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Intonation

June 29th, 2013

A former student of mine now living in and working in Russia, Troy McGrath, recently wrote to me and passed on this anecdote:

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day and said, “In English, a double negative forms a positive. But in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However,” he pointed out, “in no language in the world can a double positive form a negative.” But then a voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

I responded that intonation was a crucial factor in his example and gave him a second example I actually heard.

Another linguistics professor, the late Kenneth Pike, once proved the importance of intonation in speech by demonstrating that intonation may contradict the content of a sentence.

If we simply say, “I love you”, the sentence has a positive meaning. But if we add question intonation, “I? Love you?”, the meaning of the sentence is exactly the opposite of the content of the sentence.

Maneuvering Manure

June 27th, 2013

Gail Rallen just sent in a funny anecdote related to our recent Good Word maneuver:

“When my brother was very young he had a stock of really quite funny malapropisms, with today’s GW among them. He was concerned about people who allowed pets to run loose in their yards, because the dogs maneuver in their grass.”

Considering the fact that French manœvre was the origin of both maneuver and manure, he wasn’t far from being correct.

Women are Hysterical; Men are Seminal

May 20th, 2013

I received today an entertaining and enlightening response to our Good Word hysteria from Rebecca Casper of Brigham Young University. I thought it might be of general interest.

“I just caught up on my DGW email. I just read about hysteria and it put me into musing mode. I have long known some of the etymology of that one–but not all. (Thank you).”

“Though I am not a raging feminist, one once pointed out to me the inherent historical unfairness exhibited by the fact that hysteria carries negative connotations, whereas the word seminal does not. Both have a somewhat similar origin in that each was based on a gender sterotype—at least on the surface.”

“Digging deeper we find that seminal and semen both have the common denominator of ‘seed’. Even so, one can still be frustrated that history gave men the noble role of ‘seed carrier’, while women somehow got stuck with a raging demon lost somewhere inside them. ([It's a]lmost enough to make me into a raging feminist! Ha-ha-ha.)”

“Have a good day.”

Snarlers that don’t Snarl

April 14th, 2013

Andrew John (no I didn’t reverse his names) responded to our Good Word snarl with this thought:

“In NZ the word snarler does not usually mean something that snarls. In my experience when Kiwis use the word snarler they mean a sausage, particularly when it is on a BBQ. Which makes me wonder if its use is derived from hot-dog?”

My response:

A snarler usually refers to a dog (or human) that snarls. Could the transfer of this sense of “dog” to “hotdog” be justified? Or is it more likely that, because they tend to curl when heated, they seem to become entangled?

There is also another sense of snarl used in metal-working. A snarling-iron is used to “raise up the projecting part”. Whether this is used for curling or not, I don’t know. (I’m not metal worker.)

Does anyone out there know what a “snarling-iron” does?

Chimpspeak

March 27th, 2013

Randy Crawford sent this question in today:

“Chimps can talk like humans only with difficulty, owing to their lack of human vocal cords. Has anybody tried letting them use an electrolarynx or voice synthesizer such as humans are lent after throat surgery? If such equipment is good enough for Homo sapiens, chimpanzees could only be more worthy. Random examples off the internet:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolarynx classic type.”

The problem isn’t muscular control, but the absence of mental acquisition device in the brain. Chimps can perform as well as children up to the age of two—some even better. But that is when the “explosion” of language acquisition occurs in children. It doesn’t occur in any subspecies of chimpanzees, not even Bonobos.

We can only conclude that Noam Chomsky is right and that humans are qualitatively (not just quantitatively) different from chimpanzees, and that humans are qualitatively different from all other species. That 1.8% difference in DNA may seem quantitatively small, but it makes a big qualitative difference.

Hut 1 – 2 – 3

March 18th, 2013

This just in from Dawn Shawley, the translation manager around here (i.e. at Lexiteria):

“Chris and I were talking about the hut-hut in football, and where it comes from. Sometimes I say, “Zak zak!” to the kids in German, which was always used as a “hurry up/let’s go” in my memory, and that reminded me of hup, which lead to hut in football.”

No. We know nothing about the origins. This is a Yankee mispronunciation of hup, which is a Redneck mispronunciation of hep ;-). Hep has been an interjection accompanying marching cadence for centuries. No one has any idea of why the marines or the quarterback says hup, two, three, four rather than one, two, three, four.

There is one interesting parallel, though, in Russian: Russians also avoid the equivalent of one in counting anything: raz, dva, tri, chetyri rather than odin, dva, tri, chetyri—in cadences or otherwise. I would imagine these interjections emphasize the cadence to attract attention to them. Hup does have a slight suggestion of the sense Zak zak in your mind: “hurry up/let’s go”.

Nazis vs. the Socialists

February 28th, 2013

I received considerable flak in reaction to my recent treatment of the word socialism, specifically my claim that the Nazis were enemies of the socialists. Several people pointed out that the word Nazi was short for National Socialists and that the Nazis were socialists. (I have since added a corrective note.)

In the 1930s socialism was very popular. Everyone in the industrialized world was joining socialist parties, socialist unions especially. Several nonsocialist parties added “socialist” to the name of their party in order to build membership. We should focus on the next word in the Nazi Party’s name: Nationalist, for the Nazi party grew out of the “far-right racist völkisch German nationalist movement and the violent anti-communist Freikorps paramilitary culture”, according to Wikipedia.

The fact of the matter is that the socialists and communists were even more popular after World War II, because the Nazis were just as focused on eliminating socialists and communists as they were on eliminating the Jewish population. But the socialists and communists fought back. They entered the underground and were known as “the resistance” and the “underground” in censored US war films.

But the Europeans knew who constituted the “resistance” and “underground”, so following the war, even more people joined the Social Democrats (Marx’s party), the Christian Socialists, and even the Communist Party, soon to be known as the Eurocommunists. Just before I retired in 2000, 60 French cities had communist mayors.

So, we shouldn’t judge a party by its name any more than we should judge a book by its cover.

Rocket Surgeons?

January 29th, 2013

Tonight on the news, state Senator Stacey Campfield of Tennesee mixed his metaphors remarkably when he said, ‘We aren’t asking the kid to be a rocket surgeon, we are just asking . . . .”  He failed to make the choice between rocket scientists and brain surgeons quickly enough. Senator Campfield was defending his bill to tie a family’s welfare payments to the grades its children make in school.

Remainder Reminder

January 21st, 2013

Oddvar Jakobsen pointed out (from the shores of Lake Tanganyika) a logical error in my interpretation of the word pilgrim this past Thanksgiving. In particular he wrote:

“It gives a non-English speaker some consolation to notice the occasional stumbles a word professor may experience. Or am I wrong in finding it funny that those of the pilgrims who did not survive the first winter in America, actually survived and multiplied and built a nation.”

He goes on to quote the offending passage from the Good Word as it was mailed out: “Only half the 102 original Pilgrims survived their first winter at Plymouth. The remainder, with strong support of local Native Americans, survived to multiply and, joined by many others over the succeeding years, spread across the continent to build a nation.”

He goes on to say, “What I mean to say is that, if a portion of a population survives, the word remainder would logically refer … to the portion that does NOT survive. That population that did not survive, has NOT multiplied, but nevertheless been joined by very many others who died in quite different circumstances, but they did most likely NOT build a nation.”

Point well taken. I confused remainder with “those remaining” which, of course, is not the meaning of the word. I have since corrected the error as a result of Mr. Jakobsen’s keen sense of logic.

Attempted School Shooting with a Hello Kitty Bubble Gun

January 19th, 2013

5-year-old Kindergartner with Pink Bubble Gun Suspended from School

By Rick Dandes

The Daily Item

MOUNT CARMEL — A 5-year-old kindergartner who told classmates she was going to shoot them, and then herself, with her pink [Hello Kitty] bubble gun, was grilled for three hours by Mount Carmel school officials without her mother’s knowledge, then suspended, a family attorney said.

The girl was initially kicked out for 10 days in what the school categorized as a terroristic threat,” according to the kindergartner’s mother and confirmed by the family attorney. That suspension was reduced to two days and labeled as a “threat to harm others.”

You’ll have to read the entire article to believe it.