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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.

More “Tucker”

January 19th, 2013

We received two responses to our Good Word tucker back in mid-December that fell between the cracks until now. Brian Peretti wrote, “Just an addition to the tucker post. My mother was from West Virginia, and she would use the phrase: “best bib and tucker”, as in, “We’re goin’ to church, so put on your best bib and tucker” (otherwise known as your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes).”

Well, Brian, both these expressions were prevalent in North Carolina when I was growing up and I’ll bet they are still in use today, at least among the older population. In fact, “bib and tucker” was used in England as early as 1747, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, so the use must have been wide-spread at one time. A bib is the front of a false shirt and a tucker was one you tucked into your pants. Originally referred to a lace front that women wore, but later on came to refer to the false-front shirts men wore as well.

Graham Thomas then wrote from South Africa:

“Regarding you comments today about tucker, I was born in South Africa of British heritage, and we often used the work tuck to refer to food and the shop supplying food at school was referred to as a tuck shop. So I think that the reference to it being uniquely used in Australia is a bit misleading. It does sounds that it could have originated in England with the two countries common heritage.”

It seems I underestimated the both the geographic and the semantic extent to which tucker is currently used. The word was printed in a London newspaper in 1858, so it must have been current was before that. However, as the citations in the Oxford English Dictionary make clear, it continued to be used only in Australia and New Zealand—and South Africa, as you write. It was never prevalent in the US or Canada nor England after the mid-19th century.

The

January 15th, 2013

Part of Speech: Article, Conjunction

Pronunciation: dhê (before consonants: the dog), dhee (before vowels: the apple).
Hear it!

Meaning: 1. (Article) The definite article marks nouns referring to things the speaker expects the listener to be familiar with. “A dog” refers to any mutt, while “the dog” refers to one the listener sees or knows about from a previous conversation. 2. (Conjunction) Comparative conjunction: “The more the merrier.”

Notes: An interesting fact about the is that it is used differently in different dialects. Everyone says “in school” and “at work” without the, but the British also drop it from “in hospital”, “in future”, and elsewhere. If you watched the popular British television series All Creatures Great and Small, you probably noticed that in Yorkshire people also say things like, “I’ll go to kitchen and put kettle on.” Actually, there is a barely audible glottal stop where we expect the, the remnants of the final [t] in that.

In play: When an object is unique, the is usually required: “the sun”, “the moon”, and others. In German the equivalent of the is used before proper nouns under certain circumstances, e.g. der Hans “(the) Hans”, die Grete “(the) Grete”. Greek does the same. In Swedish, the definite is expressed by a suffix on nouns: en dag “a day”, dagen “the day”. Bulgarian does the same: student “student”, studentêt “the student”. That [t] at the end of the Bulgarian word is not coincidental; it comes from the same root as English that.

Word History: Relatively few languages in the world have definite (the) and indefinite (a) articles. English a is a reduction of Old English an “one” (compare German ein “one, a”) and the is a reduction of that (compare German das “that, the”). In French (le, la), Italian (il, lo, la), and Spanish (el, lo, la) all come from Latin ille “that”. The equivalent of a in all these languages also comes from the word for “one”. (Great gratitude today is due Paige Turner for not overlooking the fascinating world of the minuscule.)

Terms and Conditions

January 13th, 2013

Mike Lim sent in a question that might be of interest to a wider audience. Mike wrote:

“Why do licences and contracts use the phrase ‘terms and conditions’? The two words terms and conditions seem to be almost identical in meaning.”

The meaning of term has probably taken on the meaning of condition because of its association with condition in this phrase. The original meaning of term was “limit in time or space, or limits on conditions”. Contracts by definition set limits on applicability of its conditions in terms of time and jurisdiction (space).

The term term (I had to do it) is confusing because is also refers to any specialized definition(s) of a word, e.g. “scientific terms”, “legal terms”, etc. This definition is also applicable in the phrase “terms and conditions”, and this sort of ambiguity often causes speakers to lose control of the meaning of a word in a given context. This allows the word to pick up the meaning of another word commonly associated with it. The fact that legal terminology is so alien to most speakers only exacerbates the tendency.

So these two terms have discrete meanings which have merged by association with one another—guilt by association?

Language and Cowboy Movies

December 11th, 2012

I recently had an interesting (to me) e-mail conversation with Lew Jury, a frequent contributor to the Good Word series. I’ll categorized it as “language and culture”; that seems to be a large enough category.

TO: Dr. Beard
FROM: Lew Jury
Subject: A smile created

Dear Dr. Beard,

Today’s is dedicated to one of my childhood heroes, actor George ‘Gabby’ Hayes [1885-1969]. who often found himself “plumb tuckered out” from supporting the leading man in the 190 mostly western movies he played in.

I smiled broadly when I read the last line in today’s Good Word for I, too, spent many hours watching Gabby in the little Budd movie theater in Lykens, PA.


TO: Lew Jury
FROM: Dr. Beard
Subject: Re: A smile created

Lew,

He always played a fetching character—at least in the later movies that I watched. I watched him at the Broadway theater in Fayetteville, NC. You are not alone. This is the second email I’ve received so far today from Gabby Hayes fans and I’m just beginning to open my e-mail.

—RB


TO: Dr. Beard
FROM: Lew Jury
Subject: Re: A smile created

My early cultural education occurred in movie theaters where for 10 cents I could be in Africa with Tarzan or Arizona with Randolph Scott or sail the Pacific in the Bounty. I’d go to the movies whenever I had an extra dime.

My history with Gabby goes back to the late 40’s and I do believe I saw every movie he ever made. I remember him mostly with Roy Rogers. I also remember when Hopalong Cassidy movies hit TV in the early 50’s and Gabby was his sidekick.

Another great old guy from the past was Walter Brennan, although he always played character parts, unlike Gabby who essentially only played Gabby.


TO: Lew Jury
FROM: Dr. Beard
Subject: Re: A smile created

Lew,

It only cost 9 cents in Fayetteville. Only one western was shown at the Broadway, but they also showed a comedy, a cartoon, and an adventure serial (to keep you coming back).

My daddy would give me 25 cents every Friday and, if I made 100 in spelling, I didn’t have to bring home any change. If I didn’t bring home a spelling paper with 100 on it, I had to bring him 15 cents in change. That’s what spurred my interest in words: cowboy movies.

I only had to bring him change once: I misspelled “Fayetteville”, pronounced at that time down there, Fedville.

—RB