Archive for the ‘Technical and ordinary language’ Category

Charles Barsotti

June 22, 2014

In the NYT yesterday, an obituary by William Yardley: “Charles Barsotti, Cartoonist With Humor Both Simple and Absurd, Dies at 80″.

Charles Barsotti, a cartoonist for The New Yorker whose jaded canines, outlaw snails and obtuse monarchs made readers laugh for more than 40 years, died on Monday at his home in Kansas City, Mo.

… Mr. Barsotti made pasta talk. He drew hot dogs planning cookouts. His lines were spare and clean, whether drawn or written

That last sentence makes reference to two of  my favorite Barsotti cartoons, both of which happen to have a foodstuff talking on the phone; both have appeared on this blog.



April 21, 2014

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky’s flower photos — piles and piles of them, since so many flowers, some with brief blossoming times, are in bloom now — include a number with spiders in them. Well, actually, not spiders, but harvestmen, a similar-looking but quite distinct creature. Here’s one on its own:



Original pronunciation

March 21, 2014

Many people have written to me recommending a video by David and Ben Crystal on the “Original Pronunciation” (OP) of Shakespeare vs. the Received Standard pronunciation we’re become accustomed to in performances of the Bard of Avon.  Fascinating stuff, treated in a Language Log posting by David Beaver of 9/7/13: “Rot and Rot (a really, really rude sex joke)”.

Note that “Original Pronunciation” doesn’t mean the first there was, because that would take us back to Old English and Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European and beyond (insofar as we can imagine beyond). And the terminology is misleading because it suggests that there was only one pronunciation for the characters in the Shakespearean canon; there was unquestionably variation in the pronunciation of characters according to their place in society. But the OP label does highlight differences between current performance practices and the ones of Shakespeare’s time.

However, my point here is not to revive this discussion, but to note that one of my correspondents refers to the variety in question as ancient English, a label students of mine have often used for what is technically Early Modern English (not oven Old English). Well, it’s old, really old, so it must be ancient.


Two Pearls

February 22, 2014

Two recent Pearls Before Swine strips:




Mammoths and flowers

February 8, 2014

Passed on to me by Sim Aberson, this NPR story of February 6th, “Woolly Mammoths’ Taste For Flowers May Have Been Their Undoing” by Geoff Brumfiel, beginning:

They were some of the largest, hairiest animals ever to walk the Earth, but new research shows a big part of the woolly mammoth’s diet was made up of tiny flowers.

The work is based on DNA analysis of frozen arctic soil and mammoth poop. It suggests that these early vegans depended on the flowers as a vital source of protein. And when the flowers disappeared after the last ice age, so too did the mammoths that ate them.




February 1, 2014

Arne Adolfsen has posted on Facebook about a forthcoming book on emeralds, which looks gorgeous. An illustration:


A story here on the book, Emerald: A Glittering Visual History Of Emeralds, which is scheduled to be published on February 16th.


Define “open source”

August 11, 2013

Today’s Dilbert takes up the definition of technical terms:

Wikipedia on “open source” will give you some sense of the problem.

Poppies, lilacs, and lilies

June 20, 2013

Spring and early summer are the blooming seasons for the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, which blankets fields and hillsides (and open spaces on the Stanford campus) in yellow and orange:



The compound California poppy is subsective: a California poppy is a poppy — as the word poppy is used in ordinary English, and in fact as it is used by botanists speaking informally. So California poppy contrasts maximally with California lilac, which is not a lilac in the eyes of ordinary speakers or botanists; California lilac is a resembloid compound rather than a subsective one. Daylily presents an intermediate case: it’s not subsective for botanists or for many ordinary speakers — for these people, a daylily is not a lily — but it is for some ordinary speakers.



June 7, 2013

Heard in television ads for cancer treatment centers, the phrase investigational drugs. From an FDA site on “Access to Investigational Drugs”:

Investigational or experimental drugs are new drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA or approved drugs that have not yet been approved for a new use, and are in the process of being tested for safety and effectiveness.

This passage treats investigational and experimental as synonyms in the drug context — but then the site goes on to use investigational exclusively. This specialized use of investigational (as opposed to the transparent general use ‘of or relating to investigations’) seems to be fairly recent — recent enough that it’s not in the dictionaries I’ve consulted. It seems to have replaced experimental as the appropriate technical term for drugs undergoing testing, perhaps because some people in the relevant community had come to feel that experimental no longer sounded sufficiently technical, but had become part of ordinary language.



May 29, 2013

A One Big Happy that came by me recently:

Two (at least) different senses of the adjective average here: ‘at the statstical mean’ vs. ‘ordinary’ or ‘typical’. So Joe could be right.



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