Quotulatiousness

June 26, 2017

What Latin Sounded Like – and how we know

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 Aug 2016

Classical Latin went extinct, yet we still know how to pronounce it. Proof!

Take a trip with me back to Catholic school, then back even further to old Rome. We’ll see what Latin pronunciation did – and did NOT – sound like in the mouths of the Romans. Thanks to ancient authors and modern Romance languages, we’ll even glimpse a range of evidence for the speech of Caesar and pauper alike!

SERMO VULGARIS ALL DAY LONG, am I right? 😉

June 24, 2017

How To Insult Like the British – Anglophenia Ep 12

Filed under: Britain, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 8 Sep 2014

If you ever get into an argument with a British person, you’ll wish you’d have watched this video. Siobhan Thompson gives you the tools to sling insults like a Brit.

Here are a few other insults via the Anglophenia blog: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2012/08/the-brit-list-10-stinging-british-insults/

June 9, 2017

Can my dog understand me? – James May Q&A (Ep 34) – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Humour, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Aug 2013

Sit, Fetch, Lie Down! James May answers Luke from Durham Johnston Comprehensive’s question on whether dogs can understand humans.

Links
The British Science Association: http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/

National Science + Engineering Competition: http://www.nsecuk.org

Can dogs understand words: http://animal.discovery.com/pets/dogs-understand-words.htm

Shame your pet: http://www.shameyourpet.com

May 22, 2017

Who’s afraid of Mrs. Grundy?

Filed under: Books, Britain, Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

In my family, the name “Mrs. Grundy” was used to describe someone of rigidly conformative taste and judgement (and keenly censorious bent). I’d always assumed it was just a family notion or perhaps a Yorkshire-ism, but the Wikipedia entry makes it clear that Mrs. Grundy has been the bane of many a would-be adventurous or daring spirit for centuries:

Mrs Grundy is a figurative name for an extremely conventional or priggish person, a personification of the tyranny of conventional propriety. A tendency to be overly fearful of what the respectable might think is also referred to as grundyism.

Although she began life as a minor character in Thomas Morton’s play Speed the Plough (1798), Mrs Grundy was eventually so well established in the public imagination that Samuel Butler, in his novel Erewhon, could refer to her in the form of an anagram (as the goddess Ydgrun). As a figure of speech she can be found throughout European literature.

It also discusses a real-life Mrs. Grundy from the early nineteenth century:

During the reign of William IV (reigned 1830-1837) a Mrs Sarah Hannah Grundy (1 January 1804 – 30 December 1863) was employed as Deputy Housekeeper at Hampton Court Palace one of Henry VIII of England’s most famous residences. Her husband, John Grundy (1798/1799 – August 1861), was keeper of the State apartments. Mrs Grundy became Head Housekeeper on 22 April 1838, a year after Queen Victoria ascended to the throne, and she served in that position until 1863 when she retired. Her duties included the care of the chapel at Hampton Court.

Royal families stopped using Hampton Court as a residence in 1737, and from the 1760s onward, it was divided up for “grace-and-favour” residents who were granted rent-free accommodation in return for great service to the Crown or country. These private rooms numbered in the hundreds. Much is revealed about the Victorian ladies living at Hampton Court Palace through their letters, particularly their correspondence to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office as the Ladies attempted to get around the regulations — to exchange their apartments for better ones, to sub-let their apartments for profit, to keep dogs, or other matters of convenience. Equally revealing are the letters from the Housekeepers to the Lord Chamberlain, complaining about the Ladies’ behaviour.

However, a bit of Canadian history indicates that the use of the term “Mrs. Grundy” as I’m familiar with it long predated the lady who policed morals at Hampton Court:

… in a book published in 1836, The Backwoods of Canada Being Letters From The Wife Of An Emigrant Officer, Illustrative Of The Domestic Economy Of British America, by Catharine Parr Traill, she writes: “Now, we bush-settlers are more independent: we do what we like; we dress as we find most suitable and most convenient; we are totally without the fear of any Mr. or Mrs. Grundy; and having shaken off the trammels of Grundyism, we laugh at the absurdity of those who voluntarily forge afresh and hug their chains.” This appears to show that the modern concept of “Mrs. Grundy” was current before the Mrs. Grundy of Hampton Court began her reign.

May 8, 2017

QotD: The hidden power of language

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I believe, but don’t know how to prove, a much stronger version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis than is currently fashionable. That is, I believe the way humans think is shaped in important ways by the linguistic categories they have available; thinking outside those categories is possible but more difficult, has higher friction costs. Accordingly, I believe that some derivation of Alfred Korzybski’s discipline of General Semantics will eventually emerge as an essential tool of the first mature human civilizations.

Eric S. Raymond, “What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01-06.

April 3, 2017

Decoding TLAs among the PUAs

Filed under: Humour, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kim du Toit on a specific example of the use of jargon heavily sprinkled with three-letter acronyms (TLAs) and extended three-letter acronyms (ETLAs, or four-letter acronyms) to create or enhance the impression of their specialized insider knowledge, in this case among the pick-up artists (PUAs):

In every cult, there are people who try to set their group aside from the rest of the population with language — in other words, creating a shorthand that only the initiates or insiders know, which (I guess) makes them feel superior to outsiders. Many times, this language is made up of abbreviations or (my particular bête noir) acronyms that create a level of inscrutability to the casual reader or onlooker and render the simplest of statements completely opaque to the uninitiated. (I’ll talk another time about academic language, which shuns abbreviation and acronym in favor of dense, elliptical words and phrases used as a shorthand among fellow academics and gives the users a veneer of erudition, usually false.)

[…]

All this pales into insignificance by comparison to people who toss off expressions like “This beta orbiter tried to neg the AMOG in front of the SHB to increase his SMV.” Allow me to translate: “This weakling who hangs around pretty women trying to curry favor with them tried to cut down a charismatic man in front of a beautiful woman, in order to make himself more attractive to her.” (AMOG = Alpha Male Of [the] Group or Alpha Male Other Guy, SHB = Smokin’ Hot Babe [sometimes V(very)H(ot)B(abe), and SMV = Sexual Market Value.)

I speak here, of course, of the PUA (pick-up artist) community, in which the High Priests have created this entire glossary of acronyms to show that, yes, they are the gate-keepers of knowledge which, if you buy their training manuals or pay to attend their seminars, you too, Mr. Sad Beta Male, can unlock the secrets of access to SHB pudenda (Latin alert) and become a “notch collector” similar to these skilled exponents of the art.

It’s bad enough when used in a sentence, but when used graphically or in a chart to illustrate a concept or theory, it becomes completely opaque. Here’s a beauty which attempts to show the correlation between a woman’s looks and the likelihood of her being bitchy:

VHB10 -> BQ 0
HB9 -> BQ 0-1
HB8 -> BQ 1-2
PJ7 -> BQ 3-4
PJ6 -> BQ 5-7
PJ5 -> BQ 6-10
PJ4 -> BQ 4-10
UG3 -> BQ 1-8
UG2 -> BQ 1-4
UG1 -> BQ 0-3
VUG0 -> BQ 0-1

VHB = Very Hot Babe, HB = Hot Babe, PJ = Plain Jane, UG = Ugly Girl, VUG = Very Ugly Girl, and the numeric qualifiers 1-10 are the common delimiters on the Female Hotness Scale (FHS). BQ, by the way, is Bitchiness Quotient, and the numeric qualifiers there are the levels thereof.

Note that this is presented as a scientific analysis or model, when in fact it’s no such thing: it’s a creation solely of the writer’s observation or theory and not by actual, you know, data — but creating acronyms gives it quasi-scientific gravitas — damn it, another Latin word, but you know what I mean, right? It’s kind of a pity, because the author at Chateau Artiste has an excellent way with the English language, when he’s not talking utter bullshit like the above. (Credit where it’s due, though: he also called Trump for the overwhelming electoral victory long before anyone else did, so he’s a more-insightful observer of trends than most mainstream media pundits.)

March 31, 2017

Why Do Some English Speaking Countries Pronounce Z as “Zed” and Others as “Zee”?

Filed under: Australia, Britain, Cancon, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Mar 2017

It’s not just the British that pronounce “z” as “zed”. The vast majority of the English speaking world does this. The primary exception, of course, is in the United States where “z” is pronounced “zee”.

March 21, 2017

Icelandic standup about Nordic neighbours in general and Finnish language in particular

Filed under: Europe, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Dec 1, 2016

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 12, 2017

Is this the definitive exegesis of “woke”?

Filed under: Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., OregonMuse fishes in the comment stream and finds a question that needed to be answered. Extensively.

    13 I’m not up on the current “hip kid lingo”, so what exactly does “woke” mean?

    It sounds stupid, so I am guessing it is not something achieved by hard work and discipline.

    Posted by: moki at March 09, 2017 02:22 PM

1. “Woke” is pretty much the same as what the old-time Marxists called “class consciousness”, i.e knowing that the human race is divided by economic class and that the “proletariat” class needs to overthrow the “bourgeois” class in order to establish the epitome of human perfection, the world-wide communist state.

2. The Marxists also had a term they called “false consciousness.” I think it means something like this: you know what “class consciousness” is but you reject it, because you know it’s bullcrap.

3. I once heard erg use this term to describe ace.

4. Don’t know if there is any comparable term like “false woke”. Maybe sleepwalking?

5. Anyway, the point is, “woke” is a concept that was basically lifted from rat bastard commies.

6. Eventually, as blue vs. blue conflict increases, we’re going to start seeing “woke fights.”

7. They won’t be called that, but that’s what they are.

8. At some point, the various factions of woke will start making distinctions between “woke” and “woke woke.”

9. And these woke groups will be all “woker than thou” to each other

10. To a “woke” person, the only thing worse than not being “woke” is being “woke”, but insufficiently “woke.”

11. These blue-on-blue slap fights will be hilarious to watch.

12. Even better with popcorn

March 6, 2017

Grammar is now racist

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Theodore Dalrymple on the recent revelation of the inherent racism of correct language usage:

Two kind readers have drawn my attention to a person called Asao B. Inoue, of whom I had previously not heard, who teaches writing at Tacoma University in Washington State. This deeply conventional corrupter of youth has delivered himself of the pseudo-original opinion that American grammar is inherently racist. It is true that it is often not very good; but that, alas, is true of the speech and writing of the people of all known nations.

To give a flavor of Professor Inoue’s polysyllabic pseudo-ratiocination, I can do no better, alas, than to quote him:

    Antiracist writing assessment ecologies explicitly pay close attention to the relationships that make up the ecology, relationships among people, discourses, judgments, artifacts created and circulated. They ask students to reflect upon them, negotiate them, and construct them. Antiracist writing assessment ecologies also self-consciously (re)produce power arrangements in order to examine and perhaps change them. When designing an antiracist writing ecology, a teacher can focus students’ attention on a few of the ecological elements…which inter-are. This means addressing others, such as power relations and the ecological places where students problematize their existential assessment situations.

This is a quotation, at random, from Professor Inoue’s book, Antiracist Writing Ecology: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future.

I have not torn this passage out of context because tearing Professor Inoue’s prose out of context is as impossible as tearing fog. There are, in this instance, 300 pages of it, and I congratulate in advance anyone who reads it all. He deserves full marks for persistence, if not for a wise employment of his time.

It might, of course, be thought that a man like Professor Inoue could do little damage. It is unlikely that ghetto youth will ever go on the rampage shouting Problematize our existential assessment situations! It has other problems on its mind, such as police brutality and the price of crack. Moreover, although Professor Inoue’s prose is hardly Gibbonian, the fact is that he himself writes in approximately grammatical form — in other words, he uses standard grammar. No doubt he would argue that this is because he is forced to do so, that the vicious racists of Tacoma University would sack him if he didn’t, but this is no excuse: He doesn’t have to work there and could take another job, though for the moment I cannot think what it could be.

The point is, however, that he probably demands of his students that they reproduce his thoughts — or rather, opinions — not only in content but in form, that is to say in approximately standard grammar. Whether this is hypocritical of him rather depends on whether he is aware of it.

March 3, 2017

The key difference between written and oral communication

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, discussing the uproar over the Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did he or didn’t he lie to congress” debate, took time to clarify why we don’t (and can’t) parse spoken communications in the same way we do with written work:

If you read the latter part of this exchange extremely strictly, chopping off the preamble, then you can argue that Sessions was technically untruthful. The problem is that this is not how verbal communication works. The left is attempting to hold the attorney general to a standard of precision that is appropriate for written communication, where we can reflect on preceding context and choose exactly the right word.

Oral language is much looser, because it’s real time. Real time means that we don’t have 20 minutes to puzzle over the exact phrasing that will best communicate our meaning. (For example: Reading this column aloud will take you perhaps five minutes. It took me nearly that many hours to write.) On the other hand, our audience is right there, and can ask for clarification if they are confused.1

Demanding extreme clarity from an oral exchange is unreasonable. Moreover, everyone understands that this is unreasonable — except, possibly, for the chattering classes, who spend their lives so thoroughly marinated in the written word that they come to think that the two spheres are supposed to be identical. Most ordinary people understand very well that there’s a big difference between talking and writing (which is why most people, even those who are dazzling in conversation, have a hard time producing fluid and lively prose).

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Investigate away! If the Trump campaign knew about, or colluded with, the hack on the DNC, then Trump should be impeached. But at the moment, we have no evidence that Sessions committed a crime, much less attempted to cover it up. The court of public opinion is probably going to require somewhat better facts to convict.

    1. One reason that we writers spend so much time thinking about precise wording, and larding our prose with extra paragraphs meant to clarify exactly what we’re talking about, is that language is rife with ambiguity. This is why, at one time, Annapolis cadets were required to take a class in which they would write orders, and their fellow cadets would tear them apart looking for ways that a simple order could be misunderstood. It’s also one reason so many people get into so much trouble on Twitter: they write like they talk, but stripped of cues like context and facial expression, what they say is very easily taken the wrong way.

January 18, 2017

The bilingual “rule” for prospective Canadian Prime Ministers

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh explains why unilingual Conservative party leadership hopefuls should just plunge right into those French lessons already:

There is clamour in the press right now about the “rule” that a federal Conservative party leader ought to be able to speak in both official languages. I could probably stop this column after the following statement: It’s not a rule. It’s just a very strong precondition for electoral success. Calling it a rule implies that there is some sense in arguing about the ethicality or the practicality of the principle — that it is an idea someone has the power to revoke after discussion of its philosophical merits. It invites verbal volleying over whether Canada is essentially a bilingual country, whether it is proper to exclude qualified unilingual leaders from the Prime Minister’s Office, etc., etc.

You get the normative questions mixed up with the factual ones awfully quickly. You start discussing whether a bilingualism requirement is right or wrong, just or unjust; and political reality stands off to the side, remaining intractable, utterly insensitive to the feelings of ambitious monoglots and their media advocates.

The various Conservative parties have proven that they can, very occasionally, win elections without Quebec. But francophone Canada is just a little bigger than Quebec, and a unilingual leader would now be compromised in campaigning and sidelined in television debate. If he had promised to learn French, which seems to be the hope of Conservative leadership candidates who don’t speak it well, he would be challenged on his skills every week for the remainder of his career. Every speech would be a tiny test, its contents overlooked.

And he would be excruciatingly vulnerable to the good faith and sense of his francophone MPs. When you take all the added challenges for a unilingual party leader into account, it might be easier to go ahead and just learn the damned language already. (One thing worth remembering is that Quebec’s representation in this Conservative leadership race, and probably in future ones, is proportional to its House of Commons delegation. It may be strategically possible to win a general election as a leader without Quebec, but you do have to win the leadership first.)

It was still feasible for unilingual candidates to win the Conservative leadership (back when they were the “Progressive Conservative” party) into the 1970s, but in practical terms it was nearly impossible to win a general election without substantial support from Quebec (which would not be given to a monolingual leader). At this late stage, I read any Conservative leadership hopeful who does not speak both official languages to be angling for a “Kingmaker” or power broker role rather than expecting to actually win.

October 4, 2016

QotD: Byzantine literature

Filed under: Books, Europe, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The biggest misconception appears to be that the Byzantine Empire was a sterile, gloomy place, devoid of interest to anyone but Orthodox Christians or historians who are the scholarly equivalent of train spotters. There is enough truth in this charge for it to have stuck in the popular imagination for the past few centuries. With exceptions like Cecelia Holland’s Belt of Gold, there is no Byzantine sub-genre in historical fiction. I can think of no British or American films set in Constantinople after about the year 600 – and few before then.

Undoubtedly, the Byzantines made little effort to be original in their literature. But they had virtually the whole body of Classical Greek literature in their libraries and in their heads. For them, this was both a wonderful possession and a fetter on the imagination. It was in their language, and not in their language. Any educated Byzantine could understand it. But the language had moved on – changes of pronunciation and dynamics and vocabulary. The classics were the accepted model for composition. But to write like the ancients was furiously hard. Imagine a world in which we spoke Standard English, but felt compelled, for everything above a short e-mail, to write in the language of Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible. Some of us might manage a good pastiche. Most of us would simply memorise the whole of the Bible, and, overlooking its actual content, write by adapting and rearranging remembered clauses. It wouldn’t encourage an original literature. Because Latin soon became a completely foreign language in the West – and because we in England were so barbarous, we had to write in our own language – Western Mediaeval literature is often a fine thing. The Byzantine Greeks never had a dark age in our sense. Their historians in the fifteenth century wrote up the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the same language as Thucydides. Poor Greeks.

But you really need to be blind not to see beauty in their architecture and their iconography. Though little has survived, they were even capable of an original reworking of classical realism in their arts.

Richard Blake, interviewed by Jennifer Falkner, 2014-06-23.

August 11, 2016

QotD: The Great Vowel Shift and “Canadian Raising”

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Linguists do not generally attempt to answer questions of causality. “Why? I can’t answer that,” said Dailey-O’Cain when I asked. “You can look at ongoing changes sometimes if you have the right kind of data but it’s very, very hard.” But there are theories. One particularly fascinating explanation has to do with what’s called the Great Vowel Shift. If you’ve ever wondered why English is such a legendarily horrible language to learn, a lot of the problems can be traced back to the Great Vowel Shift.

There is no firm date on the beginning and end of the Great Vowel Shift, but at most, we can say it happened between the 1100s and the 1700s, with probably the most important and biggest changes happening in the 1400s and 1500s. This coincides with the shift from Middle English to Modern English, and also with the standardization of spelling. The shift itself? Every single “long vowel” — ”ey,” “ee,” “aye,” “oh,” “ooh” — changed. (Nobody knows why. Linguistics is turtles all the way down.)

Before the Great Vowel Shift, “bite” was pronounced more like “beet.” “Meat” was more like “mate.” Everything just kind of slipped one notch over. This happened in stages; that first word, “bite,” started out as “beet,” then became “bait,” then “beyt,” then “bite.” You can hear a nice spoken-aloud rundown of those here.

If you’re wondering what the difference between “bait” and “beyt” is, well, there you have one possible origin of Canadian Raising. “Beyt,” one of the later but not the final stage of the Great Vowel Shift, is extremely similar to the Canadian Raised sound spoken today. There is a theory — not necessarily accepted by all — that Canadian Raised vowels are actually a preserved remnant of the Great Vowel Shift, an in-between vowel sound that was somehow stuck in amber in the Great White North.

Maybe a certain population of Englishmen from that particular time period, around 1600, landed in Canada and due to its isolation failed to observe the further changes happening in England. Maybe.

But I like this explanation. Canadians aren’t weird; they’re respecting the past. One very specific past, that everyone else skipped on by. It’s an awfully nice-sounding diphthong.

Dan Nosowitz, “What’s Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About’? It’s not pronounced how you think it is”, Atlas Obscura, 2016-06-01.

July 31, 2016

QotD: The Finnish language

Filed under: Education, Europe, History, Quotations, Russia — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Russians did not realize how much establishing the Finnish language to be the priority language of the Finnish people and govt (and the jaegers/military officers — very important) became a strength to allow a seemingly meek and poor people to sever themselves from the regime. Of course, it was a bloody civil war, but not knowing Finnish was a blow to the Russians. And, they had the same problem in 1939 again. Side story: Russian soldiers easily surrendered so they could get into the Finnish prisons since they were starving and didn’t have proper clothes … some never went back home after WW2. I was told by a relative: “to win a war, you need food (supply lines) and lots of money, that’s really it.”

To this day, Finnish is one of the hardest languages to learn. There are 13 cases and no regular verbs … words change meaning by just adding a few other words to it — some as long as 24 letters! I did meet a Brooklyn guy who is a professor in Helsinki (married to a Finn) who speaks fluent Finnish with a Brooklyn accent!

Finns don’t really care if people don’t want to learn their language (not related to Germanic or Latin languages whatsoever) but they are eager (and required in school) to learn other languages. By the time I was 8, I added English (learned by watching a lot of American TV) to Finnish and Swedish. French and Spanish I learned around 12, and, I have tried to start another language for fun. Side issue: This is also, my own opinion why Finnish kids do so well on the Pisa test (although not as good these last 2 years) every year … the fact that it is normal to know 2-4 languages by age 14.

Although there are some words in Finnish that are similar to Swedish/English, it is still so few for anyone to see a connection — Icelandic, weirdly, has more similarities as far as words. And, despite that it is called a Finno-Ugric language, I don’t see the connection with Hungarian. And, on top of that, half my family (Swedish & ethnic Finnish) are Karelian, so there were words or dialect introduced in addition to mainstream Finnish — enough to confuse a kid even today.

Although, I marvel at the few children of immigrants from Asia or Africa who are fluent in Finnish today, it is still a country of mostly Finns. There are immigrants, but Finland presciently, did not allow the development of ghetto-like housing in the outskirts of cities — immigrants are scattered across metropolitan areas. Needless to say, Finland, because of the climate, and the difficult language, is not a favorite to emigrate to. You can get by with English, but you will not be in the inner circle unless your spouse is Finnish speaking, or you make a concerted effort to learn the language. And, the overwhelming reticence (and need for privacy) of the Finnish people can make for a lonely existence there … summers are nice.

Lagertha“, commenting on Steve Sailer’s “Freeman Dyson on Human Biological and Cultural Diversity” at The Unz Review, 2015-02-05.

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