Saturday, 28 May 2016

Is this a blip I see before me?

No big  news, but a quandary. From  time to time you may have noticed, I make an observation based on Blogger stats; and here's the latest. I have become accustomed over the years to see United States at the head of the Bleader Board. And that's where they still are (when you consider visits over the last year):

Russia accounts for less than ¼ of US visits – about 350 less per month. (Russia's absolute visits were closer to 100 per month.)

But over the  last  month (to nearly the end of May 2016) the picture is very different:

The US average has fallen from about 1400, while the Russian average has increased by a little over ½. (Of course, ignoring May, the increase has been much more,)

Of course a visit from an IP address that claims to come from Russia doesn't necessarily come from there; and the same applies – perhaps more so – to "US" addresses. Still, something seems to be going on.

A recent BBC TV programme (not that recent, but I first saw it last week – although that "first" needs qualifying) was Zoo Quest in Colour. It was based on the Zoo Quest programmes, made about 60 years ago and broadcast in black and white. Even in  an anachronistic world in which it had been broadcast in colour*,  we would have seen it in black and white, as my father had bought a TV only  to view the Coronation
One of the later series, Zoo Quest for a Dragon was something I remembered seeing when I was 5 – remembered seeing through rose-tinted spectacles, one might think. But an explanation of the film making process ( in the first few minute of that Zoo Quest in Colour programme) is crucial to an understanding of how the later programme came to be made; and to an understanding of how wrong that rose-tinted gibe would be. 
David Attenborough couldn't have made the programme he wanted to make using the gargantuan 35mm cameras the BBC insisted on using. Attenborough wanted to use a small hand-held 16mm camera. The BBC Powers were hostile to the idea; the definition would not be up to the standard expected of the BBC. After what sounds like a heated discussion, the young Attenborough had his way. But the quid pro quo for his 16 mm camera, was that he should improve definition by using colour stock. 
This decision had two consequences:
  • In low light, as in the crucial climax of the dragon programme (the live trapping of a komodo dragon) he had to revert to black and white stock
  • 50 years later, the original film could be reprocessed  to make colour images
On our little set (14"? 12" Less?) I remember not being impressed by the dragon in that trapping scene; it just didn't compare with the ones in my Rupert Annual . 

Thassall for this month. I have some serious weekending to do.


Update: 2016.05.31.11:50 – Added footnote:

* This would have been impossible, as IMDB simply – and frustratingly – says "black and white". Having seen the TV programme "live", and failed to understand the deal between the BBC technical department and Attenborough (who could use a handheld camera on condition that he used colour film) , I looked to IMDB for an explanation. But there was none, so I just had to go back to iPlayer.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Look Back in Bangor

In the recent broadcast of Look Back in Anger I noticed two things (apart from the performance of wossname of course):
  • Use  of the expression "the $64 question"
  • Use of the expression "the Big Bang" to refer to a possible nuclear holocaust

The $64 Question

This has been the victim of hyperinflation. It dates back to the American radio show Take It Or Leave It first broadcast in 1949, based on a number of questions with prizes starting at $1 and doubling in each subsequent round. After each successful answer, the contestant was offered the chance to Take It Or Leave it? The big prize was $64. that article goes on:
In 1947, the series switched to NBC, hosted at various times by Baker, Garry Moore (1947–49), Eddie Cantor (1949–50) and Jack Paar (beginning June 11, 1950). On September 10, 1950, the title of Take It or Leave It was changed to The $64 Question. Paar continued as host, followed by Baker (March–December 1951) and Paar (back on December 1951). The series continued on NBC Radio until June 1, 1952
A very similar format was first broadcast in the UK in 1955 with the title Double Your Money, but instead of the rather crude demand "Take It Or Leave It" the catchphrase was a polite question: "Do You Want To Go On?".  If memory serves me correctly, the neat doubling was suspended after £64 though, and the subsequent prizes then dropped to £125 before resuming that stately binary progress on to £1000. (I was going to write £1000.00, but in fact  it was more like £1,000 0s. 0d.)

The Big Bang

Fred Hoyle coined the expression Big Bang on a BBC broadcast in 1949. Look Back in Anger post-dated that by six or seven years but the adoption of the cosmological usage can't have caught on very quickly as Jimmy Porter's reference was obviously to annihilation rather than creation.

<autobiographical_note date_range="1968-9">
Jimmy Porter clearly had no thoughts of stardom. My own were thoughts rather of cometdom. It centred on an amateur production of Iolanthe (which must have taken place during my Lower VIth, as in those days the full frenzy of Thinking About the Future was held back until the Upper VIth (rather than, as in our own enlightened times, at Primary School [Oh Christ, that ever this should be! as Coleridge put it –  they'll be using kids as chimney-sweeps next!]). 
My own 42nd Street dream centred on the Sergeant-at-Arms in Iolanthe. I was a peer, but I dreamt of  standing in at the last minute for the fellow bass who had that part – not a huge one (I wasn't that ambitious –  he had one song, at the beginning of Act Two (in that YouTube clip the song starts after about 1 min.), as I remember: "the ice-cream slot", as it was archly referred to among the wiseacres of the Cecilian Players [not the chamber ensemble, an amateur operatic society based in SW London in the 1960s and '70s] – the first turn after the interval, when the audience are at their least attentive).  I was going to "Go out there an unknown and come back a st... well, a bit-part player".
No amateur production of a G&S operetta is complete without a topical reference. Ours was in the second  verse:
When in that House MPs divide 
If they've a brain and cerebellum too 
They have to leave that brain outside 
And vote as Harold Wilson tells 'em to
(Heur heur, geddit?)
W. S.  Gilbert wrote And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to, but our version spoiled the rhyme for the sake of a not very relevant topical reference. The director and the Musical Director were both teachers at my school, and I thought – as any self-respecting sixth-former would –  they made the mistake because they were just stupid. It would have been much better, I thought at the time, as And vote as Ted and 'arold  tell 'em to. Not only does it preserve the rhyme, but it refers to the sort of  mindless two-party situation that Gilbert was writing about. I was going to sing my version, thus at one fell swoop both shaking the foundations of the amateur operetta world by my brilliant performance and improving the line (which would thereafter be adopted for the rest of the run).
On reflection nearly fifty years later, I've realized – though there's no way I can check – that the writer of this ad lib  did not just have a tin ear (as far as the rhyme was concerned) but was also probably (ironically, in the context) a Tory.* 

Well – time for a bit of amateur plumbing.

* The MPs Edward Heath (Conservative) and Harold Wilson (Labour) exchanged the position of Prime Minister several times. Fans of The Beatles may have noted the backing vocals singing "Mr Wilson" and "Mr Heath' in George Harrison's Taxman.

PS Reportedly imitation pot sherd has features of two genres – (4-4)

Update 2016.05.23.16:00 – Added esprit d'escalier in blue

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The 'en/dove time

Venez dans mes bras
Closer to me dear 
Donnez-vous à moi 
Set aside all fear 
Restons enlacés pour léternité 
Yes you shall be mine 
Till the end of time.
Followers of The Tunnel (who may not include me for much longer, as it is becoming decreasingly plausible – I wonder if the writers of the first series have moved on) will recognize this little piece  as the title music (written by Charlotte Gainsbourg, yes that one, though I should warn you that the article has such authoritative claims as " Her career in music influentiates a lot of artists").  A little while ago we switched over to this series from a tennis match, for which we had the sub-titles on.

Machine-generated sub-titles can be a hoot. A gem from the tennis commentary was a mangled version of "nipped it in the bud". We had just reached peak-Shakespeare, and the sub-title-o-tron (or whatever it's called) very creatively (it must have had some sort of AI) read "nicked it in the Bard" (sic, even the capital B) – evoking thoughts of Autolycus, the original "snapper-up  of unconsidered trifles" [so THAT's where he got it from]. But dealing with French was rather more dictionary-based (or perhaps that should be -biased?).
I'm sailing fairly close to the wind here, as my theoretical linguistics knowledge is Best Before End May 1974 (though bolstered a bit by later language courses). So what follows is subject to ovifacial disfigurement [="getting egg on my face" #bouBoumTsh] . But...
The voice that sings this is whispered; and the sub-title-o-tron's mistakes* led me to think about whispering. The game Chinese Whispers is almost guaranteed to work, chiefly because of the lack of voicing  – '...we're going to advance' becomes '...we're going to a dance' partly because of the inaccurate transmission of the voiced /v/. I say partly because the change is strongly influenced by the fact that 'Send reinforcements...' has been misheard as 'Send three and fourpence' (though the 'has been' there is misleading as the misinterpretation is holistic – given this unreliable string of speech sounds, what interpretation can be put on the whole  message? the hearer asks themselves). I think, though, the trigger for the misinterpretation is the /v/.

In the three lines of French  in that lyric the sub-title-o-tron made only one mistake (involving a voiced consonant), and one also in the four lines of English. The mistakes were:

Set aside your fear 
Restons sans laisser

Taking the French  one first, the problem consonant is the /z/ between Restons and enlacés. In this whispered voice the /z/ sounds like an /s/ . So, despite "hearing" the liaison correctly in the third line, the machine goes to its dictionary (possibly it's some kind of lexical software module, though possibly the machine hands over some queries to a human post-editor, who uses a real book) and returns  with sans laisser. I haven't met that as an idiom, and the idiomatic sans cesse suggests that the infinitive is questionable in that context – although sans can certainly be followed by a verb in the infinitive in other cases. This leaves only the unstressed vowel in [z]enlacés/sans laisser:  /a/ becomes /ɛ/  – no great surprise in an unstressed syllable

As for the English one, it doesn't depend so clearly on a voiced sound. The sonorant /l/ (which occasions this mistake) has voiced and voiceless allophones, but – as the word sonorant suggests – it's more "l-like" when it's voiced. So "all" becomes "your".

Simples [possibly].

Back to the grindstone,


PS Some crossword clues:

Disappeared without resistance, covered with decorative coating.  (9)

Turning effect engulfing partial success giving part of work. (8)

Update 2026.05.19.08:40 – Added PPS

* Watching the next episode the other night, I noticed that the two errors covered in this post) had been fixed. Either the subtitles are generated anew every week, or the translators' work is subjected...
And there's a difference between subject to and subjected to, which I wish writers of official notices would observe. If trains – for example – are "subject to delay" they might be delayed. If they are going to be delayed sure as eggs is eggs they will be "subjected to delays".
to some kind of scrutiny, or m-m-m-maybe I'm being w-w-w-watched....Ooer...

Update 2026.06.01.14:15 – Added PPPS
<further_reflection type="post-series" theme="ha'porth of tar">
A crucial character – multifaceted, as is the tiresome custom in these dramas [aha, she's not a baddy after all, oh yes she is, but no, err... yes, etc ad nauseam, vamp till fade– after one of her habitual changes of face last night, being a fluent speaker of Russian, asked "Do you know what maskirovka is?" By chance, though I don't speak Russian, I did know, because last year I had heard an Analysis programme that explained this Russian-style system of deception (that was the word they used, though I'm still not sure what's special about it). 
I don't have Sky-Go, or whatever it is that lets you catch-up on Sky Living broadcasts, but I'm pretty sure the actress got it wrong. She used the word twice, and the first just put me on the Qui vive;  but I'm pretty sure whatever she said the second time matched the first and didn't begin /mask.../ (which is as  much as I remembered). Shame. I wish actors  would  check up on these things. My Willing Suspension of Disbelief daemon  was already working its little socks  off, without having to deal with linguistic paradoxes.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Stating the obv... hang on though ...

See the original here.

This comes with the cachet (or should that be caché?) of the stable, so presumably one should pay it some heed. I have to say, though, that whenever – in the past – I have looked at their site for purposes of preparing a lesson I found that it was (intentionally, I suppose) heavily, if not entirely biased in favour of American English. OK, that makes sense. There are many more native speakers of American English than of British English, and students of ESOL usually want to learn American English in preference to British English; or else they don't care either way.
<mini_rant force="Just saying">
But my reaction to sites that say just "English" when they mean "American English", or for that matter "Portuguese" when they mean "Brazilian Portuguese", or sports commentators who say "World Champion" when they mean "US-wide Champion" get my goat.
A few counter-examples from the rule as stated there – one for each word:
    I believe I am being taken for a sucker.
    I understand you have seen the figures...?
  3. KNOW
    I know you were there.
  4. DOUBT
    I doubt  if we‘ll ever know the truth.
  5. LOVE
    I love what you did with the lentils.
  6. WANT
    I want to be going first thing tomorrow.
  7. ADMIT
    I admit I am being blackmailed.
Of course I'm ignoring (or at  least overlooking) context – not the context surrounding the situations in the examples, but the context of the lesson itself; the rule is given to students who just haven't met any other tense than the present, so that it is implicitly preceded by the words WHEN ANY OF  THESE WORDS IS FOLLOWED BY A VERB IN THE PRESENT...

But even so,  there must be a typo in the opening sentence (unless this is a bit of American English syntax that I haven't met). State verbs are usually used 
with [THE – does the writer have difficulty with articles?] Present Simple instead [OF, surely...?] with [THE ...?] Present Continuous
And the lack of articles can't be blamed on "typographical  licence" – the  last two lines in that four-line extract (the exhibit I started with) are plenty loose enough to accommodate a few extra characters.

Besides, only a few days' exposure to the Western world is going to expose students to the infamous I'm lovin' it (which vies with 10 items or less for the
Most egregious tweaker of Grammar Nazis' chains 
award). This really does break not only the spirit but also the letter of the law (Present Continuous rather than Present Simple). But students will quickly realize that rules are not so much made to be broken, in the words of that tired cliché...
Isn't TIRED CLICHÉ itself one of those ... erm, THREADBARE commonplaces?
... as defined by actual usage. The repeated failures of practice to match up with theory have to be accommodated by weasel words like that USUALLY.

PS As I write I have the BBC‘s Julius Caesar in the background; and the line Who is it in the press that calls on me leapt out at me with its two anachronistic puns: press and call on. And this reminded me of a recurrent annoyance, apparently irrelevant but similarly depending on an anachronistic pun sadly repeated ever and anon (is that Shakespeare?) by people who should know better: the roots of OMG:
This one’s for all you amateur internet archaeologists out there: The first recorded use of the ubiquitous texting abbreviation OMG wasn’t uttered by a precocious tween in the 1990s, but by one Lord Fisher in a letter to none other than Winston Churchill.
          Time report

Well well; silly us! There‘s everyone thinking that abbreviation's a child of the late 20th Century. Umm,  no. Lord Fisher‘s "OMG" was a joke based on the names of honours such as "OBE" and "CMG"

To cite it as the etymological basis of the SMS-based abbreviation "OMG" is to indulge in an anachronistic pun – the sort of textual "discovery" that is increasingly common in these days of easily accessed electronic text  databases. In the words of that prescient ophthalmologist Friar Lawrence

What a pair of spectacles is this?

PPS And here‘s a clue:

Measurement of time absorbing one new virtue (7)

Update 2016.05.03.22:35  – A couple of typo  fixes (including a deletion), + this clue:

Cutting short brusque indisposition. (11)