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  • The Diacritics 9:03 pm on October 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 42, douglas adams, hitchhiker's, meaning of life, , word creation   

    The Meaning of Liff and words that should be words 

    Hi everyone! Sandeep and I have both been super busy with law school stuff, much to the detriment of our aspirations to post all the time. We promise to get back on the ball, though, so stay tuned!

    (posted by John)

    Many of us know and love Douglas Adams for his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. They’re some of my favorites, not least because of Adams’s creative and awesome use of language. But as cool a word as bistromatics is, Hitchhiker’s doesn’t come close to the word-creating prolificacy of another little book of his, The Meaning of Liff. This book is entirely devoted to words that should exist to explain common (and sometimes not-so-common) scenarios, sensations, occurrences, and other phenomena, but that do not.

    Here are a couple examples:

    BRUMBY (n.) 
The fake antique plastic seal on a pretentious whisky bottle.

    PLEELEY (adj.)
Descriptive of a drunk person’s attempt to be endearing.

    THRUPP (v.) 
To hold a ruler on one end on a desk and make the other end go bbddbbddbbrrbrrrrddrr.

    WRITTLE (v.)
 Of a steel ball, to settle into a hole.

    This got me thinking about another word that I think should exist. It’s not one nearly as creative as any of Adams’s, but I think it is more logically a word than most of his.

    I know that I can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my Civil Procedure reading and underwhelmed by the sheer monotony of its content, but can I just be “whelmed” by it? I think this would be a good word to start using: it would fill a linguistic gap in our language just like lots of the words in Liff would.

    Let’s say you went to the movies recently to see Moneyball.  If you thought it was just about at the level of your expectations, you could say you were “whelmed” by it.  This is different from “it was fine,” or something of that ilk, in that it is talking about the movie’s quality with respect to your expectations, whereas to say it was “fine” is to make a more objective statement of its quality.  It would be particularly useful if my friend knew that I really liked Aaron Sorkin, one of the writers: if I were “whelmed” by it, it would mean that it met my expectations pretty darn well (and I could convey that with one word!).

    It would also be useful for other things. If you have a particularly busy week at work, you might say that you are overwhelmed. But there’s not a good way to talk about being almost overwhelmed. I find myself in this state with some frequency: just barely keeping my head above water, but still breathing. I think that “whelm” would get at this idea nicely. If you’re “whelmed” at work, you’re busy and might soon become overwhelmed, but for now, you’re getting by.

    Interestingly, “to whelm” already means something different.  My dictionary widget gives it as a verb “to engulf, submerge, or bury.” The raging ocean might whelm a floundering ship. A brook can also “whelm,” or flow, up from its source.  It’s also given as a noun,“an act or instance of flowing or heaping up; a surge.”

    This doesn’t mean we can’t also use it in a new way (who uses it right now anyway?). When I’m less whelmed with work, perhaps I’ll start a campaign to spread the word!

    We’d be interested to hear of other words like “whelm,” or even NAD ((n.) 
Measure defined as the distance between a driver’s outstretched fingertips and the ticket machine in parking garage), that don’t exist, but should!

    • stuartnz 9:08 pm on October 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      The Meaning of Liff is a great book, but it should be noted that Adams does not claim to have “created” those words. He said that they were pressed into service instead of hanging around on road signs and the like. He created definitions for them, which is, surely the hardest part of the job. Your mention of “whelm” also reminded me of one of my favourite Wodehouse passages: “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled”

    • johnwcowan 10:40 pm on October 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, the over- in overwhelm is basically just an intensive.

      I used to work in a center at my college that specialized in resolving student problems with registration or payment. We called it the Gruntling Room: the students came in disgruntled and left gruntled.

      • johnwcowan 11:10 am on November 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        For those of you not reading The World’s Major Languages, gruntle is an intensive of grunt and related to grumble; it’s mostly applied to pigs nowadays. The dis- prefix is also just an intensive in this word, a common meaning of dis- in Latin but quite rare in English.

  • The Diacritics 9:38 pm on October 16, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , indo-european languages, , panini, , scripts   

    Fun with abugidas (Part 1) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    Most major Indian languages can be separated into two major language families–with North Indian languages mainly classified in the geographically diverse Indo-European family (with distant cousins as far-flung as Persian and Irish Gaelic) and the South Indian languages in the Dravidian family, which is mostly limited to the southern part of the Subcontinent.

    Although grammatically and structurally quite distinct, many Indian Indo-European languages and Dravidian languages have some critical elements in common.

    First, the various scripts used to write Indian languages evolved from one script, Brahmi, which has been dated at least to the 3rd century BCE (on the Edicts of Ashoka) and perhaps earlier.

    Despite their common derivation, Indian scripts can look very different from each other.

    Consider the Sanskrit quote I posted a few days ago, written first in Devanagari (used to write Hindi, Nepali, Marathi, among others) and then in Kannada (used to write Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, among others). Sanskrit is now mostly written in Devanagari, but historically it was written in whatever was the script in vogue in various regions of India.

    Pretty different, right?

    The apparent visual differences between North and South Indian languages is often incorrectly conflated with the actual structural differences between Indo-European and Dravidian languages.

    For one, South Indian scripts, such as Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam, are “curvier” than North Indian scripts, which utilize more straight lines. However, this is popularly explained by linguists in India by the different writing media historically in use: ancient South Indians wrote on large dried leaves; straight lines would have punctured the leaves and rendered them useless, so South Indian scripts evolved more curves.

    Whether or not this explanation is true, I think recognizing the common ancestor of the scripts of India is a great (and missed) opportunity to build unity.

    Wikipedia has possible derivations of some letters in some Indian scripts from Brahmi:

    In a nation of 22 officially recognized languages and hundreds, if not thousands, more unofficial languages, linguistic differences are used to divide people. The apparent differences in scripts are a major part of this divisive arsenal–“Oh, look how different Tamil looks from Bengali; they must be so different from me.” Why not use it for the opposite purpose? “It’s remarkable that even though Tamil looks different from Bengali, we share a common ancestor script.”

    Folk etymologies and false derivations are rampant in India–especially because fluid word borrowings, especially from Sanskrit, confuse true linguistic relationships–but this is an actual, demonstrated, linguistically and historically valid commonality.

    A common ancestral script may be a minor thing to note, but Indians could use all the unity they can get, right?

    Alphabets, or why Indians were awesome linguists

    Indians were incredibly awesome linguists. More on this later, but a brief overview: the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Sanskrit grammarian Panini (c. 500 BCE) is the earliest known work of descriptive linguistics anywhere in the world. Still, even Panini refers to older Sanskrit works on grammar. Linguistic ideas are built into the oldest of old Sanskrit texts and Sanskrit morphology and syntactic rules are some of the most complex and most developed of any language in the world, past and present. Four of the six branches of Vedanga (the study of the ancient Hindu texts the Vedas) are linguistic: phonetics, etymology, meter, and grammar.

    In short, Indians were badass at linguistics.

    Part of this badass-ness (badassitude?) came in the form of the organization of many Indian alphabets. Unlike the Latin alphabet, which came to its present order (A, B, C…) through a series of historical serendipities, the standard organization of the Sanskrit alphabet is remarkably systematic.

    Many Indian languages now, even some Dravidian languages (which aren’t structurally similar to Sanskrit), use the exact same organizational chart.

    Consonants are organized in an implicit table. On one axis, consonants are distinguished by the type of closure required for their production:

    kaṇṭhya (velar), tālavya (palatal), mūrdhanya (retroflex), dantya (dental), and oṣṭhya (labial)

    On the other axis, consonants are distinguished by voicing and aspiration:

    aghoṣa alpaprāṇa (unvoiced unaspirated), aghoṣa mahāprāṇa (unvoiced aspirated), ghoṣa alpaprāṇa (voiced unaspirated), ghoṣa mahāprāṇa (voiced aspirated), then anunāsika (nasal).

    So in the first row of consonants, you have velar consonants, beginning with an unvoiced stop and ending with a nasal.

    /k/ /kʰ/ /g/ /gʰ/ /ŋ/

    The pattern continues. At the end of that collection, there are several antastha (approximant) consonants, three sibilants, and a voiced fricative.

    Here is a lovely table, adapted from Charles Wikner’s A Practical Sanskrit Introductory (1996).

    This table is misleading, though, because it’s not quite the exact order that the alphabet is recited in. The consonants ya, ra, la, va, sa, sa, sa, and ha are recited after ma. Here is a better representation of the order, here in Kannada, but without the linguistic tags (Omniglot):

    As far as I’m aware, this order is used more or less in the following major languages: Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Nepali, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam, Konkani, and Gujarati, among others. Tamil uses a similar, but reduced, organization.

    The Indian obsession with linguistics is built into the very structure of its languages. And it’s awesome.

    [Competition Update: We decided to withdraw ourselves from Grammar.net’s Best Grammar Blog of 2011 competition because we felt that voting was proceeding in an unfair manner. We are no longer participating.]

    • alficles 12:21 pm on October 17, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I’m sorry to read that you’re withdrawing from the “competition”. While there are technically prizes, the real prize for me was finding a collection of language blogs to look through and add to my feed list. And while the actual voting may be unfair (though I have no idea, first I’ve heard of it), having your site on that list is a benefit to the people who might not have heard of you.

    • Anup 4:58 pm on October 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Sandeep,

      This article is a very nice read! I just happened to search something on google and came across this.
      I was wondering if you have any thoughts/references about my original search (that brought me here). I was wondering if there is some essential differences between the structure of sentences between South Indian and North Indian languages. I started thinking that might be so because of the differences I noticed in the way South Indians and North Indians speak English.

  • The Diacritics 3:12 am on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    Awesome language articles to read (October) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    Check out these articles and post more interesting language articles in the comments!

    “The ‘the’ in country names,” The Economist

    The Economist picked up on my Ukraine post and answered some of my questions.

    “The Rise of Awesome,” Intelligent Life

    An analysis of the ubiquitous word “awesome” and how it changed in meaning over time.

    “Awesome” became the default descriptor for anything good. In 1982, I was seven and I swallowed it whole. It stayed with me for decades. In 2005, I remember meeting a girl when I had just seen “Batman Begins”, the moody psychological picture that reinvigorated a tired franchise. “It’s awesome,” I told her. “Awesome. Just awesome.” She wondered, she later said, what kind of journalist had just one adjective in his vocabulary. Somehow, she married me all the same.

    “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language,” The New York Times

    An overview of recent research on bilingual development.

    But there is more and more research to draw on, reaching back to infancy and even to the womb. As the relatively new science of bilingualism pushes back to the origins of speech and language, scientists are teasing out the earliest differences between brains exposed to one language and brains exposed to two.

    “Why TV shouldn’t be so afraid of the word f—,New York Magazine

    A great (but not-so-family-friendly) discussion on whether TV should really be censoring certain words. Look out for an epic post by John and me on the same subject, coming up in the next few weeks.

    • Bander Alfraikh 2:31 pm on October 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      The usage problem whether to use “the” with the name of a country like the Ukrane or not stems perhaps from the way the name is spelt in English. Is the -e at the end of the name historical? or is it a different way of writing the name similar to Russian “Ukraina”? The -e at the end is not there to help pronounciation. A German or a Spaniard may pronounce the -e of Ukraine, and if he does he is not likely to supply the definite article.
      Arabic may shed some light on this usage: every time the name of a country ends in -ia as in Somalia you do not need the article. If you have to supply the article to this country’s name in particular you have to first remove the -ia part (which means country of) to get to ” Somal ” and then add the article which makes the name become A(l) Somal (Assomal after assimilation). And this is how this country is said – either Somalia or A(l) Somal.

      The article is also used in names of countries where the name is lexical as the name Al Maghrib ( Morrocco). Here “maghrib” is west, hence lexical . Or when the country is comprised of many ethnicities like India ( Al Hind ), China ( A(l)Sin ). Iraq being Al Iraq in Arabic is either influenced by the multiple ethnicity above or by Lexicality where the speakers of the language take Iraq as the plural of irq which is vein in Arabic. But this is also a reference to multiple ethnicity again. Those who refer to Iraq as the Iraq are probably transliterating.

      • The Diacritics 4:23 pm on October 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        All interesting points. It’s fascinating to consider how other languages use articles with country names– thanks for the information!
        But I doubt that Arabic usage informs how English speakers add articles to country names unless the speaker is a first-language Arabic speaker and is unwittingly transferring between languages. Miss Teen South Carolina’s usage of “the Iraq” had nothing to do with its Arabic usage (in fact, I wonder if she even knows that languages besides English exist in the world…). The fact that a certain usage is prevalent in another language usually has no bearing on individual usage in another language, unless the language user is familiar with both languages.
        And just a minor nitpick: “transliterating” is changing العراق to al-Iraq. You seem to have meant translating, not transliterating.

  • The Diacritics 10:36 am on October 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , debate, election, john, , necessary and proper,   

    Necessary and Proper: the Supreme Court aren’t linguists 

    (Posted by John)

    As I watch the beginnings of the Republican presidential primary season unfold, there’s one mantra I’ve heard espoused time and again: our government is too big. With debates about spending and entitlements (not to mention the health care law) as fierce as they’ve been in my lifetime, the question of the appropriate role of government appears to be coming to a head in a serious way.

    One clause of the Constitution, in particular, has had massive influence on this debate. That clause is the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Necessary and Proper clause says that Congress has the authority “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution [its enumerated powers].” This is basically a mandate for Congress to do the things that it needs to do in order to carry out its explicitly stated powers (e.g. levying taxes). The real debate, though, is how wide a mandate this clause actually grants. And as it turns out, answering that question depends greatly on…you guessed it, linguistics!

    What’s the right interpretation?
    So what does necessary and proper actually mean? For most people, and particularly those keen on limiting the scope of government, it means that any act Congress wishes to justify under the Necessary and Proper clause must be both necessary and proper. The “and” requires that both conditions be satisfied in order for an act to be authorized.

    This makes some sense. If I say “John and Sandeep have written posts for The Diacritics blog,” I mean that both John and Sandeep write posts, not just one or the other of them. This interpretation puts severe limits on what the government can do, too: anything that is not necessary to the execution of some explicitly stated Constitutional power is prohibited. Lots of people believe this to be the correct interpretation. And for those who do, the federal government has a long history of greatly overstepping its legitimate authority.

    But lets look a little closer at what this interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause entails. What, for example, happens when there is more than one possible method by which Congress could undertake to levy taxes? If there are multiple options, any of which would suffice, precisely none of them is necessary. Thus, on the “strict and” interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause, whenever there are multiple courses of action, Congress may not choose any of them. In my opinion, this is not a desirable outcome. It’s not that Congress is never allowed to pass a law to carry out an explicitly stated power. It’s that Congress may only do so when there is one option and one option alone. If this reading is to be a tenable one, some kind of work still needs to be done.

    There’s another legitimate, but lesser-known, interpretation of “[the authority to make] all laws necessary and proper” that doesn’t suffer from the “strict and” defect. To get at it, consider the following: God loves all creatures great and small. Obviously this does not mean “God loves all creatures that are both great and small.” This is a nonsense sentence. It is actually parsed something like: “God loves all creatures great and [all creatures] small,” or “God loves all great creatures and all small creatures.”

    Why, then, is it not legitimate to read “all powers necessary and proper” to mean “all powers necessary and all powers proper”? This reading is at least plausible, and it doesn’t suffer from the “strict and” problem of limiting action whenever there’s a choice. This is also the reading that proponents of larger government (perhaps only implicitly) might adopt.

    What the Court has said
    The Supreme Court has, over the course of our nation’s history, ranged across the spectrum in its reading of the clause. Unfortunately, they generally aren’t the greatest of linguists, despite the fact that John Marshall’s famous McCulloch v. Maryland opinion does recognize the “strict and” problem.  His solution to it is, essentially, reading the word “necessary” out of the Necessary and Proper clause. He adopts a purposive understanding: for Marshall, if the underlying goal of the act was to carry out some explicitly stated power, you were probably good to go. This meant that Congress couldn’t enact laws under the pretext of, say, regulating interstate commerce, but with the actual purpose of, say, prohibiting intrastate child labor. While this is not a linguistically plausible reading, it is perhaps a decent one from a policy standpoint: it avoids the “strict and” limitation on government but does try to set out some limit on federal power.

    The Court has treated this reading variously since then. Up until the New Deal Era, the Court was serious about keeping the federal government out of purely intrastate commerce, for example. But as we know, for most of the 20th Century, the Necessary and Proper clause was read as an essentially unlimited federal mandate. The Court ruled that the underlying purpose of a statute no longer mattered, and that any action that, considered in the aggregate, had an affect on interstate commerce was within the scope. Whether you use a Kleenex when you sneeze, taken across the entirety of the population, without doubt affects interstate commerce, and thus could have been regulated.

    Only recently has the Court begun to walk this unlimited mandate back. We’ll see how their reading evolves over the course of the next decade, as the debate about government’s size rages on.

    In the end, whichever reading you choose is fine by me.  But it will be interesting to see what those in Washington, presidential candidates and Supreme Court alike, have to say on the topic.

  • The Diacritics 6:43 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , maxim, proverb,   

    Language: When auspicious and charming, like a luxuriant vine creeper, whose minds does it not win over? भाषा प्रशस्ता सुमनो लतेव केषां न चेतांस्यावर्जयति |

    Sanskrit sūkta (traditional maxim)
    • The Diacritics 6:57 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      An example of how translations can sometimes ruin the aesthetics of poetic language: the Sanskrit word “latā” literally means “creeper” — a type of beautifully lush vine common in Asia. In this quote, it appears in the inflected form “lateva” लतेव to describe words that are luxuriant and quick to gain hold in one’s mind (like a fast-growing creeper).

      “Latā” is a recurring image in Sanskrit poetry, often used to describe the curves of a voluptuous woman. But having a body “like a creeper” just sounds terrible in English — especially in modern slang, where a “creeper” describes any sort of shady character.

      Can you think of any other particularly bad translations in poetry from one language to another?

    • Ambarish 9:29 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Just a minor nit – the words are केषान्न (or केषां न).

  • The Diacritics 7:00 am on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: congo, country, definite articles, , , geography, , iraq, nation, popular usage, rule, the congo, the ukraine, ukraine, usage   

    Indefinite definite articles: the Ukraine or Ukraine? 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    In 2007, Miss Teen South Carolina embarrassed herself in the Miss Teen USA pageant by giving a famously terrible answer to a simple question. Buried somewhere in the maze of her response were two references to Iraq, except in both instances she referred to the country as “the Iraq.” There are plenty of things wrong with what she said, but calling “the Iraq” was especially (and laughably) jarring to me. We just don’t call Iraq “the Iraq.”

    But why? Is it really so simple, that we just don’t add the definite article “the” to Iraq? There are innumerable other examples of countries that don’t take a definite article, of course. All of which would sound ridiculous with a definite article: “the France,” “the Greece,” “the India.”

    But there are a handful of countries which do take definite articles. There are two main patterns.

    The Gambia.

    The Gambia.

    (1) It seems that many countries whose names derive from important geographical features, such as “the Philippines” (islands) or “the Gambia” (river) or “the Netherlands” (lowlands) take a definite article. (Consider similar formations in the names of solely geographical features, such as “the Amazon” or “the Sahara.”)

    (2) Then there’s the United States of America and the United Kingdom, which take a definite article because the countries’ names describes their political organization. (This becomes clearer when you consider similar formations in many countries’ official names, such as “the Republic of China” [Taiwan] or “the Russian Federation” or “the United Mexican States.”)

    Mexico map.

    The United Mexican States.

    For most countries’ names in English, the presence or lack of a definite article is settled. But there are still other conflicts about whether to use “the.”

    (The) Ukraine

    Consider (the) Ukraine. Both “the Ukraine” and “Ukraine” are used in English. Personally, I’ve always used “the Ukraine,” but we’ll see below that my usage is likely misguided.

    A commonly accepted etymology of the word Україна (Ukrayina) is “borderland.” Based on this etymology, the “geographical feature” rule described above could explain the presence of the definite article in “the Ukraine.” But there’s still some level of uncertainty about Ukraine’s etymology — some believe it to be an ancient ethnonym of the Ukranian people, among other etymologies — so that rule doesn’t seem very persuasive here. The geographical rule for definite articles only seems to be useful when the country’s name is obviously referring to a geographical feature. We don’t use definite articles with countries whose names now have tenuous connections to geographical features — like India (the Indus River) or Indonesia (“Indian archipelago”).

    The use of “the Ukraine” stirs up intense passion among Ukranians, in fact. Some argue that the systematic use of “the Ukraine,” especially before its independence from the U.S.S.R., was used by English-language authors and journalists to subjugate the people and nation of Ukraine by demoting it to a mere region, a mere feature of the larger U.S.S.R.

    A similar issue has raised hackles in the Ukranian language itself. The use of the preposition na “on,” before “Ukraine,” has been scrapped for v “in,” within Ukraine. According to this site, the Ukranian government requested the change in 1993. Russian prescriptivists, quoted on the same site, continue to demand na, based on “tradition”:

    Литературная норма не может измениться в одночасье из-за каких-либо политических процессов.

    “Literary norms cannot change overnight because of any political process.”

    Some have pointed out that the style guides of many newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Economist, have explicitly required the use of “Ukraine” rather than “the Ukraine” after its independence. (I don’t have a copy of these style guides, so I can’t confirm, but there are secondary sources online which mention the shift.)

    Ukraine map.

    Ukraine or The Ukraine?

    I did a Google Ngram search to see the frequency of the phrases “in Ukraine” and “in the Ukraine” over the last 50 years in books. There’s a definite shift around 1993, soon after Ukranian independence (and the same year that the Ukranian government requested the preposition shift from “on” to “in”) from “the Ukraine” (red) to “Ukraine” (blue). Click the image below for a larger version.

    Similar data for the phrases “from the Ukraine” (red) and “from Ukraine” (blue).

    As someone who has been using “the Ukraine” for the past decade, I guess I’ll have to make a shift to the apparently more acceptable “Ukraine.”

    (The) Congo

    But what about the Democratic Republic of the Congo? (The) Congo’s name refers to the Congo River, which itself refers to the pre-colonial Kongo Kingdom. Some sources use “the Congo” whereas others use “Congo.” The official name of (the) Congo uses a definite article: “the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” similar to other definite-articled nations like “the Republic of the Gambia” (the Gambia) and unlike nations such as “the Republic of South Africa” (merely South Africa).

    People I know who have traveled often to (the) Congo, including my undergraduate advisor Brian Hare, call it “Congo.” News outlets, such as CNN, also use “Congo.” But check out these Google Ngram graphs.

    “From Congo” versus “from the Congo” usage from 1800-2000. “From the Congo” (red) is significantly more popular.

    Similar data for “in Congo” (blue) versus “in the Congo” (red).

    Perhaps the continued popularity of the phrase “the Congo” is due to the recurrence of the imagery of the Congo rainforest (a geographical feature) over references to the actual nation. My advisor Brian Hare’s globetrotting author wife Vanessa Woods wrote a book about bonobos (who live almost exclusively within [the] Congo) and the subtitle of the book uses the phrase “the Congo.” But was that usage referring to the country or to the rainforest? It’s debatable.

    So while Miss Teen South Carolina was clearly veering from popular usage when she called Iraq “the Iraq,” other cases aren’t so clear. It’s worth noting that some languages draw a bright line — French, for example, tacks on a definite article to all non-neuter-gender countries: even though “the France,” “the Greece,” and “the India” might sound strange to us, “la France,” “la Grèce,” and “l’Inde” are par for the course in France.

    • John Cowan 12:31 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      The official name of the U.S. is “United States of America”, no article, though no one ever uses it that way. Similarly, the United Church of Christ doesn’t use an article officially.

    • lynneguist 3:29 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      There’s also some variation on this kind of thing between British and American English. I did a post on that a long time ago, if you’re interested: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2007/04/gambia-lebanon-etc.html

      • The Diacritics 4:00 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for sending this along! I’m curious whether it’s Americans or Brits who are more concerned about the “colonialist” undertones of using “the.” -S

    • Alex 8:25 pm on October 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      In German, it’s “der Irak” and “der Iran”. German doesn’t tend to use definite articles for countries but those two are generally accepted exceptions.

    • Irena Bell 11:00 am on October 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Great article ! ‘ Ukraine ‘ it is !

    • stuartnz 5:13 am on October 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      The use of the article is a feature of NZE when it comes to the two main islands of Aotearoa. Native speakers will say “THE North Island” and “THE South Island”, treating the compass points as adjectives , non-native speakers (except perhaps Aussies, who may know better) almost invariably say “North Island” and “South Island”, as if that’s what they were actually called. Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu both include the article, though. 🙂

    • Lane 2:59 pm on October 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    • Mark Bej 3:42 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I do not believe that “geographical features”, nor a description of political organization have anything to do with the use of the definite article. The definite article is used when the name of the country includes a noun that is a “regular” English word, i.e., not merely a proper noun. Thus: “the Netherlands”, because this is literally, the nether (low) lands. Compare, for example, against “Holland”, which never takes the definite article. “The Philippines” is so most likely because of the implication of “Islands” thereafter; similarly with “the Azores”, “the Antilles”, yet we say “Indonesia”, without the article, since the country is not called “the Indonesian Islands”. In the case of the US and UK, it’s because “States” and “Kingdom” are regular English words that just happen to be a part of these names. Compare, for example: “South Africa”, but “_The_ Union of South Africa”.

      The other consistent pattern is that regions take the definite article. The Amazon, the Sahara, the Sahel, the Himalayas, the Midwest, the New World, etc., all exemplify this. “The Sudan” would thus be a now-outdated reference to that portion of Africa in those years when, politically, it was a region of a colony under England’s control. This is the most likely explanation as to why “the Ukraine” came to be used in English.

      As to “the Gambia”, I have never been able to figure out why that country’s government insisted on the definite article being used, but it certainly does not follow the usual English pattern.

      Note that French does not have a neuter gender. It would not be unusual to see some degree of transference (insisting on the definite article where it does not belong, or insisting on its absence where it should be used) by those whose native languages are not English.

      • The Diacritics 4:11 pm on October 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        I’m not sure that you understood the thrust of my argument. Your points actually do fit neatly into my categories: the Netherlands (lowlands), the Philippines (islands), the Azores (islands)– these are all geographical features. Similarly, the regions that you point out all take “the” and they are all geographical features (desert, river, etc.). And the political organization (Union, States, Kingdom) also informs the use of “the” in a country’s name, whether it’s their official or common name.
        The Gambia uses “the” probably because the country is named after the Gambia River, hence a geographical feature.
        You point out correctly that French does not have a neuter gender, but the names of countries/political units that are also islands do not have a gender. So you would say Je vais à Hawai (I’m going to Hawaii), whereas for gendered countries/political units you would use the prepositions “au” or “à la” depending on the gender.

        • Mark Bej 2:34 pm on October 19, 2011 Permalink

          Not at all, I understood your argument quite well.

          My argument is that the use of the “the” has nothing to do with a geographical feature. Rather, (in my view) it has everything to do with the fact that “land[s]”, “island[s]”, “state[s]”, and “union” — the latter two of these decidedly *not* geographical feature, but a man-made one — have semantic meaning in the English language, whereas “Congo”, “Ukraine” etc. have no semantic meaning outside of its meaning as a proper noun.

    • Julie 10:13 pm on October 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      I use “Gambia,” not “the Gambia.” I’ve never heard anyone say it with the article before…

    • johnwcowan 11:18 am on November 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Here is Arnold Zwicky’s list of Language Log postings on anarthrous (article-free) proper names. In French, the rules are fairly simple: all such names are arthrous unless they are abbreviations of more complex forms. Thus Maurice (Mauritius) takes no article because it is short for l’île de Maurice.

  • The Diacritics 6:01 am on October 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austin, , , ,   

    #sorryimnotsorry (an addendum) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    Discussing the significance of Clinton’s word choice of “regret” makes me wonder about the strength of Austin’s third justification, that natural language can convey all distinctions required by people.

    Does Clinton really feel “regret” as we might understand it? Is “regret” an appropriate word? It’s probably one of the most significant words in his whole statement — he doesn’t actually ever say “sorry” — so we might assume that he weighed his choice of “regret” carefully.

    So Clinton’s choice is fallible; fine. The way we use natural language isn’t infallible, but in his third justification,

    (3) that the words available in a natural language suffice to satisfactorily convey all distinctions that we might like to make

    Austin seems to be hinting at that by arguing generations of language users have honed and perfected the spoken tongue over centuries.

    Does that mean that somewhere along the line language couldn’t convey all distinctions? That seems highly unlikely, unless we return so far back in human history we’re no longer talking about the modern species. If something needs to be said, it will be said.

    Language isn’t along some sort of scala naturaewith modern language at the peak. Language changes, but it’s not necessarily improving. What I mean to say is that perhaps Austin’s second and third justifications are sometimes at odds with each other — we can’t always acknowledge that our language is inadequate and arbitrary while still glorifying the existing language as complete.

    Other troublesome questions remain, too: is a person who claims to speak English always required to know the semantic shades of meaning of all words? Some people do for some words, and some people don’t for the same words.

    Austin talks about dictionaries and how to use them. I wonder how useful a dictionary is in terms of ordinary language. Yes, we use them, but what about before dictionaries? How were people able to deduce shades of meaning?

    Ordinary language is what people do say. People speak, and people have spoken for the history of our species. Here is where Austin’s scala naturae also uncomfortably collides with the science of language development. Oral language came first, and there were no dictionaries then. All present literate societies are fundamentally oral and secondarily written. Austin argues that, well, language has developed more shades of distinction over time. We know that to be dubious, but it would actually theoretically go in tandem with the fact that dictionaries are a recent, helpful invention.

    The relationship between Austin’s assertions and what is known about historical language development is complex, but I can’t help feeling that there is some gulf of understanding between the two.

  • The Diacritics 6:00 am on October 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bill clinton, clinton, , , , , lewinsky, public apology, scandal, sex scandal, , , tiger woods,   

    #sorryimnotsorry: good apologies gone bad (Part 2/2) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    In 1998, allegations that then-President Clinton had engaged in a sexual relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, compounded an ongoing grand jury trial investigating the president’s role in several unrelated political scandals.

    America’s attention immediately became fixed on the sex, of course; political intrigue can only hold the nation captivated for so long. President Clinton asserted that he hadn’t had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky, based on his understanding of the definition of the phrase. Because of the trial and Clinton’s alleged perjury during it, the House of Representatives began impeachment proceedings, which were followed by a three-week trial in the Senate. The Senate trial concluded without a successful vote for impeachment. On August 17, Clinton acknowledged in a televised address that he had “misled people” with his testimony by telling the truth as it was asked for but not volunteering information. His statement lasted for a little over four minutes and 542 words.

    Clinton’s statement is part confession, part apology, and part justification. He confesses that he “did not volunteer information” and that he indeed “had a relationship … that was not appropriate.”

    For most Americans, this wasn’t the first time they had heard rumors that this was true, but it was the first time they had heard it directly from the president. It was new conclusive information, and Clinton was acknowledging responsibility. That part was a confession. Continuing, he apologizes for his actions, saying he “deeply regret[s]” that he had misled people.

    Clinton’s choice of “regret” in this sentence is curious because while he acknowledges that he is “solely and completely responsible,” the word “regret” has a shade of meaning which implies an absence of free will in an action. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “regret” states that it involves feeling “sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair.” One can regret something over which he has no control. One might regret more often in situations where one doesn’t have control, and one might be sorry or apologetic when one does have control.

    In the O.E.D., “regret” is defined in relation to “external circumstances or events” before it is defined in relation to “something one has done or omitted to do.” One could argue both sides.

    Of course, Austin’s second reason for studying excuses (see my previous post) is that our words are inadequate and arbitrary, and that we shouldn’t be troubled by this (“words are not … facts or things” [182])— so perhaps we should only take Clinton’s explicit admission of responsibility and ignore the shades of meaning in his word choice. While he might be a gifted craftsman of language (as many politicians are), his understanding of regret may not gel with ours.

    Finally, Clinton justifies why he answered questions the way he did: to protect his family, and to avoid giving personal answers in a politically inspired lawsuit.

    Interestingly, he finishes with a sort of scolding — attempting to make those who followed the sex scandal feel guilty for doing so, and chastising his detractors for confusing private and public life and distracting the nation when, he says, there are more important things to be done. This does not form part of his overall apologetic statement, but it does add an interesting twist, returning the moral high ground to himself — because while he did something wrong, his opponents were wrong to pursue it in the contexts they did.

    And he doesn’t only put the weight on his opponents, but on his whole audience, encouraging them to move past this and return to working on “the promise of the next American century” — a task which no American would actively ignore. By saying this, Clinton shifts the discourse from private to public at the end.

    The first rough third of Clinton’s statement is given over mostly to establishing his guilt and confessing about his behavior. He explicitly expresses “regret” only once, at the end of the first third. In the second third, he attempts to explain his motivation for hiding his behavior. And at the end, he spends the last third of his total time engaging in a scolding of his listeners and detractors. This distribution is curious — the actual “apologetic” part of his statement is only two-thirds of the total. This fact gives us some insight into the machinations of Clinton’s mind at the time — his shame, his sorrow, and finally his defiance.

    When the many mistresses of golfer Tiger Woods, a man who had been (until then) one of the few sports superstars unsullied with professional or personal scandals, came forward in late 2009 with their stories, the media erupted with rumors, photographs, and details. This was exciting; this was new; this was a brilliant chance to expose the failings of a celebrity who had been very guarded about his personal life. At first, Woods didn’t acknowledge or deny his actions; soon afterward, he made a brief statement acknowledging some “personal failings” but didn’t offer any details. Finally, on February 19, 2010, over three months after suggestions of his affairs first came to light, he delivered a 14-minute, 1,521-word statement acknowledging guilt and promising atonement.

    Woods’s apologetic statement comprises all four of our categories: it is part excuse, part justification, part apology, and part confession. This is the first time in public he has acknowledged the extent of his extramarital affairs. He spends much of his time excoriating himself, lambasting his character failings, and promising change.

    Like Clinton, who referenced his relationship to God and his family as the only relevant ones in dealing with his personal transgressions, Woods invokes his faith, Buddhism, as a reason the public can be assured he’ll atone and behave well. This appeal to a higher power, while it might be genuine, is also convenient: no one can deny a man his most personal relationship to his religion. Whether Clinton, Woods, and others are truly atoning for their transgressions in the context of their religions is not something which the public can (easily) challenge.

    In 1,521 words, Woods says “sorry” just three times — “so sorry,” “deeply sorry,” and “truly sorry.”

    It seems to have become the norm to qualify “sorry” in apologies, because there seems to be a general acknowledgment that saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough — one needs to be “deeply sorry” or “profoundly sorry” or to “sincerely apologize,” because being “sorry” or simply “apologizing” doesn’t properly convey the type of apology that the speaker believes the situation demands.

    So Bill Clinton “deeply regret[s]” his actions and Tiger Woods is “deeply sorry” for his behavior. Indeed, it would probably seem empty if Clinton just “regretted” or Woods just said he was “sorry” — those words are tossed around easily, the public believes, and they don’t suffice. One needs to add an adverb, a qualifier, an indication that the apology is genuine (“genuinely sorry”) because the terms “sorry” and “apologize,” presumably after countless apologies over the years, have lost their emotive force.

    Austin notices this: “it is interesting to find that a high percentage of the terms connected with excuses prove to be adverbs” (187).

    It is notable that Woods waits until almost a third of the way through his apologetic statement to explicitly say what he did: “I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated.” Until then, he was speaking generally about his misbehavior and his shame.

    He also offers a few explanations for what he did. Are Woods’s arguments that he acted the way he did because “felt that [he] had worked hard [his] entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around [him]” excuses or justifications?

    Out of context, one could argue that those remarks are simply excuses. But because Woods is not shunning responsibility elsewhere in his statement — “I brought this shame upon myself” — we can more easily argue that he is justifying his actions: offering explanations but not avoiding culpability. And finally, like Clinton, Woods transfers the weight onto the listener — “I am asking for your help” — and shifts the discourse from private to public. He’s not absolving himself totally of responsibility but he’s adding some responsibility for the audience.

    The first half of Woods’s statement is given over to a self-excoriation and the second half is spent explaining the motivations behind his behavior. Unlike Clinton, Woods never shifts blame or scolds; he only excuses, confesses, apologizes, and attempts to justify.

    I wonder if this is because of the different roles they play in the public sphere — Clinton is a chosen official, so one could argue that he stands on ground high enough to scold others; Woods was never chosen to be a public figure, and so he never had that sort of moral position.

    Woods is not unaware of his public role. The fact that he was so secretive about his personal affairs before recently shows that he has (or had) a good understanding of how to maintain his image. And as a part of that understanding, Woods is aware that he does not have the moral ground, like Clinton might, to scold the media and public for following his private life so closely.

    On the other hand, Clinton was elected by the public to serve the public — and a distraction from that, Clinton might feel, doesn’t only harm himself but the country. The fact that Clinton holds an elected position might give him the moral force to not just apologize but to chastise.

    Why do personal, private transgressions of behavior warrant public apologetic statements? Well, the traditional argument goes, public figures must apologize to those who viewed them as role models, since a figure’s behavior, in harming his/her image as a role model, has harmed his/her audience.

    And it’s quite obvious that sexual transgressions are the most popular. Sex sells — and sexual deviancy is particularly frowned upon in our society, more so than other personal or professional misbehavior.

    Austin deals with excuses because they are of great importance — not just from a philosophical point of view (in terms of moral language), but also from legal standpoint. Sometimes accused people issue apologetic statements after it’s impossible to be prosecuted for a misdeed. O.J. Simpson, who was embroiled in the legal proceedings involving the murder of his ex-wife and another man, wrote a book called If I Did It several years after charges against him had been dropped.

    The book was widely interpreted as a confession, but since charges had been dropped Simpson couldn’t incriminate himself. Excuses aren’t just a part of everyday language; they are an important part of formal, prescribed language as well.

    The differences between the apologetic statements of Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, ostensibly for the same type of offense, can be understood well in terms of the roles that each public figure plays. Woods, an athlete who wasn’t chosen or didn’t choose to enter the public eye, doesn’t have the sort of moral sway that Clinton, a chosen official, has.

    And so that’s why the timbre of each apologetic statement is different — Woods is solemn and shameful, and Clinton is sorrowful at the beginning and defiant at the end. Clinton can afford to be brief; Woods elaborates. Clinton can look away from his audience; Woods must hold a press conference. And Woods is beholden to include all four elements of the apologetic statement, whereas Clinton does not have to excuse himself.

    What are your thoughts on public apologies? Should public figures have to make them at all? And if they’re missing one of the four categories outlined in my previous post (excuses, justifications, apologies, confessions), does that remove some of their power? Are some categories more persuasive?

    • Bander Alfraikh 8:04 am on October 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      This relates to morality and how each one of us conceive it to be. Mr. Clinton’s defence came mainly from his abilities as a lawyer. In all the procedings involving his act he showed himself to be a shrewed lawyer. One can say his “skill” was a bit ahead of his “virtue”. Woods was no less skillful when he cited Budhism. Sex does not carry the same cononative burdens in Budhism. Some may have taken Woods to be feeling sorry and apolegetic; I thought he was justifying. The consequences of both acts are different for both of them. The decisions they took in the form of apology were shaped by the fear of those consequences .

  • The Diacritics 5:37 am on October 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , crime, , , , , , , oj simpson, punishment, ,   

    #sorryimnotsorry: good apologies gone bad (Part 1/2) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    A recent meme that’s been making the rounds on the Internet is the pithy, defiant Twitter hashtag #sorryimnotsorry: “Sorry [that] I’m not sorry [for my actions, clothing, attitude, words, etc.].”

    It’s the perfect little encapsulation of a pervasive attitude in our generation. Back off; it’s your problem that you have a problem with my conduct. (There’s even a book out called Sorry I’m Not Sorry.)

    Saying “sorry” is a funny thing. As a law student, I’ve been thinking about “#sorryimnotsorry” and how many parties in our readings are running that idea through their heads when they lose a case.

    Some of them should be sorry, to be sure. But if they aren’t, maybe they’re not sorry for a reason: they can excuse their behavior. Or maybe they can offer a justification that absolves them of guilt. (Or maybe they’re just jerks.) In our Criminal Law class, we are taught to examine a charged crime first in terms of the act itself, then the defendant’s mental state, and then finally any possible excuses or justifications that could explain and/or mitigate the crime.

    J. L. Austin, in his chapter “A Plea for Excuses” in Philosophical Papers (3rd edition), discusses ordinary language from the point of excuses, exploring “what we should say when, and so why and what we should mean by it” (181; emphasis in original), in order to draw some conclusions about the use of moral language to talk about behavior. He offers three justifications for this approach:

    (1) that “words are our tools” and they should be “clean,” i.e. understood by us when we use them;
    (2) that words aren’t “facts or things” — they can be arbitrary or imprecise or inadequate; and
    (3) that the words available in a natural language suffice to satisfactorily convey all distinctions that we might like to make (181-2).

    Austin draws a distinction between excuses and justifications, but we might also add apologies and confessions into our discussion, too.

    An excuse, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary in its sense most relevant here, is “that which is offered as a reason for being excused; sometimes in bad sense, a (mere) pretext, a subterfuge; a plea in extenuation of an offense.” An excuse seems to be most useful when one wants to distance oneself from responsibility in an offensive action. It’s rewriting the story of the speaker’s involvement in the deed. For Austin, an excuse aims “to defend [one’s] conduct or to get [one] out of it” (176).

    In criminal law, if a jury or judge buys a complete excuse (such as, say, insanity), a defendant may escape punishment.

    An excuse can be distinguished from a justification, which, in the O.E.D., is “the action of justifying or showing something to be just, right, or proper; vindication of oneself.” A justification doesn’t serve to distance oneself from an offense; it attempts to rewrite the story of an offense so that it’s no longer offensive. In Austin’s words, a justification argues that an action “was a good thing, or the right or sensible thing, or a permissible thing to do” (176).

    In criminal law, a justification may mitigate punishment. For example, a conviction of murder could be slightly reduced to voluntary manslaughter if a jury or judge finds a justification convincing.

    In both excuses and justifications, there is a rewriting taking place — the deed in question is being questioned, and the players and responsibilities are being challenged. For alleged criminals, excuses and justifications are often the last strings they and their attorneys cling onto.

    These two can be contrasted with an apology, which, in the O.E.D., is “an explanation offered to a person affected by one’s action that no offense was intended, coupled with the expression of regret for any that may have been given; or, a frank acknowledgement of the offense with expression of regret for it, by way of reparation.” A pure apology acknowledges that a deed has been done in the way that the audience has perceived it. One must apologize to someone for an action for which the speaker is responsible (and admits so) and because of which the audience was offended.

    So while excuses and justifications do not necessarily require an audience specifically wronged by the excused/justified action, an apology cannot be delivered without one. And while excuses and justifications seek to reframe the deed, apologies acknowledge it as it is perceived.

    There is also the confession, “the disclosing of something the knowledge of which by others is considered humiliating or prejudicial to the person confessing.” A confession brings new information to the table, whereas excuses, justifications, and apologies deal with information known already to the audience. But like an apology, a confession acknowledges a deed and doesn’t (yet) attempt to rewrite anything.

    An apology or confession, in the context of criminal law, would come from guilty defendants. They might be overt, such as in a killer’s teary trial testimony, or they might be covert, such as in some interpretations of O.J. Simpson’s post-trial book If I Did It.

    #sorryimnotsorry doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories. It starts off with an apology — “sorry” — but the whole sense isn’t really apologetic. It has attitude. It’s almost a confession: I confess that I feel no regret; I apologize if I hurt your feelings with my attitude. But it’s not even that–people who use #sorryimnotsorry aren’t really apologetic about anything. It has undertones of that annoyed teenage response: “sor-ry!” The implications held in the tone of voice and manner of presentation indicate that the speaker/writer isn’t sorry at all.

    In other words, it’s a “sorry-less sorry.” It drains the word “sorry” of its usual meaning and ascribes to it a new, totally opposite definition. (In that sense, it reminds me of that linguistics joke John posted a few weeks ago.)

    In the context of the law, some judges might even approve sanctions on lawyers if they don’t stay within these four categories of excuses, justifications, apologies, and confessions.

    “This court has recognized that requiring counsel to apologize for errant conduct can have an exquisite impact … The letters [of apology] shall not contain qualifying or conditional language [such as] … ‘Because the court has required that I do so, I am apologizing…’ or ‘Although I disagree with the court’s decision, I am apologizing…’ ” Crank v. Crank, 1998 WL 713273, N.D. Tex. 1998.

    A defendant who had the attitude of #sorryimnotsorry wouldn’t get very far. In fact, a defendant who wanted to get any drop of sympathy from a judge or jury would have to engage in one of the four acts described above. We don’t seem to like apologetic statements that stray outside of these categories. Consciously or not, we are often negatively predisposed towards those who attempt to construct an apologetic statement beyond these acts.

    But what about celebrities’ public apologetic statements? Tomorrow: Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, and the art of making a public apology.

    • johnwcowan 11:00 am on October 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      An apology is a complex speech act. As I analyze it, it contains a confession as one of its parts: one must admit to doing wrong in order to even begin apologizing. If this admission is conditional, it’s no admission at all. The next part is contrition: being sorry and saying so. Finally, there must be a promise of amendment. (Not surprisingly, these are also components of the Catholic sacrament of penance.) An apology that doesn’t contain all of these parts is really a non-apology, and has no redemptive value.

      There is also an interesting link between excuses and justifications. The mark of arbitrary authority is that it treats all justifications as excuses, and either punishes them more severely than the original offense (old school), or simply ignores all of them (new school).

      • mnhougaard 2:17 pm on October 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        “Being sorry,” even in an apology, doesn’t quite cut it unless it’s specifically, “I am sorry my actions have hurt you.” Why? Because there are other reasons, even in an apology, why a person would be sorry. For example take this apology: “I broke the window with my baseball. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.” Now, fill in one of the following unspoken phrases behind the “I’m sorry,” 1) “I got caught,” 2) “I’ll be punished,” 3) “I ruined my baseball.” Not much of an apology now, is it?

        That is why most public apologies by celebrities (I know, tomorrow’s topic) don’t wash with me. They’re not apologizing that their actions hurt someone else, but rather that they got caught and now are being punished.

  • The Diacritics 3:53 am on October 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: clarity, communication, federal government, hippocrates, plain language,   

    The chief virtue that language can have is clearness, and nothing detracts from it so much as the use of unfamiliar words.

    Hippocrates (Source: PlainLanguage.gov [“Improving Communication from the Federal Government to the Public”])
    • Alon 5:31 am on October 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Funny. For me, ‘clearness’ is utterly unfamiliar in this sense; in my idiolect, it’s reserved for the physical senses of ‘clear’ (≃’transparency’), while the metaphorical ones use ‘clarity’.

      A quick search on COCA does not fully support my intuition, but shows that ‘clarity’ is two orders of magnitude more frequent, which makes the quote (as translated) very much a fumblerule.

      In a more serious vein: the assertion is, as far as I can see, empirically testable and very likely to be false. Unclear discourse and sentence structure are much more likely to induce misinterpretation than unfamiliar words, whose meaning can often be effortlessly recovered from context. And then, of course, unfamiliarity varies widely across speakers; many criticisms of jargon fail to notice that the jargon in question is perfectly clear to the intended readers of the text.

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