Monday, 24 July 2017

Cliff edges

Back from Pembrokeshire, home of coast paths and sideways rain, I'm reflecting on systems meeting each other; cliffs, for example,

One system is at <cliff_height> metres and another system is at sea-level, and at the cliff-edge there's an abrupt change.
Highlight of our holiday was a trip in a RIB around Ramsey Island, whose West Cliff is the heighest in <somewhere>. There were too many of us for one boat, but fortunately the had a spare RIB. Presumably they were called Adam and Eve; bou-boun_tsh_I_thang_yow. But earlier on in the trip we had come across – and crossed – another sort of cliff; a metaphorical one, but a tangible one  (unlike many other metaphors).

Until the end of the Ice Age (??? weren't there several – regardless, the local tourist mythology was based on  just one, THE Ice Age) Ramsey Island was joined to the mainland by a tongue of land. The melting ice caused a rise in sea-level...
Hang on though, what about Archimedes – the displacement of the floating ice?  Shouldn't the sea-level stay the same? Well, no. That's what I thought until I read  this article about the recently-formed giant iceberg:

Ice shelves are vast expanses of ice floating on the sea, several hundred metres thick, at the edge of glaciers.
Scientists fear the loss of ice shelves will destabilise the frozen continent’s inland glaciers. And while the splitting off of the iceberg would not contribute to rising sea levels, the loss of glacial ice would.
The  melting of the ice-shelf uncorks the glaciers
... so most of that tongue, while submerged, is still marked by a treacherous string of rocks (a garrotte of rocks?) known as The Bitches. But that's just above the surface; the remnants of the old land-bridge form an even more treacherous submarine line of  obstacles.

This makes for an area of white water. It looked from a few boat-lengths  relatively placid, though we were told that in certain tidal/temporal conditios there could  be a difference in depth on each side of the cliff of 2 metres. Besides, the apparent placidness was only relative. The difference  between the two levels was underlined by the RIB's being held in place half-way up the slope. The outboard motor laboured to keep us from slipping back, with the sound of a lawn mower hitting a swathe of extra lush grass, and I thought we'd have to give up and find a gentler slope. But the motor was up to the challenge (indeed, the steersman probably held us there for effect).
But now I'm back to an untidy pile of emails on my cyber-doormat.; and the main cliff-edge metaphor is Mrs May's. There are others, though, if you screw your eyes up. The earthquake in Kos, for example. Conflicting pressures build up on either side of a fault-line, and when it gets too much there is a big jerk: again, two systems meeting, and a dangerous change at the meeting point. Or, at a more abstract level, pensions. There is one system, later there is another, and where the two meet there is disruption.

But I must get on , preparing for my choir's coming jaunt:


PS – a few clues:
  • Factor it; it‘s confused with penis enhancements. (15)
  • Short friend, cold, hard acts to follow this sort of golf. (9)
  • The wrong sort of bachelor, say, with inputs from leftist extrenists, can be made out. (12)

Update: 2017.07.24.17:45 – Added PPS and fixed some typos.

PPS And a topical one:
  • Scatty vain dolls take note here. (4, 6)

Friday, 7 July 2017

We, Paleface?

(Tonto's response to the Lone Ranger's Indians, Tonto. Hundreds of them. We're in trouble now.)

A while ago I wrote (here)
...whenever a dictionary says 'origin unknown' it's a fairly safe bet that a non-Roman writing system was involved. In fact, 'origin unknown' is a bit  like the geographer's terra incognita and 'Here be dragons'; it's a euphemism for 'outwith the scope of traditional scholarship'; and it's not a final sentence.
This is reminiscent of a trick question I remember from my schooldays:  

What was the biggest island in the world before Australia was discovered? 
Answer: Australia.

My point is that whenever someone does something, someone else may well have got there first. That Ecclesiastes bloke was right: There is nothing  new under the Sun. While we're on the subject of islands, I wrote here about how the Portuguese visited the island of Leiname in the early fifteenth century and named it Madeira.
Lignum is the root of the Spanish leño, and  [not that simple...] materia is the root of the Portuguese madeira (no prizes, by now, for recognizing metathesis here – the r;and the i. This commonplace in language development is the subject of one of my more popular backnumbers.)
A Castilian monk (again not the first, but possibly – except for an alleged visit by the Vikings – the first in the post-Roman world) 'discovered' the island too:
...[A] Castilian monk also identified the location of the islands in their present location, with the names Leiname (modern Italian legname, cognate of Portuguese madeira, "wood"), Diserta and Puerto Santo.
So says Wikipedia, and I don't have time to trace it back to a sounder source. 
Then along came the Portuguese and spat in their beer (as it were)... 
This is not to say that this is the only word. Among the options, Spanish has madera and Portuguese has lenho. By changing the name, Portugal was not saying 'A feeg for your feelthy leño. We are calling it Madeira, to remove all trace of your influence.' They were simply asserting their right to change the name, or perhaps covering their tracks – 'This isn't what others have known as Leiname, it's Madeira',  changing the name so as to stake their claim – in the way of all colonizing powers.
In their defence though, one should remember that in those days there was no international maritime registry – they weren't to know.

I was reminded of this by Jim Al Kalili's Science and Islam earlier this week (that's when I saw it, although it first aired  in 2009). He thought (as did many [all?] educated Westerners, that Egyptology began in the 19th century with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. But remember my's a fairly safe bet that a non-Roman writing system was involved. About 40 minutes in, the learned professor...
I'm drawn to the idea of Jim Al-Kalili having an evil alter ego called Midge Acid-id. The gag (if that's the word, perhaps I should just say conceit) works better with IPA  symbols:

Jim/Midge => /ʤɪm mɪʤ/
...starts a quite lengthy piece about how Arabic scholars deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics much earlier. (I would quantify that much but my sound card is busy with other things...).

Speaking of which, I could be watching the cricket.   Stay tuned for an update about the word algorithm.


And here are a few more clues:
  • Reportedly, be accompanied by a criminal intermediary and be affronted – (4, 7)
  • An amount worthy of consideration amidst your alternate arrangement – (1,4,3)
  • Like the sky, learn cue after improvisation  – (8)
Update: 2017.07.10.12:15 – Added PPS


I promised an update about algorithm, and here it is. In the ninth century, long before William the Bastard conquered Britain, there lived a mathematician in a town now called Khiva. His name, according to one of the Oxford Dictionaries – Dominus illuminatio mea might as well be Dominus obscuratio mea when it comes to trying to work out just who is telling you something (anyway, the source is here) – whose name made its way into the catalogues of libraries that used Roman script as "al-Ḵwārizmī ‘the man of Ḵwārizm’".
Long-time readers of this blog may remember about al being the definite article, marking many borrowings from Arabic, especially ones that came to English via Spain (whose Moorish invaders spoke Arabic as a second language). This explains why the Italian for sugar  is zucchero (as the Arab invaders of Italy through Sicily had Arabic as a mother-tongue), whereas Spanish and Portuguese words for sugar are azúcar and açúcar, bearing the trace of an article: Do you take the sugar in your coffee?

(As Etymonline says
sugar (n.) Look up sugar at
late 13c., sugre, from Old French sucre "sugar" (12c.), from Medieval Latin succarum, from Arabic sukkar, from Persian , from Sanskrit sharkara "ground or candied sugar,"...
The Arabic root of sugar has no vowel before the s.)

This man introduced the idea of solving problems in principle – without reference to specific values. The system he used involved formulating an <insert-word-here> and applying it to the problem. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

Monday, 3 July 2017

Shedding light...

... or smoke and mirrors

My attention was caught recently by this tweet:

I dutifully (well, some would say pursuing ideas is an act of self-indulgence rather than duty: discuss) followed the link and reached a page. But I like to know where what I'm reading comes from, and is really a portal; in their page was this link, to an elearning page that made this eyebrow-raising claim:
Barbara Malt, professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Science Program at Lehigh University explains: “The idea that language moves from describing concrete phenomena to abstract ideas has been around for a few decades. But, nobody has taken that idea and looked at how word meanings have evolved over time – until now.” 
Hmm. Concrete to abstract: then what about Ttaanic? Think about it:

Absstract: pertaining to the Titans, (jolly big): example: "a Titanic struggle"
Concrete: a particular ship: the SS Titanic
Abstract: pertaining to the fate of that particular ship
Example: "rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic"

In this case abstract and concrete applications dance a minuet with each other, now one thing, now the other, and back again. Admittedly, though,. concrete -> abstract is the more common direction of travel. But the words ...nobody has taken that idea and looked at how word meanings have evolved over time – until now. got my goat rather – especially the last breathless bit. The idea of a systematic mapping of how metaphors are formed is new, but the idea that "looking at" meaning development is new is just risible: 19th-century philologers were doing it, in a piecemeal and anecdotal way.

Anyway, returning to that hyperlink-enabled paperchase: At last, I thought, I was getting somewhere. But man proposes and the Interweb disposes. At the end of a paragraph or two of press release there was yet another link, to this EurekSlert page. My quest was over: from...

How a word becomes a metaphor, new research , Lehigh University

...I had reached an article entitled

Analysis sheds light on how metaphors like 'sheds light' evolved

Oddly, though, the ultimate (?) source had the jokier title (a misleading one, as it happens, but a gag's a gag). This should  have warned me that my quest was not finished;  not by a long chalk. (Interesting, that; why not a short chalk) The EurekAlert piece said this:
...New word meanings come about when there's a need to express something new," says Barbara Malt, professor of psychology and director of the Cognitive Science Program at Lehigh University. "For instance, the original meaning of the word 'grasp' only described holding something physically. Later, 'grasp' also came to mean holding something in a metaphorical sense, such as 'grasping an idea.'"

Is this crossing-over from one realm of meaning to another random? Or does it follow a pattern?I
...The... findings will be published in an article in a forthcoming issue of Cognitive Psychology called: "Evolution of word meanings through metaphorical mapping: Systematicity over the past millennium."...
The article is on a ScienceDirect site, where (of course) you can only read an Abstract of

Evolution of word meanings through metaphorical mapping: Systematicity over the past millennium

The next stage involves my enriching the coffers of Elsevier, which ain't gonna happen: here are Highlights, as advertised there:

So where has this daisychain of hyperlinks led us? The fabled infinite number of monkeys now have more than just a typewriter; they have  an infinite number of photocopiers. And it's getting increasingly hard to screen out the white noise of cloned bumf.


PS A few clues:
  • Less than elegant in an ugly configuration, (8)
  • Working class in typical fettle (2, 4)
  • Compôte of pears left over. (5)