Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Planet Names


  (Second of Two Parts) A question to the discussion forum a week or so ago asked about the origins of the names of the planets. The “official” names of objects in the solar system are assigned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a global association of astronomers. The IAU follows several conventions in naming planets and moons, the main
ones being that planets are given names of Roman mythological beings and moons are given Greek mythological names associated with the Greek equivalent of the Roman god. Many of these names did not originate with the IAU, but have borne the names of these deities dating back into antiquity. There are exceptions to the IAU naming conventions. Shakespearean names are assigned to moons of Uranus and the occasional Norse or Inuit mythological name appears here and there.

    Here is the second half of our examination of the names of the planets and moons.

    Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun and the second largest, is named after the king of the Titans, the father of Jupiter. Saturn’s Greek counterpart is Cronos. English use of Saturn as the planetary name dates back to Old English. The adjective is Saturnian, 1557.


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/23 at 01:38 PM
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Friday, November 18, 2005

Put it on a Plaque

He’s said it before and he’ll say it again, but might as well get it down here for posterity; Jim Vanden Bosch, weighing in on the business of ending sentences with prepositions—words to live by:

The general principle I work with is this: given the constraints of genre, audience, occasion, and purpose, I try not to let the stylistic, grammatical, and lexical choices call undue attention to themselves, unless that is the point of making that choice.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/18 at 05:06 PM
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

On Language 11/16: Verbatim magazine celebrates 30th volume

Delectable journal Verbatim is thriving in `no-man’s land’
On Language
Chicago Tribune
November 16, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Verbatim has nearly 1,500 subscribers in the U.S. and about 300 overseas, McKean says. A U.S. subscription for four 30-plus-page issues per year costs $25. The magazine is printed on light beige paper with handsome brown type.

McKean says the magazine has succeeded by targeting a general audience but not watering down its subject matter.

“It’s geared toward laypeople, but I belong to the Council of Editors of Learned Journals,” McKean says. “It’s not literary, not scholarly—it’s kind of a no-man’s-land.”

And yet, the magazine has found its niche as a serious general interest magazine on language, McKean says: “It’s a good place to be. Once people find us, they hold on with both hands.” ...

McKean muses about what [a] centennial issue might contain.

“Robot slang. Martian English. How will skull-phone texting change lunar English? Idioms of the methane beings of Titan. I can see us doing that.”


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/17 at 10:27 PM
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ELL students with disabilities

From the ColorinColorado newsletter:

English language learning students with disabilities

With the number of ELL students in U.S. schools continuing to rise, what are the educational implications for these students who also have disabilities that affect their educational achievement?

The U.S. Department of Education commissioned a report - A Descriptive Study of Services to LEP [Limited English Proficient] Students and LEP Students with Disabilities - that surveyed schools and districts nationally to identify characteristics of and services provided to ELLs. One portion of the study focused on the services offered to the subpopulation of ELLs who are also students with disabilities, the instructional services received by these students, and on these students’ participation in standards and assessment systems.

Select findings of this study include:

  * From 1987 to 2001, there was an increase from 3.3 percent to 14.2 percent in the proportion of students with disabilities who do not primarily use English at home (U.S. Department of Education, 2002).


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/17 at 10:24 PM
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Bible Translated into Gullah

From Religion News Service:


November 17, 2005—The American Bible Society is celebrating the conclusion of a 26-year project to translate the New Testament in Gullah, a creole language created by slaves from West Africa who devised it from indigenous African languages and English. The announcement of the translation, De Nyew Testament, was made at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island in South Carolina, a key center of Gullah culture. The new translation went on sale to an excited crowd during the Heritage Days festival, following a special presentation to leaders of the Penn Center, a partner in the process, and to those who had contributed to the final product.

More than a quarter of a century ago the Sea Islands Translation Team was assembled under the auspices of two Wycliffe Bible Translators consultants. The team’s first effort, Luke’s Gospel, was published by the American Bible Society in 1994 to great appreciation among Gullah speakers. The team consisted of Gullah speakers who painstakingly worked their way through the New Testament, with assistance from translation experts, finding appropriate wording to express the message of the Bible in easily understandable ways. This was a joint effort of the American Bible Society, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Wycliffe, the United Bible Societies and the Penn Center

Here is a sample from John’s Gospel 1.1 from De Nyew Testament, compared with the King James Version:



Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/17 at 08:30 PM
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

‘On Language’ 11/9/05: A crisis in China isn’t an ‘opportunity’

Debunking misconceptions about Chinese characters
On Language
Chicago Tribune
November 9, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Chinese characters themselves are often misunderstood… The meaning of the characters depends on the language and culture where they are used.

This confusion is partly to blame for the common claim of self-help books that the Chinese character for the word “crisis” means both “danger” and “opportunity.”

“A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation,” Victor Mair writes at “The explication of the Chinese word for `crisis’ as made up of two components signifying `danger’ and `opportunity’ is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.”

According to the myth, to write the Chinese character for “crisis,” you combine the character for “danger” and the character for “opportunity.”

That’s based on a partial truth: the word pronounced “weiji” is made up of two characters, pronounced “wei” and “ji.” But while “wei” means danger, “ji” doesn’t mean “opportunity.”

“The `ji’ of `weiji,’ in fact, means something like `incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes),’” Mair writes. “Thus, a `weiji’ is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment. . . . A `weiji’ in Chinese is every bit as fearsome as a crisis in English.”

The word “ji” only means “opportunity” in some cases, such as when it combines with the word “hui” (“occasion”) to make the word “jihui,” for “opportunity.” Its meaning changes depending on what other word it’s blending with. The crisis-means-opportunity myth, Mair says, is founded on a faulty understanding of the way languages work. ...

More from Swofford and Mair by e-mail:


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/10 at 05:53 PM
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gavin Degraw’s Grammar

LL’s post on clause embedding made me want to try to untangle the embedded clauses in one of the most syntactically sophisticated pop tunes of late, Gavin Degraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be”:

“I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately.”

How’d I do?

I don’t want - negated declarative
[to be - infinitive as a direct object,
[[anything - pronoun complementing the copulative in the infinitive clause
[[[other than - compound subordinating conjunction
[[[what I’ve been trying - relative with imperfect participle
[[[[to be lately - infinitive clause with adverb

Next up:

And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale
-Procol Harum

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/09 at 12:24 PM
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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Unintended Indecency at Burger King

From Michael Quinion’s WorldWideWords newsletter this week:

- I found this in the Observer for 23 October: “At first my sister
and I used nets to catch minnows in the local river, but on my
first proper fly-fishing trip, when I was eight, I caught an 8lb
rainbow trout and was absolutely hooked.”

- “I went to my local Burger King last night,” writes Douglas Yates,
“and found that the staff member serving me had a sign on top of
her till saying ‘I am being trained. Please bare with me’. Although
she was a most attractive young lady, I politely declined her kind

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/08 at 02:15 PM
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‘On Language’ 11/2: A sizable book on short words

Dictionary author really did research to the letter
On Language
Chicago Tribune
November 2, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

Four-letter words are not in short supply, as you know when you stub your toe.

But one-letter words? What are there—two or three of them?

Try 1,000, says Craig Conley, author of “One-Letter Words: A Dictionary” (HarperCollins, 272 pages, $16.95).

Since Merriam-Webster defines “word” as “a speech sound ... that symbolizes and communicates a meaning,” individual letters do indeed qualify. “So even though there are only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, my research shows that they stand for 1,000 distinct units of meaning,” Conley writes.

Conley, who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and identifies himself at his Web site as “a curator, benefactor, philosopher, author, music producer, and documentarian,” shows that “X” alone has more than 70 meanings (including a mark on a treasure map; an incorrect answer; a symbol for multiplication; a rating for an adult movie; an axis on a graph; a chromosome; a kiss in a letter; and even a virus called “x-disease.”)


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 11/08 at 02:12 PM
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