Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Words to annoy pedants with inconcise English


Ironic conflicting road signs
There are many ways English doesn't follow precise scientific style definitions.  Some English-speakers are annoyed by some of the inconsistencies and disorder of English words.  There are even some who take their annoyance out on others who don't see such a problem.  In this, there seems to be a movement of sorts that tries to bring some sort of hierarchical order to English words.  When people defy this attempt at order, they sometimes find themselves being attacked for their word choices.

I've talked about the phrase begs the question in a previous article.  Use of this phrase will trigger attacks by pedants.  There are specific words that elicit similar literary venom.  At the top of the list is ironical.

Ironical irony


There are many people that sincerely believe ironical is not a word, and that only ironic should be used in cases where irony is an adjective.  They will actually make fun of people that use the word ironical correctly.  I've used the term myself in an ironic sense, only to trigger people who don't understand the irony of being opposed to the use of the word ironical, and the double-irony that ironical is actually a real word, and the triple-irony that I used the word to make fun of something else (namely, being pedantic).

There was an episode on Seinfeld, where the character Seinfeld confidently declares there is no such word ironical.  I don't know if this started the hatred of the word, but it certainly popularized that hatred.

Another ironic fact about ironical is that it actually has a more concise definition than ironic.  Ironic has three distinct definitions, where ironical has two related definitions.

The word irony itself is also the subject to derision.  The definition of irony includes something being incongruous.  Yet, using irony in this manner can trigger pendants into criticising you.

Number game


Another example of people trying to bring order to disorder of the English language lies in the alternative terms for numbers.  Namely, couple, few, dozen, etc.  But, that's not good enough for some.  In some schools, kids are taught that there is a concise progression to these terms, where couple = 2, several = 3 and few = 4.

If you look up several in the dictionary, you'll find a variety of definitions that can vary between dictionaries.  Some dictionaries say that several means "more than 2 or 3", while others say it means "more than a few".  However, in all cases, several represents an "indefinitely small number".

If you look up few in the dictionary, you'll find that few doesn't actually represent any particular number at all in most definitions.  It doesn't mean "3 or 4" or just "4".  It simply means an "indefinitely small number", similar to several.

I've even heard some claim that the word some has a defined number of 2 or more, when in fact, some can refer to any number, large or small, including 1 or 1,000,000.

Orientation


Another word I've seen trigger people is orientate.  Orientate and orient both mean the same thing as verbs in most cases.  But, orient is also a noun.  Some people prefer to say orientate to identify the word as a verb since orientate has no noun meaning.  In other words, it's actually more concise to use the word orientate when talking about taking an action that will change the orientation of a thing.

Inflamed much?


Is it wrong to use the word inflammable when flammable means exactly the same thing?  Well, they both have the same definition, but for different reasons.  Root word for flammable is flame.  Flame is a noun.  However, inflame is the root word of inflammable.  Inflame is a verb.  And, inflammation is a noun with a completely different meaning than flame.  The word flammation is obsolete.  It meant to cause something to be set on fire.  What's the other word for that?  Oh, that's right, inflame.  So, technically, flammable should be the word we stop using if we were to choose between it and inflammable.  I wonder who would be inflamed by that?

What are some other words that bug someone you know?



Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Is it really Frankenstein's Monster?

Frankenstein comicIs the term really "Frankenstein's Monster" rather than just "Frankenstein" when talking about the monster?  How often has the term "Frankenstein's Monster" really appeared anywhere?   Why is there confusion about the monster's name?  Well, that's because he isn't actually given a proper name in the original story by Mary Shelley.

Without much context, a quick search on Google ngram reveals that the term "Frankenstein's Monster" does indeed show up in literature.  However, going back to 1800 finds that the term really didn't get started until well after 1870. Beyond that, the term wasn't really in use until the 1960's. Just for reference, the Frankenstein book was originally published in 1818.


So, what do we get when we compare the usage of the term "Frankenstein's Monster" with usage of just the name "Frankenstein"?


Well, usage of "Frankenstein" does occur well before 1818.  That makes sense since it is a real surname.  However, taking pre-1818 use of the name as noise, there is still substantial use of the term "Frankenstein" from 1818 and on.  "Frankenstein" appears so often that it literally relegates the use of "Frankenstein's Monster" to well below that of background noise.  Usage of "Frankenstein's Monster" is less than a blip, even nowadays.

Beyond that, is the distinction between the mad scientist and his monster really all that important, namewise?  If we count the monster as the scientist's child in a manner of speaking, the monster would carry the scientist's surname anyway.  Both the monster and the scientist carry the name "Frankenstein".  Maybe instead of trying to impose a ill-accepted term like "Frankenstein's Monster", we simply use the term "Dr. Frankenstein" for the mad scientist and "Frankenstein" for the monster.


"Dr. Frankenstein" appears orders-of-magnitude more often than "Frankenstein's Monster".  And, it's a bit more of a blip when compared to just "Frankenstein".



Monday, September 05, 2016

Wind what?

What do you call that giant tower with spinning blades that produces electricity from wind?  Windmill?  Well, kinda, but not really.  The word "mill" that forms the latter portion of the word "windmill" is just that, a mill.  In this context, a mill is a machine that grinds and crushes something, such as grain.MD There isn't a whole lot of grinding and crushing of anything when using a rotor to produce electricity.  It's really the opposite of a mill.

The definition of "turbine" is a bit more broad.  A turbine is a machine that converts the movement of a fluid into rotary motion.TD  With that definition, a mill is a type of turbine.  However, a turbine is not necessarily a mill.

There is no specific word that provides a special name for an electricity producing turbine, so the word turbine itself is used.  Turbine is also used to name machines that make electricity from flowing water, such as those found at Hoover Dam.HD   So, that giant tower with spinning blades that produces electricity is more correctly called a wind turbine.  A collection of wind turbines at one location are frequently referred to as "wind farms".


Another wind powered machine is the windpump, which is used to pump water.  Windpumps and windmills have been in use for about 1500 years, being first developed in the Persian region between A.D. 500 and 900.WP  Wind turbines owe their existence to our long history of windmills and windpumps.  It's somewhat understandable that there is some confusion of terms.

Interesting modern examples of wind power in use


There's even a wind-powered record player!  Well, that's mostly art, but apparently it works well.  Then, there's this guy, William Kamkwamba, who built wind turbines and pumps for his village in Malawi at a time of famine and when such luxaries were only experienced by 2% of their population.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Deep highschooler discussion

Recently, I attended a software user group meeting, whose meeting was in the machine shop in a local high school.  It was long after school hours, however that didn't mean kids weren't still hanging around.  As I approached the entrance, there was a small group of kids hanging out nearby.  All of a sudden, one of the boys rather loudly blurts out something to the effect, "Wow, it's now been two years since I broke up with [whatever her name was]."  One of the girls immediately corrects him saying, "It's been one year since you guys broke up."  The boy iterated that it was now two years.

This conversation went back and forth like this as I walked past.  Hopefully I was not shaking my head too obviously at the pure pointlessness of this high school discussion.  Not that I care, but I wasn't able to ascertain whether or not the boy was lamenting the two year severance, or happy about it.  If he was happy about it, why was he so focused...oh, dang it.  I'm now thinking about this more than I ever intended.  I'm done with this.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

I know English is evolving when I hear these words in a courtroom

I was recently snared into Jury Duty in Massachusetts.  This isn't so much an article about that.  Instead, this is about something I noticed while listening to the case before me and my 5 other jurors; word choices.

The first interesting word was uttered by the Prosecutor quoting the defendant who was fighting a DUI charge. The Prosecutor stated that the defendant pleaded with the arresting officer to cut him a break because he was not cocked.  This word cocked was used in a mocking manner by the prosecutor several times in his opening and closing arguments.

The second word that stood out was spoken by the Defense attorney.  While questioning the arresting officer, the Defense attorney asked about the likelihood of something-or-another.  What caught my attention is that he used the prolly, instead of prob'ly or probably.  The use of this word in such a formal manner struck me, since the word is still considered by many to be of the mythically inferior not-a-word status.

The last spoken element I picked up on was the Judge's use of the idiom begging-the-question.  I've written about the idiom begging-the-question quite recently.  There are two official definitions for the idiom.  The traditional definition is based on a logical fallacy.  The modern definition is an alternative for raises-the-question; this was Judge's use that day.  It is interesting to note that both definitions appear in dictionaries now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Begs the question is the idiom that you aren't using wrong, but some think you do

Are you begging the question?  What is begging a question?  Well, it depends.  There are two different terms that are very similar, but have very different uses.  The first is beg the question fallacy.  This is the traditional use of the term. This is a type of fallacy where a premise includes the claim or assumption that its conclusion is true.  (This is covered in some brief detail at Fallacy: Begging the Question.)

For example, "All cats are evil, otherwise you would not see cats do evil things."

The premise of this statement is that cats are evil, and the justification is that you see cats do evil things.  The statement forms a circular argument.

But, there's another common use of the term that often appears as , "begs the question", as in, "your statement begs the question of who will do this work".  It means that there is an obvious or ignored question that arises from a statement.

There are grammarians and logicians that will argue that this is somehow the wrong use of the term, such as the website begthequesiton.info (which dedicates itself to this topic).  Ironically, these individuals often employ logical fallacies to disregard the modern usage of the term.  There are people that seem gleefully unaware of how English works.  Common usage is correct usage. Dictionaries now list the modern usage on equal weight as the logical fallacy definition.  See idioms area on freedictionary.com.

There is often a claim that using the phrase in the modern sense is somehow confusing (see some of these claims on QuickAndDirty.com by Grammar Girl). However, common usage is so prevalent, there is no confusion as to when the term is being used one way or another.  If someone wishes to distinguish between the logical fallacy and the assertion of an obvious/ignored question, then they do so with context, just as they would for the use of any other common terms with multiple meanings.  This begs the question, why is denial of the validity of the modern definition so important to some people?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Using a thorn to write

I'm not sure why, but I have a growing fascination with the letter thorn.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have sounds in the English language that have no letter to themselves.  This is particularly strange since we used to have letters for at least some of these sounds.  In the case of sounds for th, those letters are thorn and eth.

Capital thorn: Þ
Lowercase thorn: þ

Capital eth: Ð
Lowercase eth: ð

Thorn represents the unvoiced th sound, as in the words thin, things, wither, and eighth.  Eth represents the voiced th sound, as in the words the, that, those, feather, and clothe.  When these letters were in common use, they were often used interchangeably, regardless to which th sound was actually used.  Additionally, the letter Y was often used in place of thorn since print type fonts of Medieval times didn't have the letter thorn.  This means, "Ye Olde Shoppe" was really pronounced "The Old Shop", no different than today.  In this case, the "Y" was a replacement for the letter thorn, which represented the voiced th sound of the word "the".  (Further discussion on English sounds that are missing letters.)

So, I've decided to play around with the idea of using thorn in its rightful place within the English language.  The following is a republished old article, where the letters th (representing the voiced and unvoiced th sounds) are replaced with the letter thorn.

INFAMOUS MINIATURE GOLF STORY
Ok...here's þe infamous Miniature Golf story..
Þis one time, like two years ago, I took Miriam to play Miniature Golf at a Golfland in San Jose.  She hadn't been to a Miniature Golf place in aeons.  So, we get our clubs, balls, scorecard and pencils, þen head to þe first tee.  Being þe gentleman þat I am, I let her go first.  She bends down by sticking her ass up in þe air as usual (þis being a family type place, mind you) to put þe ball on þe black mat.  It starts rolling around a bit, but finally she makes it stay in place.  While þis was going on, I'm watching her out of þe corner of my eye, just kinda waiting for her to get her ball to stop rolling around. Getting þe ball to stay in place was, of course, a pointless exercise given what she does next.
She swings. I hear a panicked "Oh!".  She's looking back at me, embarrassed, kinda laughing, kinda whimpering.  Þen I notice þe club is no longer in her hands. I briefly look around for it, confused.  Þen I realize, she's þrown þe club up in þe air during her swing!  I ask, "Where did you þrow þe club?"  Þen I realize furþer, þe club went straight up in þe air!  Worse yet, it hasn't come down yet!  Þen, my even more profound realization is þat it has now been 5 seconds, from when I was wondering why Miriam was embarrassed to þis moment (when I realized þe club was still up in þe air), and þe club was still up in þe air!  I shout at Miriam, "Get out of þe way!", while using pure instinct as to where not be when it finally decided to come back down to Earþ.  We boþ duck and run.  I turn around, worried þat þis magic club (which has now been in þe air for over 6 seconds) might land on someone else.  To my relief, it tumbles to þe ground safely, right on þe spot þat Miriam and I had just ran away from.
We laughed it off, and were relieved no one got hurt.  But to þis day, we wonder how þe hell þis club shot straight up out of her hands into þe air far enough to land in þe same spot a whole 7 seconds later!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Orientate your orient

I got a co-worker that's all, "There's no such word as orientate. It's orient." and I'm all, "Orientate is the root word of orientation, so how's it not a word?" Of course, the truth is actually ::HERE:: Of course, everyone has their own opinion. :)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Selfsexual

Imagine a person who's is turned on by flirting with themself. Yes, there are people out there that are like this. To this point, I think that pop culture and science have both ignored this class of sexual orientation. No longer!
Selfsexual is a term I had to create to describe how a certain friend of mine is, at least at times, attracted to herself. It goes beyond just looking yourself in the mirror to check if everything is in place. It goes to the level of actually turning yourself on by doing nothing more than looking at your own yourself.!
Now, I have to admit that I may be selfsexual curious at times. I mean, even though I'm happily engaged, I do make love with myself quiet a lot. lol That doesn't make me selfsexual, of course. Simply masterbating doesn't make one selfsexual. Masterbating while looking at yourself in the mirror does show some tendencies.