March 28, 2007

from pluto to american idol

Most people know what it means to get plutoed, but do you know what Ryan Seacrest referred to when he said "I've been Sanjayad"? If you do, you must be watching American Idol. On the show, one contestant, Sanjaya Malakar, is best known for his hairstyles, which are as outrageous as his performances are bland. On Tuesday, he showed up in a "pony hawk", a fake mohawk* (our "fauxhawk"**), consisting of 7 mini-ponytails. The judges were flabbergasted.

Well, it seems to have worked. He wasn't voted off the show. And for tonight's result show, Ryan Seacrest got "Sanjayad" and put on a faux pony hawk (would that be a faux-po-hawk?) wig.
*Mohawk is of course a word of Native American origin. The OED lists the Narragansett word mohowawog as its origin. Its literal meaning ? Cannibals.
** Fauxhawk (a blending of "faux" -- French for "false" -- and "Mohawk") hasn't made it into the OED yet (unlike the now obsolete "faux-prude", "a man simulating prudishness")

March 26, 2007

it's getting warmer

Ah, to sit in the sun again.

Or lie.

Or to smell spring from a roof:

(With permission from the owner of this blog.)

Spring is here!

March 19, 2007

deathly hallows longer in american english

I just read this on Mugglenet:
British book chain Waterstone's is currently listing Deathly Hallows on their website as having 608 pages. If correct, this would make the US edition around 688 pages long.
So, why exactly would the US edition be 80 pages longer? Is American English so much wordier? Well, it seems that there's more to it than just changing "queue" to "line" and "philosopher" to "sorcerer". Here's an example from HP4 (taken from this website). First, the UK version:
Harry had been on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned one of the best racing brooms in the world, a Firebolt. Flying came more naturally to Harry than anything else in the magical world, and he played in the position of Seeker on the Gryffindor House team.
And now the US version:
Harry was passionate about Quidditch. He had played as Seeker on the Gryffindor house Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned a Firebolt, one of the best racing brooms in the world. Harry had been on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned one of the best racing brooms in the world, a Firebolt. Flying came more naturally to Harry than anything else in the magical world, and he played in the position of Seeker on the Gryffindor House team.
It seems, then, that readers of the US edition don't just get wider margins and more illustrations, they also get more explanation. Is this a good thing?

March 17, 2007

happy st. patrick's day

Ah, the challenges of placing an apostrophe correctly! Let's just assume that this float in the local St. Patrick's parade belongs to an individual known as "The Sweeney".

ETA: There were dogs of all sizes at the parade, from very big.... very small

Many dogs were dressed up.
White/green was a popular combination:

This Corgi seems to think that he is too dignified to wear a silly hat.
And after all, he's Welsh:

While this little terrier (is it a Norfolk?) was in full Irish swing:

Others just seemed to go through the motions:

With so much green going on, it was a relief to see that the local football mascot was still bringing out the red:

March 14, 2007

mistakes were made (by someone else, of course)

As someone who has a professional interest in the passive, I am delighted when the construction gets attention in the media, for example when planets get plutoed. The New York Times gives an overview over everybody's most detested passive:

Familiar Fallbacks for Officials: "Mistakes were Made"

WASHINGTON, March 13 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales fell back on a classic Washington linguistic construct on Tuesday when he acknowledged that “mistakes were made” in the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors last year.
The phrase sounds like a confession of error or even contrition, but in fact, it is not quite either one. The speaker is not accepting personal responsibility or pointing the finger at anyone else.* It is a construction that other officials, from Richard M. Nixon's press secretary to Ronald Reagan to John H. Sununu and Bill Clinton, have used when someone’s hand was caught in the federal cookie jar.
It is similar to a form of apology often heard here and in Hollywood, perhaps most memorably by Justin Timberlake’s press agent after the 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident involving Janet Jackson. “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance,” the agent said.
In 1991, Mr. Sununu, then the chief of staff to President George Bush, was caught violating various White House travel rules. He retreated behind the language of obfuscation. “Clearly, no one regrets more than I do the appearance of impropriety,” he said. “Obviously, some mistakes were made.”
Reagan used the same construction in 1986 in describing the Iran-contra affair, in which officials in his administration sold arms to Iran to finance the anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua.
His vice president, the current president’s father, said he supported Reagan’s policies but agreed that there might have been a few flaws in the execution. “Clearly, mistakes were made,” he said.
Just 36 hours into his administration, Mr. Clinton used that terminology when he withdrew the nomination of Zoë Baird as attorney general. In January 1997, he acknowledged that the White House should not have invited the nation’s senior banking regulator to a meeting where Mr. Clinton and prominent bankers discussed banking policy in the presence of the Democratic Party’s senior fund-raiser. “Mistakes were made here by people who either did it deliberately or inadvertently,” he said.
The nonconfessions inspired William Schneider, a political guru here, to note a few years ago that Washington had contributed a new tense to the language. “This usage,” he said, “should be referred to as the past exonerative.”
*That is not quite correct. Passives include an implicit agent. The sentence "Mistakes were made" means that someone made a mistake -- the speaker just chooses not to identify that person. A sentence without an agent would be "Mistakes happen". This difference was exlored recently in an episode of "Bill Maher" on HBO (Feb. 15, 2007). In an interview with John Edwards, Maher said:

"Alright, let me ask you about your vote in 2002, the vote to authorize George Bush to ...have the authority to go to war. Uh, your response to that was to write an editorial, which began with the words 'I was wrong,' words you don’t usually hear from a politician. Uh, Hillary Clinton says, 'I was misled.' So, what’s the difference between 'I was wrong' and 'I was misled?"
Linguistically, the difference is that one is a state and the other one is an action, initiated by an (unkown) agent. Hillary Clinton comes across as evasive because she portrays herself as the victim of an unknown misleader. This may not be the best strategy. Nobody likes their leaders to make mistakes, but nobody likes them to be helpless victims either.

March 13, 2007


Pronunciation comes from pronunciate, right?* At least that's how Diana Ross made it sound tonight on American Idol when she advised a contestant to pronunciate all of the words clearly. I think it was a slip of the tongue (blending pronounce and enunciate**), but when I did a Google search, I was surprised to get more than 700,000 hits, one of them a link to

There was also a homonym moment on the show.
Simon Cowell put down one contestant for butchering a Diana Ross song by saying that "when you hear a wail in Beverly Hills, that was Diana Ross watching the show". I believe that's what he said. Others thought he had just compared Ms. Ross to a marine mammal.***

*Pronounce comes from Latin pronuntiare (to proclaim, narrate, pronounce).
**While enunciate/enounce form a pair and can be used synonymously, pronounce doesn't have an -iate correlate anymore. The OED lists pronunciate as an obsolete verb (meaning "to pronounce, declare").
***Wail is a word from Old Norse, still surviving as væla in Norwegian
. Whale, on the other hand, seems to be of Germanic origin. It was spelled hwæl in Old English (OED).

March 09, 2007

excuse my french

I haven't had anything to say about Bravo's show "Top Design" so far. Everyone, including the Blogging Top Design team, seems to agree that it can't touch "Project Runway" -- the challenges, the judges, the contestants, all very blah and bland. Here's one of the judges sprinkling his comments with French, or what he considers French:
Michael—That one has never met a shade of grape he didn’t love! I kind of j’adored seeing him get all up in Carisa’s face in the waiting room while we deliberated. He suffers from high self esteem and comes across as quite arrogant. But, swear to God, he’s a very sweet and smart guy.
Tim Gunn, will you come and save us, please?

In the expression "Excuse my French", "French" is used as a euphemism for "bad language". According to the OED, this first occurred in the late 19th century. Much older is the use of "French" as a euphemism for venereal diseases "1505: A Surgeon whiche heled him of the Frenche pox", 1592 "There you shall see men diseased of the French Marbles"). On the bright side, however, there are French cuffs, French kisses, French fries (except when they're freedom fries), and French windows. Recent additions to this entry in the OED are French ticklers ("a condom of which the tip incorporates several small protrusions") and French knickers ("loose-fitting and usu. lace-trimmed ladies' knickers or underpants with a short, full leg"), and French press ("an exercise designed to develop and strengthen the triceps").

city walkability

Madison, Wisconsin, has been voted "the most walkable of the country's 100 most populated cities" (from CNN, via Madisonian blogger Althouse). In case you were wondering:

Factors contributing to the ranking were air quality, the percentage of people who walk to work, access to parks, number of athletic shoes sold, and (believe it or not) weather. Number of beaches versus frozen lakes apparently was not a factor. Crime rate, unfortunately for Miami, was.

There's something about the word walkable in connection with city that strikes me as odd. A debatable point is a point that can be debated, a walkable distance is a distance that can be walked, but a walkable city is not just a city that can be walked, there's a lot more to it. I guess I still consider walk very much an intransitive verb - I don't walk cities, I walk around in them.

ETA: Here's corroborating evidence from another (sort of) Madisonian.

March 08, 2007


In the nineties, CK One was the fragrance of choice for "the disaffected, sexually ambivalent grunge youth of the moment". More than a decade later, Calvin Klein is trying to capture the spirit of a generation in a bottle again. This time around, it's a generation of technosexuals.
From article in The New York Times:

“We have envisioned this as the first fragrance for the technosexual generation,” said Mr. Murry, using a term the company made up to describe its intended audience of thumb-texting young people whose romantic lives are defined in part by the casual hookup.

Last year, the company went so far as to trademark “technosexual,” anticipating it could become a buzzword for marketing to millennials, the roughly 80 million Americans born from 1982 to 1995. A typical line from the press materials for CK in2u goes like this: “She likes how he blogs, her texts turn him on. It’s intense. For right now.”

Which may turn off its intended audience by the tens of thousands.

CK in2u? You paid someone to come up with that? It's about as imaginative as iCalvin (and, to borrow from Nina Garcia, fashion-director-of-Elle-magazine, just not "aesthetically pleasing").

March 07, 2007

pig shreds on toast

Sounds tempting, eh?

I assume that this regional speciality ("Siegerländer Krüstchen", roughly "Siegerland crusties") is not quite as bad as this clumsy translation into English makes it sound. It's a pork cutlet, served on a slice of bread, topped with a fried egg. Not exactly an ambitious concept, but an improvement over "pig shreds". (In German, the word "Schnitzel" can mean both "cutlet" and "pieces of shredding", and here -- a restaurant of a **** hotel -- they obviously put someone in charge of writing the menu in English who had no idea of culinary terms in English. It's so clunky, it's almost endearing.)

March 05, 2007

spork or foon?

A word you don't want to see at the airport.

Weather you don't want to be caught in.

A sandwich you don't want to be served after 5 hours on the runway.
(Note to self: Never check the option "vegetarian" again.)

And then, finally, a highlight: It's a spork! A spork!
(Did you ever wonder why it's not called a "foon"?)

March 04, 2007

I've said it before: Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" is a great book and an even better (I think) audio book. It is now also the subject of a play. Here Didion writes about what it feels like to see her words - not herself - come to life on a stage:

I have been asked if I do not find it strange that Vanessa Redgrave is playing me. I explain: Vanessa Redgrave is not playing me, Vanessa Redgrave is playing a character who, for the sake of clarity, is called Joan Didion. [...]

Plays find their own shape. A few words cut or added can radically change that shape. This thing we have been making in the studio on West 42nd Street is still finding itself. Every day now we see a color we did not see before. We now have only a few more days of rehearsal and three weeks of previews. Yes. It scares me. Yes. Some days I think it’s working and other days I think it’s not. But I remember a February evening when Vanessa went to see the dressing rooms at the Booth.

Like a mermaid sensing water, she moved to the stage.

She began saying the play.

There it was: Vanessa Redgrave was standing on a stage in an empty theater and she was telling me a story I was hearing for the first time.

The play will open in Booth Theater on March 6 and will run until June 30. How I hope I can see it!