Archive for May, 2012

Little /majt/, big /majt/

May 29, 2012

Yesterday Wilson Gray reported on ADS-L that he’d come across “went a might too far” on another mailing list, in a context where he would have expected the degree modifier a mite ‘a bit, a tad, a little’. Possibly just a spelling confusion (with the more frequent item might standing in for the less frequent mite) —  might – mite does appear on many lists of homophones and spelling confusions — but something more complex might be going on, at least for some of the occurrences.


kiss this guy etc.

May 28, 2012

From today’s Metropoltan Diary in the NYT, Paul Klenk writing about “A Misunderstanding at the Starbucks Counter”:

My ears did a double-take a couple of months ago when a customer at the Starbucks on Lexington and 40th ordered something called “a black guy.” The cashier repeated “black guy” to the barista, so I knew I had heard correctly. When I noticed others order this drink a day or two later, I became curious, and asked Frank, the cashier, “What’s a ‘black guy’?”

“It’s two shots,” he replied.

My jaw dropped. “You mean, like…?

“Yeah,” Frank laughed, miming two blows to his head. “Two shots!”


Martial holidays

May 28, 2012

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, one of four martial holidays in my country:

Armed Forces Day, honoring servicemembers in general: 3rd Saturday in May

Memorial Day, honoring those who have died in the service of the U.S.: last Monday in May

Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and celebrated as the major patriotic holiday in the country: July 4th

Veterans Day, commemorating the end of World War I and honoring veterans of service: November 11th

The first two come so close to one another that they tend to merge in public consciousness; Memorial Day tends to be treated as an all-purpose martial holiday, honoring all servicemembers, living or dead, active or retired. Plus it’s the beginning of (cultural) summer.


translating, interpreting

May 28, 2012

From a NYT editorial (“Lost in Translation”) on the 24th:

A persistent problem in American courts is the lack of translators to ensure that litigants who don’t speak or read English can take part in their cases. That’s the purpose of the Court Interpreters Act of 1978, which allows federal courts to order losing parties to pay prevailing parties the cost of interpreters.

In a disappointing 6-to-3 ruling, the Supreme Court defined “interpreter” narrowly to mean “one who translates orally from one language to another.”

This takes us into a thicket of complexities surrounding the verbs interpret and translate and the nouns interpreter, interpretation, translator, and translation.


What motivates academics?

May 28, 2012

Back on March 21st, a NYT story (in the Arts section) — “TV Digs Will Harm Patrimony, Scholars Say” by Bill Carter — on the tv show “American Digger”. Along the way, a common belief about academics and what motivates them.


Why is this night different from all others?

May 28, 2012

Back on April 1st, Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in the Sunday Review section of the NYT on the question “Why a Haggadah?” In the middle of this, a fine deployment of a linguistic formula.



May 28, 2012

A number of notable deaths over the past few weeks. Two pop musicians who gave me disco pleasure over the years: Donna Summer, memorialized in the NYT on the 18th; and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees in the paper on the 21st. And the astounding baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with a long obit on the 19th (right now I’m listening to his loving recordings of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish folk songs as set by Beethoven). Then, with some linguistic interest, the literary scholar and cultural critic Paul Fussell, in the paper on the 24th.

In this posting: extracts from Bruce Weber’s obit for Fussell, and then pieces of an entertaining story (by Arthur Brisbane, on April 15th) about obituaries in the Times.


Comics books

May 27, 2012

I’ve been assembling materials for the Linguistics in the Comics project this summer at Stanford, starting with some bibliography on comics, cartoons, and graphic novels. That led me to a conceptual and terminological issue that came up in connection with Judith Thurman’s recent New Yorker piece on Alison Bechdel, centering on the label graphic novel.


The power of lore and dogma

May 25, 2012

I’ll start with an image from Peter Galazka, passed on by Tim Evanson on Google+, involving who vs. whom and (in)formal style, and then move to Geoff Pullum on “Normal and Formal” on the Lingua Franca blog, also on who vs. whom.


Inevitable -mageddon

May 25, 2012

It was bound to happen, as Greece considers abandoning the euro for the drachma: the word drachmageddon, as in this New York Times article on the 23rd, “Greek Businesses Fear Possible Return to Drachma” (by Liz Alterman):

Worries that Greece might default on its debts or even leave Europe’s currency union have deepened since May 6, when Greeks voted in shocking numbers for a left-wing party willing to tear up Greece’s $170 billion international bailout agreement. These days, even though 80 percent of Greeks say they want to stay with the euro, talk of “drachmageddon” can be heard in conversations all around Athens — in executive suites, at mom-and-pop shops and even in nightclubs.

“A return to the drachma would be a nightmare,” said [Tasos] Ioannidis [owner of a luxury hotel on Mykonos], whose bookings began to trail off a few months ago and slumped badly after the election. “It would create a panic for businesses and also for people wanting to do business with Greece.”

-mageddons and -pocalypses abound these days (some discussion here), but this one is especially satisfying, because drachma and -mageddon overlap in the unaccented syllable -ma-. And a disaster word does seem to be called for in the circumstances.

(The word occurs in so many publications, at about the same time, that it seems pointless to try to discover who used it first.)