Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Thoughts of Chairman Bigdork

Wes Bigd... sorry, Brett Wigdortz OBE has an impressive string of achievements to his name, strangely omitting a business school (which was where I imagined he must have learnt that the best disguise for wooly thinking is wooly language). In an interview in  The Times (quoted in a recent Saturday's Magazine) he said:
You are now ['Now?' I suppose it made sense in the original interview, which I haven't seen.] more likely to  do well on free school meals [??? What's he talking about? Thriving nutritionally?] in an inner city than in a coastal town where you are not. [WTF? This person starts in an inner city and then has an existential crisis when moving to the coast? ]
Think about it. You'll probably need a long time. You see what he's done? The first You and the second you are different people. He has no doubt been on a writing course that tells you [oh yes, I've done that course too] to avoid abstraction by using 'you' as often as possible, regardless. In fact, one of the reviews on Amazon says, self-importantly
Brett writes as though he is talking to each & every [not just each, note] reader personsally [sic].
Read more here if  you must. Some snake-oil looks really tempting. And there are traps for the unwary at every turn: Listed among 'Praise for Success Against the Odds' is Jeremy Paxman's 'Teach First is great. Everyone should do it'. But this isn't about the book at all. For all I know, the next sentence might have been 'This book is utter drivel though; avoid it like the plague.' Or quite possibly the quote came from an edition of Newsnight that predates the writing of the book entirely. Anyway, caveat emptor (or as Woody Allen said in an aside, when a grossly exaggerated compliment bore fruit, 'She bought it!)

So the trick worked.You can fool all of the people all of the time.

OK – time's up. My guess at what he meant is that a student disadvantaged enough to qualify for free school meals (however the criteria for allowing that are applied by distinct authorities), at an inner-city school (however that is defined) is more likely to 'do better' (whatever THAT is) than a student without such qualification for state largesse at a school in a coastal town (where the local authority probably applies the free school meals criteria in a totally different way). This sort of meta-meta-meta-statistic (depending on the interaction of a large number of unspoken definitions) always bothers me. Kent's The coastal authority's Mr Bumble may just be having a crack-down on dishing out free meals. Such numbers are the homoeopathic medicine of rational argument: supposedly, the more the criteria are diluted the more potent they are.

Hattie Denington, a [just] survivor of her first year, and a self-styled [but  pseudonymous] 'defector', has written of Teach First's 'survival-of-the-fittest model, and its focus on expansion at any cost' in an illuminating piece entitled Why I Quit Teach First.
I feel it needs to show it [Teach First] can provide adequate support to graduates it already employs before it can justify this kind of expansion [from an intake of 186 graduates in 2003 to a reported '1,261 fresh-faced grads' {oh dear, someone needs to go on a writing course, but the post is worth reading despite this sort of infelicity} this year]. As a Teach First defector, it makes me feel I was ultimately disposable. And given schools are struggling to hold on to teachers in general, this isn’t helping...

...Looking at my classes now, I can’t help thinking I’ve let them down this year [although she has become what some observers have called a 'good' teacher] – that any experienced, carefully trained teacher in my place would have given them more. I might have made a great teacher with time, who knows? But the bitter experience of single-handedly letting down whole classes of children has driven me, and a number of others like me, away from the profession altogether.
Education is at least as important as Tony Blair said all those years ago. It needs more than some Big Society posturing (Teach First is a charity)  and amateur meddling by sometimes well-intentioned whizz kids.


A low blow, I grant. But when reading Amazon reviews I can't help recalling Walter Raleigh's [no not that one, the professor, author of "Wishes of an Elderly Man, Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914"]:

I wish I loved the human race
I wish I loved its silly face
I wish I loved the way it walks
I wish I loved the way it talks

And when I'm introduced to one

I wish I thought 'What jolly fun!'
Update 2014.07.27.19:20 – Correction. 'Kent' mention was irrelevant . I got my wires crossed

Update 2014.07.29.10:45 –  Various typo-fixes, and added links

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 44,640 views  and well over 6,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,250 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Werra werra werra

The possibility of paid employment has prevented me from posting since my holiday, and much of today's post is cut&paste shamelessly from an IATEFL scholarship application:

<cut&paste theme="classroom situation and reflection">
This is a general problem of a culture clash between students. Something of this nature arises from time to time, but I give here an instance where several points of friction – male/female + education + religion + race ­+ politics – combined to create a very combustible mixture.

The conservative side of the clash was represented by a young Frenchman. He was a very able student with an academic background, and an intellectual arrogance that I have met more than once among his countrymen (and women). Having visited France at the height of the OAS problems (in the ‘60s) I assumed that the French/Algerian friction was a thing of the past; I should have known, from the example of Northern Ireland, that these post-colonial matters have a half-life of several hundred years and smoulder in the most apparently pacific of breasts.

The ‘outsider’ (l’étrangère) was a young lady of 17/18 years, algérienne, swarthy (he was blond), not so academically gifted (apparently ­– though in the context of a summer school it was hard to tell ­– and besides she had been hamstrung for years by her lack of privilege). She had, understandably, an enormous chip on her shoulder, and was hyper-sensitive to any kind of assumed slur. Given his arrogance and contempt, it didn’t need any kind of sensitivity to detect an implied slur – pachydermicity was all that was needed. It didn’t make matters any more comfortable that he was short, pale, and slightly built – one of H.G. Wells’s Eloi – whereas she was one of the Morloks (by no means  Amazonian, but more than a match for him). But he gave as good as he got verbally, with a mastery of contemptuous arrogance: ‘Tell that woman’ – he said once, in a quietly menacing tone – ‘I NEVER want to hear a word from her again.’ (They could snipe at each other in their native French, but this was addressed to me.)

All it seemed I could do was separate them physically – different teams, different groups, never working together – and cast oil on troubled waters (praying there were no naked flames) as needed. In the event, a family issue called her away (at least, that was what the Director of Studies told me – though now I think of it the fact that the DoS was involved may suggest another explanation), so the problem went away. I suppose the alleged ‘family issue’ might have been a diplomatic fiction.

If it was (a possibility that has only just occurred to me) I failed. I suppose that, while maintaining a cordon sanitaire as already discussed, I should somehow address the problem. But it is a secular one, and the handling of open aggression is not something that comes naturally to me. I discuss the issue with other teachers from time to time (less often as retirement beckons!) but I have not yet found an answer (although it would have been a start to police more punctiliously a ban on back-channel/native language jibes).
What these two were engaging in was WERRA (not the noise that introduced Tigger [? – I've looked for confirmation of this, to no avail. The Internet insists on taking me down Disney-based sidetracks] but  a Germanic word [and as my two combatants spoke French, I'm using the Frankish variant]Etymonline says the PIE root was *wers- with cognates suggesting an original meaning of  'to bring into confusion' – used by the barbarians who wouldn't stand up like a proper Roman and have a good old proelium – the sort of pitched battle that the Romans usually won). My young Frenchman was a Roman (educated, arrogant, urbane, with overwhelming cultural resources) and the young étrangère was a Barbarian (refusing to fight on the terms of the habitual victor).

When Latin speakers, with no W in their alphabet, met a useful foreign borrowing like this, they often replaced it with GU. And Romance languages reflect this: war but guerre . And sometimes one language, formed on the basis of several Romance vernaculars, yields pairs like warranty/guarantee, ward/guard, wile/guile ... (the last of which I've discussed here).

To complicate matters still further, English has borrowed a diminutive from Spanish. guerra/guerrilla but war/guerrilla (and indeed guerrilla warfare)


Update 2014.07.25.14:55 – Added PS

In my closing sentence I referred to 'complicat[ing] matters'. The only complication is for fellow sufferers from the Etymological Fallacy (discussed here)
There is a tendency to use the suffix -itis to form jocular names for maladies (such as memory-itis an affliction that I'm suffering from at the moment, as I can't  recall any). Hitherto I (in company with many a misinformed pedant) have typically objected: but what's INFLAMED? An -itis has to involve inflammation as in gingivitis, tonsillitis, etc.

Well, up to a point. According to Etymonline it is
... Modern Latin, from Greek -itis, feminine of adjectival suffix -
"pertaining to." Feminine because it was used with feminine noun nosos "disease,"

<autobiographical_note 1966-8>
Speaking of which, irrelevantly, a list of 'femine nouns ending -os' comes to mind: '...nesos, nosos, basanos [a touchstone FFS: what use was that knowledge to a twentieth century scoolboy, let alone his twenty-first century later{sic} ego] and taphros'.
Although the Etymonline gloss does start 'noun suffix denoting diseases characterized by inflammation...' it is probably just accidental that it typically refers to inflammation. The four classically recognized signs of disease/disorder are 'calor, rubor, tumor, and dolor' (I imagine there's a useful Wikipedia reference available to the time-rich), so the odds are in favour of an '-itis [via calor] → inflammation' link. But there's no strictly etymological reason for it.

I do try, with varying degrees of success, to avoid the Etymological Fallacy. But it seems that even the most dyed-in-the-wool etymoholic [GROOGH; apologies to fellow haters of the widely abused '-holic' pseudo-suffix] isn't justified here (even if etymology can ever be argued to be a[n] ever-fixed key to meaning).
;[where was I? Oh yes, 'The only complication...']  in Spanish (and many other Romance languages), there is a clear link between guerre/guerra and its diminutive. It is only the 'silly Cnuts' of England (discussed in a footnote to this blog) who feel the lack of a clear etymological link.

Update 2014.07.29.14:30 Added this note:

I knew I'd seen this somewhere before, in a Crystal book I mentioned here. The list I was thinking about is in one of those badly presented asides, for which someone at Penguin should be SHOT.

Norman loan    Parisian Loan
reward              regard
warden             guardian
warrant            guarantee 
wile                  guile

(An earlier entry in that table isn't relevant to the w/g argument, but it's Quite Interesting: 'gaol' is a Norman Loan, and its Parisian pair is 'jail'.)

22016.10.10.14:15 – Fixed a few typoes and deleted old footer.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The sportscaster's present, pt II

This page addresses a use of the present that is peculiar to sports commentators:

Like newspaper headlines and personal anecdotes ("So I'm walking down the street yesterday, and this guy comes up to me and he says ..."), sportscasting has a special affinity for the present tense. But unlike other uses of the historical present—which typically refer to past events, thus "historical" present—the sports announcer is calling a game that is playing out before our very eyes. If ever there were an appropriate time to use the present, surely this is it. So what's so strange about it?
Both "Louise kicks the ball" and "Louise is kicking the ball" are present tense, of course. But what makes the sportscaster present remarkable isn't tense. It's a distinction known as aspect, which refers to the period over which an action takes place. The "is kicking" construction has progressive aspect, because it refers to an event that unfolds over time, whereas "kicks" is the older, simpler form that is used for a variety of purposes, including habits ("Be careful—that horse kicks" does not mean the horse is necessarily kicking right now) and verbs of thought or emotion ("I think I'll kick the ball").
I would like to consider another, also peculiar to sports commentators, but using an analogue of a device that has long been used by language teachers (both MFL [Modern Foreign Languages] and ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages]).

This device is the timeline diagram. It lets students in one timeframe (the now of the lesson) think about language that deals with events that happen at different times. Timelines have been used in language teaching for many years. I remember my own French master, the sainted Cedric Baring-Gould who I’ve mentioned several times before, drawing something like this to investigate the difference between habitual action in the past and an event:

Passé                                 Présent                                            Futur

           Passé imparfait
         L M M J V etc
      > .  .  .  .  . >
         J’allais tous les jours…


        Passé composé
     Un jour, pendant que  j’allais …,
                   J’ai trouvé qqc

With a bit more time and artistic inspiration, a diagram like this can become quite impressive. Here’s one  I did for an ESOL class a few years ago, where the diagrammatic paraphernalia has been reduced to Then and Now boxes, but the same principle is at work – time progresses from left to right, and the language used at any point refers to that time:

‘Regret leaving’
‘Regret having left’

Instead of such diagrams, which can freeze time while we look more closely at what’s going on, sports commentators have video playbacks. So they can say things like:

[technical aside: ‘Can we freeze it there?’]
‘Now if he crosses it there, it’s a certain goal.’

The simple present to express a conditional! This is one in the eye for the zeroth/first/second-type† merchants. Given the right visual context, the simple present can be used to frame a perfectly clear conditional. And supposing there’s a Pedant among the Pundits:

[technical aside: ‘Is it possible to stop the action  there?’]
‘If he had crossed it at that stage, it would have been a certain goal.’

What has this achieved? It requires the audience to tune out of a video-context and start parsing formal syntax. In what way is this better?


[Time off for bad behaviour. Back soon.]

Update 2014. – Added this note:

This, I realize on second reading, may need some explanation. It is a reference to a system of classification of conditionals, widely used in the ESOL world (and possibly also now in the MFL world, which I have not been involved in as a teacher for 10 years). Some people find it useful. Have a look here. It seems to me to lead to unnecessary ratiocination (or, to use a computer internals metaphor, 'thrashing' – when the computer spends all its time trying to decide what to do).

Update 2014. – Added this note:
For the purposes of the argument, it's not essential that you agree with the distinction (between 'regret leaving' and 'regret having left'). In fact, I'm not sure I do any more (it's about 8 years old). If I redid it now, I would at least redraw it. What matters, in this context, is just the principle of using a graphic to freeze time while a student considers appropriate language at different times.

 Update 2014. – Added explanatory note in maroon, which explains the 'part II' in the title.

Update 2017. – deleted old footer.

Update 2018. –  typo and format tweak.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The big ten revisited?

The other day I  saw this tweet:

And I thought "That old canard", thinking it was the "Latin phrases everyone should know" that I had addressed back in April 2013. (It was not a dead duck [as canards go ], but there were a few slips in it. And I thought that, like many old pieces on the net, it had had a 'new twease of life'.)

But the title 'Ten Latin Phrases You Should Know' was different – which should have warned me. And as it happens that title seems to have been invented by the RTd tweeter, as the linked page has the title 10 Latin Phrases You Pretend to Understand. I thought the 'should know' in the earlier post and in the tweet was  questionable, but I'm not sure 'pretend to' is much of an improvement. As I said before:
Another thing everyone (everyone who uses them, that is)  should know is how to translate and/ or spell them.
It's the word should that bothers me (I was using it myself in that instance for literary effect: it's up to you whether you bother to find out about them but if you use them you'd better know your stuff: the writer's mark for translation was 7/10 [details here], not a bad score but dodgy enough to identify the person using those Latin tags as a poseur.)

When you're not sure who your audience is, it's not clever to use fancy terms. What are you trying to prove? Does it improve your chances of communicating whatever you want to communicate if half of your audience don't know what you mean and a fair few of the others have to make allowances for your own misapprehensions (I'm thinking here, for example, of the many people who confuse i.e. and e.g.)

The ones who don't know what you mean are likely to pretend they do, which I suppose goes some way towards justifying the title '10 Latin Phrases You Pretend to Understand'; but I don't pretend to understand them (except in the Borgesian sense of  '¿Tú que me lees, estás seguro de entender mi lenguaje?' [meaning, loosely, 'How can you be sure you know what I mean?]).

Accepting (pro tem. [!]) that 'pretend', let's look at that newer post (from the mental floss stable). It starts out promisingly:
Whether you're deciphering a cryptic state seal or trying to impress your Catholic in-laws, knowing some Latin has its advantages. But the operative word here is "some." We'll start you off with 10 phrases that have survived the hatchet men of time (in all their pretentious glory).

Their 10 overlap with only 2 of the everyone should know 10: Cogito ergo sum (the mental floss page gets the translation right this time in #4) and persona non grata (this time the honours are reversed in my view: the 'unwelcome' of the older post seems to me better than 'unacceptable' [used in #2 of the newer page]).

It's strange that in #1 and #3, both with a second declension verb (which makes it pretty easy to spot the subjunctive) the mental floss page gets the translation right in #1 (caveat'let him beware'), but wrong in #3 (habeas 'you have').  The whole point of the law of habeas corpus is that if you don't 'have the body'  [an unfortunate translation, more like '"the person[al presence]"' you can demand it. Numbers #5 and #6 pass mauster, but the others are all questionable:
  1. Ad Hominem
    "To [attack] the man"

    See what they did there? Clever, but deceitful. The Ad does indeed 'mean' (there go those mental tweezers again – I'm never comfortable with any form of words that implies some kind of equivalence) but not that sort of to. They've made it into the sort of to that introduces an English infinitive, 'justifying' (the unjustifiable, in my view) introduction of a verb. So an adjectival phrase has become a verb phrase. (The to, incidentally, is the 'addressed/directed [to]' sort, and the phrase 'means' '[addressed] to the individual' (unless they want to coin a new Ad feminam argument, to be directed to the distaff side)
  2. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
    "All for the Greater Glory of God"

    Who said anything about all?
  3. Memento Mori
    "Remember, you will die"

    My schoolboy Latin (reinforced by later Romance Philology studies) runs out here, but sure as eggs is eggs there's no imperative form. And mori is 'to die' (or to be subject to certain death). So the whole tag is something like 'A reminder of mortality', which fits in with the further explanation on that page:
    ...[T]he latter [explanation] was the one preferred by the early Christian Church, which would use macabre art—including dancing skeletons and snuffed-out candles—to remind the faithful to forgo temporal pleasures in favor of eternal bliss in heaven.
    A picture like that was a memento mori. It's impossible to be 'a remember...'
  4. Sui Generis
    "Unique and unable to classify"

    Errm... where to start?  'Unable to classify' is what the management trainee is in the old joke.
    During the death throes of DEC, in the mid-late '90s, this story was current:
    A management trainee on an away-day at a farm was given the task of mucking out a stable. He finished very quickly and the farmer was so impressed he gave him another job, sorting a pile of potatoes into three heaps –  big ones, little ones, and middle-sized ones.

    The farmer came back half an hour later to find the management trainee with three very small piles, scratching his head over the next potato.

    'I can't understand it,' said the farmer. 'You were so quick and thorough at the first job, but you've hardly made a dent in the pile of potatoes.'

    'Aha,' said the trainee, 'when it comes to shovelling sh1t I'm an ACE, but ask me to make a decision and I lose the plot.'

    Something that is sui generis can't BE classified; it is 'of its own kind'. Why complicate it?

So, in the end, I can only repeat my closing words last time:
But does everyone need to know these Latin tags? I have my doubts. Some of them are useful to know, but that's not the same. They're neat and  efficient; I use them sometimes. But they're easy to get wrong, and can interfere with communication. Moreover, they are a custom-made banana skin ‐ and if you slip on it you may get egg on your f... (Verbum sat.)

Update 2014.07.10:12:15 – Bunch of typoes (that's crying out for a neater collective noun...) and
esprit de l''escalier (as usual )  
Update 2014.07.10:15:55 – Added this note:

Memento IS imperative (meminisse – perfect in form but present in meaning). I might have known that saying 'sure as eggs is eggs' was a guarantee of egg on my face.

Update 2014.07.19:17:20 – Fixed typo, and updated TES stats in footer.

Update 2014.07.21:10:55 – Added this note:
I should have warned you before that this webpage uses the rather dubious sounds like approach, and compounds the dubiousness by using 'English' to mean 'American English'. So the pronunciation guidance is specific to the right sort of reader (which is what makes the approach dubious – it makes unwarranted assumptions about who's going to be a reader: this makes it possibly less dubious on this page, but in teaching forums it really makes my blood boil )

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: nearly 44,000 views  and over 6,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with over 2,200 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

SATOR-ial investigations

A few day ago this tweet swam into my ken:

 And I was surprised to see that one of them was this:


which they gloss as The sower Arepo holds the wheels with effort.
<autobiographical_note  theme="sator square"
   date_range="July-August  1961">
I had seen it before in the Catacombs in Rome, though examples have been found further afield. As an early Christian cryptogram it was quite widely known, and (typical of oppressed minorities to this day) the early Christians had extraordinarily good international means of communication.
After a moment's thought I realized that it was, necessarily, a palindrome – given what I already knew it to be: a word-square. I say 'early Christian cryptogram' , although this carefully measured account claims to be less sure [I'd be surprised, though, if he didn't believe it]

[I]n 1924, C. Frank32 made the startling discovery that the square could be so arranged as to produce the first words of the Lord’s Prayer twice over (except that there was only one N instead of two), plus two A’s and two O’s. Shortly afterwards, Grosser33 came to the independent conclusion that this unique combination could be explained by a cruciform arrangement whereby the N was used twice. The remaining four letters, two A’s and two O’s, would then be disposed thus:

     A theory such as this cannot be proved. Its strength lies in its intrinsic probability, plus the fact that the mathematical odds against such a combination occurring by chance are astronomical.

A later observation disposed the 'left-overs' differently:  
A                P                O
    O                R                A    

(My use of the term left-overs shouldn't be read as implying anything dismissive: 'I am the Alpha and Omega' has biblical resonance. Those letters even find their way into the Christmas Carol Unto Us is Born a Son

'O and A and A and O' 

Cum cantibus in coro...

And during the preparations for Easter Midnight Mass [in the Roman Catholic rite, of course{!}] the celebrant prepares the Paschal Candle with chips of incense [I think – I never got that close] inserted into the wax in the form of those two letters [repeated in the 'quadrants' defined by a crucifix]. Those two letters, repeated round about a crucifix, are by no means random 'left-overs'.)

Another feature of this layout is explained here:
The letter "T" (the Tau Cross) clearly occupies a significant position in both the folded and the unfolded versions of the square; in the original folded version [that is, the square] "T" is always adjacent to "A" and "O". I notice myself that the unfolded version [that is, the cruciform layout] appears to say Ora! [sic, though I'm not sure where the punctuation came from] ("Pray!"); if "P" is read as "Rho", it says this around all four sides of the unfolded square. This is interesting, but hardly seems to "explain" why the square was invented.
And, again, with the right (RC) background the 'P=Rho' ploy is not so fanciful.
<autobiographical_note theme="chi-rho" date_range="1958-1960">
The membership insignia of the Guild of St Stephen, trade union of altar boys [though I can't recall them ever exercising their industrial muscle] was a chi-rho medal, representing the first two letters of Christ's name
Guild of St Stephen Stamp
For a bigger version, see here

The Alpha and Omega are thrown in  for good measure
This was the sign that convinced Constantine that God had his back (In Hoc Signo Vinces – which explains the IHS signs that frequently appear in Christian art [don't ask me why it's not IHSV.  I don't make this stuff up. Maybe it's  something to do with predictive text, or perhaps God had run out of the right sort of cloud....]

Anyway, time's a-wastin', and I'm missing the athletics (that's 'track and field' for our North American readers).


Update 2014.07.04.12:10 – Added this PS

A while ago (too long ago for me to find an exact match on the M&S site) I was given a tie quite like this. And the pun in my title has reminded me of its stock ID: Sartorial tie. But the person who programmed the stock control software – the magic stuff that makes receipts say so much – must have been dyslexic (or maybe it was just a Friday afternoon). As a result, the receipt said that what MrsK had bought was a TORTILLA TIE.

Update 2014.07.05.12:15 – Added Guild of St Stephen link, deviceand esprit de l'escalier.
And by the way:
I notice from that link that the GoSS webmaster thinks that logo is an appropriate word for that device.  The Greek λογος [='word'] is the root of the English logo, which was used to refer to a device based  on a particular graphic representation of a name.
<autobiographical_note theme=logo date_range=1979-1980> 
For an OUP Christmas revue I wrote (or resurrected – I seldom miss an opportunity 
for recycling) a Val Doonican spoof called 'Delaney's hold-all', based on this (after you've skipped the ad, you might want to skip the first 50 seconds of chat): 
Delaney had a hold-all that everyone admired
Filled with high explosives and delicately wired
A football-boot insignia making it look nice
And a most sophisticated anti-handling device 
As you'll probably have noticed, I had a bit of trouble with the third line. I might have done something with the word 'logo', but didn't. Some sports goods manufacturers have a word-based logo but many don't; and back then the word logo in the wider sense was just beginning to take off (in fact if my 'resurrected' was right then I was probably writing when the impact of IRA violence was most strongly felt on the mainland in the early-mid '70s). The Collins Dictionary provides this diagram showing how the word's usage took off:
It's typical of the rise in usage of a word like this that during the years when it's bumping along the bottom it's being used only by people who know the derivation. Then its meaning starts to broaden and the line starts to rise – with the word being used by people who don't know the derivation, held back by people like me (who, vainly,  stop using it, because our precise meaning won't be understood). But we might as well give up and join in: that's the way the language is going, regardless of the silly Cnuts who would stem the tide. {I know Cnut the Great didn't either, but the open goal was too inviting}
</rantette>(I know this ship has sailed, but still...)
Update 2014.07.06.18:20 – Added autobiographical digression on logo.

Update 2014.07.24.14:55 – Added this PPS
An interesting blog from the OED stables refers to this tendency to be hung-up on a supposed 'original' meaning based on etymology and calls it the 'Etymological Fallacy'.

Update 2016.10.04.20:55 – Format tweaks, and removed old footer.

Update 2017.10.05.09:40 –Added this PPPS

A man on the radio has just likened Constantine's Christianity to a snowball: the later the historical source, the greater the Christianity. So my I don't make this stuff up doesn't rule out the possibility that someone else DID.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A brace of wuggen

This tweet caught my attention the other day:
And in that article I was particularly interested in this: is one of a number of English words for animals (all ending in –g) of obscure origin and without cognates in other European languages...; they include hog, stag, pig, and the second element of earwig.

(Read more here)
That 'include' represented for me a challenge; perhaps dag (a runt), shag (the bird that lays eggs inside a paper bag but famously ISN'T a cormorant), bug, and possibly even hag and old lag if the G-ending group extends to human animals: look for an update for news of further research.
I haven't found this dag in any online dictionary. Maybe it's dialectal; it's the word behind Dick King-Smith's Daggie Dogfoot, so-called because he was a dag with a misshapen foot. And I should underline the uncertainty betokened by all those perhapses and possiblys. I'm pretty sure my hag speculation is wrong, for a start. The jury's out on the rest...

Jean Berko Gleason is a distinguished psycholinguist – perhaps not a household name, though her brainchild, the 'Wug test', is perhaps better known (at least among people with an interest in linguistics). The 'Wug test' is a means of investigating the internal development in children of morphological rules.

Professor Berko Gleason (she now uses both names, though when she wrote the Wug article she was plain 'Berko') invented  a world inhabited by invented creatures; children were shown pictures, told that 'this sort of creature is a wug', and asked to identify groups of these creatures. English has lots of ways of pluralizing a noun – no change (sheep, fish...), change -us to -i (radius → radii...), add -en (ox oxen [or do something else involving '-en' {childchildren, brother →  brethren...}]), change -ex or -ix to -ices (matrix matrices) etc, but by far the most common device is to add an s (though this simple idea hides several options [/s/ {rabbits}, /z/ {gardeners}, /ɪz/ {radishes}]. What is the word for 'more than one wug'? Wugs, of course, with /gz/.

As that article says:
A critical attribute of the test is that the "target" word be a made-up (but plausible-sounding) pseudoword, so that the child will never have heard it before. A child who knows that the plural of witch is witches may have heard and memorized that pair, but a child responding that the plural of wug (which he has presumably has never heard) is wugs, has apparently inferred (perhaps unconsciously) the basic rule for forming plurals .

Wikipedia article. See Berko's 1958 article here.
A pseudoword , with no actual real-world reference.... And many of Berko's inventions do have no real-world reference:
(Excuse the PDF formatting glitch.)

But as a psycholinguist Berko would certainly have met the idea of phonesthesia (which I discussed here:
...I was listening the other day to John Lloyd's The Meaning of Liff at Thirty, which included an interview with Steven Pinker. Pinker introduced the word – new to me and to John Lloyd (whose cv in Wikipedia for some reason omits reference to one of his earlier  professional productions, Paradise Mislaid [get it?]) (As it was one of the highlights of my misspent youth, I'd better get editing....) – Pinker introduced the word (I was saying) phonesthesia, more vulgarly known as 'sound symbolism'. Phonesthesia, says Pinker (the discussion of this feature lasts for a bit more than a minute, starting at 18'40") is 'the way that the sounds of words remind you of what they refer to'. And the example he uses is 'sn-' words - snout, snuff, sneer, sneeze, snooty.... - all which have something to do with noses.

I wonder whether Berko chose wug entirely at random, or whether she knew as a linguist that a monosyllable ending in g had a good chance of being an animal – or whether, as a native-speaker of English,  she just knew.


And sometimes this rule is nuanced by other considerations: some people (myself included) prefer to use  'indexes' for the plural of 'index' when it refers to the reference bit at the end of a book, and 'indices' for the plural of 'index' when it refers to ², ³, ⁴, etc.
In some pronunciations /əz/. I'm not conscious of an accent that uses both variants to distinguish meaning, but I think I've heard accents that use both. Berko's 1958 article uses /əz/, which – I imagine – is the preferred variant in American English.
‡‡No prizes for recognizing the Peter Rabbit reference, but a certain feeling of smugness would not be inappropriate.

Update 2014.07.01.16:25  – Added <PS>...</PS> section.
Update 2014.07.01.16:25  – Added note.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 43,300 views  and nearly 6,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,200 views/1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.