Archive for the ‘Categorization and Labeling’ Category

Misleadingly named animals

July 27, 2015

Via Kim Darnell on Facebook (a very long time ago), this poster:

Eight composite names — some N + N, some Adj + N. The question here is the semantic contribution of each of the parts. The poster deliberately disregards the fact that these are common names, not technical labels from biology; and it insists on treating these names as definitions, which is something no mere label can do. And it throws in some tongue-in-cheek remarks.


More art criticism from Calvin

July 16, 2015

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes:

This time it’s goofy drawings on the sidewalk. Last year it was Calvin’s snow sculptures, as examples of “transitory art” — on December 16th here, on December 19th here. It’s all about categorization and labeling.

The Far North

July 14, 2015

On KQED-FM (public radio in San Francisco), a boost for:

Redding — the best of far northern California

You see the problem: Northern California takes in way too much (if it’s understood as covering the northern half of the state), and, worse, it’s likely to be interpreted as a regional name centered on San Francisco (or maybe San Francisco and Sacramento) and actually excluding the far northern part of the state. The designation far northern California is an attempt to carve out a culturally relevant area.

Recall my discussion of Southern California in connection with the town of Ojai, here. We do in fact need more regional designations, if we hope to capture the culturally relevant regions.


Librarians and light bulbs

July 11, 2015

An image — an illustrated librarian/lightbulb joke — that came to me on Facebook via the page of the Young Adult author Roland Smith, though Smith was clearly not the creator:

Three things here: the genre of this image + text; the source of the this particular example; and the joke meme(s) exemplified here.


Where is Ojai?

July 7, 2015

From the New Yorker for July 6th and 13th, in “Outsiders: The Ojai Music Festival” by Alex Ross, p. 88:

no one should be surprised that such an institution took place in Southern California. The esoteric sects that proliferated in the state at the turn of the last century had myriad connections to modernism in the arts.

I was somewhat taken aback by the location of Ojai in Southern California, when I think of it as being on the Central Coast. (But then my parents lived on the Central Coast for years.)

Another problem with categorization (of the regions of California) and labeling.


“part of who we are”

June 27, 2015

One of the developments in South Carolina has to do with the Confederate battle flag flying on the dome of the statehouse there: what does it mean? and should it be taken down?

The full history of the flag is complex, but there’s no question that after the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s it was used as a powerful symbol of Southern resistance to the movement, black people, and the federal government.

Into this terrain walked Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose first response was to protest that the battle flag is an integral “part of who we are”, part of the Southern heritage, and as such should be proudly preserved in situ. (His position later moderated.)

The first thing to ask about his statement is: who are the we in what he said? From the larger context, I assume that Graham’s intention was to refer to Southerners in general  (or at least to South Carolinians). But I can’t credit that claim.


But are they cartoons?

May 8, 2015

Every so often I post about some form of visual art (often presented as a webcomic) whose categorization is unclear. Today’s puzzle: the books of Sloane Tanen (with photographer Stefan Hagen), for instance “Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same: The Life and Times of Some Chickens” (2003):


The Publishers Weekly blurb for this book labels Tanen as a “visual artist”, while Tanen herself (in an interview on the Mommy Tracked site), asked to describe her job, replied:

Hmmm. Hard to do. I used to be a painter. Now I am sort of a 3-D cartoonist — with chickens.


The general store

January 26, 2015

From the January 26th New Yorker, a cartoon by Liana Finck:


A store that deals with things from highly general categories: it sells items, for which it takes money.



December 29, 2014

Another dish from Reposado in Palo Alto:

Housemade blue corn crepes filled with fresh crab, shrimp & red snapper, asadero cheese, poblano cream sauce, jasmine rice with roasted corn

on the menu; also known as enchiladas con mariscos:


black, Black, etc.

November 22, 2014

From an op-ed column in the NYT on the 19th, “The Case for Black With a Capital B” by Lori L. Tharps:

this is one of my greatest frustrations as a writer and a Black woman living in the United States. When speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized. Black with a capital B refers to people of the African diaspora. Lowercase black is simply a color.

Linguists, academics and activists have been making this point for years, yet the publishing industry — our major newspapers, magazines and books — resist making this simple yet fundamental change. Both Oxford and Webster’s dictionaries state that when referring to African-Americans, Black can be and often is capitalized, but the New York Times and Associated Press stylebooks continue to insist on black with a lowercase b. Ironically, The Associated Press also decrees that the proper names of “nationalities, peoples, races, tribes” should be capitalized. What are Black people, then?

I’m not going to object to this orthographic proposal, but I am going to argue that (though it’s innocuous) it’s not especially useful and is seriously confused on the nature of the categories at issue.



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