Archive for October, 2014


October 31, 2014

On the 28th, I posted “Drunk on words, and a lot of whiskey”, on Dylan Thomas. To which Bill Halstead cried out in pain on Facebook:

“whisky” No ‘e’!!!!

I replied:

I carried over the spelling from the NYT story, which, being American, used the American spelling, with the E; the British and Canadian spelling lacks the E. There’s no winning here: omitting the E would mis-report the NYT, but keeping it is incorrect from the British point of view. A sensible person would just treat the two spellings as interchangeable alternatives.

This is a classic case of conditions in conflict, in particular faithfulness (Faith), saying (among other things) that a quotation should be faithful to its source (so: WHISKEY when quoting from the NYT), vs. well-formedness (WF), saying that a quotation should be well-formed according to the practices of the original source (so: WHISKY when quoting from a UK source about Scotch).

(A complexity here is that the NYT was pretty obviously not faithful to its sources, which were British.)


In praise of The Economist

October 31, 2014

I’m a big fan of The Economist, for its detailed and informative articles on what’s happening in the world — not just the economics and politics, but also all sorts of related cultural and social news. Typically, the magazine leads with stories on places you’re probably not paying attention to at all (Indonesia or Bolivia, say) and then canvasses the world, eventually covering familiar places in North America, the U.K., and the rest of Europe. You can skip over some of the arcane financial details if that’s not your thing, but you’ll learn a lot from the rest.

The writing is excellent, often actually clever. Here, from the October 25th issue, is the antic beginning of a story from Japan,”Sukyandaru; Shinzo Abe’s plan to raise the profile of women in his cabinet is in tatters”, leading with Lady Bracknell:

To lose one minister may be counted a misfortune. To lose two on the same day makes the prime minister look careless. On October 20th Japan’s recently appointed trade and industry minister, Yuko Obuchi, and justice minister, Midori Matsushima, resigned from the cabinet following small infringements of political-funding rules. It is a blow to Shinzo Abe’s efforts to boost the standing of women in Japan.

A bit later, the piece is still sly, though entirely serious in its content:

Perhaps the administration’s absence of money scandals until now is the surprising thing. Financial wrongdoing used to be a regular fixture of Japan’s political scene. It was only a couple of decades ago when politicians might be caught hiding gold bars and bundles of cash from bribes at home. More recently, in December 2009, when Yukio Hatoyama was the DPJ’s first prime minister, he was found to have included dead and false contributors on his list of campaign donors. Most of his money had actually come from his mum, heir to an industrial fortune.

The infractions committed by Ms Obuchi and by Ms Matsushima are trivial.

Great stuff.

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.


Communication among white-footed sportive lemurs

October 30, 2014

In the latest (10/25/14) NewScientist, a piece “Shy lemurs communicate using toilet trees” (on-line; in print with the jokey title “Wee need to stay in touch”):

The white-footed sportive lemur does not need to see its family often – it keeps in touch by urinating instead.

Unlike many other primates, these lemurs do not groom each other. They do not share their tree hideouts with others, and go to great lengths to avoid spending time with the mates and offspring they share their territory with.

… Iris Dröscher of the German Primate Centre in Göttingen spent over 1000 hours watching the toilet habits of 14 adult sportive lemurs, and found that family groups went to the same places to defecate and urinate at different times throughout the night (Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology …). “The chemical traces in the urine are unique for each lemur, so by leaving scent marks the lemurs can interact and bond with their family without meeting them,” says Dröscher.

Two things here: the delightful name white-footed sportive lemur, and of course their means of communication.


Impostor Syndrome

October 30, 2014

A piece on this phenomenon, posted recently on Facebook, came with this Brad(ford) Veley cartoon:

Note the variant spellings.



October 30, 2014

My postings on this blog range over a number of topics, and they also take a number of forms. Many of them are relatively short responses to things I’ve overheard, examples I’ve come across in my reading, or linguistic phenomena in the comics. Often light in tone, but with serious linguistic content. What to call this sort of posting?

The New Yorker used to call similar columns casuals; now they appear as items in the “Talk of the Town” section of the magazine. Another label recently came to my attention: the feuilleton. Not entirely perfect, but close. In any case, that would make me a feuilletonist.


Mammoth silliness

October 30, 2014

From the comic strip The Argyle Sweater on the 28th:

Think of types of dogs, and translate that into mammoths. Mammoths are a bit large for some of these activities, but then there’s the oxymoronic toy mammoth.


Ruthie’s classic

October 29, 2014

Yesterday’s One Big Happy, with Ruthie treating the word classic (which she had surely heard before but clearly had not figured out what it meant) as a phrase:

Prosodically, classic and class sick are quite different: the first has an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one, the second has two accented syllables, with the first heavier than the second. Segmentally, they are very similar; although in a careful pronunciation, there are two occurrences of /s/ in class sick, one from each word (but only one occurrence in classic), in ordinary connected speech the first /s/ is suppressed, so that the two expressions are segmentally identical.

Cartoonists at language play

October 29, 2014

Two recent examples of cartoonists playing with language: a Zippy with a cascade of rhyming invented names, and some outrageous puns by cartoonist Nina Paley. The Zippy:


This will lead us to some entertaining half-rhymes.

Then a t-shirt by cartoonist Nina Paley with an outrageous pun:


This will lead to another of Paley’s Jewish puns.


Madison Bumgarner

October 28, 2014

(Minimal linguistic interest, but highly topical.)

WordPress reports that the most-viewed posting on this blog during the past week was one on actor Channing Tatum, which has been top-ranked for a long time, thanks to searches for photos of Tatum shirtless and barely clothed. But now my posting “Baseball days” of 7/21/13 has leapt into second place — plenty of shirtless San Francisco Giants, and more — as the Giants prepare for game 6 of the current World Series (today) with the Kansas City Royals, after a stunning performance, a shutout, on Sunday by pitcher Madison Bumgarner.