Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Indicating To That Fact

Handwritten note taped to a parking meter I saw on Rush Street in Chicago yesterday—certainly the most refined such notice I’ve ever seen:

Meter Broken
No Indication To That Fact

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/29 at 04:19 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Musical Syntax

Reader Ann McKinley, professor emerita of North Central College, used the term musical syntax in an e-mail to me. I asked her to explain.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/29 at 04:16 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

On Language 6/28: Q&A’s on S-words and carbon copies

When you add `s,’ look for changes
Chicago Tribune, June 28, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Q. A question popped into my head while I was sleeping/dreaming last night. I wondered if you might know. Are there any other words in the English language besides “new” wherein when an “s” is added, it changes the entire meaning of the word?

—Marian Taylor, East Dundee

A. My college English professor, James Vanden Bosch of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has some suggestions. His answers fall into two categories: words that can change to another part of speech when “s” is added—“heroic” (adjective to noun), “ruin” (verb to noun), “wrap” (verb to noun), and “chill” (verb to noun); and words that change their meaning with an added “,s” as you requested: “spectacle,” “glass” (taking an “-es” ending), and “dropping.” I would place “new” in the first category, since “news” turns the adjective into a plural noun, but retains the meaning of the word.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/29 at 04:13 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The “So Not” Negative

A. preceding an adjective in a S-LV-PA clause

• That is so not true.
• He is so not right.
• That is so not worth $20.
• I am so not ready.

B. preceding a noun in various complements

• That is so not the _____.
• That is so not a _____.
• That is so not an _____.
• That is so not Christina.

C. preceding an adjective clause

• That is so not why I came.
• That is so not where I want to end up.
• That is so not what I meant.
• That is so not when I said to be there.

D. preceding a prepositional phrase

• I am so not for that idea.
• She is so not in love with him.
• It is so not about you.
• She is so not on his list.

E. preceding the conclusion of the verb phrase

• That is so not happening.
• I so did not say that.
• He was so not going home.
• I so did not mean that.

Posted by James Vanden Bosch on 06/25 at 02:34 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Both of Our Bag

Another job for Kent: the awkward first-person-plural possessive stated the other night by my wife: “both of our bag” (bag belonging to both of us).

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/22 at 07:03 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Whole ‘Nother Paper

Kent Hendricks—a Calvin alumnus, CICW colleague, blogger in his own right and now in CICW’s own right—is on the lookout for the phrase whole nother, as in “a whole nother ballgame.” His inquiry includes a blog,, that lists examples of the phrase he overhears (the blog’s existence, to its own peril, Kent reports, seems to have put a dent in usage among his friends), and a paper he wrote for Jim Vanden Bosch’s linguistics class on the linguistic classification of whole nother. The abstract, followed by the paper (at least until Language publishes it and asks us to take it down…):

The construction a whole nother has puzzled linguists for decades. It does not abide by the rules of traditional grammar and rarely appears in written English, yet it is found in nearly every idiolect. Because its use is restricted to only spoken English, there is little written documentation of it, and its origins are somewhat clouded in mystery. Most of the discussion surrounding this construction has taken place among structuralist linguists in online discussion forums, and linguists have disputed its presence and ubiquity in the language without reaching any kind of consensus. Language is a system of rules, and everything spoken follows to strict sets of rules that govern semantics, syntax, and other elements of language. The phrase a whole nother exists in the English language because of a combination of rules in the English language that govern infixation, reanalysis, syntactic blending, and the noun phrase.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/22 at 06:44 PM
(1) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

On Language 6/21: Learning language by teaching English 101

A language lover’s crash course in English
Chicago Tribune, June 21, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

I taught English 101 for the first time this past semester. Here are six things I learned on the other side of the desk at my alma mater, Calvin College, a liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Mich.:




Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/22 at 10:11 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Free Choice ‘Any’ vs. Negative Polarity ‘Any’

David Beaver at Language Log takes a closer look at a sign he saw in a restaurant that said:

We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.

I had an image of the serving staff having a collective bad hair day and refusing to serve anyone. Not the intended reading of course. Whereas my reading has them potentially giving no service to anyone (at all), on the intended reading they reserve the right to give anyone (they choose) no service.

This is a classic case of the difference between what semanticists call “free choice any” and “negative polarity any”.


Related: Litotes in the New Testament

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/18 at 11:28 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Friday, June 17, 2005

Weird and Wonderful: Don’t Be Camstairy or Lucifugous, Read This Post!

More of Erin’s Weird and Wonderful Words:


an ill-sounding synonym for omnipotent, with the same meaning. Cunctitenent means ‘having all things’.


an adjective meaning ‘like a flower’ or ‘flowery’. Also written flosculose. From a Latin word meaning ‘little flower’, which also gives us floscule, ‘something shaped like a little flower’ or ’ a flowery speech’ and flosculation, ‘speaking in a flowery way’.


a tool for writing used by a blind person. The noctograph seems to have used an early form of carbon paper, with wires to guide the pen or stylus of the writer. The word also means ‘a device or log to track the progress of night watchmen or guards on their rounds’. From Latin words meaning ‘night’ and ‘writing’.


a Scots adjective meaning ‘perverse, willful, or obstinate’. Possibly related to cam, ‘crooked’.


an adjective meaning ‘causing perspiration’, either through effort or in a medical way. Also, thankfully more rarely, ‘consisting of sweat’.


an adjective meaning ‘shunning the light’. From Latin words meaning ‘light’ and ‘to flee’. This was usually used as a near synonym for ‘nocturnal’ but seems much more poetic; instead of seeking the night, they are shunning the light. A similar adjective is lucifugal.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/17 at 02:01 PM
(2) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Don’t Argue With This Article

Found this while stumbling through the archives of Language:

How Children Constrain Their Argument Structure Constructions
Patricia J. Brooks; Michael Tomasello
Language, Vol. 75, No. 4. (Dec., 1999), pp. 720-738.
Stable URL

We tested two hypotheses about how English-speaking children learn to avoid
making argument structure errors such as Don’t giggle me. The first is that
children base their usage of verbs on membership in narrow-range semantic
classes (Pinker 1989). The second is that children make use of indirect
negative evidence in the form of alternative expressions that preempt
tendencies to overgeneralize. Ninety-six children (32 each at 2.5, 4.5, and 6/7
years of age) were introduced to two nonce verbs, one as a transitive verb and
one as an intransitive verb. One verb was from a semantic class that can be
used both transitively and intransitively while the other was from a fixed
transitivity class. Half of the children were given preempting alternatives
with both verbs; for example, they heard a verb in a simple transitive
construction (as in Ernie’s meeking the car) and then they also heard it in a
passive construction-which enabled them to answer the question ‘What’s
happening with the car?’ with It’s getting meeked (rather than generalizing to
the intransitive construction with It’s meeking). We found empirical support
for the constraining role of verb classes and of preemption, but only for
children 4.5 years of age and older. Results are discussed in terms of a model
of syntactic development in which children begin with lexically specific
linguistic constructions and only gradually learn to differentiate verbs as
lexical items from argument structure constructions as abstract linguistic

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/17 at 01:58 PM
(1) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Language 6/14: The truth about grammar

Regarding grammar, you may be correct after all
Chicago Tribune, June 14, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Many of the rules of self-appointed guardians of “good grammar,” argue Huddleston and Pullum, turn out to be arbitrary, counterintuitive and without historical precedent.

Take the example of the common decree about “which” and “that” in relative clauses. Many grammar guides insist that only “that” can be used to start a clause not enclosed by commas (“The house that I saw was old”), and only “which” can be used in clauses between commas (“The house, which was built during the Civil War, was old”).

But nobody minded when Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the day of the Pearl Harbor attack to be “a date which will live in infamy,” the authors point out. Besides, this rule was invented less than 100 years ago, after centuries of comma-less cases of “which” in English. The 17th Century King James Bible read, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s . . . “).

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/14 at 08:59 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Fun With Web Translators

It’s time to play “Aren’t Web Translators Laughably Bad?”

Here‘s the Gettysburg Address.

Now look what happens when we translate it into Spanish with, then translate it back to English:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/14 at 08:50 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Monday, June 13, 2005

Botched Rhetorical Question and Relative Clause in Ezekiel 38 Translation

Daniel Block, in a seminar at the Preaching Apocalyptic Texts Conference, noted that the recently released TNIV renders the rhetorical question in Ezekiel 38:17 (“Are you the one I spoke of…?”) as a statement (“You are the one…”).

While it is often legitimate to render a RQ in Hebrew with a statement, it is not in this case, Block said. That’s because the rhetorical question actually implies a negative answer here, not a positive one. Gog was NOT the power that prophets foresaw as conquering Israel; Babylon was. Babylon was an instrument of God’s purposes by overtaking Israel; Gog would not be. So God is actually invalidating Gog’s ambition in this verse, rather than validating it.

I checked up on this and, assuming Block is correct, the NIV had it wrong, too, by adding the word “not” (Are you not the one…”), and then turning the relative clause modfying “prophets” (“who in those days prophesied…”) into a separate statement (“At that time they prophesied…”)

The Message also blew it:

Years ago when I spoke through my servants, the prophets of Israel, wasn’t it you I was talking about? Year after year they prophesied that I would bring you against them.

And look what the CEV does to it!

The LORD said to Gog: Long ago, I had my prophets warn the people of Israel that someday I would send an enemy to attack them. You, Gog, are that enemy, and that day is coming.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/13 at 05:20 PM
(2) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

On Language 6/7: My wife’s words

In a changing world of words, you say potato, I say potatoest
Chicago Tribune, June 7, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Here are some of the words and phrases I first heard from my wife, Andrea. Given this level of inventiveness displayed by one person, is it any wonder that language as a whole changes and evolves as much as it does?

Analyzation: combination of “analysis” and “rationalization,” connoting excess, as in, “Don’t ruin the movie with your analyzations.”

Of my three favorite dictionaries, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (MWC) and the American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) list “analyzation” as a variant of “analysis,” while the newly released second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD) doesn’t have it (though it does have “analyzable”).

A Google search yields about 700 examples of the word. A quick scan of these results suggests the word usually uses a prefix to connote excess, as in “over-analyzations” and “hyper-analyzations.”


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/07 at 08:56 AM
(1) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink

Wait Till 1904!

The ASD-L folk are antedating “wait till next year!”

Washington Post, Sep 29, 1903, p. 8
The Senators could do nothing in the next two innings.
“Wait till next year.”
Washington Post, Oct 7, 1906, p. S1
BASEBALL YEAR ENDS ... Manager Stahl Again Speaks of Washington Club’s
Success—Says Team Received Splendid Support, and Winds Up with “Wait
Until Next Year.”
And with a smile, the Senators’ manager sprung the old gag: “Wait until
next year.”
(The hapless Senators would eventually win the World Series in 1924, plus
two more pennants in 1925 and 1933.  And now Washington finally has a
first-place team again!)

—Ben Zimmer

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 06/07 at 08:53 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >