Archive for the ‘Ordinary vs. technical lg’ Category


January 28, 2014

Yesterday’s Dilbert, on average:


The cartoon uses average as a technical term — mean or median — and also as an ordinary language term, meaning ‘mediocre’, invidiously.


August 18, 2013

Two questions: How is the name of this foodstuff pronounced in English? Is it a grain?



July 31, 2013

In the NYT on the 29th, an op-ed piece “A Crescendo of Errors” by Miles Hoffman (the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music commentator for Morning Edition on NPR), which begins with a cry of pain over a usage:

Fitzgerald did it. Can you believe that? And in “Gatsby,” no less. It sent me reeling. The historian James M. McPherson did it in “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Twice. George F. Will, William Safire and countless other prominent journalists have done it, as have Southern writers, Northern writers, writers of science and of science fiction, novices and old pros.

All these people, and so many others — oh my goodness, so very many others — have “reached,” or have described events or emotions “reaching,” crescendos.

… But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo.

… The one thing crescendo does not mean, … and never has meant, is “climax.”

Barbara Partee has responded to Hoffman’s piece on Language Log, in a piece entitled “Reaching a crescendo?”.  Here I’ll be repeating some of Barbara’s points and some of the discussion in comments on it, trying to bring out several points that tie to themes in my postings.



July 28, 2013

Today’s Dilbert has Wally shamelessly slinging technical jargon to his boss:

Everything in “Advanced scripting structure for internetwork optimization of SQL datases” is genuine (SQL stands for Structured Query Language, for instance), but it’s a real challenge to make sense of the whole.

Three sex workers

July 14, 2013

(Warning: very plain talk about man-man sex; no X-rated images, but several right on the line.)

The immediate impulse for this posting is the death of three very popular, hunky pornstars in the last year (each with his own sad story), which has led me to think about the term sex worker (as applied to men) and its penumbra of reference to men who make a living from their bodies. And about the challenges of a life in porn.



June 28, 2013

The tree, not the cocktail. And then not a tree in the genus Mimosa, but one in the genus Albizia, specifically Albizia julibrissin, a specimen of which grows right outside my bedroom window — and is now getting into a stage at which it’s blooming quite prettily, but also dropping junk (leaflets and flowers at the moment, seed pods soon to come) all over the place. A mixed blessing.


Annals of sex positions

June 28, 2013

Among the cards in the SexDeck –

(“Has Missionary become monotonous? Is Doggie getting dull? Tonight, skip the same-old-same-old and give Leg Wrap. Easy Rider, or the Sun Worshiper a try.”)

The names are mostly inventive, definitely non-standard, but every so often you come across a technical term from the world of sex research. So it was with card #16, depicting the reverse CAT, where CAT is glossed as Coital Alignment Technique.


terminal sire

June 25, 2013

On a postcard in the Beautiful Farmyard set (“100 gorgeous portraits of chickens, cows, ducks, owls, pigeons, pigs, rabbits, sheep & tractors”), a Suffolk sheep, identified as “the leading terminal sire breed in the UK”. Terminal sire is obviously a technical term in animal breeding, but its meaning wasn’t obvious to me. Turns out that the breeding practice in question comes in two steps, and a Suffolk ram plays a crucial role in the second, terminal, step.


Springing into summer

June 24, 2013

Back in May there came botanical evidence that we were moving from spring into summer. In places with cold winters, it became possible to plant nasturtium seeds, because those places were moving past their last frost date. Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, my geranium plants (in containers on my patios), which went through the winter as foliage plants, broke into bloom (as the cymbidium orchids moved into summer dormancy).

I’ve referred to these summer plants by their common names — as nasturtiums and geraniums — but their genus names are, respectively, Tropaeolum and Pelargonium. And to make things more confusing, there are genera (of different plants) Nasturtium (to which watercress belongs) and Geranium (the cranesbills).


More gay greens

June 24, 2013

In the previous installment, “Gay greens: the big two”, I looked at arugula (UK rocket) and radicchio, with an excursion into chicories — especially (curly) endive and Belgian endive — and an appendix on cruciferous vegetables. Now on to a wider set of greens.



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