Wordy Bengal

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Zeugma of the week

SOLIDWORKS Education Edition:

We strongly reccomend [sic] that you do not purchase this software if you are not seeking a degree or a full time faculty member at a school, college or university.

 

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Man: reduced or not?

Ben Yagoda wrote to ask about the reduced or unreduced pronunciation of man ([mən] vs. [mæn]) in noun compounds: policeman, fireman, garbage man, mailman, gunman, lineman, etc.

I don't know of any scholarly treatments of this precise subject. For an extensive discussion of the textual history and distribution of man- compounds, you can read Kirsti Peitsara "MAN-Compounds in English", Selected Proceedings of the 2005 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis. And for some background discussion on the relations among structure, sense, and stress in such phrases, see Mark Liberman & Richard Sproat, "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun Phrases in English", in Sag & Szabolsci eds., Lexical Matters, 1992. But I don't know of any discussion of (for example) why the -man in policeman is reduced, while the -man in mailman isn't. (Those are my judgments, anyhow, and Merriam-Webster's agrees with me…)

So I'm throwing the floor open for contributions from readers.

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Geographic idiom chains

From James Kirchner, in response to "The directed graph of stereotypical incomprehensibility", 1/15/2009 (as featured on 3/25/2015 in the Washington Post):

I found years ago that in Stuttgart, Germany, people said, "Es ist mir ein böhmisches Dorf," meaning, "It's a Czech village to me," (literally a Bohemian village). Then I went to work in the Czech Republic, where, as you accurately noted, they say, "Je mi španělská vesnice," i.e., "It's a Spanish village to me." (The Czechs also say, "It's colder than a German girl outside.")

The thing that's been fascinating me the last few years is who people speaking various languages say "goes Dutch". This was triggered by an idiom lesson I was teaching to a very charming, very popular young Ford engineer stationed near Detroit from Mexico City. She ran across the idiom "go Dutch" on the sheet, her eyes popped out, and she asked me what the tradition was here. I told her that usually the man pays for everything on a date. This was a sudden revelation for her. She had been insulting her American suitors by insisting on paying for everything herself, because in Mexico "se paga a la gringa." So the Mexicans say people in the US do that, and people in the US say the Dutch do it. Now I wonder who does it.

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Bring the calvary

David Donnell's friend from Urbana drew his attention to the trailer for Furious 7, where Dwayne Johnson pronounces cavalry as ['kæl.və.ɹi]:

Michelle Rodriguez: Hey, did ya bring the cavalry?
Dwayne Johnson: Woman, I AM the calvary.

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We're back

Yesterday afternoon, a popular link from the Washington Post (Ana Swanson, "The equivalent of “It’s all Greek to me” in 30 other languages", Wonkblog 3/25/2015) caused a spike in LLOG page views; this happened to cause a disk drive to fill up, because the back-end database server was keeping binary logs of all transactions; this caused and/or uncovered various other problems; and so LLOG was down for about 24 hours.

More specifically, the site displayed

Error establishing a database connection

in response to nearly all attempts to display WordPress pages.

As a result of several hours of intelligent and heroic labor by Wayne Hill, we're back, with updated and better-configured version of all the underlying software packages. So performance should be better, but in any case, things are working.

 

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"Language cancer"

David Bandurski has posted a fine article about "The 'cancer' of all things Western" on the website of cmp (China Media Project), at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The University of Hong Kong.  (3/24/15)

Bandurski draws the inspiration for the title of his article from a February piece in the Beijing Daily, in which the Taiwanese poet and critic, Yu Kwang-chung, is quoted as warning against a yǔyán ái 语言癌 ("language cancer") eroding Chinese literacy through èxìng xīhuà 恶性西化 ("malignant Westernization").

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Moar Verbs

A couple of days ago, Geoff Pullum noted that William Zinsser's On Writing Well echoes the Strunkish advice that "Most adverbs are unnecessary" and "Most adjectives are also unnecessary" ("Awful book, so I bought it", 3/21/2015). I share Geoff's skepticism about this anti-modifier animus, and indeed about all writing advice based on parts of speech.

But it occurred to me to wonder whether (various types of) good and bad writing actually do tend to differ in how much they use various parts of speech — and in particular, whether there's any evidence that bad (or at least less accessible) writing tends to use more adjectives and adverbs. Given how pervasive part-of-speech writing advice is, I decided to waste an hour exploring the question empirically.

The results are a bit surprising.  At least in this small and conceptually-limited pilot exploration, I found that writing regarded as bad (and perhaps also certain kinds of technical writing) tends to have more adjectives but fewer adverbs, and more nouns but fewer verbs.

The "more nouns and fewer verbs" effect seems to be especially strong — but I've never seen any writing guide that tells us to "write with adverbs and verbs, not adjectives and nouns".

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xie死

In "A Sino-English grammatical construction", I wrote about "笑CRY", which consists of a Chinese character and an English word.  Today I'll write about xie死, which consists of a Chinese morpheme spelled with Roman letters and a Chinese character, sǐ 死 ("die").

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Your tension has been exterminated

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A Sino-English grammatical construction

As I was preparing a recent post comparing Pekingese and Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) sentences, I encountered an unusual (to me) expression that, at first, I didn't know how to interpret, namely "笑CRY".  The two morphemes (pronounced "xiàoCRY", one Chinese and one English, mean "laugh" and "cry".

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Vowels and consonants

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A succor born every minute

Great news (if you're a pompous idiot)! There is news from the UK's Daily Mail of an app that will ruin your SMS messages and make you sound like someone who went through a matter transporter with a thesaurus!

So in case you should want to completely wreck your chances of ever getting another date with anyone normal, the Mail's screenshots show that the app will replace "Hey!" in your texts by "Salutations!"; it will replace "help me with my homework" by "succor me with my homework"; "smart girl" will be changed to "luminous girl"; "meet at my place" will become "meet at my residence"; "sounds good" will come out as "sounds euphonic"; and "have a good time" will morph into "have a congenial time".

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