Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Fascinated with the history of English

August 5, 2012

A recent Zippy, in which Griffy is fascinated:

Don’t know about carving words into animal bones in England, but sheep’s knuckle bones were used as paving stones, devices for divination, and dice-like pieces in games.



June 19, 2012

From Melinda Shore on Facebook, this image, presented as a puzzle:

Yes, a flint arrowhead, in remarkably good shape. As it happens, I have three such arrowheads, though not quite so beautiful as this one:


Ota Benga and scientific racism

June 7, 2012

Continuing the story of Madison Grant, who helped to found the Bronx Zoo, from David Samuels’s essay “Wild Things: Animal nature, human racism, and the future of zoos” in the June 2012 Harper’s magazine: the sad tale of Ota Benga.


The stigma of ungrammaticality

February 19, 2011

On the Stanford linguistics newsletter site (the Sesquipedalian) yesterday, Arto Anttila asked who was the first person to use the asterisk to mean ungrammaticality:

This question was brought up in the Foundations of Linguistic Theory class on Friday… I have been able to confirm that * was used to mean ungrammaticality as early as in 1963 by R. B. Lees and E. S. Klima in their article ‘Rules for English Pronominalization’, Language 39(1), 17-28. The relevant sentence is on p. 18:

(8) *I see himself.

The example is followed by a long footnote where Lees and Klima patiently explain what * means. They cite no precedents. These facts together strongly suggest that one of them is the originator of the notation. But we may never know which. Lees passed away in 1996 and Klima in 2008.

… Thanks to Martin Kay for asking the question and to Paul Postal for suggesting the answer.

Beth Levin checked Lees’s The Grammar of English Nominalizations (1960) and found that it has asterisks of ungrammaticality in it, starting on p. 7, where an asterisked example is given without comment.


Quotes and footnotes

January 7, 2011

Two volumes of bookish cultural history that I’ve been reading: Willis Goth Regier’s Quotology (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2010), about quotations, and Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), about, obviously, footnotes. Both packed with fascinating detail, though their style and audiences are rather different.



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