Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Did you mean to vote for...

One of the nice features of Google™ is the spelling suggestion given when a search term looks like a likely misspelling. Above the search results a helpful line in red letters alerts you to a more common spelling for what your search term appears to be.

Type in 'winndows' and you get Did you mean: windows

Type in 'johnny carsen' and you're asked Did you mean: johnny carson

Type in 'conen o'brian' and you see Did you mean: conan o'brian (tho his last name is spelled O'Brien...and misspelling only his last name doesn't offer the correct spelling.)

Note that the misspelled word gets the italic emphasis. That's nicely intuitive.

You've probably also noticed the Sponsored Links in the peach shaded box above search results when the search terms scream I might spend money! Search for 'books' and Amazon jumps up begging for attention. Type in 'stereos' and Circuit City elbows its way in. But these are sponsored and not necessary suggested by Google™.

I recently did an image search for Christopher Dodd and Google™ saw it fit to make the following suggestion

Also try: john edwards

At first I thought the search engine was just throwing out the names of other candidates -- an equal time thing. So I did image searches for all the candidates I could think of.

  • barack obama -- no suggestion

  • john mccain -- no suggestion

  • hillary clinton -- no suggestion

  • mitt romney -- no suggestion

  • rudy giuliani -- no suggestion

  • fred thompson -- no suggestion

  • bill richardson -- no suggestion

  • john edwards -- no suggestion

  • tom tancredo -- no suggestion

  • ron paul -- no suggestion

  • sam brownback -- no suggestion

  • dennis kucinich -- Also try: dennis kucinich wife elizabeth kucinich

  • Much as the spelling suggestion italicizes the respelled word, the additional or changed term gets bolded in these suggestions.

    These "Also try" offerings only work in the image search. I can imagine that most searchers would appreciate images of Elizabeth Kucinich more than images of her husband Dennis. And I can imagine that searches for images of Elizabeth are more common than searches for images of Dennis. But what's going on with Dodd→Edwards?

    Is politics really all about the hair?

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Distinctive features

    Am I allowed to say that some language choices annoy me? How about if I promise not to call them pet peeves?

    A while ago Mxrk posted about Paul Brians' list of non-errors that are commonly called errors. It's a decent list full of forms that occur regularly and which function within many constraints of standard English grammar.

    But I take partial issue with one point Brians makes. Regarding the ongoing argument that attributive woman is incorrect and female should be used because it is an adjective while woman is a noun Brians explains

    It may be inconsistent, but the pattern of referring to females as women performers, professionals, etc. is very traditional, dating back at least to the 14th century. People who do this cannot be accused of committing an error.

    It's true this is not a grammatical error. So I'll go along with it that far.

    But there is still something jarring about the form. I'm trusting my naked ear when I expect 'female doctor' or 'female pilot' or 'female police officer' to follow an already established relevance of the sex of the person. So I would expect 'female-X' to be used in contrast to and with the co-occurrence of 'male-X' -- not just plain ol' 'X'.

    But I would expect 'woman-X' to occur as a privative feature: there are doctors and some of them are woman doctors; We've had presidents and we might one day have a woman president.

    The issue here is what I see as the unnecessary qualifier. Consider the label given to models that weigh more than 90 lbs. 'Plus-size models'. Is this necessary? Well I expect that in a few years it'll change. Eventually full-figured will lose the ridiculous connotation of surplus and it'll make sense for a model with a complete body as opposed to those half-figured models out there.

    And then will this →
    be called a plus-ugly model? Or would that be minus-pretty?

    And let me just call attention to my own bias in a discussion of models that focuses on female models only. There are plenty of man-models out there that make me feel insecure with my own plus-size/minus-handsome-ness.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Holiday stress...or intonation rather

    Buffy was too busy to travel today but she told me I could go drive up to Michigan for the day if I wished to visit family. How could I pass up the opportunity to cook my first Thanksgiving meal and share it with my wife for our first Thanksgiving alone.

    The food came out fine. That's always stressful. The only thing I hope to eventually do differently is replace those packaged buns in the background with homemade bread.

    Over at The Greenbelt the Ridger has posted on a couple of intonational and morphological issues related to the word Thanksgiving and the phrase Happy Thanksgiving.

    I was going to do a post on the stress pattern in the word -- but go ahead and read McWhorter and Liberman and you'll learn a lot more.

    One simple point. I always say THANKSgiving with primary stress on the initial syllable. And I was very surprised when I heard all my officemates say that they put the stress on the give syllable. So much for my ear being carefully tuned to what's being said around me.

    I hope you have enjoyed everything you chose to fill yourself with today.

    Whether it had anything to do with the American holiday or not.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Phenomenon -- do dooo de do do

    I just finished watching the finale of NBC's magician edition of Star Search: Phenomenon. I haven't seen any of the previous episodes because I'm not that impressed by big magic acts. I like close-up magic -- the type of good ol' prestidigitation that's impressive even when you know that the cards are palmed, the quarters are held by the knuckles and the cups are switched deliberately. It's impressive because you see the skill on display.

    But besides being mostly bored by the big magic acts I would have been annoyed by this show because the whole show was full of announcements like on the next...Phenomenon!; or who will be...the next...Phenomenon? or find out on the series finale of...Phenomenon! or a phenomenon that will blow your mind...on tonight's...Phenomenon!

    ...and I'm almost absolutely certain that if I had been watching the whole season I would have been singing this for the last month.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Who are us?

    Please believe me -- two posts in a row mentioning Katie Couric shouldn't be taken as a sign of a new direction for this blog.

    In the last post I mentioned the Ridger's bewilderment regarding a recent statement made by Couric. And the perplexity is reasonable. Couric mentioned a problem that "could affect every one of us - and our loved ones." -- which leads the Ridger to pose the reasonable question: "Our loved ones aren't 'one of us'?"

    Well are they? It might depend on what Couric what trying to say. Here's how her comment doesn't make sense:

    "[this problem] could affect every one of us -- and our loved ones." ...because it's possible that each of us will be affected in manner.1 by the problem. And it's also possible that the people we love will be affected in manner.1 by this problem.

    So because Couric says "every one of us" this reading runs into the problematic hedging by "and our loved ones" disrupting what "every one" means or who "us" includes. The use of the first person plural inclusive us might seem to include everyone including those who are not watching the show. If that's the case why does Couric add "loved ones" as a necessary 'other' not covered by the previous statement?

    Here's how the statement might make sense:
    "[this problem] could affect every one of us -- and our loved ones." ...because it's possible that each of us producing or watching this broadcast will be affected in manner.1 by the problem. And it's also possible that the people we love (who are not producing or watching this broadcast) will be affected in manner.1 by this problem.

    Couric's use of "us" isn't then universal. Nor do we always expect it to be. It's inclusive but we're still able to draw a line between us and them. There's exclusivity in this one. It draws the line between viewers/producers and those loved ones who are not viewing or producing the show. It sounds a little elitist. Why draw the line? And where exactly is it drawn? This explanation -- tho it might work -- doesn't work for me. And considering that there is undoubtedly a circle of people who are neither watching/producing the show nor have any loved ones watching/producing the show...are they safe?

    Another way it might make sense:
    "[this problem] could affect every one of us -- and our loved ones." ...because every person can possibly be affected in manner.1 by the problem. And it would then happen that the people they love will be affected in manner.2 by this problem.

    This requires a switch. If I'm the viewer I've just been told that I could be affected in a primary way by this problem -- say I'll stub my toe and cry out in pain. That first hand experience is manner.1. And of course because I'm such a crybaby Buffy has to put up with my whining. She's affected in manner.2 -- the secondhand effect. And if Couric's "every one of us" is truly a universally inclusive group that means that even tho I'm the one watching the show it's also possible that Buffy will stub her toe and cry out in pain manner.1 and I will have to put up with her soft and adorable whimpering manner.2.

    This one makes the most sense to me because of Courics use of "and" coordinating the two claims. That it could affect every one of us - and our loved ones. If the effect was the same for both us and our loved ones I would expect or to coordinate the possibilities. That would be a complementary coordination that indicates the same effect going in either place -- the "and" might indicate a simultaneous coordination of people being affected at the same time -- but not necessarily in the same way.

    So within this claim I the viewer am at once one of us AND a loved one.

    That's one way to double their Nielsen ratings.

    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Annan shrugged

    The Ridger's recent post about Katie Couric is not based on a prescriptivist argument or a peevish opposition to language change. It's an honest question about why Couric structures her claim the way she does. I'll get back to it in my next post. But for now it sent me down memory lane to a 2005 interview with Kofi Annan.

    In that interview with the then UN Secretary General, Couric said to him "you literally have the weight of the world on your shoulders." This was picked-up and bemoaned by bloggers and defenders of literal purity everywhere. It can't be literal they claim. Literal means there is no metaphoric sense to my claim. It means the claim happened in actuality. It means that there is no exaggeration.

    Well except that that's not true. Literally has been changing use.

    But Couric's claim to Annan is a fun one because she apparently intends to use literal just as the peevologists would have her use it. She is claiming that the entire world is literally Annan's concern. Saying to others 'you have the weight of the world on your shoulders' is usually an observation that their duties are onerous. That they feel great pressure. And we exaggerate the scope of their concerns. When someone is worried about everyone in the office or every problem at the school or every crime reported on the local news we call the reach of their cares 'the world': even tho it's not it might as well be because it's beyond their control.

    So I'm going to give Couric a pass on this one (as if passes are mine to give and withhold). When she added "literally" she signaled that the scope she mentioned was not an exaggeration. Yes -- there was still some synechdoche: calling all the people on earth "the world" -- there was still some metaphorical figuring: political concerns being "weight"; and his "his shoulders" used as an image of his awareness of those concerns -- but not everything in the statement has to be free of metaphor. There is a literal sense still at work in the claim worth calling literal: his concerns were global in nature. He had within his job description the responsibility for decisions and policies that affected every nation on this planet.

    'Literalness' is a problematic claim. Metaphors can be live or dead. A word can have a persistent implication of proper and extended usage. But metaphors will often settle in and become part of a word's commonly assumed meaning in ways that used to be merely figurative. To "handle stress" no longer sounds like much of a metaphor because 'handle' has broken away from a strict meaning of 'to manipulate and manage with one's palm and phalanges.'

    Literally on cloud 9 - Probably not actually up there. But very clearly and unambiguously elated.

    Literally climbing up the walls - Mr Parker perhaps. Everyone else would probably mean that the agitation was enough to cause excessive movement and frantic motion.

    Literally losing his mind - If he's mentally ill some would say this works. Others will hold it accountable to a second level of literalness claiming that there is still gray matter in the skull and activity in the brain. so...

    Literally going crazy - Fine right? The drudges will point out that 'going' means moving somewhere so he might be becoming crazy but he's not actually moving anywhere in a crazy manner. (Really. Those people are out there.)

    Literally strong as an ox - Unlikely but possible. Certainly could be stronger than some ox. A weak and anemic little baby ox? So the pedants will demand proof.

    Literally ran out of gas - Another one that might encourage some to find levels of literalness. It's story time:

    If someone is working on a task and gets tired and she says 'I literally just ran out of gas' she might mean that she really had to stop.

    So Peevy-1 comes along and says 'Nonono--you don't run on an internal combustion engine so you couldn't run out of the same fuel that allows an automobile to run.'

    The next week Peevy-1 is on the highway and his car sputters. Telling the story he says 'I literally just ran out of gas' and Peevy-2 says 'Nonono--your car ran out of gas. You don't run on gas.' Peevy-1 thinks about it and loves the correction. (They're all grammar masochists.)

    Peevy-2 is bragging about this to the English class she teaches so she instructs her students 'If you say literally you have to say my car literally ran out of gas.'

    A hand shoots up from the front row and and Peevy-3 (a promising young student) says 'but was the car "inside" a bunch of fuel and did the car actually "run" with two legs "out" of that body of fuel? It didn't "literally" "run" "out of" gas.' (The student uses 'air quotes'.)

    Does peevy-2 realize that this is spinning out of control? Or does peevy-2 say 'You are going to make a great English teacher one day.'

    image from here

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    The Oxford Primaries

    The announcement just came out.

    "Oxford has announced its WOTY and it is.....LOCAVORE!"

    You can read more about the New Oxford American Dictionary WOTY finishers at the OUP Blog.

    There you will find that

    The 'locavore' movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers' markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better.

    I hadn't heard this word before. Had you?

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    The state of being truly hungry?

    Posting on the fly:

    about 27 seconds ago the commentator for the Arizona State versus UCLA said of the ASU quarterback: "He's playing with such [vəɻæsɪɾi] today..."

    Why did I transcribe it in IPA? Because that's how he pronounced the word that could have been "veracity" -- and that would be an odd claim. He played with truthfulness?

    It could also have been "voracity" which would make sense given that he was talking about the players persistence and intensity.

    The subtitles (obviously produced 'live') chose the former: veracity.

    And why not? It's the more common word. And tho it's an incorrect use (see -- I can say that too) the use is out there:

    We don't know who the people are, what motivates them, and why they continue to fight with such veracity. HERE

    This type of spam is not uncommon, however, this is the first time we have seen political spam sent at this scale, and with such veracity. qtd HERE

    This next one isn't clear. The speaker might be using the word discriminatingly:
    The aggressive campaigners against animal dissections put up convincing arguments to the orthodox zoology educators and higher education planners with such veracity that the arguments cannot be ignored. cached HERE

    OK it was about 4 minutes ago now.

    Tuesday, November 06, 2007

    Oftly ambiguous

    I just came across the phrase "which is going to be oftly hard" during my daily perusal of the worldwide net. It's going to be hard often? I thought. Then I caught the eggcorn possibility. I searched for "oftly" before various adjectives and adverbs. Here are some of the phrases I found:

    • It was oftly late, and he was tired. here

    • it's oftly dark and dreary right now. here

    • dane cook is oftly funny also. here

    • you're going to feel oftly dumb when you lose out here

    • Who knows if Eli Manning will ever be as good Peyton, its oftly early to tell, here

    • You were oftly quick on that one Corry. here

    • I was only curious because that Navigation button looks oftly difficult to use. here

    • They're easy to make, healthy, and you'd have to try oftly hard to screw it up. here

    I provide fuller snippets of this use because oftly meaning often or frequently could be used in pretty much the same phrasal environment. Longer bits of text give us clues that help distinguish between the two uses. Consider the possibility of an eggcorn or not in the following pairs of sentences:

    1. His shirts are oftly wrinkled

    2. That shirt is oftly wrinkled

    3. His shirts are oftly hideous

    4. That shirt is oftly hideous

    Sentences 1 and 2 can be referring to how often the wrinkles occur. It's easy for a shirt to be sometimes wrinkled sometimes not. Of course both sentences could also be using oftly for awfully. These are ambiguous.

    Both 3 and 4 could refer to how often the shirts are hideous. But 4 looks less likely. The implication of sentence 3 would be that he often wears hideous shirts--not that the appearance of each individual shirt often 'becomes' hideous. Sentence 4 focuses on a single shirt and is less likely to mean 'often'. Would the shirt change prints? There is still ambiguity but there's a more likely meaning of 4.

    Fortunately I found sentences like "you'd have to try oftly hard to screw it up" because often wouldn't likely occur between "try" and "hard". Modifying "try" it's more likely to follow the phrase ('try hard oftly') or perhaps precede it ('oftly try hard')--unless the intention was to use "hard" to modify how you "try oftly"--[[try oftly] hard]. Not a likely reading considering how common the phrase "try awfully hard" is.

    The necessary reanalysis of meaning (to make it an eggcorn) looks reasonable. This isn't likely a mere misspelling of a misheard word--especially since the new spelling is a less common word (270,000 hits for oftly vs 6,650,000 for awfully).

    The voiceless alveolar [t] might be excrescent between the voiceless [f] and the alveolar [l]. Then again who knows if it's pronounced by those who write it? There's plenty of historical evidence for [t]→Ø/[f]__: soften often not that a similar rule/process is necessarily applied or at work here but the result of the Early Modern English trend provides the precedents for a possible analogy.

    But it's still tricky trying to trace a clear path from oftly=often to oftly=very. There's a shared sense of escalation between the two words. And consider that from really to rather to terribly to quite and of course to awfully we see terms of intensification coming in from all directions.

    Monday, November 05, 2007

    Snow mutation?

    Jeopardy! is being coy with it's clues. It sounds like the clue writers have chosen to temper the popular claim of how many dozens or hundreds of Eskimo words there are for snow. Tonight's Tournament of Champions round included the following clue:

    "Eskimos have words for different varieties of this. Api is when it's on the ground."

    They just can't let go of the implication that the language is remarkable in this regard. But they've managed to be reasonable about how remarkable it is. The claim is exactly what you could say about English words for snow. There's more than one.

    Nerdy Public Radio

    I first grew suspicious of this little Big Ten town when I realized that there's no dedicated NPR FM station. Every morning at 8:00 the soothing liberal voices were shoved aside to make way for classical music. I love classical music but I need about 20 minutes of safely faceless voices in the morning before I can stand to make eye contact with anyone. Thank goodness I found an AM station hidden away.

    I was pleased to fire up the radio late last week and find a rerun of a Terry Gross interview with Patton Oswalt and Brad Bird. I love Patton Oswalt's comedy.

    Responding to one of Oswalt's bits about the recent trend in Black Angus restaurant commercials Gross asks Bird why the bit led him to cast the comedian as a rat with a refined palatte in the animated movie Ratatouille. (This segment begins around 5:20 into conversation.)

    Bird: Uh you know I don't know. I think it was the passion that I (laughs) ...that I was responding to more than anything else. The fact that he could get so wound up about the food...you know...because...uh...you know Patton also talked about how he just loves steak...you know and...and

    Oswalt: Yeah...

    Bird: The weird thing is is I didn't really grok that Patton was a foody that was just one of many routines I...

    Oswalt: Did you just say grok?--He just said...

    Bird: --Grok. Yeah that's a Steve Jobs word by the way.

    Oswalt: You call me a nerd and you said grok?

    Gross: It precedes...

    Bird: Hey that's a Steve Jobs word and I learned it from Steve Jobs

    Gross: It precedes Steve Jobs. Isn't that...isn't that from like from Vonnegut or something? Is it...

    Oswalt: I think it's Heinlein.

    Bird: I don't know. Steve used it and...

    Gross: No...oh it's Heinlein...Heinlein. Robert Heinlein. Yeah.

    Oswalt: Oh I just nerded-out again.

    Bird: [whiny voice]You out-nerded me. yes...

    Oswalt: [whiny voice] It's Heinlein not Vonnegut. Excuse me. No uh...you're wrong.

    Bird: [whinier voice] Yes...isn't that Lovecraft? [normal voice] ...yeah. No I actually heard that from Steve Jobs. So...yeah. OK so Steve uses that word.

    Oswalt: Oh. OK. Good.

    Listen to the podcast. It's hilarious. Some observations:

    Penultimate) It's a fun little bit of light antedating. They go back to and settle on the accepted origin of the word in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Interesting that along the way Bird first appeals to Jobs as a reliable legitimizer of the word. As if he's not powerful enough. It's all done tongue in cheek. Good times.

    This is a good laugh they have at the expense of the cool reputation lexicographical linguists have been working to establish. (For more thoughts on "lexicographical" and nerdiness see Erin McKean.) Even amongst linguists antedating is getting a little geeky. Just take a look at some of the recent ADS-L discussion.

    Ultimate) I didn't mistakenly transcribe an extra is. Bird uses an ISIS formation early in this segment.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Well obviously he's comprehensible

    This topic came up today in my practicum for teaching intro linguistics. Subtitles convey more than just a simple ongoing transcript of a spoken text. The decision for or against using subtitles carries with it the implication that some accents and pronunciation patterns are more or less likely to be understood by some viewers. But for which viewers are the subtitles intended?

    I habitually set the television to display subtitles. No matter what's on. So I often wonder how newscasts documentaries and telezine programs (60 Minutes, 48 Hours, Dateline, Frontline...) rationalize their alternating subtitling choices. I've seen several episodes in which it's clear that the choice involves a lot more than pure phonetics and phonology.

    Recognizing the implicit claims made regarding standard forms and mainstream usage helps to identify what lines the editors feel deserve attention. And which viewers are valued/catered to.