Tuesday, September 28, 2004


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
1. An admission ticket. 2. A piece of money. 3. Any of various gold coins formerly used in some European countries. .. read more

Monday, September 27, 2004

St Wenceslaus

 As seen at Mirabilis.ca
Other than the Christmas carol, when do we ever hear of St Wenceslaus? Never, in my neck of the woods. He's important over here, though: St Wenceslaus is the patron saint of brewers, Bohemia, the Czech Republic, and Prague. September 28th is his feast day, and that's a national holiday in the Czech Republic. Wenceslaus (or Wenceslas, if you prefer) was murdered in the year 929 by his brother. If you're curious about him, read more here, here, and here...... read more


 As seen at LanguageHat
At last, the solution to all the wearisome arguments over "good" and "bad" English! The Original English Movement is here to rescue us:For decades descriptive linguists and professional prescriptivists—technical writers, editors, and English teachers—have been at war. As most linguists..... read more

Heir raising [2]

 As seen at OpenBrackets

Oh, I am sorry about the protracted silence.

I sometimes wonder whether there isn’t an end to what anyone has to say, despite the infinity of subjects at hand. Plus, there are times when your own mind bores even you, and you doubt the appeal of everything it produces (for instance that bit about how I discovered that pichiciego is another name for fairy armadillo.)

A few weeks ago, J. Robinson wrote to me about a new book called The genius of language. Edited by Wendy Lesser, it’s a book of 15 essays by multilingual authors about their relationship with their mother tongue.

I’m about halfway through, reading in disorder. Aside from a few unforgivable typos (tu est) in a book about language, I found some of the contributions a little bland – or probably just not quite what I’d expected. Unlike Conrad or Nabokov or Bianciotti, most all the contributors write in their native tongue, so they have not had to translate themselves for an adopted culture, and largely enjoy the influence of another language on their relationship to words and ideas. But it is a great subject, and sweet the common thread of a form of homesickness when speaking of their second language(s).

Of course all the authors pepper their essays with foreign words, and I kept wondering why some provided translations and others didn’t. I can’t help feel there’s a certain smugness (and a bit of a cheat) in keeping it to yourself.

Around our house, French is the language spoken most often, the language of jokes and reprimands and homework. And I’ve never quite known how to reconcile the fact that my children are growing up in a different culture from my own.

There is an odd gap that can only be bridged with boring explanations that begin, ‘when I was a girl’ – which invariably makes me feel like one of those stranded immigrant housewives who people Toronto’s “little” neighbourhoods, wiping my hands on my housecoat as I sigh and go misty with thoughts of the old country. ‘Oh, Francesco…’

They’ve never seen The Brady Bunch or I Love Lucy, so I’m unable to gauge their minds with familiar markers. And even though my son loves Bugs Bunny as much as I did, Mel Blanc is sorely absent, the jokes aren’t as good and, damn it, they’ve changed the names (as you’d expect, Pepe le Pew does not work in French).

So it’s just not the same show. And even though they like dumb and dirty jokes as much as I did (uh, do), most of my dusty repertoire falls flat in translation.

Attempts to provide them with equivalents of my favourite bedtime stories required research, and there was no nostalgia in my voice when I sang French lullabies. Plus I’ve had to brush up on my French kings and queens, and which river runs through what (please don’t quiz me).

Even more than language, I’ve failed them in social graces. I realized a little too late that I had not schooled my kids on the bise (the ritual cheek kissing hello and goodbye). I didn’t grow up with it, and still try to get away with only the hello part. Unless you’re awfully fond of them, kissing a roomful of people goodbye just seems like so much work.

Girls catch onto the ritual earlier than boys, and are already kissing each other bonjour and ciao by the time they’re 12. But my son still flinches when he sees an adult cheek lunging towards him, lips puckered. (The same boy who, at the age of 5, used to rub his hands over women’s buttocks, saying, ‘mmm, nice’ and would occasionally walk up to a stranger in the street and, for no apparent reason, punch him in the nuts.)

I also forgot to tell them about tu and vous. I suppose I figured they’d just catch on. During the early years, kids address everyone with the familiar tu but, by the age of 10, are expected to make the distinction. I had a sudden bout of panic, certain my kids were going around insulting their elders, and that I’d soon be hauled into the principal’s office to explain. Turns out, they’d caught on.

Despite my occasional glaring awareness of my foreignness, I suppose I can at least take comfort in knowing that my aversion to French rap and the idiocy of SMS is shared by native-born parents across the country.

.. read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
An expert who studies a subject or issue thoroughly and excessively. .. read more

Sunday, September 26, 2004


 As seen at LanguageHat
The Guardian has excerpts from the correspondence between Scarlett Thomas, author of Going Out (in which "twentysomethings languish in the suburban wastelands of Essex, engaging the world primarily through e-mail, the Internet, and American sitcoms and movies") and her Russian..... read more

"Ten Items or Less (Fewer?)"

 As seen at Pain In The English
Alright, my pet peeve is the confusion behind the use of the words "less" and "fewer".

My thought is "fewer" relates to units while "less" relates to a quality or state of being. Basically, "If you can count them, use the word 'fewer' and if you can't, it's 'less'".

"Fewer cars on the road results in less traffic. This means less stress which, in turn, will result in fewer headaches."

That makes sense, doesn't it?

But I constantly see in the print media and hear on the radio or TV people reporting, "...this will mean less jobs for workers ...".

I recently saw a full-page ad for a Ford hybrid fuel/electric SUV which touted "...less trips to the gas pump" and (interestingly enough, in the same paragraph) "fewer repairs". Hey! Elements of Style, anyone?

Now that my point of ire is established, the real question is that of my Subject line, the ubiquitous sign at the supermarket. Which is correct? Rather than tell what I've heard, I'll just let this go on the table for all to consider... read more

Talking through your hat

 As seen at Pain In The English
A new English expression I have encountered is "talking through your hat". Does anyone here know anything about this?

I think it must make your voice very muffled! (Joke!).. read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Someone prone to having extremely bad luck. .. read more

Zimmermann on Opaque Verbs

 As seen at semantics etc

Thomas Ede Zimmermann. “Monotonicity in Opaque Verbs”.

“In this paper I will defend a quantificational semantic analysis of the unspecific readings of opaque transitive verbs, i.e. verbs that induce a certain kind of ambiguity with respect to their direct object position: I owe you a horse, Ernest is looking for a lion, Tom’s horse resembles a unicorn, John hired an assistant

.. read more

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


 As seen at LanguageHat
Today's NY Times has an article (by Stacy Albin) called "You Say Prosciutto, I Say Pro-SHOOT, and Purists Cringe." I had hopes for this article; the local variant of Italian spoken in New York and New Jersey (I don't know..... read more

Pietroski on Character and Content

 As seen at semantics etc

Paul Pietroski. “Character Before Content”. to appear in Content and Modality: Themes from the Philosophy of Robert Stalnaker, edited by J. Thomson and A. Byrne, OUP.

“This is a third paper in the same family. The ideas is that a Chomsky-style internalism about linguistic meaning is compatible with Stalnaker’s view that the propositional contents of assertions are sets of possible worlds. Indeed, Stalnaker may offer all we need (and all we are likely to get) in terms a substantive language-independent notion of truth-conditions. And partly for this reason, we should reject the idea that semantics is conventionalized pragmatics. The middle portion of the paper starts to develop a conception of linguistic meanings as “concept construction instructions.” I hope to develop this conception a little more in a monograph, Semantics Without Truth Values.”

.. read more

Zimmermann on Opaque Verbs

 As seen at semantics etc

Thomas Ede Zimmermann. “Monotonicity in Opaque Verbs”.

“In this paper I will defend a quantificational semantic analysis of the unspecific readings of opaque transitive verbs, i.e. verbs that induce a certain kind of ambiguity with respect to their direct object position: I owe you a horse, Ernest is looking for a lion, Tom’s horse resembles a unicorn, John hired an assistant

.. read more

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Is pseudonymy fair?

 As seen at Semantic Compositions
Although there's no good way to verify it, writing under a pseudonym has probably been around for just a little less time than writing at all. The Internet makes it unusually easy to publish your work, with or without a..... read more

There's no

 As seen at Semantic Compositions
Geoff Pullum has an excellent post up at Language Log demolishing an article by Sidney Goldberg which purports to demonstrate that the New York Times' copy editors are incompetent. But in the process, Prof. Pullum violates a style guide himself...... read more


 As seen at LanguageHat
The Russian equivalent of shish kebab is shashlyk (more commonly spelled shashlik in English); it comes from the Caucasus, and I once had it on a Caucasian mountainside after waiting for an entire wedding party to be served, by which..... read more


 As seen at LanguageHat
Wordful is a new language site from Australia whose creator says:Words. How I love 'em. This is where I'll share my love for word histories, names and anything else wordy that pops into my head.This is obviously a good premise..... read more

Friday, September 17, 2004


 As seen at Mirabilis.ca
Weboggle is an addictive little "find the word" game. One game will take only a few minutes, but can you stop there? (Thanks to Marcus for writing to tell me about this.)..... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Nevertheless; Although. .. read more

Thursday, September 16, 2004


 As seen at LanguageHat
Reading the NY Times Magazine story "The Lessons of Classroom 506" by Lisa Belkin, I was taken aback by this: "As a kindergartner, Valente was the only disabled child in her grade..." (my emphasis). It would never have occurred to..... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
Perhaps. .. read more

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


 As seen at Semantic Compositions
Reader ACW makes use in a comment below of a word your host hasn't seen before, "floccinaucinihilipilificatory". Google reveals a mere 2 hits for it, but also suggests a spelling correction to a noun which presumably means "one who has..... read more

I protest!

 As seen at Semantic Compositions
Geoff Nunberg comments on a headline that reads "Vietnam Veterans Protest Kerry", saying that "most people reserve the verb for objects that denote events or states of affairs". While SC loves the Rambo allusion that this turns out to be..... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
In truth, indeed, truly, certainly. .. read more

Monday, September 13, 2004

Adjective in place of Adverb

 As seen at Pain In The English
Today I found myself in the position of wanting to use "volatile" in the sentence "The bombs rested volatile on the edge of the shelf." I immediately realized the sentence seemed choppy. I also realized, however, that "volatilely" is not a word. I was thinking of "precariously" but wanted to express a more explosive mood instead of the somewhat timid-sounding "precariously."

Are there situations where an adjective can be used in place of an adverb? For instance, tonight I heard a teleivision show use the phrase "You've done nothing but wax idiotic."

Any examples, rules, or guidelines relating to the use of this kind of adjective/adverb structure would be a boon to my understanding. Thank you... read more

Oxford English Dictionary

 As seen at Mirabilis.ca
Oh, this is splendid! It probably won't last long, but still. You can get at the Oxford English Dictionary for free. Yay. Unfortunately you have to use this backdoor thing. Don't tell anyone. Ssssh! Found here at Metafilter...... read more


 As seen at Wordsmith Word of the Day
To believe, think, suppose, or trust. .. read more

Monday, September 06, 2004

An unit

As seen at Pain In The English
Trying this query on Google to no avail, I was asked today whether it's correct to say "a unit" or "an unit". The rules of grammar I was taught at school (in England) would suggest the latter; yet the former seems, somehow, more right. Pages on Google use both freely, sometimes using both in the same document. So - which is correct?.. read more

Apostrophe & Parentheses Usage

As seen at Pain In The English
When indicating that either one or more than one of something is envisioned, the "(s)" is normally added to the end of the word, such as "team(s)". When using an apostrophe to indicate the possessive, the location of the apostrophe is placed either before or after the final "s" depending whether the word is meant to be singular or plural, such as "team's" or "teams'". Should the apostrophe be placed before or after the "(s)" to indicate the possessive quality of the team(s) ?.. read more

"Zen" as an Adjective

As seen at Pain In The English
I recently had the urge to use "Zen" to describe a way of traveling light, calm, and without want. However, after looking in a dictionary, I learned that "zen" is not listed as ever being an adjective. How can this be so? I am absolutely sure I have heard things being described as "zen" on television and in media. In a phrase such as "Zen garden" would "Zen" be an adjective, or would "Zen Garden" function as an entire, or proper, noun? Just wondering. Thanks. .. read more

mobile speed bump

n. A car that travels at the speed limit to force the cars behind to do the same... read more

Originally posted by WordSpy Word of the Day

Comma Usage