Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Over the river and through the woods

Back in December Buffy and I visited her family in Minnesota. We always have a chance to visit her grandmother for a few hours to hear her tell her favorite stories. She's a dear woman. Intense, honest and quickly jubilant. She laughs loudly at every joke with a tickled Oh you rascal! Every time we visit she scurries over to the fridge to pull out her recycled Country Crock container filled with spritz cookies and crispy peanut butter bars. And our conversation is always at the little kitchen table where she offers Buffy a mug of delicious Folgers Crystals instant coffee while I get my fill of summer sausage with mild colby on a roll.

She's 82 years old. 80 of those years lived in MN. Every time when we remind her that Buffy's studying renaissance and comparative literature and I'm studying linguistics Grandmom makes the connection to her own studies. Ohh!? she exclaims You know spelling was my best subject.

During the last visit she saw me scribbling something on my hand. What are you writing there? she asked. Buffy knew immediately that I had heard her grandmother say something noteworthy. Of course I couldn't tell her that. She's dear but she's also a little sensitive. Oh I'm just writing down some ideas for how to teach my class I said. So here's what I was really writing down:

  • She was speaking of having recently moved to a new house. Of the old house and its new tenant she said

    "I won't go there after he once moves in."

    Looks like a shuffled blend of after he moves in and once he moves in? It's almost like he splits up the slot that would normally be held by either after or once and the both sprouted up -- one on each side. Of course that's not an actual theory.

  • Telling us that her husband forbade something (I can't remember what):

    "Him told me I couldn't"

    Buffy insists she does this knowingly in order to sound endearing and childlike. That may be. The context supports the possibility. I've heard her use it several times so I'm going to start listening for this accusative in a non-coordinated structure.

  • While telling us a story about an event that tried her patience and confused her and made her feel like she was losing her mind:

    "I was ready for the fox farm."

    I found 3 Google™ hits for "ready for the fox farm."

    One hit from Dan Small OUTDOORS for a story by George E Wamser who says he "has turned the corner towards fall in life, but is not ready for the fox farm yet!" He lives in Oconto, Wisconsin.

    One Google™ Book Search result from Beyond the Freeway: Stories of Fascinating Times that Have Faded Away by Peter Benzoni who writes "The mules that pulled the cars out to the station were getting old. They were ready for the fox farm." Google™ provides a map of "places mentioned" for the book and there's a clear cluster of mentions in northern Wisconsin spreading into northeastern Minnesota and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Benzoni attended high school in Hurley, Wis.

    The third hit takes us to for an excerpt from a book by Margo Howard who collected letters from her mother Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer. On 21 October 1960 Esther wrote "The Jaguar in the meantime is ready for the fox-farm. Damned thing is the worst car mechanically we have ever owned. It is in the garage again . . . stopped dead on me."

    Among the stories Esther tells her daughter are several anecdotes about her good friend Hubert H Humphrey. Humphrey was then senator from Minnesota and became a friend when they were living in Eau Claire Wisconsin. Margo writes:

    Hubert Humphrey, from Minnesota, became a family friend when we lived in Wisconsin and Mother was a player in Democratic politics. They first met when she was in the Senate gallery listening to him deliver a speech and sent down a note asking to meet him.

    When Margo was applying to colleges she found herself with fewer options than she had expected. Even her safety school didn't accept her. Of course it was Pennsylvania. Not a very safe net. Humphrey sent Margo's mother a note saying

    Tell Margo that I have written a recommendation for her to Brandeis University. She will not only be permitted to enter as a result of that recommendation, but most likely become the Dean of Women or Campus Queen on the day of registration. When Humphrey recommends they are recommended.

    Margo was of course accepted.

    I'm sure several of you know Friedman Lederer's famous alias. The name of the book is Ann Landers in her own words: Personal Letters to Her Daughter.

    Three hits are a thin example of a regional expression. But I'm not sure what else to think. Has anyone else heard this phrase? As Grandmom used it the phrase it was akin to "ready for the loony bin." But the other examples sound more like "ready to head out to pasture." Can anyone connect it (with these or any other meanings) to Wiscon-sota? Mr Verb?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

It's the office not the man

As Ms Pelosi ceded the floor to Mr Bush I wondered if there was a little blue devil whispering into her ear daring her to say something other than the usual respectful lines. She spends so much time vilifying him and questioning not just his ability but his integrity and ethics. Then she has to clap and show deference. I wonder if it was difficult.

When the applause in the room died down she delivered her introduction:

"Members of Congress: I have the high privilege and distinct honour of presenting to you the President of the United States."

What was that little devil on her shoulder whispering?

Hey Nancy -- start off by saying 'Don't blame me; I didn't vote for him.'

Or did he suggest nonverbal cues.

Just roll your eyes when you're done!

Did he go to a subtle rewording?

heehee...say 'relative privilege and distinct duty'

But those aren't quite subtle enough. I think the slickest little devil would ignore the contentives and would instead suggest a slight rewrite on a functor.

Psst! Listen carefully: say 'I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you a President of the United States.'

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bozell the clown

Keith Olbermann has named Brent Bozell "Worst Person in the World" several times. And he just might be. He might not be. I haven't seen all the data.

But Bozell didn't help his cause during his recent talk at the National Press Club in Washington DC where he was promoting his book Whitewash: What the Media Won't Tell You About Hillary Clinton, But Conservatives Will (broadcast by C-SPAN2). The corpse of the following topic was introduced by an audience member but Bozell was all too happy to help disinter it for blatantly obvious political interests.

Making me lean towards a vote in favor of the title: his comment regarding Juanita Broaddrick's allegations (made almost a decade ago) against Bill Clinton.

"It went beyond rape. It went to a level of violent rape that is ghastly."

I hope he would revise this if given a chance. As it stands the statement implies that the word rape does not always entail a violent and ghastly crime.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Being a jerk doesn't quite capture it

The other day in our friendly office the topic of decimate came up. I think I must have brought up in the middle of one of my rolling-eye-rants about the LSSU list.

One person in the room had never heard that decimate meant (a long time ago) to destroy one tenth. Everyone else had heard that but didn't care. Everyone agreed that as the word is used now it is understood to mean the destruction of almost all and some had assumed it meant more specifically all but one tenth.

I made the point that almost no one uses it today to mean the destruction of one tenth. And if they did mean it that way who would understand them? (There was an on-and-on-and-ongoing ADS-L thread about evidence that anyone uses it to mean 'destroy one tenth' anymore.)

Well some people clearly do. But only because they want to prove that they know the etymology. But that's being an ass. It's obfuscation in the guise of appearing smart. It's showing that you know enough about an etymology to use an original term but not enough about communication (and people) to realize that others expect that you speak with the intention of being understood. This is similar to insisting on using the word niggardly and holding firm to the meaning of cheap or miserly. Yes it does mean that. But it's clear that it will be misunderstood by many. Many.

So the suggestion arose -- and I like it:

We need a word for the act of using a word in order to prove that you know what it has meant in some contexts -- even tho or more likely because you know that people will misunderstand or take offense.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The sheep he rode his cattle back

For the last couple of weeks I've had The Clash running through my head. I've been humming them incessantly. It was only today that I realized why.

[Update: The Ridger has alerted me to the following video made by some folks who have noticed the same thing.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Are there prescriptivists in sports?

The Ridger recently shared a link to Mitch Albom's column about Michigan's new coach. I started a quick response in the comments section but I kept writing so I figured I'd turn it into a post. Nothing linguisticky here.

In the piece Albom addresses his concerns with all of the Coach "Rod" mini-scandals. I don't share all of his concerns. He's being overly cynical. Album broaches the accusations that Rodriguez shredded files inappropriately. He comments with clear incredulity: "Rodriguez admits he destroyed some files, but says trust me, they didn't matter."

Every coach will get rid of files when leaving a school. I destroyed records, correspondences and other information about students and classes that were nobody else's business when I left my old school. And I was just a dinky English teacher. Rodriguez had personal files too. If he no longer needed his notes he should destroy them. No one has made a solid and substantiated claim that university files are missing or that Rodriguez shredded files that didn't belong to him. Let's move on.

Albom's comments decrying the importance of recruiting ring of overly opportunistic criticism. He didn't seem to hold Steve Fisher's highly valued recruiting of cagers against him. That famous quintet almost won a championship in 1992 and 1993 and I never heard any complaining that valuing such talented players was a step in the wrong direction.

One of Carr's greatest assets was his recruiting. He knew how to get players that would play for him. His recruiting classes were consistently highly ranked. He didn't mine his talent from the basement of Angell Hall.

Michigan has always recruited well--just not quarterbacks. And not mobile quarterbacks. But now that a new coach with a very different system has come in it's very important that the right players who look ready to carry out his methods get on board reasonably soon. And a highly recruited QB is always going to get more attention than a highly recruited running back or offensive lineman.

Albom also doesn't like that this whole process started because Athletic Director Bill Martin felt the need to recruit outside Michigan. As Albom sees it Michigan is courting trouble by tapping a coach who was too willing to leave WVU awkwardly.

"Michigan football used to be more special. It was never sullied with departure lies or shredding, because it promoted from within."

The history of Michigan men hasn't been spotless. Carr succeeded Michigan's own crop, Gary Moeller, who resigned because of a drunken tantrum at a bar. Is that what Michigan nurtures? No. That's one man's story and one mistake that doesn't reflect on a system.

Is the new contract problematic? Does the $2.5-million contract with a $4-million buyout look like trouble? If Rodriguez can command this from any other team should he simply respect some Michigan tradition of avoiding that game by keeping it in the family even tho he's not being promoted from within. And shouldn't any team work to attract and keep a coach it wants while protecting itself reasonably? Such a buyout clause could be intended as a deterrent to other teams than a trap for the coach. Of course I hope that Michigan will do all it can to make Ann Arbor a town that Rodriguez chooses to live in regardless of a contract.

I like a lot of Michigan's traditions. I love that they don't adorn the field with a gaudy logo. I like the conservative play calling. I like the low scoring games that show skill doesn't mean big plays and high numbers. I love that there are no stickers on the helmets. And I love that they win because of all of this.

Albom indicts Michigan for getting a coach who not only wants to win but also recruit players who will play as he asks.

"If so, Michigan has jumped in the same mucky waters as many other win-crazed schools, who are only concerned with BCS, not the BS it requires."

I don't get it. Should Michigan be concerned with "the BS [the BCS] requires"?

Well it requires winning. The Big Ten requires winning. Getting to the Rose Bowl requires winning. Beating OSU requires winning.

I hope Rodriguez is determined to win while begetting a future of winning. Michigan's last 3 coaches knew each other and worked with each other. And those 3 generations connected 1969 to 2008. But it all started because Michigan was willing to bring in an outsider. A coach who was trained and reared by the rival system.

Michigan has worked with and succeeded because of adaptation -- not in spite of it. And NCAA football is being played at a level that requires teams to change if they hope to succeed. I hope Rodriguez is unwilling to compromise many of Michigan's traditions. But some traditions do nothing for us.

We can lament that the program is moving in new directions. Or we can be OK with innovation.

For some reason I feel compelled to support the latter. Michigan didn't always have the winged helmets you know.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The seven faces of me

The revelation of Herschel Walker's multiple personality disorder is bound to be discussed by scads of Monday-morning psychiatrists (I could have used 'arm-chair psychiatrists' but that's not a great differentiation is it?)

The phonologist in me says - His personalities are in complementary distribution.

The historical linguist in me says - I wonder if I can figure out what his parents' personalities were.

The semanticist in me says - Are are his personalities ±Herschel? Is 'Herschel' the prototype of his identity?

The syntactician in me says - This looks like a substitution test for constituency.

The experimental linguist in me says - His judgments of his personalities aren't reliable. I need to use various methods to elicit responses from a large enough group before I decide which personalities are possible.

And the prescriptivist in me will take this opportunity to say - Everybody is saying that he has schizophrenia but that's an incorrect use of the term. Schizophrenia is a different type of disorder distinct from dissociative identity disorder, which is included in the category of general dissociative disorders. So stop misusing the term unless you want to show that you have no education or training in mental disorders.

And "I" say - I actually agree with my prescriptivist-self on this one.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hail to the homewreckers

They really can't blame Michigan. If they had treated their men right...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

To catch a spleeder

Washington State Patrol Trooper Bradford A. Moon was trying to be sneaky. He put Oregon plates on his unmarked car and caught Dave Milbrandt going 21 miles per hour over the speed limit.

How did he get the idea to sneak around using out of state plates? The AP story tells us the source of this insidious little strategy.

Moon decided on the tactic after reading on misplace about a boy who claimed he regularly drove 100 mph on Interstate 5 and avoided detection by knowing how to spot patrol cars, relying partly on whether the plates were in-state, Hullinger said.

He read it where? On "misplace"?

It looks like a clear example of the Cupertino effect turning myspace into misplace. But most spell checkers are pretty good at recognizing conjoined words. And the only suggestions I get for "myspace" are "my space" and "MySpace". So the networking sight site has made it into the Word 2007 spell check dictionary.

Where did 'misplace' come from? Perhaps the writer put an <l> in there: 'mysplace'. 'Place' seems like a much more common string than 'pace' so a slip like that makes sense. Especially if the writer's ear was contaminated by the old line: 'my place or yours?'

But no one really says that anymore do they?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Well considering the crystalline structure...

Question on Jeopardy! tonight in a category asking for numbers as responses:

Number of sides on the typical snowflake

Correct response: What is six?

That's an ambiguous clue. Would Alex have accepted it if the contestant had responded with 'What is two?'

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lies damn lies and sports

When I started following hockey and college football back in the Eighties I learned of the necessity for a difference between a winning streak and an unbeaten streak. (The same distinction is necessary in the NFL but ties are not common enough to make the difference salient.) For a while I thought it was just an optimistic and pessimistic way of saying the same thing. Then I learned that the semantics went beyond attitude.

So a winning streak does entail an unbeaten streak; and when a team ties a game the unbeaten streak continues but the winning streak is over. So an unbeaten streak is less impressive than a win streak. But it's not too shabby.

Because of the point system in hockey it was a relevant statistic. The team got two points for a win one point for a tie and no points for a loss. Well that changed several years ago. Ever since the 1999-2000 season a team earns one point if the regulation period ends in a tie even if the team loses the game during the overtime period. Of course the other team gets two points for the win. And now there are no more ties. The game will always be decided; if necessary by a shootout.

This has introduced a new phrase for another somewhat relevant streak: the point streak. Even if a team loses a game the streak is still intact as long as the regulation period ends in a tie. A winning streak entails an unbeaten streak which then entails a point streak. And of course a point streak is less impressive.

And as far as headlines and sports commentary go there are several other streaks entailed by all these so far mentioned.

One AP headline today announces the end of one team's streak that isn't very significant and really not too impressive:

  • Canucks' 14-game home point streak ends

  • Over the course of those 14 home games (which stretch back to Nov 9) the Canucks have also played 14 away games. Their record in those away games is 5 wins 7 losses and 2 overtime losses. Combined with their home record over that period (before today's loss) the Canucks have won 17 games and lost 11. Four of those losses were tied at the end of 60 minutes so they get moved over into the points column.

    There are several ways to make their performance sound impressive. One line late in the story extends the span of the accomplishment by mentioning that their previous home loss was back on November 1. That statistic give the illusion of adding more than a week to their streak even though their next home game (the game that started the streak) was 8 days later.

    Another trick to make their performance sound more impressive: They're second in their division: the Northwest division of the Campbell Conference. But they're technically the 5th place team in the conference. And they're 18 points behind the conference leading Detroit Red Wings.

    Sort the league into 2 conferences and it's possible for the best team in one conference to fall below the 50th percentile overall. Divide each of those categories into three divisions and it's possible for the best team in a division to be around the bottom 15th percentile.

    In sports such a case is unlikely. And this isn't such a case. The Canucks are not a bad team. And they haven't been playing badly over this span of time. They're comfortably over .500 in their record. But it's been no more than a mediocre run.

    17-11: and they get a headline calling it a streak.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Sorry Quincy. You're not allowed in here.

    Languagehat links to a couple posts found over on New York Magazine's Vulture branch. It's all about a squabble brought about by a copy editing topic on HBO's Wire.

    Jump to the comments. NNALL (whose comment is an "Editor's Pick") adds some observations and opinions regarding the extent to which some copy editors are driven by their idiosyncrasies. One claim caught my especial attention (influenced certainly by the fact that languagehat also found it worth quoting).

    Technically you can't perform an autopsy on a different species, so if a racehorse died mysteriously and some reporter wrote that veterinarians hoped to learn more after an autopsy, it would be changed to 'necropsy' or 'post-mortem examination.'

    I'm not sure what "Technically" means in this case. That's often used for an etymological argument. You might have heard a claim like technically, 'jejune' means 'empty' and I'm sure you've heard something like technically 'decimate' means get rid of one tenth. (This last topic has been booming on ADS-L for about a week and a half.)

    So what is it that technically keeps a pathologist from performing an autopsy on anything but another human? Is it like saying that homicide can only be murder of a human because the homi- part means man/human? There's nothing in the etymology or autopsy that refers to humans. Or is it the same species part? The comment says the issue is "a different species" so does this mean that if horses were smart enough (and had opposable thumbs) they would be able to perform autopsies on other horses?

    There's aut(o)- meaning 'self' and there's -(o)psy related to optic. From that we get the seeing for oneself sense of the word. I don't understand from where this prescription claims its logic. Can't a veterinarian see for herself why a racehorse died? And please don't offer the obvious explanation that prescriptions are rarely based on good logic. Copy editors often have a decent argument for their style preferences. What's the argument here?



    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    BTW: SbaCL WotY. FWIW

    Well the ADS doesn't have final say on the word of the year you know. Over at separated by a common language Lynneguist has announced the SbaCL words of the year in two categories:

    • Most useful import from American English to British English:

    • Most useful import from British English to American English:
      (baby) bump

    Read her discussion.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Always on my mind

    What I love about phonology is how automatic so much of it is. There's so much that we do (or avoid) because of rules (or constraints if you're into OT) that we don't even realize. The example I use as illustration for interested non-linguists is the plural morpheme. What's the plural of dog? What's the plural of cat? What sound did you use to make those words plural? They almost always say 'S' and I explain that there were actually two sounds: [s] and [z].

    For some that's immediately apparent. So we move on to slightly less obvious alternation. What's the past tense of dial? What's the past tense of wish? What sound marks the past tense? Even when I explain that the past tense of wish is marked with with [t] a few of them argue. I've had several students argue Well you might say it that way but I say wished with a [d] at the end. That's part of the fun of teaching phonetics and phonology. It's a nice challenge trying to find all the right tricks to convince them without belittling or ridiculing their untrained ear.

    But are linguists immune? Well I'm not. Last semester while I was prattling on in some silly 215 Heavilon conversation an officemate jumped up from his chair and started writing on the board. This usually occurs when someone has said something particularly amusing or offensive or confusing. So I wondered what I said. He wrote down an odd two word phrase. Oh wheeze.

    What's that? I asked.

    That's how you say 'always' he explained.

    I was stunned. I thought about it. And I almost didn't believe it. I looked over at another officemate and he nodded.

    In the next class period I mentioned it to my students and I noticed a few of them nodding as well. One added You just said it a few minutes ago and I noticed it.

    There are a few things going on with that pronunciation that interest me. As a cot/caught merger I'm a little surprised to learn that my pronunciation of the first vowel is even higher and more rounded than the [ɔ] that often occurs before [l]. But then I delete the [l] anyways. And I don't speak with an intrusive 'l' which could have accounted for hypercorrection and [l] deletion. And instead of a [eɪ] diphthong in the last syllable I use something almost like a high front [i]. This is similar to the sundee mondee tuesdee pronunciations that I thought were disappearing. But I don't say those.

    Well instead of [ɔːlweɪz] I say something like [oːwiz] tho I suspect that second vowel is more likely a barred-i [ɨ]. Not so far forward as [i].

    And now that I think about it the first vowel is probably something closer to [əʊ].

    This is like the moment I learned that not everyone's second toe is longer than their big toe.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Oh Xbar tree Oh Xbar tree . . .

    I was browsing through the links over at Neal Whitman's Literal-Minded and I found a great little syntax resource. I hate using the draw feature on my word processing program to create the sentence trees so I'm very eager to try out phpSyntaxTree instead.

    It works by interpreting the keyboard friendly notation of bracketing phrases and sentences. You may have noticed (on this and other linguistics blogs) sentences and phrases that look like this:

    [synthetic [buffalo hides]]

    And that phrase would likely be contrasted with the following:

    [[synthetic buffalo] hides]

    The phrase on its own is ambiguous because the structure is underlying and not apparent in normal speech or writing. Just like the old joke about the one eyed one horned flying purple people eater that no one needs to be afraid of -- unless you're a one eyed one horned flying purple person. There are some conventions of writing that can clarify these forms. Hyphens work pretty well to indicate which noun an ambiguous adjective is modifying. So a steel-string guitar is probably going to sound a lot better than a steel string guitar. It'd probably be a lot lighter too.

    In the bracket notation (if we want to consider steel-string two words) the difference would be

    [[steel string]guitar]
    [steel[string guitar]]

    plug-in something as simple at those two phrases and the program gives us the corresponding trees:

    The program also works with labels for the phrases and accounts for them in the rendering of the lines. I'll borrow a sentence right out of the trusty ol' Radford syntax text to illustrate:

    A lovely rendering of the following input form
    [TP[PRN He][T'[T does][VP[V enjoy][N syntax]]]]

    I've now linked to the program in the resources list in the right sidebar.

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    ADS WotY: subprime

    The press release is out. What I like best about the ADS list is the categories. It makes for good discussion. That said: I nominate the new real estate/mortgage/loan words category as least necessary and least likely to succeed. Though I do like the play on 'loanwords' in there.

    So here I post without further comment the writeup of this year's winners taken directly from the press release (I exclude the voting tally):

    green- prefix/compounding form Designates environmental concern, as in greenwashing.
    surge an increase in troops in a war zone.
    Facebook all parts of speech.
    waterboarding an interrogation technique in which the subject is immobilized and doused with
    water to simulate drowning.
    Googlegänger A person with your name who shows up when you google yourself.
    wide stance, to have a To be hypocritical or to express two conflicting points of view. When Senator Larry Craig was arrested in a public restroom and accused of making signals with his foot that police said meant he was in search of a anonymous sex, Craig said it was a misunderstanding and that he just had a wide stance when using the toilet.

    WINNER: green- prefix/compounding form Designates environmental concern, as in greenwashing.
    bacn Impersonal email such as alerts, newsletters, and automated reminders that are nearly as annoying as spam but which one has chosen to receive.
    celebu- prefix Indicates celebrity, as in celebutard.
    connectile dysfunction Inability to gain or maintain a connection.
    wrap rage Anger brought on by the frustration of trying to open a factory-sealed purchase.

    WINNER Googlegänger Person with your name who shows up when you google yourself.
    boom An instance of a military explosion in the phrases left of boom, which describes the US military’s efforts to root out insurgents before they do harm, and right of boom, which describes efforts to minimize attacks with better equipment, systems, and medical care.
    lolcat On the Internet, an odd or funny picture of a cat given a humorous and intentionally ungrammatical caption in large block letters. From LOL + cat.
    tapafication The tendency of restaurants to serve food in many small portions, similar to tapas.

    WINNER Happy Kwanhanamas! [Kwanza + Hanukka + Christmas] Happy holidays!
    truther Someone who espouses a conspiracy theory about the events of 9/11.
    vegansexual A person who eats no meat, uses no animal-derived goods, and who prefers not to have sex with non-vegans.

    WINNER toe-tapper A homosexual. Senator Larry Craig was arrested in June for an encounter in a public restroom in which toe-tapping was said to have been used as a sexual come-on.
    nappy-headed ho An expression used on the Don Imus radio show, and repeated by the host, about the women’s basketball team at Rutgers University.
    make it rain To drop paper money on a crowd of people, especially in strip clubs, nightclubs, or casinos.

    WINNER human terrain team A group of social scientists employed by the US military to serve as cultural advisers in Iraq or Afghanistan.
    shmashmortion/smushmortion Abortion.
    va-j-j Also va-jay-jay or vajayjay The vagina.

    WINNER green- prefix/compounding form Designates environmental concern, as in greenwashing.
    global weirding An increase in severe or unusual environmental activity often attributed to global warming. This includes freakish weather and new animal migration patterns.
    Super-Duper Tuesday Feb. 5th, the day 23 US states will hold primary elections. Also known as Tsunami Tuesday.
    wide stance, to have a To be hypocritical or to express two conflicting points of view. When Senator Larry Craig was arrested in a public restroom and accused of making signals with his foot that police said meant he was in search of a anonymous sex, Craig said it was a misunderstanding and that he just had a wide stance when using the toilet.
    locavore someone who eats food that is grown or produced locally. Nominated by Dick Bailey.
    texter a person who sends text messages.

    WINNER strand-in Protest duplicating being stranded inside an airplane on a delayed flight.
    Billary/Hill-Bill Bill and Hillary Clinton.
    earmarxist A congressman or senator who adds earmarks — money designated for a particular person or group — to legislation. Coined by the blog Redstate to refer to Democrats.
    quadriboobage The appearance of having four breasts caused by wearing a brassiere that is too small.

    WINNER subprime Used to describe a risky or poorly documented loan or mortgage.
    exploding ARM An Adjustable Rate Mortgage whose rates soon rise beyond a borrower’s ability to pay.
    liar’s loan/liar loan Money borrowed from a financial institution under false pretenses, especially in the form of a “stated income” or “no-doc” loan which can permit a borrower to exaggerate income.
    NINJA No Income, No Job or Assets. A poorly documented loan made to a high-risk borrower.
    scratch and dent loan A loan or mortgage that has become a risky debt investment, especially one secured with minimal documentation or made by a borrower who has missed payments.

    Brother you've changed. Why?

    I'm watching 1vs100 right now. Bob Saget just made a joke about the contestant (a single 21 year old man) fraternizing with all the women. But I could swear he said 'fratranizing' [fɹætɹənaɪzɪŋ] instead of [fɹæɾəɹnaɪzɪŋ].

    Here's the puzzler: What's the process here? Is this a case of simple phonological metathesis or is it contamination from patronize?


    But notice that the analogy isn't pure. While patronize takes the 'o' fratranize takes an 'a'. Of course the fraternity family doesn't have fratron to influence the spelling of the -ize form.


    (The geeky but likable kid just won a million by guessing on a question.)

    [Update: Well this is what I get for deleting what I think is unnecessary elaboration. It's quite a leap to simply assume that a speaker (such as Mr Saget would spell (or imagine) the word with the 'a' like I did. I based that leap on a Google™ search that gave 186 hits for 'fratranizing' 83 hits for 'fratrenizing' and only 12 hits for 'fratronizing'. Those numbers have changed a little since then -- but the point is that 'fratranizing' looks like the goto spelling.

    I hate it when HE says the wrong word.

    As Richard Hershberger says in his recent comment about the banned words list it's pretty sad that Lake Superior State University is cashing in on snide opinions. They really should just publicize their excellent hockey program.

    These peevefests don't change the language. They just encourage similar rants by other grouches. Follow this link to The Conversation on KUOW. The call-in episode is mostly about language peeves.

    Or just click on one of these links to listen:
    (RealAudio link)
    (iTunes *.m3u link)

    The payoff comes pretty early. Listen very carefully around the 5:30 mark to Jodi's complaint.

    If you don't feel like listening then just go read TStT's post about the show. This is hilarious.

    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Thou cut'st my tongue off with a golden axe

    Every year someone up at Lake Superior State University releases a list of banished words and phrases.

    The write-up of the list's history makes it clear that the list is "tongue-in-cheek" and it was all part of "a publicity ploy" for the little school up north. I have no problem with the fact that the PR department puts out the list. They're just as entitled to silly ideas about language as anyone.

    Do I have problems with the list? Well the language won't be any better if people 'obey' the ban. And it doesn't really give any good advice to improve writing -- other than the typical 'avoid clichés' advice. And there are some words and phrases on the list that have lost some of the "pop" (banned) they once had. And there are plenty of words and phrases that I'm less likely to use because they just aren't my style. I might think they're trendy or cutesy such as "webinar" or maybe I just don't know how to use a phrase like "it is what it is" meaningfully. But sometimes words start to pop in other directions and some new and clever terms start to work without the trendy baggage. You should hear what people used to say about that awful word, movie.

    So why do the LSSU PR folks think they need to stop new words from entering common use? "Webinar" isn't there yet but it might make it. I resisted blog for a while because it seemed too 'nickname-y'. But the word has lost some of its hip tone (to my ear) and now I hear it as a pretty direct and clearly defined word. I guess after several years I can say about the word blog "it is what it is." See! language changes and so do its users. Yay! And if web seminars become a common enough forum they might just take the obvious sobriquet. Scott Lassiter grumbles "Yet another non-word trying to worm its way into the English language due to the Internet." Listen Scott: they all start off as non-words. Even Internet.

    The peevologists' arguments are mostly as weak and old as we would expect. And there are occasional hints at language rage too -- "Banish it before I go vigilante" says the feisty Ben Martin from Adelaide, South Australia about the changing meaning of "random". Some more this year's proscriptions:

    • PERFECT STORM – “Overused by the pundits on evening TV shows to mean just about any coincidence.” – Lynn Allen, Warren, Michigan.

    The meaning as I have seen it used adds an important sense of the coincidence of several necessary factors to bring about a specific and rare result. It works quickly to a specific intention.


    The technique is horrible. And I'd like to ban it from the sanctioned interrogation tactics. But what's wrong with the word? I just don't get this one. Do they simply want people to stop talking about the technique or do they want every speaker to have to go through a description of the repeated and sustained submersion of subjects instead of using the single well-known word?

    • WORDSMITH/WORDSMITHING – “I’ve never read anything created by a wordsmith - or via wordsmithing - that was pleasant to read.” – Emily Kissane, St. Paul, Minnesota.

    Yeah! And all those damned silversmiths and goldsmiths and gunsmiths and locksmiths that always ruin their work too. If only we'd stopped the word!

    • AUTHOR/AUTHORED – “In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman’s books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone ‘paintered’ a picture?” – Dorothy Betzweiser, Cincinnati, Ohio.

    What's next? No one can pilot a plain or proctor an exam or police our use of language?

    • SURGE – “‘Surge’ has become a reference to a military build-up. Give me the old days, when it referenced storms and electrical power.” – Michael F. Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.

      “Do I even have to say it? I can’t be the first one to nominate it…put me in line. From Iraq to Wall Street to the weather forecast – ’surge’ really ought to recede.” – Mike Lara, Colorado.

      “This word came out in the context of increasing the number of troops in Iraq. Can be used to explain the expansion of many things (I have a surge in my waist) and it’s use will grow out of control…The new Chevy Surge, just experience the roominess!” – Eric McMillan, Mentor, Ohio.

    I don't understand if these people are against the widening or the narrowing or just the phonetics of the word. All silly peeves.

    • BACK IN THE DAY – “Back in the day, we used ‘back-in-the-day’ to mean something really historical. Now you hear ridiculous statements such as ‘Back in the day, people used Blackberries without Blue Tooth.’” – Liz Jameson, Tallahassee, Florida.

    Next year will feature the horrible misuse of "Oh yeah. That reminds me" when you mean to indicate that you just remembered something.

    • RANDOM – Popular with teenagers in many places.
      “Over-used and usually out of context, i.e. ‘You are so random!’ Really? Random is supposed to mean ‘by chance.’ So what I said was by chance, and not by choice?” – Gabriel Brandel, Farmington Hills, Michigan.

    It's not "out of context" just because it's a context that you don't like. And do you also hate that odd was a numerical designation and it referred to a remainder but now it means 'strange' or 'weird'? And do you hate that 'weird' meant 'supernatural' or 'magical' and is it further frustrating that that adjective was the attributive use of the noun from OE wyrd meaning 'fate' or 'destiny'? You must hate this language.

    • SWEET – “Youth lingo overuse, similar to ‘awesome.’ I became sick of this one immediately.” – Gordon Johnson, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    The list is a little late on this one. Waye Braver of Manistique, Michigan claims that this "became popular with the advent of the television show ‘South Park’" but I remember it was already huge by 1983 when I moved from Maryland to Michigan. I picked up the use and when I went back to visit some friends in MD and I used 'sweet' meaning 'cool' or 'awesome' they all laughed at me. But they were 5th graders and such intolerance made sense from their limited little minds.

    And how about this? A snowclone made the list. ‘BLANK’ is the new ‘BLANK’ or ‘X’ is the new ‘Y’ has been banned.

    [See the comments where Waye reminds me that he didn't say the show created the phrase -- just that it popularized it. There is some validity to this distinction and I have responded in a comment to the sense in which I see the distinction. He also provides the correct spelling of his name. LSSU dubs him "Wayne" but his name is Waye.]

    (hat tip to DL at Sycamore Review)