April 29, 2006

citizens sing in english

It's not exactly easy to become a U.S. citizen. The requirements for naturalization include, among other things, "good moral character", which, for example, rules out "habitual drunkards" and polygamists. In additon, one must be "attached" to the principles of the Constitution of the United States. On a more practical level, one must "be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language", and one must "demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States". The latter is done by passing a multiple choice test (self-test available here).

It seems that President Bush is contemplating adding another requirement: You'd better be able to sing the National Anthem -- in English, of course. From today's New York Times:

Asked at a news briefing in the Rose Garden on Friday whether he believed the anthem would have the same value in Spanish as it did in English, Mr. Bush said flatly, "No, I don't."
"And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English," Mr. Bush said. "And they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."
No reason to hold back if your English is not native-like. Just follow the example set by the President:

The Spanish wire service Agencia EFE once said he spoke the language poorly, 'but with great confidence."

April 24, 2006

dog sleepovers?

il snofo seems to miss out on a lot of fun stuff. my dog has never had a play date, for example, nor a doggie sleepover. but if she ever get's invited to a canine slumber party, i'll be glad to know where to get this sleeping bag for her:

April 22, 2006

"animal pragmatism"

i have written about midwestern beers whose names are related to dogs, such as moondog ale and new glarus's tail wagger. i find those "critter names" refreshingly different from the history-inspired names of german beers (like "king's pilsener" or "warsteiner -- the queen of beers"), and spotted cows get more attention from me than fake heraldry:

according to an article in today's new york times magazine, there seems to be a solid trend to put "critters"* on a bottle's label, at least when it comes to wine:

Animal Pragmatism

Yellow Tail Wine

For a shortcut, clichéd summation of growing consumer sophistication, consider the wine category: Back when we didn't know anything, wine meant Blue Nun, jugs of Gallo, little bottles of Lancers and hokey Aldo Cella commercials. Nowadays we have taste, and even suburban megamarts have huge and varied wine selections for the demanding mass affluent. Of course, real wine connoisseurs have walked the earth for many years — as have nonconnoisseurs who find such people to be annoying snobs and who find today's megamart selection to be a big, bewildering taunt. It's one thing to sense that there's a huge spectrum of quality represented on that shelf, but it's something else to make a decision. Perhaps, in light of this, it's no surprise that a new factor has emerged that apparently helps many of us parse the options: the "critter label."

A critter label is any label that features an animal, from a hippo to a frog to a penguin. According to ACNielsen, the market-research company, 438 viable table-wine brands have been introduced in the past three years, and 18 percent — nearly one in five — feature an animal on the label. "Combined with existing critter labels," the firm said in a summation of its research on this matter, "sales of critter-branded wine have reached more than $600 million."

It's a bit surprising that a market-research company has decided to define a wine category by its label design. It seems more logical to consider wine by, say, variety or region or vintage. The appearance of the bottle obviously has no effect whatsoever on the quality of the product, and as Danny Brager, who is vice president of ACNielsen's beverage-alcohol unit, explains, there has not traditionally been a "critter" category in his firm's database. But while critter wine may not be an official term in the wine business, it's a notion that has been bandied about in various forms quite a bit in recent years. "The industry is talking about it," Brager says. That's why ACNielsen decided to put some formal research into the critter question.

The alpha critter, it seems, is a kangaroo, the one represented on the label of the Australian wine brand Yellow Tail, which came into the U.S. market several years ago and, in part thanks to a ubiquitous marketing campaign, now moves millions of cases a year. Needless to say, Brager attributes the success of any given critter wine to such traditional factors as quality and price, not just its mascot or label design; consumers see Yellow Tail, at less than $8 a bottle, as a good value. "We don't want people to think if you slap an animal on it, it'll sell," he says. Still, that brand was "one of the very first ones to depict an animal on the label and almost seemed like it made a connection with the consumers who were looking to have fun with their wine," Brager continues. "People associated the wallaby and the label, and it was easy to ask for when you walked in the store." [...]

*critter is a dialectal form of creature, which goes back to the latin participle creatus (created). the dictionary of american regional english (DARE) lists several spellings (crittur, creeter, creetur, cretter) and meanings. it can refer to "any animal", but especially to "a domestic animal". in the north it refers to a domestic bovine animal or to a bull, while in the "midland" it is denotes a horse or a mule. it can also refer to a person (often in a humorous or affectionate way) or to "anything to which a balky or contrary personality may be attributed". DARE also lists the compounds "critter-back" (horseback, as in "i went to church critter-back") and "critter flung" (thrown by a horse).

one of the most famous critters in literature must be mrs. gummidge in david copperfield by charles dickens. it's difficult for any character in the book to have a conversation with her without her pointing out that she is "a lone, lorn creatur'" and that everything "goes contrary" with her.

April 20, 2006

world's most famous corgi-lover turns 80

her majesty, queen elizabeth II, patron of the british kennel club and the world's most famous corgi lover, turns 80 today. congratulations! the queen is known as a horsewoman and avid dog lover, but did you know that she also contributed to the trend of blending à la schnoodle?

from 80 facts about the queen:

58 The Queen has owned more than 30 corgis during her reign, starting with Susan who was a present for her 18th birthday in 1944. A good proportion of these have been direct descendants from Susan. The Queen currently has five corgis, Emma, Linnet, Monty, Holly and Willow.

59 The Queen also introduced a new breed of dog known as the "dorgi" when one of Her Majesty's corgis was mated with a dachshund named Pipkin which belonged to Princess Margaret. The Queen currently has four dorgis, Cider, Berry, Candy and Vulcan.

60 As well as corgis and dorgis, The Queen also breeds and trains Labradors and Cocker Spaniels at Sandringham. There is a special Sandringham strain of black Labrador founded in
labradors and spaniels are bred at the royal kennels at sandringham. it is said that the queen names all the puppies.

April 18, 2006

verbspotting by others

in their latest newsletter the editors of the merriam-webster dictionary state that among the words they are "giving ...serious consideration for entry in a Merriam-Webster dictionay" is the verb google:
transitive verb, often capitalized [Google, trademark for a search engine]: to use the Google search engine to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web
it wouldn't have occured to me that google is not in a dictionary yet. so i checked the online edition of the oxford english dictionary. lo and behold, it has the verb to google, but it's intransitive, and it is not related to internet searches at all:
Of the ball: to have a ‘googly’ break and swerve. Of the bowler; to bowl a googly or googlies; also to give a googly break to (a ball).
in case you are wondering -- the company name "Google" goes back to "Googol", a "fanciful name (not in formal use) for ten raised to the hundredth power" (OED).

April 17, 2006

nördiness and serendipity, or: what it takes to become a linguist

as part of its annual fund drive, the linguistlist, the most comprehensive network of linguists, has published short portraits of "linguists of the day". they all address the question of how somebody decided to become a linguist. you may be hooked by noam chomsky or by audrey hepburn. and a certain tendency towards nördiness may be quite useful. here's a selection from the answers:

terry langendoen, university of arizona:

When I entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a freshman in 1957, I wanted to major in meteorology (the science of weather), but learned from my freshman advisor (a professor of naval architecture) that it wasn't available to undergraduates. ... He suggested I major in geology. I was horrified at the idea, and in the fall semester of my junior year I was still trying to choose between physics and mathematics when I learned of a special degree program combining humanities and science. After I consulted with the director of that program, the program secretary pulled me aside and told me that there was this fantastic professor I simply had to take a course from. She told me he was on leave, but would be back in the spring teaching a course on logic. His name was Noam Chomsky.
juan uriagereka, university of maryland:

I became a linguist by mistake. I was supposed to be majoring in economics, after having studied basic science. It was a time of great changes for Spain: Franco had just died, and after decades of dictatorship everyone was on the move. So it was easy to think you could achieve something by organizing through demonstrations, the arts, intellectual discussion. Suddenly economic equations seemed dry, and all my friends thought they'd make it as painters, actors, musicians. (Most of them have). I dropped out of school and lived for a while writing for the radio, TV and the stage. I had lots of odd jobs, including organizing a jazz joint in the red district. After a couple of brushes with the law I ended up penniless. My girlfriend had spoken about 'majoring in something easy' relating to literature. I did in English -which still sounds to me like majoring in Planet Jupiter or The Moose- and linguistics was the only thing I understood. Plus it dealt with Chomsky, who I knew from the left.

jeff heath, university of michigan:

I enrolled as a Linguistics major in my first week as a college freshman. The major was very small (4-5 students per graduating class), the teaching and advising were very good, and I never looked back. The other thing was that my old man was a high school English teacher. When you are the child of an English teacher, you are going to have your grammar corrected on a daily basis from about the age of six. ("Bill and me are going downtown." "Bill and WHO?") Now I correct HIS grammar. Maybe that was the real reason I became a linguist--a Hamletesque mix of filial emulation and revenge.
östen dahl, university of stockholm:

The word "nerd", graphically spelt "nörd", entered my native language, Swedish, fairly recently. Nevertheless, and even without access to computers, I displayed severe symptoms of nördiness at an early age. In particular, I had an obsession with languages, and spent quite some time making up what is nowadays called "conlangs", i.e. languages invented for fun. (I suspect that such nördiness is really a benign form of Asperger's syndrome.)
dan everett, university of manchester:

I came into Linguistics serendipitously. Although I have always been interested in languages, largely due to growing up on the Mexican border, hearing Spanish spoken all around me in Imperial Valley, California, I wasn't particulary interested in science - I wanted to be a musician. But on a trip with my school band to Hollywood, I went to see the movie My Fair Lady (at the Egyptian Theater) and I was fascinated by the work of 'Henry Higgins' (coincidentally, the linguistic consultant for that film was the late Peter Ladefoged, who became a good friend and co-author). Higgins's work attracted me mainly because it looked like phoneticians could get rich and know women like Audrey Hepburn. But the film also helped cultivate my pre-existent fascination with language.

deborah tannen, georgetown university:

So I attended a linguistic institute at the University of Michigan in 1973. ... I was hooked. Here was a discipline that combined my love of language with an obsessive interest in conversation. With no particular career goal in mind, I decided I wanted to spend the next several years studying linguistics. A friend at the Institute, Jane Falk, who was then getting a PhD in Princeton, said, "If you think this is linguistics, you'd better go to Berkeley." And that's what I did.

April 15, 2006

she's got mail

i'm always taken aback when somebody asks me for my dog's second name. she hasn't got a second name. she's a dog. not "just a dog", but still: a dog.

today there was a card in the mail addressed to "brandy familyname", announcing the opening of a new luxury boarding facility (the town's "premier doggie daycare & hotel"). now, even if the dog had a family name, it's quite unlikely that she would call to make a reservation. if your target is the dog owner, address your mail to the dog owner.

hey, veterinary pet insurance, are you listening?

April 12, 2006

verbspotting: faving or over and

A student spotted the verb "to or" recently. It was used by a librarian who described the operators one can use in boolean searches (AND, OR, NOT): "There's a lot of oring going on".

Another verb I'm coming across more and more often is "to fave", meaning "marking as a favorite". It is used on websites like netflix or flickr, where people can mark selected movies or pictures as their favorites. Morphologically, "to fave" is a conversion from the adjective fave , a shortened form of favorite (which itself, to make things more complicated, is based on a participle, i.e. a verbal form, in Latin).

In English, a category change from adjective to verb (V>A) is normally associated with an affix (to black-en, to en-noble, to solid-ify, to stabil-ize), while conversion from noun to verb (N>V), one of the hallmarks of English word formation (a bottle > to bottle, a mouse > to mouse over sth., a screen > to screen, etc.), can be affixless. One of my favorite N>V conversions occurs in Shakespeare's Richard II (Act 2, scene iii):
Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle:
I am no traitor's uncle; and that word 'grace'
In an ungracious mouth is but profane.

April 03, 2006

interior designer

you know these little movies one can make with a digital camera? here's one of brandy trying to build herself a pillow for a doggie bagel.