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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?

(Compare.)

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

shibboleths?

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!

Monday, 2017 February 20, 12:02 — language

the death of English, part MMXVII

Here:

Like much of the news that ekes its way out of the totalitarian state, the murder is equal parts scary, sad, and vaguely comical.

I don’t think I had seen this extension of eke before.

Once upon a time, eke meant ‘also’; a relic of that sense is the word nickname, from an eke-name. (The transfer of the n from the article to the root was, I guess, favored by the alliteration.)

The phrase eke out a living meant ‘to supplement a fixed stipend’, as in The village priest eked out his meager living (i.e., the pay he got as priest) by making and selling strawberry jam. I guess that sense went away when the noun living itself got a broader sense; if your ‘living’ is your whole income, however obtained, you don’t add to it.

So eke out (a living, or anything else) came to mean ‘obtain with difficulty’.

Information or water can be said to ‘find’ a way out of its container, but it seems a bit much to suggest that it does so with effort.

Thursday, 2017 January 5, 22:36 — cinema, psychology

exporting transcendence

In the film and TV series Limitless, a drug makes the protagonist temporarily super-intelligent.

In the episodes I’ve seen, it’s not established whether any skills learned with the drug remain when it wears off. I imagine that you’d want to try to develop ways to improve your unenhanced intelligence; in other words, to teach your alter-ego to learn better.

Later: In the third episode he behaves so stupidly that I lost interest.

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