Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

First mention: first use of “Ms” in print

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the ...

Third person singular human

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

It has often been noted that English is deficient because it lacks a third-person pronoun that can refer to any person, without respect to sexual gender. Although some claim that "he" can refer to anyone in sentences like (1), most linguists agree that maleness is much more salient in these ...

Language Identification: A Computational Linguistics Primer

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Slides and results from a talk I gave at Kalamazoo College on language identification. My co-worker at Powerset, Chris Biemann, has a nice paper on Unsupervised Language Identification .

Everything you need to know from Strunk and White

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Geoffrey K. Pullum's tirade about the 50th anniversary of William Strunk'sThe Elements of Style as edited by E.B. White is deliciously correct. So, I want to tell you everything you need to know from Strunk and White, and save you the bother and expense of reading it yourself. Here ...

Things you can get down in …

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

get down in the dumps get down in the mud get down in the dirt get down in the trenches get down in the gutter get down in the muck get down in the cornfields get down in the weeds get down in the wheat I saw the expression "get down in the wheat" for the first time today.

Last use?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I got discussing the idea of Gemütlichkeit with a friend today--actually the Danish expression "hygge"--but I was connecting it to Gemütlichkeit--and I made the claim that "homely" used to mean something like gemütlich. And so it seems: the OED reports several senses of "homely" with gemütlich connotations. For example, "Become as ...

100 most common English words

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

First, take this fun quiz. And then ...

“Buy a house, sell a home?”

Monday, June 30th, 2008

This might not be worth a post, but anyway: Arnold Zwicky has a post at Language Log on "home" vs. "house" in (American) English, citing (among other things) the commentators in the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage saying: A final note on home ownership: MWDEU reports that "a number of commentators have ...

How do you spell X? Y.

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Many of us are familiar with the commercial in which the question is asked, "How do you spell 'relief'?" And the answer is "R-O-L-A-I-D-S." According to Wikipedia, this commercial has been around since the 1970's. I came across an earlier example from 1793, in Elder John Leland's "The ...

Profiles in Ireny

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

(Ireny isn't a word, but it should be) I've been lurking on a discussion list, which will go unnamed. Mr ALLCAPS said that everyone in group X is either a Y or a Z. Mr. Irenic suggested that there might be a third category. Mr. ALLCAPS accused Mr. Irenic of being ...

America the Subjunctive

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

America the Beautiful has interesting linguistic properties. In particular, it uses verbs in the subjunctive mood, which is quite unusual in modern English, except in fixed expressions (such as "God forbid."). The subjunctive is usually used to describe a condition that doesn't exist, or a condition that one wishes to ...

OpenDMAP paper

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

For the few who might be interested: OpenDMAP: An open source, ontology-driven concept analysis engine, with applications to capturing knowledge regarding protein transport, protein interactions and cell-type-specific gene expression (PDF). OpenDMAP advances the performance standards for extracting protein-protein interaction predications from the full texts of biomedical research articles. Furthermore, this ...

expression of the day: ‘go off piste’

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

From 'In pursuit of the G-d shot': Millions of people probably get great coffee every morning with a standard home machine and ground coffee from a supermarket. I was starting to worry that, with a process that has as many variables as pulling an espresso, once you're daft enough to go ...

What language is for

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Great quote from Geoff Pullum at Language Log: You know, just between you and me, I sometimes worry that there is a naive view loose out there — most students come to linguistics believing it, and there appear to be some professional linguists who regard it as central and explanatory — ...

Cucumber curse of the day

Monday, October 29th, 2007

This cross-legg'd cabbage-eating son of a cucumber! (Sir J. Jollup in Hone Every-day Book 2, from the OED entry for cucumber.)

New Google translation software

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Google is now using their internal translation software for all language pairs, and my very, very brief look at their results look good. This is very idiomatic, for example: I was amused by calculating the number of video tags football (soccer) and rugby on Dailymotion (English pages). No doubt, soccer is ...

Word of the day: desultory

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Acccording to the AHD: Desultory suggests a shifting about from one thing to another that reflects a lack of method: a desultory conversation. Pronounced: deSULtory. This is one of those words I thought I knew, but I didn't when I actually looked it up. It's a good word to describe this ...

As simple as possible, but no simpler

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

Search on the web for "as simple as possible, but no simpler" and the web will tell you that Albert Einstein said this. Einstein said a lot of things, and a lot of things are attributed to him; knowing whether he, in fact, said a particular pithy quote is a ...

What’s the opposite of ‘hype’?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

There must be an antonym for 'hype.' To hype something is to engage in hyperbole about it: Apple products have generated their share of hype. (For example: Steve Jobs said, "We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.") I don't mean 'anti-hype' ...

Why the New Yorker cartoon caption contest winners are not especially funny

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Here's a QA with the primary gatekeeper to the New Yorker cartoon caption contest: Q. Did your predecessor or Bob give you any advice when looking through the responses? A. My predecessor stared me in the eyes and warned me that reading too many captions in one sitting could make a man ...