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  • feedwordpress 09:01:26 on 2018/12/14 Permalink
    Tags: black-body, , language, , Max Planck, personification, , , ,   

    “Humanize your talk, and speak to be understood”*… 

     

    violet_personified

    Personification is weird…yet entirely natural. It’s the odd practice of pretending things are people. When we personify, we apply human attributes to inanimate objects, to nature, to animals, or to abstract concepts, sometimes complete with dramatic stories about their social roles, emotions and intentions. We can observe this linguistically through features like unexpected pronoun use or certain animate verbs and adjectives that are usually only applied to people. A common example is how ships and other vessels traditionally have a feminine gender in English (even if the ship happens to be a “man-of-war“)… There’s a strange empathy in words like “she is alone” applied to an object that can’t possibly have a sense of loneliness. This isn’t the artifice of poetry, but everyday language. On the face of it, the concept of personification seems pretty crazy, the stuff of fantasy and magical thinking…

    You might think, like many a respectable scientist, that it has no place in our earth logic, because not only is it not real, it is objectively false (and therefore unscientific), since inanimate objects do not have feelings or intentions (and if animals do, we can’t possibly know for sure). Yet personification is not only wildly popular in language use (even if we don’t always notice it), it’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon that reveals a lot about social cognition and how we might understand the world…

    How the way we talk about the things around us both shapes and reflects our understanding of the world: “Personification Is Your Friend: The Language of Inanimate Objects.”

    * Moliere

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    As we muse on anthropomorphic metaphor and meaning, we might recall that today’s a relative-ly good day for it, as it was on this date in 1900 that German physicist Max Planck presented and published his study of the effect of radiation on a “black-body” substance (introducing what we’ve come to know as the Planck Postulate), and the quantum theory of modern physics– and for that matter, Twentieth Century modernity– were born.

    Planck study demonstrated that in certain situations energy exhibits the characteristics of physical matter– something unthinkable at the time– and suggested that energy exists in discrete packets, which he called “quanta”… thus laying the foundation on which he, Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, Dirac, and others built our modern understanding.

    220px-Max_Planck_1933Max Planck

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:44 on 2018/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , language, , , new words, , ,   

    “The language mint is more than a mint; it is a great manufacturing center, where all sorts of productive activities go on unceasingly”*… 

     

    Words

    Language is, famously, a living thing.  Just how alive is powerfully demonstrated by Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler: enter a date; see the words and phrases that “officially” entered the language that year.

    Your correspondent entered the distant year of his birth… and got a list that ran from anti-matter and carpal tunnel syndrome through federal case and Maoism to sweat equity and tank top.

    Try it for yourself.

    * Mario Pei

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    As we contemplate coinage, we might recall that it was on this date in 1604 that Shakespeare’s Othello was performed for the first time, and on this date in 1611 that The Tempest premiered (both at the Whitehall Palace).

    Shakespeare was a prodigious coiner of words and phrases, creating over 1,700 across his works, several hundred of which are still in common use.

    blog_Shakespeare.words_-240x300 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2018/10/27 Permalink
    Tags: A Time for Choosing, , language, political speeches, , resentment, , ,   

    “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”*… 

     

    victor

    One of dozens of definitions, from acrimony to wrath, that make up the language of resentment– “Glossary: Rivalry & Feud.”

    * Carrie Fisher

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    As we slog through the swamp, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Ronald Reagan delivered what is still considered one of the most effective political speeches ever made on behalf of a candidate, “A Time For Choosing,” an endorsement of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.  While Goldwater was roundly defeated the following month, the speech launched the political career of Reagan, who was, soon after, asked to run for Governor of California… and who carried the tag “the Great Communicator” for the rest of his life.

    A_Time_for_Choosing_by_Ronald_Reagan.ogv source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:40 on 2018/08/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , Fernando Arrabal, , , , language, , , ,   

    “A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults”*… 

     

    cards

    Bumblepuppist

    Definition – a bad whist player

    Every so often you need a specific insult, and bumblepuppist is about as specific as they get. We will grant you that the game of whist is not as popular as it once was, having been edged out by newfangled card games such as euchre and canasta, but once upon a time whist was the most deucedly popular card game in the land. This ranks pretty high on the list of words which are likely inapplicable in your life, but imagine how excited you will be if you do meet someone who not only plays whist, but is bad at it, and you have the appropriate descriptor.

    Bumblepuppist is also sometimes rendered as bumblepupper, and the word for “whist played poorly or without regard for rules” is bumblepuppy (from bumble and puppy).

    “Bumblepuppy,” as defined by a renowned authority upon whist, is a game played by people who imagine that they are playing whist, but who in reality know nothing of that intricate game.
    — The New York Times, 1 Jul. 1883

    Just one in a collection of put-downs bigger than the sum of their parts: “8 Insults Made Up of a Noun and a Verb.”

    * Louis Nizer

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    As we test the limits of civility, we might send fascinating birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932.  A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, the New York Times’ Mel Gussow has called him the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”  In 1962, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor, inspired by the god Pan.  In 1990 he was elected Transcendent Satrap of The Collège de ‘Pataphysique, a “society committed to learned and inutilious research” (“inutilious” = “useless”).  Forty other Transcendent Satraps have been elected over the past half-century, including Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard.  Arrabal spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara.  A chess fanatic (a passion he shared with Duchamp), Arrabal wrote a chess column for the French weekly L’Express for over thirty years.

    200px-Fernando_Arrabal,_2012 source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:48 on 2018/04/23 Permalink
    Tags: bananas, , crackers, , , , language, , , nuts,   

    “Being crazy isn’t enough”*… 

     

    There are only three foodstuffs in American English the names of which can also mean “crazy”; learn the (fascinating) story of each at “Why Are Bananas, Nuts, and Crackers the Only Foods That Say ‘Crazy’?”

    * Dr. Seuss

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    As we entitle insanity, we might spare a thought for the man who introduced “crazy” to literature, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; he died on this date in 1616 (though some scholars put it a day earlier)– the same day as Shakespeare died, and (most likely) Shakespeare’s birthday.  As Somerset Maugham said,”casting my mind’s eye over the whole of fiction, the only absolutely original creation that I can think of is Don Quixote.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:25 on 2018/03/23 Permalink
    Tags: Boston Morning Post, , , , language, , OK, trailer, , Wes Anderson   

    “Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others”*… 

     

    Before you see the latest animated feature from your barista’s favorite director, relive his meticulous works from the past that made you kind of happy, kind of sad, and kind of unsure – It’s Every Wes Anderson Movie!

    * Orson Welles

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    As we celebrate symmetry, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 the “OK” entered the English language when it was printed in The Boston Morning Post….

    Meant as an abbreviation for “oll korrect,” a popular slang misspelling of “all correct” at the time, OK steadily made its way into the everyday speech of Americans.

    During the late 1830s, it was a favorite practice among younger, educated circles to misspell words intentionally, then abbreviate them and use them as slang when talking to one another. Just as teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words, such as “kewl” for “cool” or “DZ” for “these,” the “in crowd” of the 1830s had a whole host of slang terms they abbreviated. Popular abbreviations included “KY” for “No use” (“know yuse”), “KG” for “No go” (“Know go”), and “OW” for all right (“oll wright”). [Think LOLZ, OMG or NBD today…]

    Of all the abbreviations used during that time, OK was propelled into the limelight when it was printed in the Boston Morning Post as part of a joke. Its popularity exploded when it was picked up by contemporary politicians. When the incumbent president Martin Van Buren was up for reelection, his Democratic supporters organized a band of thugs to influence voters. This group was formally called the “O.K. Club,” which referred both to Van Buren’s nickname “Old Kinderhook” (based on his hometown of Kinderhook, New York), and to the term recently made popular in the papers. At the same time, the opposing Whig Party made use of “OK” to denigrate Van Buren’s political mentor Andrew Jackson. According to the Whigs, Jackson invented the abbreviation “OK” to cover up his own misspelling of “all correct.”  [source]

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:10 on 2018/02/18 Permalink
    Tags: A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, disctionary, Francis Grose, , , language, , MarkTwain, , , vernacular   

    “I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.”*… 

     

    The author of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

    Thirty years after Dr Johnson published his great Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Francis Grose put out A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), a compendium of slang Johnson had deemed unfit for his learned tome. Grose was not one for library work. He preferred to do his lexicography in the sordid heart of after-hours London. Supported by his trusty assistant Tom Cocking, he cruised the watering holes of Covent Garden and the East End, eating, boozing, and listening. He took pleasure in hearing his name punningly connected to his rotund frame. And he produced a book brimming with Falstaffian life.

    In Vulgar Tongues (2016), Max Décharné called Grose’s dictionary, “A declaration in favour of free speech, and a gauntlet thrown down against official censorship, moralists and the easily offended.” While a good deal of the slang has survived into the present day — to screwis to copulate; to kick the bucket is to die — much would likely have been lost had Grose not recorded it. Some of the more obscure metaphors include a butcher’s dog, meaning someone who “lies by the beef without touching it; a simile often applicable to married men”; to box the Jesuit, meaning “to masturbate; a crime, it is said, much practised by the reverend fathers of that society”; and to polish meaning to be in jail, in the sense of “polishing the king’s iron with one’s eyebrows, by looking through the iron grated windows”. Given this was the era of William Hogarth’s famous painting Gin Lane (1751), it’s not surprising to find the dictionary soaked through with colourful epithets for the juniper-based liquor: blue ruincobblers punchfrog’s wineheart’s easemoonshinestrip me naked. The Grose dictionary also contains hundreds of great insults, like bottle-headed, meaning void of wit, something you can’t say about its author.

    Via Public Domain Review; read the Dictionary at the Internet Archive.

    * Mel Brooks

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    As we choose our words carefully, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (or, in more recent editions, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) was published in the U.S.  Routinely listed among the greatest American novels, it was one of the first to be written in vernacular English.

    Upon issue of the American edition in 1885 several libraries banned it from their shelves.  The early criticism focused on what was perceived as the book’s crudeness. One incident was recounted in the newspaper the Boston Transcript:

    The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain’s latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.

    Writer Louisa May Alcott criticized the book’s publication as well, saying that if Twain “[could not] think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them.”

    Twain later remarked to his editor, “Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as ‘trash and only suitable for the slums.’ This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!”  [source]

    Cover of the first U.S.edition

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:25 on 2018/02/16 Permalink
    Tags: , check, cheque, documents, , , language, , paleography, transcription,   

    “What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.”*… 

     

    A “commonplace” book from the 17th century

    On any given day, from her home on the Isle of Man, Linda Watson might be reading a handwritten letter from one Confederate soldier to another, or a list of convicts transported to Australia. Or perhaps she is reading a will, a brief from a long-forgotten legal case, an original Jane Austen manuscript. Whatever is in them, these documents made their way to her because they have one thing in common: They’re close to impossible to read.

    Watson’s company, Transcription Services, has a rare specialty—transcribing historical documents that stump average readers. Once, while talking to a client, she found the perfect way to sum up her skills. “We are good at reading the unreadable,” she said. That’s now the company’s slogan.

    For hundreds of years, history was handwritten. The problem is not only that our ancestors’ handwriting was sometimes very bad, but also that they used abbreviations, old conventions, and styles of lettering that have fallen out of use. Understanding them takes both patience and skill…

    A transcriber on the Isle of Man can decipher almost anything: “Where Old, Unreadable Documents Go to Be Understood.”

    * Chuck Palahniuk

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    As we puzzle it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1659 that the first known check of the modern era was written.  Early Indians of the Mauryan period (from 321 to 185 BC) employed a commercial instrument called adesha; Romans used praescriptiones; Muslim traders used the saqq; and Venetian traders used bills of exchange— but these were effectively either a form of currency or letters of credit.  The 1659 draft– made out for £400, signed by Nicholas Vanacker, made payable to a Mr Delboe, and drawn on Messrs Morris and Clayton, scriveners and bankers of the City of London–  was the first “check” as we came to know them.  It’s on display at Westminster Abbey.  (The world “check” likely also originated in England later in the 1700s when serial numbers were placed on these pieces of paper as a way to keep track of, or “check” on, them.)

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:15 on 2018/02/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Easter Island, Edward Sapir, , language, , rongorongo, script, structural linguistics, , writing system   

    “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*… 

     

    A crescent-shaped, wooden neck ornament from Easter Island made some time in the first half of the nineteenth century. The artifact, decorated with two bearded male heads on either end, contains a line of rongorongo glyphs along its bottom edge. Courtesy: British Museum

    Of all the literatures in the world, the smallest and most enigmatic belongs without question to the people of Easter Island. It is written in a script—rongorongo—that no one can decipher. Experts cannot even agree whether it is an alphabet, a syllabary, a mnemonic, or a rebus. Its entire corpus consists of two dozen texts. The longest, consisting of a few thousand signs, winds its way around a magnificent ceremonial staff. The shortest texts—if they can even be called that—consist of barely more than a single sign. One took the form of a tattoo on a man’s back. Another was carved onto a human skull…

    Rongorongo is the only script native to the Pacific. Like so much else, it makes Easter Island unique….  Where did the rongorongo script come from? What do its texts communicate?…

    The full, fascinating story at “Language at the End of the World.”

    * T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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    As we dedicate ourselves to de-cyphering, we might spare a thought for Edward Sapir; he died on this date in 1939.  One of the foremost anthropologists and linguists of his time, Sapir was a founder of ethnolinguistics– the consideration of  the relationship of culture to language– and he was a principal developer of the American (descriptive) school of structural linguistics.  Even more than the specifics of the cultures he studied, Sapir was interested in the more abstract connections between personality, linguistic expression, and socially-determined behavior.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:48 on 2017/11/12 Permalink
    Tags: Electric Ladyland, Gary Tomlinson, , Homo heidelbergensis, , language, , prehistory, Summit High School, ,   

    “That’s what music’s all about, messing with people’s heads”*… 

     

    Musicians and dancers, stair riser, Pakistan, first century.

    I look at music and language in their deep histories, reaching back to a point before there was any music or language in their modern forms. So we’re talking, say, a 500,000-year stretch, perhaps all the way back to Homo heidelbergensis. I see the antecedents of these things falling into place along parallel tracks that overlap one another but are not the same track, and I follow the parallelism and the distinctness of those tracks from a very deep period. Which is to say that what we are left with as human beings in the world today, as the product of those tracks, is in fact a set of overlapping yet distinct capacities, functions, and capabilities in dealing with our world and our environment and in our social interactions with each other.

    And so these things are loaded into both language and music in very complex but different ways…

    Explore the deep history of humans and music with Gary Tomlinson, author of A Million Years of Music: “The Prehistory of Music.”

    * Jimi Hendrix (whose third album, Electric Ladyland, was released on this date in 1968)

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    As we get the beat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the Velvet Underground (see also here and here) made their live debut, playing at Summit High School in New Jersey; the group was paid $75 for the show.

     source

     

     
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