimmer has previously said of the word diavlog:

Diavlog is a second-order blend, by the way: it blends dialog and vlog, with the latter element representing a blend of video and blog. Or make that third-order, since blog blends Web and log.


My question has long been this: Do we distinguish, with a proper surface representation, a diavlog [dia(log)+[v(ideo)+[((we)b)+log]]] from a diavlog [dia(log)+[v(ideo)+log]] that isn't designed for the web?

And how do we know that [v] isn't just an infix, excised from video and inserted into dialog?

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IPA Palette now available for 64-bit Snow Leopard

2010-08-22T18:50:27.607-04:00

About a year ago I asked if anyone could help me get IPA Palette working on Snow Leopard. I didn't get much of a response. I found some workarounds.

A couple days ago, Brian 'Moses' Hall, the author of IPA Palette, found the post and responded.

Snow Leopard "broke" some aspects of Input Methods (because it suddenly went all 64-bit crazy) so people like me (and those write screen saver plugins and such) suddenly had to scramble. IPA Palette 2.0 addresses all these changes and works great on SL. Cheers, Moses Hall.


So IPA Palette 2.0b4 is available for download.

A couple images:
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It's a nice utility. I've set up some text replacement preferences for most of my IPA input, but I'll definitely use IPA palette for more of the fine tuning and narrow transcriptions.(image)



Imagine how they treat your luggage

2010-08-04T23:51:48.483-04:00

Seven dogs died because of a flight from Tulsa to Chicago. I know the reports say they died afterwards, but that's according to the airline, and how much trust can we put in puppy killers?

Whoever wrote or edited the article apparently subscribes to a mysterious usage rule that I wondered about a couple years ago: the rule is that you can't autopsy another species. So:
The incident was under investigation. The dogs are being necropsied.
Necropsied. When I first read about this usage belief, I asked if autopsies couldn't be performed on non-humans, or if it was just about a species other than that of the investigator.
[W]hat is it that technically keeps a pathologist from performing an autopsy on anything but another human? … The comment says the issue is "a different species" so does this mean that if horses were smart enough (and had opposable thumbs) they would be able to perform autopsies on other horses?
This is a sad story. It seems the airline didn't follow its own policies, and it's hard to imagine how to see them as anything other than sloppy enough to kill your pets. To borrow an old George Miller joke, I don't want to name the actual airline, but I will tell you that it's an american airline.(image)



Mamas and Papas

2010-07-29T13:57:39.451-04:00

Two day's ago I was reading an old Time magazine. One article quoted Victoria Osteen saying "Our Daddy G-d is the strongest!"I remembered that during my youth—and later employment—in parochial school, some preachers/teachers/spiritual-cheerleaders found it helpful to argue that there were places in the bible where the writer referred to the paternal role of a deity with a word closer to "daddy" than "father" in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek, Old English or whatever.Then about twenty minutes ago I read something a friend had written, and she used the phrase "my mom". This was a very light, very tongue-in-cheek exchange, and yet I couldn't bring myself to write "your mom" in my response. It just didn't feel right.Then about sixteen minutes ago, I saw that earlier today John McIntyre posted his thoughts on this very topic as regards journalistic conventions. He, like me, tends away from the less familiar 'Mom' (and I assume the same goes for 'Dad').I know this is influenced largely by the fact that I refer to my parents as 'Mother' and 'Father.' My friends have always thought this sounded stilted and distant. But those are for me the less loaded terms. Calling them 'Mom' and 'Dad' strikes me as similar to calling my sisters "Sis."To be clear: I'm not saying that this is what the words mean, or that other people should equate the words that way, or that I even hear it this way when other people speak. This is my idiolect that I'm talking about. All my sisters refer to our parents as 'Mom' and 'Dad' and it doesn't sound odd to me. Somewhere along the line, many many years ago, I attached some sort of overly familiar—and somehow, at the same time, distant—spin to those words. I recognize that my reaction to uttering Mom and Dad isn't in line with general use and connotation.McIntyre writes that the formality offers respect and that it creates a distance, and I think the paradox of my usage arose out of an attempt to do the former but not the latter.The old preachers' claims about a heavenly "daddy" versus "father" strikes me as simple and silly. I'm not a biblical languages scholar, but I do know that there is such a range of familiarity in these terms, and it's driven by individual preferences, and there's a wide and sprawling variety of connotations for words like dad and daddy and dada and da and pa and papa and pappy and pops and father and old man…If Mrs Osteen wants to argue that her daddy in the sky is stronger than ours, that's fine. But once she argues that her daddy told us to call him Daddy, I'm calling shenanigans. That father doesn't speak English. [...]



Who's who at Bonnaroo?

2010-07-24T17:04:41.323-04:00

(image) Jay Karas (he's a real person) got this photo of a couple at Bonnaroo, but didn't get their contact information. He's started a group on Facebook, just to find them and share the picture with them.

Join up and let's see if anyone can identify them make the connection.(image)



Cawffeh?

2010-07-21T00:16:37.776-04:00

Does this sound all right to you?

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I know most of my readers are American, but does that sound like a convincing British accent?

Before you decide to use the tutorial to infiltrate the London scene, read John Wells's simple and detailed explanation of where Tracy Goodwin gets it all wrong.

[Update: They say there's no such thing as bad press, as long as they spell your name right.

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I think Ms Goodwin would prefer they mangle her name. My thanks to OSF for providing this link in the comments.
]
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But I hate science fiction

2010-07-15T23:00:14.968-04:00

Here's the latest meaningless meme. I plugged in several of my favorite posts and I got the following results:

Arthur C. Clarke
H.P. Lovecraft
Edgar Allan Poe
David Foster Wallace
Arthur Conan Doyle
Ray Bradbury
J.K. Rowling

Lovecraft and DFW came up several times. The posts that used a lot of technical terms tended to go towards Lovecraft and the poems where I was expressing frustration thru sarcasm leaned towards DFW. I think the Rowling came from a flowery sappy post.

So I then decided to plug in some of my academic papers. A paper I wrote on Virginia Woolf came out like Lovecraft. OK. So I plugged in a paper I wrote about the Navajo Code Talkers. Again: Lovecraft.

And the paper I wrote on Chaucer's Reeve's Tale:

(image)
I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!



So I guess Ulysses wasn't overrated after all.(image)



Thrifty

2010-05-27T21:38:42.731-04:00

Last year I wrote a few hundred words on the adjective thrifty for a book being put together by Workman Publishing Company. The book is now out. It's called Be Thrifty: How to Live Better with Less. They sent me a copy (for free!) and it looks like a fun book. Full of tips and hints for being smart with resources.

Given my grad student status, I'd say my real expertise is in the whole living "with less" part. But I'm happy to talk about words whenever asked. And if you're willing to pay me… please do.


Disclosure: I was paid up front for what I wrote, and I get nothing from the sales. Of course I still have an interest in making sure the folks at Workman are happy to work with me again if the opportunity arises.(image)



Please vote

2010-05-15T01:02:12.102-04:00

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The Lexiophiles annual Top 100 list nominations have come out. I'm once again nominated in the "Language Learning" category. My showing last year was better than I expected. And if I make the cut this year, it'll be more than I deserve.

Posting has been light, but I'm encouraged by readers who write to tell me they anticipate my return to regular programming. I look forward to the same. Cheers, my friends.(image)



Next!

2010-05-19T00:50:07.151-04:00

From the Chatroulette anonymous video-chat craze are born all varieties of rules and strategies that soon become recognizable when wasting 15 minutes (or 2 hours) on the site.And of course some new words. My favorite: next v.What do you do when you see something or someone on your screen that you know you don't want to keep seeing? You next them. There's a handy little 'button' at the top of the screen that shuts them off and gives the chamber another spin. It's a lot of power.I had been thinking that "to next" simply meant to hit that little button at any point in the conversation. According to this amusing and informative video, to next is more specific than that: it's clicking the button immediately on seeing the other person. He even provides his own little definition card for the word.1. to be rejected, denied, cold dissed2. when a random stranger clicks the next button immediately after seeing what you look like.I get nexted a lot.Who knows if it's got the legs. A Google™ search brings up 35,500 raw hits for the -ed form, nexted. Nexting gets 121,000 hits, but from a greater variety of context, not all related to this use. Interestingly, the -ing form has another even more specialized use: nexting is an activity in which a group of friends gathers together to watch the Chatroulette screen together, to laugh and point at, or just have fun with the people they're connected with. There's a divergence here from the sense of turning away immediately. The "nexting parties" I've seen on there often engage with me. They like to make comments about my beard, and call me Kimbo. Or Kerry King.Discourse is interesting on the site. The strategies for engaging and sizing up your "partner" are starting to reveal some patterns. Tests of verity and other feelers are common. Is this a real person I'm talking to? (There are several programs that make "fake" screen characters an issue.) Is this person a pervert? Is this person cool? Is he creepy? Is she freaky? It's a minefield on there and people have learned to do a lot of careful navigating thru it all. From the obvious opening line "Don't next me!" to the more inviting "before you go, can i ask you something?"A word of caution: Chatroulette brings out the worst in people. Mostly in males. One reason nexting became so common and so necessary was the ubiquitousness of self-gratification. Ten minutes on that site makes me want to seriously reconsider shaking any guy's hand again. Because now I know exactly where they've been.Update: Fritinancy has posted more commentary on next, with the important note that the verb isn't new to Chatroulette. She finds a definition dating back to 2004. Tho as she adds, that's "if Urban Dictionary's contributors are to be trusted." My advice: we should never trust them, but we can often believe them.It makes perfect sense that this verb isn't brand spanking new. The word already works well in contexts apart from the website. This new, more specific meaning, can be the focused boost a word sometimes needs to be revived into a new, maybe different, life. [...]



Linking to the post that linked to the post that...

2010-04-23T13:16:07.158-04:00

Mr Verb has linked to a post at A Walk in the WoRds, that links to other posts that link to other posts.

This could go on forever. And so it's proof of Universal Grammar. So there.(image)



Literally just checking in

2010-04-11T01:01:05.560-04:00

Over at Literal-Minded, Neal asks

Does literally have to scope over the entire sentence that it’s part of, or are we cool as long as it’s highlighting some part of the sentence as the literal truth?


He provides a couple of examples for us to judge. It seems he believes highlighting is OK.

My view: I agree. The target sense can be, and often is, localized to one part of the claim.

If you care to read more of my take on this, just take a stroll down memory lane.(image)



This is why I told you not to love me

2010-04-05T20:20:50.820-04:00

You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner Dottie. A rebel.

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Three things

2010-03-11T18:46:54.015-05:00

The meeting will now come to order. Our agenda for the day is as follows.1) Provide assurance that I am still here, and this link is not defunct.2) Make pledge to get back to posting regularly, tho timeline is not yet established.*3) Share great news about language writing in major media outlets.So our first item has been accomplished. If you're reading this, you know it's been written. Let's move on to the next.Hereby pledged. Timeline still pending.Finally:The New York Times has announced that Ben Zimmer is now the regular "On Language" columnist. He will carry on, and add to, the legacy of the late William Safire. This is very exciting. The column has a large readership, and wields great influence over the tenor of common observations about language. Mr Zimmer will certainly be a fair, insightful, incisive, and accurate commentator. The space is in good hands.*I only ask--beg, plead--that Neal Whitman not remove me from the "frequently updated" blog list. Because occasional gaps are allowed, right? [...]



Lake Superiority Complex

2010-01-07T04:46:46.830-05:00

The annual Lake Superior State Banished Words list is up. It's always a great way to get my eye-rolling started for the year.If you want the link, Google™ it. It deserves no direct traffic from my 7 readers.Here is the list, followed by one or two comments from those who cherish the peeve-fest; that followed by my snarky responses.SHOVEL-READY"Do I really need a reason? Well, if so how about this: I just saw it in tandem with 'cyber-ready' and nearly choked on my coffee. It's starting the '-ready' jargon. Makes me 'vacation-ready.'" – Karen Hill, Ann Arbor, Mich.It's starting the jargon? That must explain the cable-ready T.V. we had back in the 80's, and the Roast-ready rib cited from 1926 by the OED.TRANSPARENT/TRANSPARENCY"In the lexicon of the political arena, this word is supposed to mean obvious or easily understood. In reality, political transparency is more invisible than obvious!" -- Deb Larson, Bellaire, Mich.I suppose you'd also like to banish the words honesty trustworthiness and accountability because those politicians are so undeserving of them.And for what it's worth, in the lexicon of the political arena the words actually refer to policies of full disclosure, not necessarily ease of understanding. How about criticizing only words you know?CZAR"We have appointed a czar of such-and-such; clearly that's better than a 'leader,' 'coordinator' or 'director'! -- Derek Lawrence, Thunder Bay, Ont.When pressed for space, yes: czar is much better than those words. The official titles have used such terms as Director, Coordinator , Administrator, Advisor, Assistant Secretary, Special Representative, Counselor, Chairman, and many many more words that you'd love. But headlines don't love such long words. And neither would you if you had to write them.TWEET"People tweet and retweet and I just heard the word 'tweet' so many times it lost all meaning.” – Ricardo, Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.And I have read complaints like these so many times…APP"Is there an 'app' for making this annoying word go away? Why can't we just call them 'programs' again?" – Kuahmel Allah, Los Angeles, Calif.Because you would complain about that word and would whine about how we should call them mathematical tasks designed for solution by the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.SEXTING"Any dangerous new trend that also happens to have a clever mash-up of words, involves teens, and gets television talk show hosts interested must be banished." – Ishmael Daro, Saskatoon, Sask., Canada.I'm going to banish rock-and-roll next.FRIEND (verb)"'Befriend' is much more pleasant to the human ear and a perfectly useful word in the dictionary." – Kevin K., Morris, Okla.Tho it doth spleet the ears of the groundlings, friend is in the dictionary. And it was used by Shakespeare. Probably not in relation to Facebook tho because his dictionary hadn't yet given him permission. Can I use it if I make sure to whisper it when you're around?TEACHABLE MOMENT"It's a condescending substitute for 'opportunity to make a point,'" says Eric Rosenquist of College Station, Tex.And this is a condescending substitute for reasonable discussion of language.IN THESE ECONOMIC TIMES…."Overused and redundant. Aren't ALL times 'these economic times'?" -- Barb Stutesman, Three Rivers, Mich.Why do you think we have to use the phrase so much?!STIMULUS"What next, can I go down to the local bar and down a few drinks and call it a stimulus package?" – Richard Brown, Portland, Ore.My guess is your package has very little to do w[...]



The night was dry, yet it was raining*

2010-01-05T04:24:54.993-05:00

Jan Freeman's The Word blog has moved to a new perch. Gotta say, I like the name: Throw Grammar from the Train. Especially if said with a non-rhotic accent. But wait! Considering the addition of coda [ɹ] to word final [ə]—which addition is characteristic of some New England dialects—it can work either way.

Many years ago, when… say… John Kerry's accent was full of more regional markers, he might have pronounced grammar without the final [ɹ], and he might have pronounced grandma with the final [ɹ].

So— my pronunciation of the blog title sounds a lot like our young John Kerry saying "Throw Grandma from the train."

And— young John Kerry's pronunciation of the blog title sounds a lot like me saying "Throw Grandma from the train."

(This is of course supposing a quick pronunciation of grandma not as Grand -Ma but as gramma.)



* Not a meaningful post title. Just a quote from the movie, Throw Momma from the Train.
** The young Kerry I've created for this post, does indeed speak as I'm suggesting. That's the nice thing about historical fiction. The facts fit my needs.(image)



Hey, your fake English is Oll Raigth

2009-12-22T00:07:42.439-05:00

In 1972, Italian singer/actor/director/comedian/general entertainer Adriano Celentano wrote this campy rap.

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Each time I hear it, I think I hear an earworm burrowing further into my head.

The "Oll Raigth" is pretty clearly an attempt to capture an English sound of all right. And I kinda doubt the 'th' is a typo on the end. It sounds like they might be pronouncing the fricative [θ], which is an interesting interpretation of a glottal stop [ʔ]. Both avoid the plosive I suppose.

What makes it sound English? Well, if it does sound English (and it kinda does to me) it's probably a few things:

the fronting of /oʊ/ to [əʊ]
the breaking of [e] to [eɪ]
the aspiration on stops [pʰ] [tʰ] [kʰ]
the retroflex [ɻ]
the velarized (or dark) [ɫ] in some places
and it seems to me a lot of the off-glides before nasals, [ɻ]s and [ɫ]s.

And scads and scores of other features on other phones and details that have to do with contour, and stress patterns.

Anything you notice?

(thanks ed)(image)



Another one bites

2009-12-16T20:08:31.521-05:00

Quick post on Alex Trebek and an odd stress pattern from this evening's Jeopardy!.

Reading the name of Ben Stiller's movie, Reality Bites, Alex put the phrase's primary stress on reality. This would be okay if the name of the movie referred to 'bites of reality' or something like that in which 'reality bites' is a noun with 'bites' as the head noun, and 'reality' as the specifier. So you'd have computer bytes, and be covered in mosquito bites, and have all sorts of bites in addition to reality bites.

But I've always understood the title to be a sentence. The noun/subject is 'reality' and the verb/predicate is 'bites.' In that case the primary stress of the phrase should be on 'bites' unless a contrastive stress is intended. As in a correction if someone were to say that fantasy bites.

"No, fantasy doesn't bite; reality bites."

I would call Alex unhip if the movie were actually any good.(image)



That's not an Ugg. This is an ugg. ...or at least an ugh.

2009-12-04T11:45:55.970-05:00

I've been asked to get the word out.* So I'll actually get out two words: whooga and ugg.First, I like the word whooga. According to Sarah at Whoogaboots, whooga "is [an] Australian slang word which refers to joy and happiness" and she tells me it's pronounced [hugaː]. In combination with boots it would likely lose any stress from the 2nd syllable, which would then be reduced to [ə]. That creates a nice easy contour over 3 syllables: primary stress/unstressed/secondary stress. Like boomerang. Or bandicoot. Similar in contour to didgeridoo. And the repetition of the [u] vowel is playful. Hula Hoop. Loop de Loop. Toodaloo. Foofaroo. Whoop-de-doo.Now on ugg(s)A few years ago when I heard people talking about uggs or ugg boots, I assumed it was a brand. The boots looked familiar, and I figured some company decided to specialized in an established style, and chose the name to play with "ugg" as a shortened form of "ugly" because of the rustic look of the boots. Well there is an UGG® brand out there, and perhaps ugg is a shortened form of ugly. Tho Sarah at Whoogaboots reminds me that, as is so often the case, "the exact origin and meaning of the name is still fiercely debated."A 1994 mention in the New York Times (by Timothy Jack Ward) refers to the boots as "ughs", explaining that it's Australian slang for the sheepskin booties that surfers use to keep their feet either warm or cool. (Hey, just like a thermos.) That's the same story you'll find in several places. That spelling could be combining a shortened form of ugly, with an onomatopoetic grunt. Now I mostly find uggs, a spelling perhaps influenced by the popularity of the Ugg brand. Which brand Ward then called "the footwear of the moment on the American West Coast."One usage feature that's worth noting is the variation between "uggs" and "ugg boots". Those who object to "ugg boots" as a pleonastic form will claim that "boots" is unnecessary, as all uggs are boots. This is the same objection we might hear regarding a "cardigan sweater" or "Stratocaster guitar".Others who object to the use of 'boots' might do so because they believe uggs should be contrasted with boots. By this view, there are boots, and there are uggs. They are distinct types of footwear.Interestingly, tho the Whooga website itself alternates between "uggs" and "ugg boots"—which would seem to indicate that they believe the pleonastic use is acceptable—the site copy also apparently contrasts uggs and boots. Offering a bit of fashion advice, they write"Black uggs tend to look much slimmer and more boot like than ’ugg’."Now does the syntax mean that they're relying on a gap there, meaning "more boot like than 'ugg' [like]"? Or are they using 'ugg' as a complete predicate adjective as well? In other words: are they saying that black uggs don't look very ugg? Well, the folks at Whooga are obviously proud of their product, and they're hoping to reclaim the association of the footwear with their brand. If you ask me, the boots are desirable for function more than form. And if you've seen the way I dress, you know I don't care much for style.I'm not much of a boot wearer, but I also tend to avoid socks. And these uggs are designed to be worn without socks. Who knows, if I received a pair, I might just wear them. But only once I'm sure the fad is spent. And I'd probably go for the shorter style. Just in case, you know, you're feeling generous.[Upd[...]