Posts concerning language

My Choice of Writing Style Guidelines

18:31 12 Feb 2012. Updated: 23:19 02 Mar 2012

Stylistic choices I’ve made for my writing.

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The “Dickwolves Thing”

22:43 06 Feb 2011

This is a post about humor, taste, rape, offensiveness/offendedness, and limits on discourse, all centered on a three-panel webcomic about video games.

It’s rather long; I meant it as a tighter, more abstract, discussion of the points above, but got pulled into a lot of the specifics as I went through them.

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20 Words Without English Equivalents

19:45 29 Nov 2010

I always find it interesting to encounter words that can’t easily be expressed in English. My favorite from that list is either “jayus”, “A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh” in Indonesian, or “proznovit”, Czech for calling a mobile phone and hanging up before the person answers so that they will call back. I’m not sure about “schadenfreude”, though, as at this point it seems to have seen enough use to be a word that English has stolen from German (and it’s in SOWPODS…)

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Fun with Language and Meaning

22:45 17 Sep 2010

I watched the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead this evening, first time I’ve seen it in years. It’s a good movie; while it’s probably a better play, I haven’t seen it on the stage. Language play is a significant part of it, as the titular duo attempt to tease out their situation in ways that generally end up confusing them. I hadn’t realized before that they’ve been the subject of more plays (outside of Hamlet): there’s a W. S. Gilbert play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and there’s also a film called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, which I absolutely have to watch[1].

For whatever reason, watching it this time reminded me of the classic “Who’s on First” sketch, my favorite version of which is presented below:

[1] The plotline of that film reminds me of another of my favorite plays, I Am Hamlet, the 2002 Mark Jackson one-man play (and apparently not the same play as can be found at iamhamlet.com), which posits that (young) Hamlet’s ghost has been around for the last several hundred years, and is compelled to watch every production of Hamlet and read all the critical responses to the play.
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@: A Triumph of Design

20:50 22 Mar 2010

The New York Museum of Modern Art has added the @ symbol to its architecture and design collection. Originating perhaps as a Latin abbreviation for “toward”, it showed up on one of the early Underwood typewriters (possibly the Underwood 1; it was definitely on the Underwood No. 5) and was used for “at the rate of”, which usage still survives.

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Geek Conversational Behavior

13:13 15 Mar 2010

While not a scientific study, this list of geek behaviors present during conversations strikes me as fairly useful both for “geeks” and “non-geeks”.

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Attempts to Change the Discourse

21:58 18 Aug 2009

There’s a campaign at the moment, “Think B4 You Speak”, that’s attempting to get teens to not use homophobic slurs in their interactions. The aim is a good one, but I have my doubts about its efficacy—doubts that are expressed rather well by this Penny Arcade strip.

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Title Capitalization

22:15 31 Jul 2009

I capitalize the title of my blog posts (evidently), which means that five days a week I get to consider precisley how to do that. Often, as in today’s case, it’s simple and doesn’t require any thought. But sometimes it does, and—worse—sometimes it does but I don’t notice.

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Unforced Error by The Onion on Federer

15:30 18 Jan 2009. Updated: 15:21 03 Apr 2009

The Onion has done some good pieces on Federer in the past, and recently came up with this picture:

I like it quite a lot, but my enjoyment of it is marred by the last item on the Strong Side.

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Big Number Hunting

23:56 05 Jan 2009. Updated: 16:52 28 Jan 2009

I came across this essay on large numbers by Scott Aaronson recently, and found it fascinating. It pulls together concepts of large numbers, notation, Ackermann numbers, and Turing machines, in clear and concise fashion.

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15:27 17 Aug 2008. Updated: 17:56 28 Jan 2009

(The irony of analyzing a web comic mocking pedants is not lost upon me.)

This Wondermark strip strikes me as funny in theory: set up the provocation of the language nerd, show the language nerd’s newfound determined tolerance, and then show him being overwhelmed by the deliberate transgression that’s just too much. I did find it funny, but this was offset somewhat by the fact that the final “transgression” isn’t one that gets me at all (whereas all of the prior provocations would). I’m not sure I really count as a “language nerd”, but I definitely wince at some of what they provoke him with (notably “irregardless” (sic)). So why did the final offense in this strip not bother me at all—and while I’m at it, why do the others bother me in the first place?

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Cultural Discontinuity in Northern England

14:20 10 Aug 2008. Updated: 12:31 31 Mar 2009

Over the weekend I was in York for the absolutely wonderful and joyous occasion of Helen and Mary’s civil partnership ceremony. I’d never been to York, or indeed the north of England, before. England is a place I haven’t been to much at all—one three-day weekend in London about a decade ago, plus lots of trips through Heathrow, and that’s more or less it. Being there this time brought a certain amount of cultural disorientation with it.

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George Carlin Airline Announcements

23:30 16 Jun 2008
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The Future of English

19:13 17 Apr 2008

Is the success of English as a global language going to effectively kill English as we know it? That’s one of the fates suggested by this New Scientist article. Despite recently reading a friend’s criticism of New Scientist articles, I think that this one is still interesting (even though I’m not sure the article is “science” per se, just interesting speculation).

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That Pesky Apostrophe

23:14 24 Feb 2008

I’ve been waiting for an article about computers versus apostrophes in names for a while. As a software engineer who has a name with an apostrophe, I’m usually very unimpressed with systems that can’t handle names with apostrophes, and there seem to be many out there.

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20:48 25 Nov 2007

I’ve been editing for most of the day, but there have been some distractions, and freerice.com is one of them. It’s a not-for-profit site that apparently uses ad revenue to give away rice through the United Nations World Food Program… and it’s also a vocabulary game. An addictive vocabulary game. It gives you a word, and you have to choose its meaning from a list of four.

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04:01 08 Jun 2007

When I moved to Ireland as a kid, I really didn’t like learning the Irish language. It was difficult and awkward, and on top of that was bound up with a number of other problems.

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Language and ‘Ambisinister’

08:55 31 May 2007

I have a mild objection to the term “ambidextrous”, because I consider it prejudiced—dexter is Latin for “right”, so etymologically ambidextrous means “two right hands” or “both hands like the right hand” or “right-handed on both sides”. Hence I often use the terms “ambisinister” or “ambisinstrous”. Imagine my surprise upon reading the Wikipedia Handedness article and discovering that those terms were already in use—they’d already been appropriated to further anti-lefty prejudice!

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Vocabulary from Sartre

23:47 12 Mar 2007

Reading Sartre (specifically Essays in Existentialism) tends to be fairly frustrating, primarily because comprehending what he’s talking about isn’t easy (at least for me). One of the reasons that it’s not easy is vocabulary. I’m not even counting explicitly foreign words like ebschattungen, or explicit (foreign) neologisms like négatité.

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23:46 30 Nov 2006. Updated: 00:50 01 Dec 2006

I find marketing speak very difficult to listen to. I would guess that most people feel similarly, but if so, why does it persist? Even without dealing with the more egregious examples—such as press releases and “on-message” politicians—it simply gets to me.

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