Pearls of Swinedom|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 19 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Wednesday, March 21st, 2007|
|incorporation: stone throwing
A remarkable example of an English verb incorporating its object, in monitored prose: in a BBC retrospective
on the Sharpeville massacre.
It is not yet clear why the police, in armoured vehicles, opened fire at approximately 1315 local time today, although it is understood some protesters had been stone-throwing.
This seems to be unique. I can find no other hits for "had been stone throwing"
or the much more common "was stone throwing"
that exhibit incorporation into the verb while being used as a verb. Almost all are the deverbal compound NP in "There had been stone throwing", with a few instances of noun-modifying VP (?) such as "stone-throwing children" and (with different sense/structure: nominal?) "stone-throwing distance", where the incorporation is standardly allowed by English grammar.
|Tuesday, March 13th, 2007|
This week's Economist
has the eggcorn or misspelling scolding
in a story about the scalding slurry
pouring from that mud volcano on Java. Geoffrey Pullum suggests in Language Log
that it's related to rounded and unrounded vowels. Well we don't know where in the writing, lawn-mowing, and primping the error was made, or what the accents were of anyone involved, but I would have thought it was more likely caused by actual phonetic changes bringing the two words together.
In about the mid twentieth century the vowel of words like salt, fault, paltry
lowered from long [ɔː
] to short [ɒ
] in middle-class speakers. It also happened before [f θ s
] as in off, cloth, cross
and sporadically for some people in a few other words like floral, auction
] is now (I would guess) very much the majority pronunciation, but only a small minority use that short /o/ in [ɔːld
] words such as scald, bald, cauldron, Maldon, alder
Meanwhile the words with /oul/ have been affected by the GOAT/GOAL split. Some people still use the same [əʊ
] in goal, scold, bolt
that they do in goat, scope, boat
, and it has an educated sound to it; but others, probably a considerable majority, have an allophone before /l/ that has moved right down to the bottom of the mouth, [ɒʊ
]. So it is quite possible that the eggcornist in The Economist
has two very similar-sounding words [skɒld
] and [skɒʊld
Add into that the other widespread tendency to vocalize coda /l/, so that both could be a diphthong [skɒod
I use [ɒʊl
] in casual speech and [əʊl
] in careful speech, but the latter is learned; I don't natively know of a word like poll, toll, bolt
whether it has /o/ or /ou/. Fortunately I am in good, educated, long-standing company, for Fowler addresses this in Modern English Usage
, and tries to give rules of thumb for which words have which. (And Australian also has the GOAT/GOAL split so it must have happened long before it came to be normal in standard England English.) In Fowler's day there was a clear distinction between the two sounds (at least in his expected readership), and it was the choice that confused people; nowadays they're phonetically hard to distinguish so it barely matters, unless like me you want to sound a bit less common than you are.
|Monday, March 5th, 2007|
A curious phrasing that is for me, I think, ungrammatical. The following is from a story on the Hatto scandal
; the label BIS are reporting what Barrington-Coupe told them:
"It is self-evident that I have acted stupidly, dishonestly and unlawfully," he wrote, the label told the BBC.
Yet I can't quite see why it should be prohibited. If the inner attribution was integrated and the outer one was supplementary it would of course be grammatical:
He wrote, "It is self-evident that I have acted stupidly, dishonestly and unlawfully," the label told the BBC.
I suppose it's because supplements, by their nature, aren't hierarchically incorporated, so can't be nested.
|Tuesday, February 20th, 2007|
|nonaliane and ghiorsium
I have always liked IUPAC systematic nomenclature
—a word, by the way, which I am old-fashioned enough to pronounce ['nəʊmənkleɪtʃə
] rather than the popular [nə(ʊ)'meŋklətʃə
]—, and I was pleased to discover recently they had extended the Greek-based numeral prefixes
for organic compounds. Because authentic Greek prefixes for 300 on would resemble too closely those for 30 on, they chose to forge a new morpheme out of hecta-
, giving -cta-
. So the alkanes with 200, 300, up to 900 carbons are called dictane, trictane, up to nonactane. That with 201 is hendictane, with 202 dodictane, with 220 icosadictane, that with 931 hentriacontanonactane. They also adopted kilia-
for 1000 (more authentic in its ending at least than kilo-
) and clipped -lia-
from it: C2000
is diliane and C9000
The avoidance of the Vernerian variants hebdo-
in the tens is sensible. C70
is heptacontane and C80
is octacontane. These things need to be snapped together like Meccano, by people who don't give a hoot for Grassmann1
and Wackernagel. There's no good reason why Latin was used to name nonane rather than *enneane, but the one that really puzzles me is out on its own: 11 is undeca-
, despite good Greek in dodeca-
12 and henicosa-
Speaking of the IUPAC and systematic names, they've had those recommendations open
for a year now: when are they going to give final names to ununbium and the next few? I've got spaces in my album next to darmstadtium and roentgenium, I've got hinges, now I want those rumoured wixhausium, rikenium, and ghiorsium. For heaven's sake, Ghiorso
is getting on in years. Give him his present while he can enjoy it.1. Goodness, the linguistic Grassmann laid out the foundations of linear algebra decades before its time.
|Thursday, February 15th, 2007|
|and effectively revalue the dirt
With Zimbabwe's rampant inflation they lopped three noughts off the currency last year. What the ISO do when this happens is retire the old currency code (ZWD) and create one for the new dollar (ZWN). However, the Zimbabwean reserve bank couldn't cope
so the ISO threw up their hands and said, more or less, 'Okay, keep the sodding ZWD.' This amused me but not so much as the proposed new names
for the next time they have a few too many zeroes at the far end (should be soon, with inflation at about 2 000% now). They are the ivhu
and the dombo
. In Shona
these mean "earth" and "stone". I wonder if someone has misunderstood the government's plan.
After the adoption of the ivhu
and the nationalization of the farms, Mugabe and his cronies will of course all become immensely rich, though the going rate will be something like Eastern Matabeleland for one ship's peanut. So what sensible move will they then make in the circumstances?
|Thursday, February 8th, 2007|
A happy Dilbertian moment on noticing on a Greek bank website
that the Modern Greek for "individuals" is ιδιωτες
. Current Mood: amused
|Saturday, February 3rd, 2007|
|gone walkabout, like an Aborigine
In the pub just now; the person next to me is ordering drinks, and as often happens one of the beneficiaries has gone somewhere and is invisible. The orderer expressed this, quite casually, by saying she'd 'gone walkabout, like an Aborigine'. This delighted me. I don't know if I've ever actually heard this expression in its full form—with pause and 'like an Aborigine' or some such attached—for about forty years. 'Gone walkabout' is commonplace, but here was an ordinary young Englishman adding 'like an Aborigine'.
Why I have such strong feelings for this is that this is the only thing
I remember about my divinity teacher from about Grade 4, Archdeacon M—. Seeing young boys traversing the classroom instead of. . . well who knows? I haven't the slightest effing idea
what we did in divinity class of circa 1968, I remember literally nothing at all from it except this. . . well, seeing young boys on the move Archdeacon M—, the slick, clean-shaven, dog-collar-wearing young creep who I would now automatically assume was a pederast, said something against boys going walkabout, like the Aborigines.
Like virtually all my earliest memories, this has a linguistic hook. The only reason I'd remember that is if there had been something linguistically unusual about it that I picked up on at the time, young as I was. He said [ə'bɒrɪdʒaɪnz
]. Never heard that since.
|Wednesday, January 31st, 2007|
|sudden unexpected sophistication
Overheard on the bus, a small boy of four or five, perhaps school age but barely; and his sister, a couple of years older. After childish repetitions and triumphs he began talking about names, and seemed confused and disbelieving that they had the same name. The girl then admitted it was only the surname, T—, and she was Jamila Louise whereas he was P—.
His uncertainty with this made him seem very young. He tried Jamila T— Louise and was corrected; he also said [wə'liːz
] and was corrected to [lə'wiːz
]. Then he said [dʒə'miːlə
] and was corrected to [dʒə'mɪlə
], at which point he astonished me by saying there was only one L so it should be [dʒə'miːːlə
]. His sister also understood the spelling point—which even adults
needn't be expected to understand—but said that since others always called her [dʒə'mɪlə
] she called herself that.
|Friday, January 26th, 2007|
|known-sex singular 'they' in 1762
Cursory Web-searching hasn't found any very old uses of this; the oldest examples of singular they
quoted are all with distributed plural or non-specific antecedents. It's from Boswell's London journal, 20 December 1762. He's soliciting the favours of an actress, Louisa, and hasn't got his leg over yet. They are at the negotiating stage, and money hasn't been mentioned yet either. Louisa, the coy puss, explains why she is in low spirits:
There was a person who professed the greatest friendship for me; I now applied for their assistance, but was shifted. It was such a trifle that I am sure they could have granted it. . . Why, Sir, there is a person has sent to me for a trifling debt. I sent back word that it was not convenient for me to let them have it just now, but in six weeks I should pay it.
It would be slightly odd (for 1762) even if only the last sentence used they
: she knows perfectly well the sex of her creditor, and honest tradespeople could be of either sex, so there is no incrimination in using gender. But she has already committed herself to studiously neutral language with her earlier two sentences, with this mysterious professor of friendship. Even in 2007 this is shifty language.
Other point of grammatical interest: bare relative clause with subject gap, a person has sent. . . Current Mood: hungover
|Thursday, January 11th, 2007|
|oldest and leading
Back at work for over a week after the Christmas break, and already on the first day back I found a pile of grammatically interesting things I could post about. The torrent of work (*cough cough*) has washed those away, though I could probably unearth them if I felt motivated. However, here is the first surprise of today: a firm described as 'one of the oldest and leading insurance law firms in Germany'. This is definitely ungrammatical for me. Which is interesting in itself: 'Adj and Adj' is apparently not sufficient for good coordination; for me they have to agree in degree. At this point I always web-search to see how far my intuitions are backed up by mass data. Not at all, in this case: 14 000 hits
is a huge number. So it stays in, and I learn something new. Current Mood: surprised
|Saturday, October 14th, 2006|
|Sunday, October 8th, 2006|
|Latin, as logical as mathematics
People are always saying how logical Latin is, how it'll teach you precision in grammar; and one person said with awed tones that it was as if constructed by a mathematician. (I suspect all these statements really mean is "I've never studied grammar before".) Mm, what I like about real
human languages, like Latin, is all the other stuff.
Like how odi
"hate" only has forms in the perfect system: odi
"I hate", odisse
"I hated". And compounds of lego, legere, legi, lectum
"gather, collect; read" have sigmatic perfects: neglexi, intellexi
. And the variations ii, ivi
for the perfect of such a basic verb as "go". And the present of "want": volo, vis, vult, volumus, vultis, volunt
, and how in the negative only nolo, nolumus, nolunt
occur as contracted forms. And how utor
"use" takes its semantic object in the ablative.
Never mind the whole classes they have names for in the grammar, like i-
stems in the third declension, and deponent verbs, and all the verbs of experience that take dative objects, and the reversal of ut
with verbs of fearing, and the hundreds of goddamn irregularities
the mathematician put in.
You couldn't make it up.
|Monday, October 2nd, 2006|
| Funeral for baby attacked by dogs
I don't know why I read it with the VP modifying the upper NP, but I did, and it was scary, and people should be more careful with headlinese.
[A day or so later the headline had changed, to something like 'mauled by dogs', with a verb that only fitted comfortably with the intended object.] Current Mood: drunk
|Saturday, September 30th, 2006|
Another oddity on the wireless, from Sarah Walker
again. She said 'tumult' as /ˈtʌməlt
/. Now I would have thought that at least [tʃuːˈmaltʃuəs
] would be in common enough usage to maintain the expected [ˈtʃuːmalt
]. That's what my dictionaries give (with [ˈtjuː-
] of course), and Chambers
] as an alternative.
Then another curious thing struck me: I had registered what she'd said as with /ʌ
/, i.e. the STRUT vowel, but of course as a Northerner she must actually have used [ʊ
], not my own [a
], but I didn't register the phonetics, just the phonology. Current Mood: hungry
|Wednesday, September 27th, 2006|
|portrait of a perfect conductor
Are reductions to schwa being reversed? Are we seeing a general trend of spelling pronunciations? Last night I heard a young woman say [ˈpɜːfɛkt
]. At first I just admired that charming cardinal [ɛ
], which to me is still characteristic* of a certain type of well-bred young woman. Then I thought, hang on, it's a full vowel.
Sarah Walker on Radio 3 says [kɒnˈdʊktə
] and other such words with a full O; and I think other announcers do too. Virtually everyone says [ˈpɔːtreɪt
], though the reduced pronunciation is the only one noted in my dictionaries (or more specifically, they still give [ˈpɔːtrɪt
] whereas I have the modern reduction to [ˈpɔːtrət
], but no hint of a pronunciation with a full vowel).
Naively I think of reduction to schwa as an information-losing change, but of course with universal literacy it isn't. So are we seeing a large burst of spelling pronunciation; or have these alternatives been lurking out there ever since the general reduction occurred (hundreds of years ago? or mid nineteenth century?) and been passed on and are now spreading? The speakers I've noticed it in are all of the wrong age or class to be using the Black-influenced New London speech among the young, which also has many clear vowels.* Afterthought, next day. As cardinal no. 3 is now standard for the DRESS vowel, it can't be that that's distinctive. I was listening today and thought it might be that the distinctive posh-young-woman vowel is +ATR. Current Mood: curious
|Sunday, September 24th, 2006|
|He ended his life
The announcer said (of Pavel Haas) that he ended his life in Auschwitz; and I began to puzzle over the ambiguity. One clear difference with that particular example is in the role of the subject: Agent with 'end' = "put a period to" and Experiencer in 'end' = "pass the end part of" (the intended meaning). Syntactically both seem to involve transitive verbs with direct objects, but do they? The "pass the end" sense complement seems semantically weaker (like a cognate accusative, or a time adjunct, though it isn't either of those). And agentivity and various tests seem to conflict . . .( dataCollapse )
|Thursday, September 14th, 2006|
'Oldest' New World writing found
, saith the headline. The BBC article then begins:
Ancient civilisations in Mexico developed a writing system as early as 2,000 years ago, new evidence suggests.
Okay, I'll buy that. Offhand I wouldn't have known whether existing Maya/Olmec/Toltec/Zapotec texts went back that far or who got there first. Later it says:
The finding suggests that New World people developed writing some 400 years before their contemporaries in the Western hemisphere.
This I am puzzled by. After repeated rereadings, I have decided it can be made sense of if you assume that by 'contemporary' they don't mean 'contemporary'. I first (and second, and third) read it as comparing to their contemporaries in some other hemisphere (e.g. the Romans of that period), except for the part about 'Western'. But now I think they meant '400 years before other [non-contemporary] people in the Western hemisphere', specifically, the Olmecs or whoever of 400 CE, authors of the hitherto
earliest New World writing. The writing is on a slab. A bit later we read:
The slab has been dated to the early first millennium BC.
So did they keep the slab lying around for some nine hundred years or so before writing on it? Or is this more editing gone mad? Current Mood: suspicious
is a very good name for the new dwarf planet. Dysnomia is a very good name for its moon, even down to the pun on Lucy Lawless.
Dysnomia is not, however, a good name for what it already meant in English: an inability to retrieve words. Dysnom
ia, doctor? Shurely shome mishtake. My recollection of words may be lawless, but I would still rather call this dysonom
ia. The <o> is an integral part of the root, not a linking vowel or thematic vowel of its prefixes.
In semantics classes I refused to use the malformed word 'hypernym'. It's a hyperonym, dammit. We're linguists: there are one or two prescriptive standards we could justifiably uphold. (eta: Ack! They've been and gorn and put 'hypernym' in the dictionary today of all days! Why couldn't they ask me first?
(eta bi: Tchoh. Tsk. And the IAU have got the pronunciation wrong, through consulting some shonky website. It's
['eris], with an epsilon.
) Current Mood: finicky
|Sunday, September 10th, 2006|
First entry. What shall I talk about?
You'd think something as basic as Swedish tone would be covered in abundance in the first page of web hits, no? Well I'm on page 8 now and have given up. Possibly some of those PDFs hold something, but I've given up. I know the general
idea, rise and/or fall both on the stressed syllable and on a following one; I just want to know what exactly
. In one dialect, say Stockholm: I don't care about farmers on Gotland acquiring accents from their cows. Does the first syllable drop from H to M or from M to L or does it go H-M-H or H-L-M, and when the next tone is on the third syllable does it go down, up and down like a bouncy castle, or round and round like a maelstrom and the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere? Everything I read subtly disagrees.
Yesterday I bought a book on Swedish (only the current Teach Yourself
, bleah, 'chapter 3, how to ask for an ice-cream at a beach kiosk', but it was only £2); and a tiny Dutch dictionary, a bigger German reference grammar, and a guide to Chinese writing.
In The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Mary's neighbour Phyllis was married to a Swede called Lars, and in one episode she dismissively summed up his chatting with his Swedish friends as jönge hönge
, with what I'm currently using as accent 2 for want of anything better. Current Mood: confused