Archive for the ‘Ordinary vs. technical lg’ Category

Smell vocabulary

February 25, 2015

Previously on this blog: a Calvin and Hobbes (of 2/16/15) in which we learn that (at least in comic strips) tigers have an extensive vocabulary for smells. In a comment on that posting, Steve Anderson noted the paucity of smell (and taste) vocabulary other than via analogical descriptions (“tastes/smells like old socks”). But now comes a paper from the recent AAAS meetings in San Jose. From the 2/21 Economist, the story “Scent off: Culture, not biology, rules the relation between smell and language”, which I’ll post here in its entirety, in case readers can’t get access to the Economist site.

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Technically

February 10, 2015

The xkcd from January 19th (thanks to Ann Burlingham)):

Um, technically, that sentence begins with well, not technically. But let that pass.

Technically serves to announce that some expression — like the word bug — is going to be used in a specialized technical sense, not in its ordinary-language sense, and that information is rarely useful in context; usually it just functions as one-upmanship.

Naming, in perpetuity

November 30, 2014

From the NYT on the 28th, a piece by Sam Roberts, “With Naming Rights, ‘Perpetuity’ Doesn’t Always Mean Forever”, with some serious linguistics in it:

After Philippe de Montebello agreed at breakfast two decades ago to name the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roman Sculpture Court, in perpetuity, for the philanthropists and antiquities collectors Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White, Mr. Levy predictably, but politely, posed an impertinent question.

“Aware that sometime in the future, Philippe’s successor would probably be making the same promise to some donor not yet born,” Mr. Levy later recalled, “I asked him, How long is ‘in perpetuity’?”

“For you, 50 years,” Mr. de Montebello, the museum director, replied.

They went on to further negotiate the time span.

How to understand “in perpetuity” in this context?

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Word errors

November 9, 2014

From Kristin Bergen on Facebook:

a wonderful eggcorn from a FB teaching discussion group: a colleague reports a senior seminar paper in which the student describes something happening “right from the gecko”

A delightful error (evoking an entertaining image), and surely a type of classical malapropism (CM) — a type I’ll label a Ruthie (after the character of that name in the comic strip One Big Happy) — but not an instance of the subtype of CM known in the error literature as an eggcorn, though to be fair to Kristin it’s significantly similar to eggcorns.

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Hipster chronicles

October 31, 2014

An illustration: the cover of the 11/3/14 New Yorker, Peter de Sève’s “Hip Hops”, with a hipster doing a beer tasting in a hipster bar:

More on the artist and the story behind this illustration later. But first, on hipster.

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Putrid in context

October 27, 2014

Back on the 15th, I posted about the appearance of the adjective putrid in a NYT feature story. From that posting:

Natto for breakfast. From the NYT Magazine on the 12th, in “Rise and Shine: What kids around the world eat for breakfast” (photographs by Hannah Whitaker, text by Malia Wollan) … [in the section on a Japanese breakfast that included the fermented soybean dish natto]

I was taken aback by putrid [for natto], which struck me as much too negative in the context. [in fact, the article had “putrid soybean goop”]

In a comment on this posting, Steve Anderson wrote:

I don’t know whether you’ve ever eaten (or tried to eat) natto, Arnold, but in my opinion ‘putrid’ [meaning ‘rotten’, and by extension, ‘very unpleasant, repulsive’] is precisely descriptive.

Two comments here. First, note the “in this context” in my posting. I meant that seriously. My objection to putrid was to its use in the specific context of the NYT piece, not to its use in any context whatsoever (specifically, not to its use in a description of personal tastes). Second, a note on my own experiences of natto. I’ll reserve for another posting a (lengthy) discussion about rotten or rotted food, fermented food and drink, and related topics — a domain in which ordinary English is poor in vocabulary.

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Architectural notes

June 13, 2014

Today’s Zippy:

(#1)

cornice, soffit, fascia, frieze board, dentil — technical terms of architecture that get Zippy off (so much so that he uses soffit, fascia, frieze board as a mantra).

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Tenses here, tenses there

May 12, 2014

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky offers this passage from the Ask a Manager blog of the 12th:

Managers and the possessive tense

I have a new manager who has placed his desk in the middle of the room, and conducts all of his conference calls in a rather loud fashion. In doing so, he constantly refers to the employees (myself and my peers) as “his” — e.g. “my team,” “my testers,” “my people.”

Am I wrong to feel a bit demeaned that my new manager is placing himself as a king among the common employee? His self-placement of prominence above those that he rules is causing quite a bit of resentment amongst “we the people.”

Elizabeth reports that this is otherwise an excellent blog (offering good advice on managing), but possessive tense is nonsensical as a technical term of grammar.

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Average

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.

quinoa

August 18, 2013

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

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