Saturday, 2021 April 10, 10:58 — history

second-generation royal dukes

Prince Charles succeeds his father as 2d Duke of Edinburgh. There are now three living British princes with the title “2d Duke of…”; how often have there been even two? ( . . more . . )

Saturday, 2020 August 1, 23:29 — language

polyglot priority

A genie offers to make you fluent in twenty or a hundred languages, living or dead. How do you choose?

The greedy algorithm: add whatever language most increases the number of people with whom you could have (had) a fluent conversation; repeat.

Alternately, all the languages preferred by any of your ancestors after whatever date that allows. (Closely related dialects come at a discount.)

But I’d trade some slots on either of these lists for some smaller languages of historical or literary interest, such as Etruscan and perhaps Volapük, plus sign languages (ASL, Plains, BSL).

Tuesday, 2018 April 17, 23:47 — language

graceless prose

. . . a Kennewick Washington based [organization] based in Southeastern Washington.

Not only did someone write that, an accountant and a lawyer probably looked it over before it went public, and no one thought to rephrase it

. . . an [organization] based in Kennewick, in Southeastern Washington.

How hard can it be?


Maybe I ought to have a subcategory for turns of phrase that make me itch; what should I call it?

Saturday, 2017 November 4, 09:30 — language


In The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, there are two yes-men: Tony, who likes to say “Great!”, and David, who likes to say “Super!”.

If I were writing it, their distinctive tics would instead be “in terms of ——” and “from a —— standpoint”. (They can share “on a —— basis”.)

Saturday, 2017 May 27, 17:30 — heraldry, language, prose

less than fifty years later

I’ve read Heinlein’s Red Planet three times, starting at age seven or eight, and each time I soon forgot most of the plot. One thing that stuck with me was that the school’s new head signaled his evil by ordering the boys (at their own expense) to paint their space-helmets a uniform brown, in place of tiger stripes and other fanciful personalizations; I think that helped trigger my early interest in heraldry!

Another random bit that stuck with me is the place-name Charax, which I took to be a crude approximation to the Martian name, said to be very hard for humans to pronounce with its “triple gutturals”. Today I learned that Charax was a Roman camp in Crimea.

Tuesday, 2017 May 23, 16:19 — cinema, language

questions of emphasis

In Sherlock episode “The Lying Detective”, the phrase serial killer is uttered many times, always stressing the first word – as if the second were a given, even when (for the speakers) any killings are hypothetical. That impaired my enjoyment of a generally well-written episode. (Well, much better-written than its neighbors.)

I’ve noticed the phenomenon before: when a phrase becomes a fixed lexeme, many people, perhaps most, are deaf to its components. For my ex, the phrase beef jerky was in such perfect union that she often said “turkey beef-jerky”. Not Always Right has occasional tales of restaurant workers and customers for whom the arbitrary name “bacon lettuce & tomato sandwich” does not imply the presence of bacon.

Friday, 2017 March 17, 21:31 — language, prose

a sort of conlang

I’m re-reading Strugatsky‘s Hard to Be a God. (I read it thirty-odd years ago and forgot nearly everything.) This is a newer translation, by Olena Bormashenko. At one point the protagonist eavesdrops on conspirators, who say:

“The chonted will shlake, and they’ll unbiggedly shump the margays with a hollow blackery. That’s twenty long heapers already. It’d be marky to knork the motleners. But the heapers are bedegging redderly. This is how we’ll heaten the rasten. That’s our struntle.”

“That’s tooky jelly.”

“This is our struntle. Denooting with us isn’t rastenly for your grawpers. It’s revided?”

Though I know only a few words of Russian, I would like to see the original of this passage!

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