Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Back in the saddle

As from tomorrow [at time of writing – realistically I mean today (=Tuesday 28 January 2014)] I shall buckle down [ahem, we'll come to that] to work on the proofs of #WVGTbook., having reached a breathing space in the index for the Kindle version. I shall get back in the saddle (defined by the Free Dictionary here) – one of several idioms related to horses and horse-riding.

The Phrase Finder does not mention 'it's a cinch' and the Free Dictionary does not trace the derivation, but simply gives the meaning: It's a very easy task.  Many years ago, I heard Alistair Cook give an interesting, but I believe questionable, explanation. He said that the buckle that fastened a saddle was called 'a cinch'. I know nothing about horsey stuff, but the assertion is credible. There are pictures of 'cinch buckles' here.

The supposed derivation was this: when people (cowboys, of course, given the Wild West derivation) were preparing for a ride on horseback, the last thing to fix was the cinch. Saying 'It's a cinch' was tantamount to saying 'I'm all ready to go'. Mr Cook didn't bother to explain how an expression that meant It's a very easy task came to mean  'I'm all ready to go' – though bigger changes are not uncommon in the development of languages. So I'm interested but not convinced. 

Another such bit  of dubious horse-related etymology attaches itself to the phrase Bite the dust.
Bite the dust  has been around for centuries, perhaps millennia – if we accept Homer's
Grant that my sword may pierce the shirt of Hector about his heart,
and that full many of his comrades may bite the dust as they fall dying round him.
as a precedent. But that was Samuel Butler's 19th-century translation, and he may well have taken inspiration from a more recent source:  Tobias Smollett wrote in 1750 , in his Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane:
We made two of them bite the dust, and the others betake themselves to flight.
This is the Phrase Finder's story, which strikes me as perfectly plausible. Again it was an American source that I have no note of – possibly Alistair Cook again – that came up with a Wild West-based explanation. The dust in question was not the stuff on the ground, that a vanquished foe would metaphorically bite. Rather, it was the dust kicked up by a herd of cattle as they were driven to a railhead. The job with the lowest status on a cattle-train was at the rear of the herd, looking out for stragglers and 'biting the dust'. Hmmm?

You pays your money and you takes your choice, but I have to admit to a certain scepticism about this sort of 'explanation'. 

<digression theme="folk-etymology">
On the topic of red tape the Phrase Finder says
Legal and official documents have been bound with red tape since the 17th century and continue to be so.
And this is the source that most etymologists seem to agree on. (I think I first met it in the late Sixties, possibly in another David Crystal book.) But more recently I was told (in a trans-Atlantic teleconference, by a DEC employee who worked in the Mill at Maynard Mass., HQ for many years of that corporation), that it was a reference to the storage of military uniforms during the American Civil War – tied in bundles with red tape.
<rant flame="gentle">
It was the unquestioning self-confidence of this frankly ridiculous assertion that got my goat. What have military uniforms got to do with bureaucracy? [Yes, there is a bureaucracy related to the storage and distribution of such uniforms, and the person who organized it may have had the established legalistic usage in mind when he chose the colour of the tape, but still...]

Why must people claim that etymology is directly and unequivocally linked to their own culture? I'm reminded of the American tourist asking the Cambridge college porter about the secret of a perfect lawn: 'It's easy. Bung down a handful of seed and roll and mow and feed and water it for four or five hundred years.'

</rant>
</digression>
More and more of these phrases occur to me:

  • Ride shotgun (This one really is a Wild West thing I think. British coachmen were accompanied by protective partners, but I doubt if the position of armed passenger involved a shotgun.)
  • Ride roughshod over (More recently we refer to other technology/transport – 'to steam-roller', or 'to railroad' – but a horse was roughshod so as to make progress regardless of the state of the ground. A similar change of technology underlies the spawning of motorcade from another equine word: cavalcade [a procession of horses].)
  • Champing at the bit (Eager to get started,  like a horse before an effort  a race, perhaps)
  • The going['s good] (There are many others that refer particularly to horse-racing
    –  coming up on the inside/on the rails, dark horse, play the field, the full SP ["Starting Prices"], back a winner, put something through its paces [the paces being Walk, Trot, Canter, Gallop] win at a canter, down to the wire...)
  • On a tight rein (Under tight control; a canine version of this is on a short leash. Rather than keeping someone on a tight rein you might give them their head [let the driven thing decide for itself how to progress], and if you don't like their choice you can always rein them in.)
  • Look a gift-horse in the mouth (Inspect a present for defects; buyers inspect horses' teeth)
But times a-wastin'. The proofs won't read themselves.

b

Update 2014.01.28.13:40  – Added afterthought in red.
Update 2014.01.30.10:20  – Added linking afterthought  in purple. (Which reminds me of Sheridan [senior]'s:
We write with ease to show our breeding 
But easy writing's curst hard reading.
Well I understood the link when I dashed off the post, but on rereading I see that I'm expecting a bit much of my readers. Technical writers – among whom I once numbered myself overlook this sort of thing  at their peril.)

Update 2014.02.07.10:10 – Added PS

PS
<autobiographical_note date_range="mid-sixties" theme="horse-based metaphors">
In the bookcase mentioned in an earlier post there was a small, red, clothbound edition of Dumas père's Le Vicomte de Bragelonne. I'm not sure why the title wasn't translated , as the rest of the book was. Whenever the musketeers galloped after the Cardinal's men, or Milady, or someone of  equally dubious morality (they did a lot of that, galloping) the translator would throw in a snippet of French to add local colour. I've no idea whether the phrase is current in today's French , but they always rode ventre-à-terre ('stomach to the ground'). I wonder whether this is related to our 'flat out' (in the sense 'as fast as possible', rather than the arriviste 'definitely'). I doubt it, but it'd be neat if it was.... (FFS as they say in the international standards world: For Future/Further Study  could this be another horsey metaphor?)
</autobiographical_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 if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 37,000 views  and 5,140 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 1867 views/867 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.



Friday, 24 January 2014

Doublets and pairs

A recent tweet alerted me to this post, which looks at tautologies.

<digression theme="How many angels fit on the head of a pin?">
The tweet wondered whether pleonasm was the word. This is a word close to my heart, and one that – every now and then – I think I understand. 'This is both a square, and a two-dimensional plane figure having four equal sides and one right-angle'. That is a tautology: it says τα άυτα [='the same thing'] in two different ways.

But this slight change makes it pleonastic: 'This is both a square, and a two-dimensional plane figure having four equal sides and four right-angles'. If a plane figure has four equal sides and one right-angle, the other angles will be the same. A pleonasm says more than is necessary. But saying the same thing is 'more than is necessary' (and I think the is there is pleonastic; sorry.)

So there's a good deal of overlap, and often when I try to work out which applies in a particular case my brain starts to hurt. Beatus vir qui ... says 'A pleonasm is a tautology'. It's not, but I wish I didn't care.
</digression>
One of these was 'null and void' , which rang a bell whose tinkle led me to The Stories of English.
But Amazon's Read Inside feature didn't cover the relevant section (which is on pages 152-3)

<digression theme="pipe-dream" likelihood="0">
Penguin missed a trick (or more likely decided that the trick wasn't worth the outlay) with this book. It was written like a coffee-table book, with two or three sorts of text and standalone features, quite like Words: An Illustrated History of Western Language (which I had a small part in publishing – but a bigger part than I wanted [and that's a whole 'nother story] ).But Penguin just squeezed it all together with tiny margins and no kind of visual clues to what sort of text was which. The reader's never sure whether the current text is part of the main argument or part of an illustrative aside. It needs changes in line-length or font or shade of paper to make it a smooth reading experience.
<sub_digression>
In fact, the writing so obviously has this sort of treatment in mind that I suspect it was written to order for another publisher but that the contract fell through. The typescript then got bought by another publisher whose needs were at odds with the book as written. Maybe not though – who knows...?
<sub_digression>

My fantasy – though I haven't discussed this with the good Professor – is to win a large amount of money and become a proper publisher. My Rights department would negotiate with Allen Lane to acquire the rights for a properly designed book, and my Design department would make this book CanDo Publishing's lead title.
<digression>

So I turned to The Story of English in 100 Words as there's only so much new stuff you can say on this subject, and from time to time the paths trodden by one author in separate books cross. Sure enough, in the section dealing with Chattels, Crystal says this:


Back in the earlier book, in one of those asides (which  interrupt the flow but wouldn't if the book was designed properly) Crystal explains that they didn't choose; they went with both. Here are some of his examples (from p. 153):

Breaking and entering  (sources English/French)
Final and conclusive (sources French/Latin)
Fit and proper (sources English/French)
Will and testament  (sources English/Latin)
... etc
But both null and void are from French: null '"void of legal force," 1560s, from Middle French nul' and void 'late 13c.†, "unoccupied, vacant," from Anglo-French and Old French voide...' So why the tautology?

Crystal (of course!) answers this:
It was not long before the habit of doubling became extended to pairs of words [I think that 'pairs' is pleonastic, by the way ] regardless of their language of origin. In such pairings as null and void [knew I'd seen it somewhere]... we see French words together....
That'd better be all for now. I meant to lay into the Indendent's top ten, but as the proofs were delayed I started on the Index (for #WVGTbook for the Kindle version only). This threw up a fair few corrections‡ that I need to make in the proofs. Which'll make the proof stage more onerous than I had planned for. And I want to reach a breathing space in the Index work before I get stuck into the proofs, so I really have to go.

b

Update 2014.01.25 18.20 – Added this note:
Maybe this is the clue: void had been around for nearly two centuries, and users felt that it needed to be given added emphasis by adding the trendy new null.

Update 2014.01.26 20.20 – Added this note:
‡Not just corrections. I'm also finding improvements I can make. One of these is an addition to the notes to the UO  notes section, to include a word that I've only ever met in one context: third-form biology (that's 'year 10' to all you young whipper-snappers). Here's the full Notes section:


UO Notes
  1. Words spelt '-uous'
    The apparent randomness might be explained in this way: at first two researchers were working on these words (words spelt with an initial a-f were shared equally between /juə/ (2 a-s. 3 d-s, 1 f-) and /jʊə/ (1 a-, 4 c-s, 1 e-) . One oddity resulting from this division of work was that discontinuous is transcribed one way and continuous another. For the 17 words with initials from i-to-  the researcher preferring /juə/ was working alone. For the last 6 words, tu-v the researcher preferring /jʊə/ was working alone.
    But my use of was and were in this tale of backroom staff management  is entirely speculative; the distinctive transcriptions may have fallen either way completely by chance. In any case, the student may safely ignore the distinction.
  2. fluorescent
    Macmillan English Dictionary uses the transcription /flɔ:'resənt/, but the audio sample has a similar diphthong to the one in the word transcribed as /'flʊərəʊkɑ:bən/. Meanwhile, as further evidence of the variable pronunciation of this vowel sound, the words fluoride and fluorine are transcribed with /ʊə/ but have an audio sample with a monophthong that is not unlike /ɔ:/.
  3. duodenum
    The Macmillan English Dictionary gives the transcription /dju:əʊ'di:nəm/, but the audio sample gives both unstressed vowels as /ə/. Again, the student may safely ignore the distinction. Full enunciation of the diphthong is reserved for very careful speech.
  4. vacuole
    The  Macmillan English Dictionary does not include this word. The definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary, which does  – as a matter of purely academic interest – use the transcription /ju:əʊ/ (with /u:/ rather than /ʊ/) for the word duo. Once again, the student may safely ignore the distinction
    .




 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: just over 44,100 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.













Friday, 17 January 2014

The hunting of the proofs

Report from the word-face

It's a long and painful story. I shan't bother you with the details. Suffice it to say...

<digression>
A year ago I was discussing a point on UsingEnglish  and  said, among other things:

The fossilized phrase 'Suffice it to say' means 'let it be sufficient to say'; a more modern idiom is 'Enough said' - but, unlike 'suffice it to say', this follows the thing said: 'I shouldn't have done it. I'm sorry. Enough said'.

You'll have noticed that I keep saying 'Suffice it to say'. This uses the subjunctive, which is hardly used in informal British English. And as both 'it' and 'to' are unstressed in that phrase, they are easily heard as a single /t/ followed by a schwa - particularly by habitual non-users of the subjunctive. This form [HD clarification: the ITless form] is widely used, and has become almost as common as the fuller form: BNC has 53 instances of 'suffice to say' and 88 of 'suffice it to say'.

In COCA, on the other hand, which is based on N. American usage, has [HD correction: 'there are' (I may have meant háy)] 376 (377 if you include 'sufficeit to say', of which there is a single instance which I found by accident ), and only 97 of 'suffice to say'. And that balance makes sense, considering the relative strength of the subjunctive in American English.
Anyway, I'm an IT-man.
</digression>

... that Yodel claim that someone called 'Jeffs' signed for them at some address and that's all they know for the time being. The delivery man is being questioned as we speak, although I'll be surprised if he can make any useful contribution before Monday (and indeed the usefulness quotient of his contribution is dubious at best).

As Cedric (my French master) would have said in his dictée, 'POINTS DE SUSPENSION'.

b

Update 2014.01.19.16:30 – Added PS:

PS I didn't mention yesterday that as well as trying to trace what Yodel had done with the proofs I also complained to CreateSpace (aka 'Amazon'), asking what point there was in my paying extra for a 10-day turnaround  – when after 3 weeks I still had no realistic prospect of seeing the proofs. They (to my great relief) have sent another set, which should get here on Wed. 22nd. We shall see...

Update 2014.01.20.14:45 – Added PPS:

I've just sent a nastygram to Yodel, masquerading as a Customer Survey. The driver they spoke to lied like a trooper. We WERE in, and the house where he claims to have had the package signed for has been vacant for nearly six months. Shame it wasn't worth stealing, but I wonder how much he makes on eBay out of 'undelivered' packages.

Incidentally, this needless piT[oops]stop on the way through their interminable survey raised a smile:

'And if I laugh 'tis that I may not weep' (Byron, I think).

Update 2014.01.22.19:00 – Added PPPS: 

They've arrived  – just over three weeks after I ordered them, no thanks to Yodel (who Disappeared the first set), and many thanks to CreateSpace (who sent a copy). Here goes...





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

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 36,700 views  and 5,100 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 1852 views/860 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.



Monday, 13 January 2014

Don't shay a word


For much of the past week, my Twitter timeline has been full of posts with the tag #IHDOS14. A very prolific source (thanks Sandy ) was following a talk given by Robin Walker, now available here.

My attention was first grabbed by this:



Only three? Listen to Ritula Shah (@ritula) saying 'Afghanistan' and see if you dare say that again! Those three parts may be (? – I haven't really thought about this, but my brushes with other languages frequently leave me wondering at the phonological simplicity of English) sufficient for describing English, but many other languages use many more.

<autobiographical_note date-range="1972-3">
I have mentioned Joe Cremona  – the man chiefly responsible for what little I know of Romance Philology –  before. At our first meeting, wanting to know how much I knew about Spanish (very little at the time, deriving chiefly from a short tour of the north of Spain, partially recounted here) he asked me what the Spanish was for 'broom'. I didn't know, but I did know that the family name of the Plantagenet  kings was Broom, and that their emblem featured the plant with the Latin name of Planta Genista (whence 'Plantagenet'). So I guessed at 'genista' – which told him what he wanted to know: when pronouncing a word with the letters 'st' my s was not apical.

FYI, the word for broom is hiniesta; but the point is that in this context the sibilant is produced by a closure between the very tip of the tongue and the alveolar ridge.
</autobiographical_note>

When I saw the offending tweet I posted this:


Different languages make demands on different parts of the tongue, and in the process of acquiring our mother tongue we learn not to pay attention to (and even to become oblivious to) speech sounds that don't belong to our mother tongue's sound system. And the process of learning starts in the womb (as I mentioned here):

"The dramatic finding of this study [reported here] is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation," said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany.
So I was not surprised when the next tweet  confirmed my speculation:

This is something that English-speaking teachers of Spanish often say. But /s/ and /ʃ/ (which I imagine is what /sh/ means) are not allophonic in Spanish; [ʃ] scarcely exists in Spanish. These English teachers are referring to the apical s; and the use of 'sh' points to a reason for the misapprehension. The reasoning goes something like this:
<misapprehension  commonness="5">
  1. When Spanish students try to say /s/ in certain phonetic contexts, they make the wrong noise.
  2. The wrong noise sounds like (there is a quite like/very like/exactly the same continuum which depends on the listener's hearing and training) the noise that we Anglophones associate with the spelling 'sh'. [The use of 'sh' concretizes the misapprehension:
<sub_misapprehension>
Anything spelt 'sh' must be 'like' the English sound /ʃ/
<sub_misapprehension>
and the concrete is quick-drying. English teachers who have been saying this for years can be hard to convince.]
  1. Therefore /s/ and /ʃ/ are allophonic in Spanish.
</misapprehension>
 I summed this up in my next two tweets:



I don't have access to a spectrograph at the moment, or to a native speaker of Spanish, but I have an idea for a workaround‡ (more of a limparound really). Stay tuned to this frequency for an update that involves pretty pictures, but I must be getting on; that's quite enough for now.

b
 Update 2014.01.15.15.30
† PS To clarify, I'm not saying that that /s/ is apical (although it may be, my ear has lost the acuity it had in the early '70s). The point I'm making is that every phoneme in the word is more or less subtly different from its English 'equivalent' – and those quotation marks are meant to convey my hesitancy about saying that any speech sound in one language is the same as a speech sound in another language; that's why (as I said here) blanc became 'plonk' in the ears of the Tommies who first heard it.

 Update 2014.03.02.11.30
‡ PPS And here it is. I don't have convenient access to a native speaker of Castilian Spanish, so this recording is just of my voice, pronouncing the English s, the Castilian s and in between the two the English /ʃ/:


Two things leap out from this:
  • The apical s used in Castilian Spanish has a higher pitch than either English consonant
  • Whereas the first two fricatives here are confident and constant, the third is not at all. This is not a feature of the apical s, but it demonstrates a point I made earlier: native speakers learn to screen out foreign sounds. The frequency varies so wildly because the tip of my tongue is frantically dodging about trying to make a sound that I have learnt (but did not acquire as part of my mother tongue).
(Incidentally, I carefully specified Castilian Spanish, because there are many parts of Spain where the s is less [and sometimes not at all, I think] apical. In Andalucía for example, word-final s becomes almost inaudible: the difference between lo bueno [the principle of good] and los buenos [good people] is largely a matter of vowel length/quality in the final 'o' of each word.)




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

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

Freebies (Teaching resources: about 38,000  views  and over 5,300 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 1900 views and nearly 900 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, 9 January 2014

But I'm a good guy...

So you're allowed to cheat...?

In one of the many review of the year/predictions programmes aired in the past week, Tim Harford inveighed against infographorrhoea (he didn't call it that, but I can't quote him verbatim as I can't recall the programme's details): the tendency to splatter documents with eye-catching but meaningless and/or misleading infographics. (It was very funny and right on the money; I hope it'll make it to Pick of the Week.)  Ironically, as I write a fatcat developer is being interviewed on You and Yours, trying to defend just such an infographic.

A few days ago, I saw and retweeted (from the hip – will I never learn?) this:


It's making a good point. Government priorities are wrong-headed in a way that in less socially pregnant contexts would be laughable.  Stopping tax avoidance and evasion is the LOW-HANGING FRUIT – easy wins for a Chancellor needing to save a billion or two.

But having retweeted it I began to feel a bit uncertain about its integrity. The dark blue circle looked like a pretty dodgy quarter of the red circle. And even if the dark blue circle was the right size, the
light blue £16 billion circle, which should be slightly over half the size of the £30 billion one, was barely a third of the size (if that it's hard to tell, as the 'circle' isn't circular).

The little circles are so small that it's impossible to tell precisely what they are supposed to represent. The yellow one, which conveniently for my schoolboy arithmetic – should be one hundredth the size of the red one, is obviously far too small.

Just for the record, I had a bash at it with Visio. My additions aren't exact, as the configurations of our two graphics tools are bound not to match:


The arithmetic may not be perfect; in particular I ignored the possibility of negative roots for radii of circles, which –  in the view of someone who, to quote my maths master, 'took the soft option of becoming a Poet rather than a Plumber' (as for Doc Lewis there were only two sorts of people in the world, Plumbers and Poets) –  wouldn't make much sense in this context (though maybe they do in black holes...?). But my new circles are a lot closer to reflecting the truth of the statistics.

They do however fall into the trap they were supposed to, of taking the largest figure as a basis for the scale for the whole diagram. There are two scales here; a decent infographic would take the largest two circles as bases for two scales, and show the other three as proportions of each. This is grist for a possible future update. But I must get on otherwise the proofs of the hardcopy of #WVGTbook will arrive before I've got the index sorted out.


L'envoi (French for what what HR trainers call 'take-homes')


The fact that the bad guys fight dirty, using 'infographics' full of omissions and distortions, doesn't justify the good guys in doing the same. I'm pleased to add my weight to that of people looking for a fair deal for benefits claimants, but I regret retweeting an infographic that was more than just 'economical with the truth'; it was plain fallacious.

Report from the word face

I'm nearing the end of the initial trawl though the speech sounds used (in the one dictionary I'm using), ready to create an index (useful for the Kindle edition ['This phonemic sound can be represented by...', with immediate links to example words], but not for the hardcopy one [plenty of 'rhyming dictionaries' already on the market do the same job better]). The monophthongs are as given in the standard IPA 'phonemes of English' chart; well, they couldn't really not be. But the diphthongs, triphthongs, and indeed tetraphthongs  (if there is such a word) are far more numerous. I'm not sure how to present this, without muddying the waters for EFL/ESOL students...Hmm...

b

Update: 2014.01.12.17:30 – Added PS:
PS You'll notice from the footer that I have overridden the 'perhaps...?' and am working on an index. For the reasons I gave in my last para, though, I'm not sure what value it adds; so, rather than edit all the footers to make a claim that I'm still unsure about, I'm leaving it for now. (And if anyone can teach me to use pages rather than posts in Blogger – which I suspect would save me a lot of time – please feel free....)

Update: 2014.05.16.17:00 –Updated header:

 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 ov 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 41.050 views  and 5,700 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 2,100 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.







Friday, 3 January 2014

Deck the WHAT?

 ...the boxer, perhaps... But no, this is the last of my semi-festive posts – honest. 'Tis the season for reviews of the year, lifestyle detoxing, etc – never mind being jolly.

Two weeks ago this query appeared at  UsingEnglish.com:

hello! i want to write something for my twitter bio. please help me with these sentences, which one is the most correct?


  1. History nerd and gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.
  2. A history nerd and gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.
  3. A history nerd and a gamer with a fondness for chocolate milkshake.

    ...
One reply referred to the carol 'Deck the halls' My lip twitched, but didn't curl (out of respect for writer). But brought up, as I was, on the David Willcocks setting, I usually look daggers at any fellow chorister who makes the hall plural.

Part of the following discussion (now deleted as it was fun but not particularly illuminating) involved somebody's contention that this sort of deck was derived from decorate. Well, NO. They're related of course, being both derived from the Proto Indo European *dek-. But they both appeared in Middle English  at more or less the same time in the historical record: deck / decorate. Both early 15th century.

The first is, some would say, archaic, though the British National Corpus lists 101 cases of decked, of which the first 20 are these:

1 A0D W_fict_prose A B C ...Mother in full evening dress decked out in false pearls, her eyelashes beaded with mascara, dominating the stage in
2 A6N W_fict_prose A B C ...was amateur. A group of girls decked with medals danced. A blue-suited man sang. An old man played several airs
3 ABW W_fict_prose A B C occasion ...caused the cottage to be decked with red, white and blue bunting. The Post Office was a great centre
4 ACK W_fict_prose A B C ...were shown round by the WEA class decked out as praetorian guards and vestal virgins. Now here's Mike with Jilly's
5 CAB W_fict_prose A B C ...her into silence. She was decked out in her Sunday best. A pink pillar-box hat was perched precariously on her
6 CDY W_fict_prose A B C ...very upright, like a wizened doll, decked out in a bright flowery overall with carpet slippers on her feet. Her hair
7 CE5 W_fict_prose A B C ...equally between life and death, was decked out like the inside of a spaceship. Wires, screens, machines and consoles
8 CMP W_fict_prose A B C ...in court uniforms so decked with gold that their coats seemed like sheets of light. There were jewelled stars
9 EFW W_fict_prose A B C ... mere heap of bones decked with cinnamon whiskers, had summoned a little energy with which to pour scorn on
10 EWF W_fict_prose A B C ...for festal purpose decked With unrejoicing berries -- ghostly shapes May meet at noon-tide; Fear and trembling Hope
11 FNT W_fict_prose A B C ..in the mirror.' I look ridiculous decked out like this.' As ridiculous as my mother, she thought to herself
12 FNT W_fict_prose A B C ...Katherine and Leo waited in a living room decked in flowers and soft lights for the first guests to arrive. Katherine in a
13 FPX W_fict_prose A B C ...She entered the theme room, which was decked out to look like the great hall of a medieval castle. She was to
14 FR3 W_fict_prose A B C ...scattered pustules that had decked my chin and brows for the past year had begun to mass, forming formidably
15 FR9 W_fict_prose A B C ...A number of L and C supporters, decked out in the team's lime green and guava fruit colours, decided to swop
16 FU8 W_fict_prose A B C ...bulk of elephants. Decked in tasselled yellow howdah cloths and ridden by straw-hatted Annamese mahouts perched
17 GWF W_fict_prose A B C ...' seeing your company so finely decked out for travelling, if you were by any chance headed the same way?
18 H84 W_fict_prose A B C ...body emptied, dried out, repacked, decked out for the long night, bandaged in the finest linen with the scarab placed
19 H94 W_fict_prose A B C ...the displays on a gaily decked stall, Meredith gently extracted her father's gold mask from the tissue in which
20 H9G W_fict_prose A B C ...Everything swept and everything decked for welcome # Open doors, open arms, open faces, eyes raised,
...
A few of the remaining 81 may involve fisticuffs, but all these use the word in the lavishly/garishly/demonstratively/excessively/vulgarly... decorated sense. See more here.

A version of decked that is less arguably archaic is bedecked, with only 38 hits. Which reminds me of another properly archaic word.
<biographical_note date_range="early sixties">

One short-lived New Year's resolution involved picking an obscure word and trying to drop it naturally into conversation as often as possible in the following week. (I have a feeling The Readers' Digest's 'It pays to increase your word power' may have been involved in some way.) My last word, in the second week, was bedizened. The Collins Dictionary has an unsung feature that gives usage trends:



The first of those spikes (annoyingly there's no scale) may have been MY work. (Incidentally, for some reason, while you're visiting that Collins page, you are invited to Like it... :-?)
</biographical_note> 

Right. Back to the harmless drudgery.

b

Update 2014.01.04.13:25 – Lots of ellipses in BNC data to keep it within bounds
Update 2014.01.04.20:55 – Added PS
PS I was rereading this, and noticed that  all those 20 hits were W_fict_prose. I clicked on that to find out what it meant, and was reminded that I should have warned you: BNC's links refer to my session yesterday, and are no good. I visited again today and found that they are doubly no good, because they don't tell you what W_fict_prose is.

<autobiographical_note time_span="1971-1974" theme="CU_Footlights">
I'm reminded of a sketch I wrote with Martin Gayford, now an art critic (author of Man with a Blue Scarf ... inter alia) whose literary reputation will surely survive this revelation about his juvenilia. The sketch involved a customer talking to a mechanic; but the subject of the repair was a badly-worn edition of Shakespeare: 'The cauliflower of mercy is not strained... Dear oh lor', how long is it since you had this serviced?' – sort of thing. Anyway, one line was 'I'll have to refer the footnotes, and that could take weeks.'
 <autobiographical_note>

The point of this digression (it did have one) is that  the only way to find out what W_fict_prose is is to read the BNC help (which isn't top of my list of priorities).

This category, whatever it is, accounts for more than ¼ of all occurrences of decked, and a slightly smaller proportion (8 out of 38) of all occurrences of bedecked  – which suggests that, if not archaic, the word is at least literary.




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

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 36,100 views  and nearly 5,000 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 1821 views/844 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.