Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Aye-Aye! Athletes’ Aggrandizing Third-Person Self-References

Steve Rushin recently in Sports Illustrated—see especially the “ninth person” in the graf about Alonzo Mourning:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/27 at 04:03 PM
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wilson Phillips vs. Web Translators

Wilson Phillips Greatest HitsIt’s time for another round of Fun with Web Translators. Last time, we butchered the Gettysburg Address. This time, we’re taking the lyrics to Wilson Phillips’ timeless song “Impulsive,” translating them into other languages, then translating them back into English via the infallible (hah!) auto-translator at

Then, as a special bonus, I’m going to attempt to translate “Impulsive” into Latin (no, these are not the crazy excursions of an idle summer staffer in academia. This is my definition of a break from an actually hectic summer as a staffer in academia.)


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/26 at 05:21 PM
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Friday, July 22, 2005

As Opposed to Imaginary Estate?

Today I got curious about the origins of the term real estate. Here’s the OED on “real”:

c. Consisting of immovable property, as lands and houses; esp. real estate (see ESTATE n. 11); also attrib.
1641 Decay Trade 2 The price and measure of all our other meanes both personall and reall. 1644 G. PLATTES in Hartlib’s Legacy (1655) 209 A present estate, either real or personal. 1690 CHILD Disc. Trade (1694) 8 Securities of lands and houses [are] rendered, indeed such as we commonly call them, real securities. 1711 STEELE Spect. No. 97 5 Their real Estate shall be immediately vested in the next Heir. 1756 [see ESTATE n. 11]. 1827 JARMAN Powell’s Devises II. 169 The word effects, without the word real, will not..comprehend land. ... 1892 KIPLING Lett. of Travel (1920) 85 The packed real-estate offices; the real-estate agents themselves. 1903 Westm. Gaz. 11 Sept. 2/3 The law might almost be forgiven for making no provision for dealing with real-estate-owning paupers. 1965 H. T. ANSOFF Corporate Strategy (1968) vi. 104 A company which primarily buys and sells..may be an investment trust, a pension fund, or a real estate syndicate. 1969 Sydney Morning Herald 24 May 30/1 (Advt.), The Real Estate Institute of New South Wales..will commence the next evening course of lectures in Real Estate and Valuation Practice. 1972 Accountant 17 Aug. 193/2 The cannibalization of assets, particularly of real estate subsidiaries. ...

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/22 at 04:38 PM
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

On Language 7/20: What has ‘Clueless,’ like, done to language?

CluelessIt’s been, like, 10 whole years since ‘Clueless’ helped spread Valley slang
Chicago Tribune
July 20, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

This week marks a milestone—a tragic one, some would say—in the history of American English. Ten years ago this week, the movie “Clueless,” starring Alicia Silverstone, was released. And our language was, like, forever changed.

“The interesting thing about ‘Clueless’ is that the language was basically another character in that movie,” says Carmen Fought, linguist at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. “A lot of research was put into it to really capture how Californians talked at the time, and I think that was the first time that people in different parts of the country got a clear exposure to all the features of the California dialect.”



Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/21 at 05:06 PM
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Monday, July 18, 2005


The latest from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words newsletter:

2. Turns of Phrase: Blobitecture
Blobitecture is curvy architecture, fluid protoplasmic shapes that
completely redefine what a building ought to look like. You can now
find examples in many cities, because adventurous architects are
using computer-aided design systems to create structures that would
otherwise be impossible to realise. Examples are Norman Foster’s
Swiss Re building in London (dubbed the Erotic Gherkin) and Frank
Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Walt Disney Concert Hall in
Los Angeles. The word has been known in the architectural world for
some years but the oldest appearance in print I can find is in
William Safire’s On Language column in December 2002, in which he
says that its precursor “blob architecture” was coined in 1995 by
the architect Greg Lynn. He based it on “binary large object”, or
“BLOB”, a technical term for a computer representation of an
object; that “blob” is also a good word for the amoeboid buildings
that can result is no coincidence. The word appeared in the title
of a book by John K Waters in 2003 and the year after in Next
Generation Architecture by Joseph Rosa. Everywhere it is mildly
pejorative, but in Britain it is further coloured by associations
with an excessively rotund and very silly pink character with
yellow spots called Mr Blobby, who became famous in the early 1990s
in Noel Edmonds’ Saturday night BBC television show Noel’s House

* From Wikipedia, 17 May 2005: In large part, blobitecture derives
its forms from an architect’s interpretation of natural organic
forms, but also depends on the advanced use of computer modeling to
ensure that the evolving design is structurally stable.

* From the Guardian, 6 Jun. 2005: Not only does the new Queen Mary
building point towards a fresh and confident future for hospital
design, it is also doing wonders for the reputation of its
architect, the flamboyant Will Alsop, whose toy-like
“blobitecture” and mad-hatter plans for reviving towns in northern
England with designs that resemble, among other things, Marge
Simpson’s hairdo, have earned him as many brickbats as plaudits.

Also from WWW: sternutatory and Johnny-on-the-spot.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/18 at 09:04 AM
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

On Language 7/13: Pertneart and other personal vocabulary

Some words in our speech pertneart right on target
Chicago Tribune, July 13, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

A recent column on words and phrases I first heard from my wife got readers thinking about their own personal vocabularies. A sampling:

- I use tons of new words, and most of them drive my very literal husband insane. A short list includes:

Jangled: stressed/freaked out/nerves shot

Clueier: have a better grasp on a situation

Snazzling: looking snazzy and darling

Other lexical inventions sent in by readers:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/14 at 04:44 PM
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There’s No Shame in Being Agrammatoi

This 1999 article in New Testament Studies takes a thorough look at the Greek words agrammatoi and idiotai, which are used to describe the Sanhedrin’s perception of Paul and John in Acts 4. Thomas Kraus argues that the strong negative connotation of the English derivatives “ungrammatical” and “idiots” should be left out of our reading of Acts 4:13. Instead, “agrammatoi” (lacking education) and “idiotai” (lacking expertise) are neutral descriptions of the lack of specialized knowledge on the part of Paul and John, which makes their testimony all the more remarkable.

I was impressed that modern translations seemed to have aptly softened the KJV’s translation of “unlearned and ignorant”:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/14 at 04:27 PM
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

What’s New? Evangelizomai

In the current issue of New Testament Studies, John Dickson argues that the Greek root evangel- refers only to the announcement of new information (“good news”), and not also, as some have argued, to general teaching and exhortatory activity (particularly in Romans 1:15). 


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/09 at 05:59 PM
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Untranslatable “You” in Chekhov

Tom J. Lewis in the journal Babel:

In what follows I will examine one such instance of untranslatability — that of Russian second-person pronouns into English in the English versions of one of Anton Chekhov’s best known and most accomplished short stories, “Lady with Lapdog.” ... Russian second-person pronouns cannot be translated into English. Th e answer to this is fairly simple: Whereas in English there is only one second-person pronoun — you — in Russian there are two: ty and vy. ...

The import of this one word, ty — one of the most common in the Russian language — which is used only once by Anna in the entire course of the story, is a mark of Chekhov’s supreme mastery of his art. ...


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/09 at 05:49 PM
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Friday, July 08, 2005

Weird and Wonderful: Obambulate over this way

More of Erin’s Weird and Wonderful Words:

obambulate [ob-AM-byuh-late] a rare word meaning ‘to walk about, wander’. Obambulatory is the adjective, meaning ‘habitually walking around’. Most of the citations in the OED seem to refer to ghosts and spirits. From a Latin word meaning ‘to walk’. icasm [EYE-kaz-um] a figurative expression. From a Greek word meaning ‘to make like’. concinnous [kun-SIN-us] a neat and elegant adjective meaning ‘neat, elegant’ tyrotoxism [tye-roh-TOCK-siz-um] cheese-poisoning. This particular ptomaine (diazobenzene hyrdroxide) can also be found in bad milk. From Greek words meaning ‘cheese’ and ‘poison’. agalaxy [ag-uh-LACK-see] lack of milk after childbirth. This is same galaxy as the starry one; both come from a Greek word meaning ‘milk’. Lack of milk for a child and lack of stars seem, in a mother’s mind, to be equal catastrophes.
Earlier: Weird and Wonderful
Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/08 at 04:57 PM
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On Language 7/6: Languages and their Empires

Empires of the WordLinguistic history bogged down in details
Chicago Tribune, July 6, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Nicholas Ostler may be the first author to compare the English language to the ancient Iranian language of Sogdian.

From the 8th to the 15th Centuries, Sogdian was the language of merchants and missionaries along the Silk Road in China and Central Asia. Then it all but died out, giving way to Arabic. Despite its former international commercial dominance, Sogdian is now a footnote of global linguistic history.

Ostler, in his monumental new book “Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World” (HarperCollins, $29.95), is not suggesting English will meet Sogdian’s fate. But his massive overview of major languages in world history puts the current global spread of English in perspective. Throughout world history, even the most stable and widely spoken languages, such as Sogdian, Sanskrit or Greek, faded unexpectedly after periods of seemingly endless prosperity. The linguistic lesson of world history is that no language, however powerful, is a sure bet to live indefinitely.

More on Sogdian: x/x/x/x

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/08 at 04:49 PM
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

“Which” as a coordinating conjunction

In an article in the journal Babel on translation of the Qu’ran, I came across this instance of “which” as a coordinator (rather than a subordinator):

The use of the simple present instead of ‘used to’ means that the semantic quality, which the translator must strive to make sure that the message remains clear in the target text, is deteriorated.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 07/06 at 09:12 AM
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