July 30, 2009

calibrating beer choices

It seems that calibrating words is nothing against calibrating beer choices. A jolly beer was had at the White House and all that everybody is talking about is what they were drinking.

Over here a schnaufblog, we would have picked New Glarus Tail Wagger for this reconciliatory meeting. Who can resist a puppy?

July 28, 2009

puppy alarm

The New York Times connects with the dog lovers among its readership (via Althouse).

July 25, 2009

do you speak calibratese?

You may or may not have been following the debate about whether or not the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was a case of blatant racial profiling. Here's the story in a nutshell (from The Boston Globe):

[Sergeant] Crowley arrested Gates, a leading expert on African-American history, after police were called to a report of a break-in at the Ware Street home. Gates had just arrived home from the filming of a PBS documentary in China. His front door was stuck shut, and his taxi driver helped him pry it open.

According to a police report, a woman had called to report two black men trying to force their way into a house. Crowley said in the report that Gates became disruptive and was arrested for disorderly conduct. Gates has denied that he was disorderly.

The charge was dropped, but the story gained momentum this week as Gates demanded an apology and Crowley refused to give one -- and Obama jumped into the fray.

President Obama found unexpectedly clear words for the officer's behavior when he sad that "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home." He later realized that his choice of words may not have been the wisest. So he apologized. Or not:
And because this has been ratcheting up -- and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up -- I want to make clear that in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically -- and I could have calibrated those words differently.
The president now thinks that both parties overreacted. In the meantime, the charges against Gates have been dropped and the case was called "regrettable", but no apology was issued. Nor did Gates apologize for implying in an interview with his daughter that Crawley is a bad police officer and potentially a racist.

Three parties regretting their behavior, yet no apology. So what now? Let's go have a beer. The president, Dr. Gates, and Sergeant Crowley will. It seems they all speak calebratese.

Edited to add this link to an article on the "pitfall" of speaking one's mind.

July 22, 2009

of truthers and birthers

I must admit that when I read today at salon.com that "Liz Cheney defends the Birthers", I had no idea what the article was about. Turns out that birthers are those people who believe that Barack Obama was not eligible to become President of the United States because, according to them, there is serious doubt about his citizenship status.

I'm familiar with the movement, but I thought it had died down. Obviously not. Salon reports that Liz Cheney said on Larry King that the birther movement exists because "people are uncomfortable with a president who is reluctant to defend the nation overseas." A-ha.

From a linguistic viewpoint, I think it's interesting how much the term birther resembles the term truther, which refers to someone "who rejects the accepted explanation of the events of 9/11. Truthers generally believe the U.S. government committed the acts of terrorism against itself." (urbandictionary.com). Both are nouns ending on -er, but they are not derived from a verb. A birther in this sense is not someone who has given birth. It's a person who holds on to a crazy idea about the birth of someone, with much conviction but with no evidence. Similarly, a truther is not someone who tells the truth habitually (although that is one of the definitions listed on urbandictionary.com), rather, it's someone who holds on to a crazy idea about the truth of an event, with much conviction but with no evidence. The event in question is not fixed: There are 9/11 truthers (one of them even got to teach a course on Islam Studies at UW-Madison), and there are moon landing truthers, for example, among them, apparently, Whoopi Goldberg ("Why is the flag rippling? There is no air.").

It's a whole new job for the affix -er, which is already doing double duty in English, as a nominalization affix (driver, teacher) and a comparative affix (bigger, nicer).

July 21, 2009


English and its homographs! If the noun shoulder and the modal auxiliary should did not share a sequence of letters, the world would have been spared this horrible pun:

July 19, 2009

architect frank gehry

From today's "On Language":
“I’d like to know where the now ubiquitous use of ‘the’ as a modifier for people comes from,” Alan Gandelman e-mails. “Why is ‘architect Frank Gehry’ now ‘the architect Frank Gehry’? Obviously, it has more to do than simply identifying a person; if it were just that, the person’s profession or position would suffice. Adding the the seems to me a kind of flattery, an attempt to enhance the person’s standing, or possibly to tart up the prose itself.”

I’ve gone along with that Times style on identification for years, never challenging it. Because our stylebook provides an admonishing lick but no premise, I called Phil Corbett, The Times’s deputy news editor and style czar. Here’s his opinion: “We try to avoid what we call ‘false titles’ — that is, using simple descriptions as though they were formal titles. It’s ‘Gen. John Smith’ but not ‘architect John Smith.’ In most cases, it’s simple enough just to give the description after the name — ‘John Smith, an architect in New York.’ But if the architect in question is well known, that can seem a bit silly: ‘Frank Gehry, an architect’ would make us seem clueless. In those cases, we often use the description before the name, with ‘the’ — ‘the architect Frank Gehry.’ It provides the description without either seeming overly obvious or resorting to the false-title construction.”

The definite article as a fame indicator. Does it really sound so bad in native speakers' ears?

July 14, 2009

"Judges are like empires,"

declared Mr. Schumer, presumably misspeaking, before John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, switched to football imagery (the “kinds of plays you will call if you are promoted to the coaching staff”).
Senator Schumer was drawing on Justice John Roberts's often-quoted comparison between a judge and a baseball umpire (as did several other Senators during the Sotomayor hearing, which led the New York Times to wish "someone, please eject that analogy.")

Senator Schumer obviously misspoke, but let's see if the two words are actually related. Umpire should actually be numpire, it is related to the Middle French adjective nonper ("non peer", peerless). So, instead of "an umpire" it would have been "a numpire". Empire, on the other hand, is related to the Latin verb imperare (to rule). Without the transference of the "n" to the article, the two words would a lot less similar, and perhaps Senator Schumer would not have mixed them up.

July 08, 2009

proud to be monolingual

By the way, this place is not a country club, it's a porn bar that serves greasy breakfast. You'd think they'd be more into plain English.