Category Archives: Varia

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Take My Metadata

RANDPAUL-2We are all going to have to get used to the word metadata. Explaining what it means in simple terms is quite tricky, for it is a genuinely abstract concept. (And let me warn the purists up front that in this post I am going to be treating data not as the plural of the Latin word datum, but as an English singular noncount noun like air, fun, furniture, information, or water: I will say the data is stored, not the data are stored.)

As a preliminary shot, one could say that in any domain where data…

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The End of Irony. Or Not.

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David Letterman played it straight after 9/11: “New York is the greatest city in the world.”

“What’s all this irony and pity?”
“What? Don’t you know about Irony and Pity?”
“No. Who got it up?”
“Everybody. They’re mad about it in New York.”
–Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

To paraphrase Philip Larkin, irony began in 1973, between Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and Randy Newman’s fifth LP. The key text, for me, was the first paragraph of the preface of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions

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Competence, Performance, and Climate

1280-The-Weather-Channel-Forecast-by-New-CEO-David-Kenny-aNoam Chomsky’s distinction between competence and performance has been controversial in linguistics and psycholinguistics for 50 years. The proponents of generative grammar presuppose it and rely on it, and have tried explaining the distinction many times, often unsuccessfully. I recently came across a neat way to encapsulate it that comes not from a linguist but from a mathematical meteorologist.

Psycholinguists (concerned with how language is really handled in human minds) and sociolinguists (…

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‘A Piece of Cake’

It started with an email from my eclectic friend Wes Davis. He said he’d been reading Tinkerbelle, by, he told me, “Robert Manry, a copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who, in 1965, took a leave of absence from his job and sailed a 13-and-a-half-foot wooden boat across the Atlantic, from Falmouth, Mass., to Falmouth, England.” He’d come upon a passage he thought would interest me. Manry is just starting out and it’s a beautiful day, “the wind strong enough to keep us moving along briskly.”…

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Diary of a Visiting Speaker

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The audience at a talk sees the visiting speaker ushered into the room to check the connection dongle for the projector and greet a few faculty acquaintances in the front row. A brief introduction, a 50-minute talk, and a small reception and perhaps a hosted meal. Two or three hours, all expenses paid. Easy work?

Not exactly. For the speaker, the experience is quite a bit longer. I have about a dozen lecture trips this year, the most recent at the Christian Albrechts University, Kiel, Germany. …

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Whose Monday? Your Monday!

7206615_GA concerned Lingua Franca reader writes:

Perhaps it is just here in Gainesville, but I find that the radio reporters, especially those reporting weather, use the possessive pronoun when referring to time periods: “Your Friday will be sunny.” “It will be below freezing on your Monday night.” Is this modern usage? Does it happen in other places as well? Is it acceptable?

I’d noticed this particularly in robocalls and fund appeals from local arts charities—Support your Hartford Symphony! Support yo…

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Free Speech, the Rough and the Smooth

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Free speech attacked yet again. Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, angered somehow by the privilege of growing up in peaceful Denmark rather than war-ravaged Palestine, sprayed bullets from an M-95 at random into the Krudttønden cultural center simply because a debate about free speech was being held there. He killed a filmmaker. (Later he killed a volunteer security man at a Bat Mitzvah celebration just in case we had missed his motivation. We get it: Islamist radicals hate Jews just as much as the…

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Baaack to the Future

I picked up The Philadelphia Inquirer last week and read an article by Jeremy Roebuck about how a judicial ruling had revived the onetime local news anchor Alycia Lane’s long-dormant lawsuit against her former station. Here’s the line my eye was drawn to: “‘We’re back,’ Lane’s attorney Paul R. Rosen singsonged in an interview Friday, giving his best Poltergeist impression.”

You know that singsong. It’s an ascending musical fourth, then a descending third, with the word back elongated into two sy…
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Nice Going, Genius

Scalia: Sarcastic

Scalia: Sarcastic

In the slim annals of professorial humor, one of the cherished entries concerns an anthropological linguistics conference where the speaker declaims, “In languages all over the globe, one finds examples of the double negative denoting affirmation, but never the double positive denoting negation.” At which point a guy in the back of the room stands up and says, “Yeah, sure.”

I’ve been pondering sarcasm since Adam Liptak’s recent New York Times article about a law review essay by…

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Me and Chris Jones, We Got a Thing Goin’ On

MS-MRGender neutrality, however loudly announced in official pronouncements or in the news, creeps into our own set of norms on little cat feet. In my case, I realized it had made another inroad when I was settling in at a symphony performance and heard the voice over the loudspeaker: Ladies and Gentlemen, please silence your cellphones and other electronic devices.

Why Ladies and Gentlemen? I thought. Why can’t he simply say, Symphony Patrons? Must he remind us at the outset of our socially assigned…