Friday, 24 March 2023

Wings of thought, etc.

 Nearly 8 years ago I wrote here

In a summer concert (probably called Music for a summer's evening  – they usually are [see here]) given by a choir I used to sing with we were singing, inter alia [or should that be aRia? {bou-boum-tsh  – Ithangyou}],  Verdi's Va Pensiero and Borodin's Polovtsian dances [victim of many a metathesis, but I digress]. They seemed quite dissimilar, until you look at the lyrics – particularly the metaphors in them:

Verdi's setting is:
(the melody known to the listeners of Classic FM as The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves)

The words are translated ('after a fashion' as my brother once said in response to a sales assistant's 'Are you being served?'...
<autobiographical-note type="2023 addition"!>
It was in Squire Pianos, once at an address in the Uxbridge Road, Ealing, known to me at the time, thanks to a youthful misreading of their sign, as "Square Pianos".
...) in this Wikipedia article:

Fly, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!

Borodin's setting is:

(the melody known to the listeners of Classic FM as Stranger in Paradise)

– translated as
Fly away on wings of wind
To native lands, our native song,
To there, where we sang you freely,
Where we were so carefree with you
There, under the hot sky,
'Fly', 'wings', 'native land'  – it's all there in both of them., because the people singing, in both pieces, are expatriated slaves. Moreover, the Wikipedia translation does the correspondence no favours: Borodin's sky is 'hot', but Verdi's 'sweet airs' are 'mild' – a flamboyantly inappropriate translation of tepidi (which you'll see towards the end of the second line).
During one of the Covid lockdowns, when Wokingham Choral Society was wrestling with the unfathomable whims of the DCMS, I was singing the Verdi again:
My choir's latest virtual rehearsal was based on what is known in England as "The chorus of the Hebrew slaves" (so much better as the Coro di Schiavi Ebrei, as our copy had it...
<TYPO status="dubious" reason="old language?">
I think, though my knowledge of Italian is based on a course I did in 1992. the modern Italian would have degli in place of di. This would be yet another example of archaism in the 19th century text, like those I noted here
In his text for Va pensiero, Verdi (or his librettist if he had one ...? 
<stop-press date="June 2020">
Yes he did – the splendidly named Temistocle Solera
</stop-press >
...) does not use dove, in
Ove olezzano tepide e molli 
L'aure dolci del suolo natal
The ove shows that at one stage some Italic dialects followed the French path, without an initial d
Earlier in the same post I had written:
The word for 'where' has a chequered history in the Romance Languages. Simply put (which is all I'm up to) it is derived from UBI [='where'] or UNDE [='where from'], with or without an initial DE. So French où comes from UBI, Italian dove comes from DE + UBI and Spanish is 'etymologically pleonastic' when it asks 'Where are you from?'; '¿De dónde eres?' starts with DE DE UNDE, meaning 'from[from[from where]]]'.

And what in modern Italian would be aire is aure (reminiscent, to me, of the two possible forms in Portuguese of the word derived from CAUSA(M): Fr.chose, Italian and Spanish cosa, but Portuguese [modern Continental Portuguese, that is] either coisa or cousa – to be filed under Interesting but irrelevant I suspect). ...[2023 note: the original had an interesting note on Catalan on, but the indentation was a bit much. And my use of the term 'interesting' is admittedly relative.]

As Metternich...
"needs citation", to use Wikipedia's passive-aggressive  gibe, but my history teacher used to say it, and what's good enough for Mr Crosby is good enough for me
...said at the time 'Italy is a geographical expression'. The name VERDI was a coded feature of political graffiti, standing for Vittorio Emanuele Rei D'Italia. (And, now I think of it, the Hebrew Slaves have an allegorical relevance: the people of that geographical expression had been "enslaved" for centuries by various imperial powers.)

Those quotes around "enslaved" would be frowned on in much post-colonial analysis, but I used them at the time of writing. 

That's all for now. Lots of words to be learnt for our June concert.


Wednesday, 22 March 2023

The Trumpet Involuntary

Paul Klee talked about drawing as  'Taking a line for a walk'. In my case it's taking a thought for a walk. And as a distraction from Rishi and Jezzer's Alan Quartermain stunt (using the halving of inflation the way our hero used a lunar eclipse ...

[well. Rider Haggard did eventually correct the earlier editions, which made the eclipse solar]
...), here is today's rambling, taking as its point de départ this tweet:

It's no good clicking on this, which is  as dumb as a screengrab can be, but...

That BBC News  report is here:

Public emergency alerts to be sent to all UK smartphones

and the supporting Ministry of Love video is here
Well, we'll all sleep sounder in our beds now, except those shiftworkers who rely on Airline Mode – rather than switching the Infernal Machine off.

And the author of that tweet is not alone.

To quote the opening salvos of that report:

A siren-like alert will be sent to smartphone users across the UK next month to test a new government public warning system.

It allows the government and emergency services to send urgent messages warning the public of life-threatening situations like flooding or wildfires.

The test is expected to take place in the early evening of 23 April.

Phone users will have to acknowledge the alert before they can use other features on their devices.

A message will appear on the home screens of people's devices during the test, with vibration and a loud warning sound that will ring for about 10 seconds, even if the phone is set to silent.

Take special note of that last clause: noise-pollution is guaranteed. There is a lifeline (sanity clause?) though:

People can opt out by searching their device settings for emergency alerts and then turning off severe and extreme ones. Officials say the alerts could be life-saving, though, advising against switching them off.

So there  is  a temporary solution to the Evensong problem...

<inline-pps type="stop-press">
But not on my phone (4G, Android) Perhaps it's for iPhones only, or 5G. Or maybe it's just a sop, to make people more likely to ... Surely they wouldn't be that devious?

... short of confiscating the congregation's phones and switching them off (that is, not just 'silent').

The article goes on:

Messages would only ever come from the government or emergency services and will initially focus on the most serious weather-related events, with the ability to get a message to 90% of mobile users within the relevant area.

Terror alerts could be added to the list of potential events that would trigger a notification.

The messages will include details of the area impacted and instructions about how to respond.

Messages 'would only ever come from the government or emergency services.' Oh yeah? My money's on scammers finding a way to take advantage of those 'instructions about how to respond.'

Well, I must return to das Land ohne Musik, or at least ohne Die BBC Singers.


PS What is it with ex Prime Ministers and dodgy dossiers?

Update 2023.03.22.15:30 – Added <inline-pps />

Update 2023.03.24.14:35 – Added PPPS
My last line (before the PS) was premature. White knights are in the offing, the axing has been suspended, and the BBC Singers will be singing at the Proms. So it's possible that they'll make it beyond their hundredth birthday – though their future is not yet assured.

Monday, 6 March 2023

The Edge of Reason

Reviving an old practice, I'm going to look at how this blog has been performing in the past year, using statistics provided by Google Blogger based on Page Views. Interest in Harmless Drudgery is, to use a technical term that I haven't had to grapple with since my Nets&Comms days, bursty.

<autobiographical-note date-range="1984-2003">
In the very nearly 20 years I spent at DEC/Compaq/HP ... 
(those skinflints were careful to get rid of me just before I clocked up my 20th year – when they would have had to fork out for a gold watch)
... I often met the term. A signal is bursty when it keeps changing from very busy to almost quiescent, from polygonum baldschuanicum ('mile-a-minute plant') to tumble-weed.

Some days it barely claws its way into double figures, but on other days it can run to several hundred. This 'burstiness' is ironed out to some extent to an average of 30-odd a day, but the monthly average can be pretty variable too:

Du côté de chez Knowles

I've been watching The Edge of Darkness (made in 1985, but repeated recently  on BBC 4) for the nth time (= 3, I think – > 2 anyway). It's still very good (though not without flaws   –  notably the very clunky sketching of the eco-political background, by means of an extremely silly guest speaker (who appeared in the first ten minutes but never again). I imagine he may have had leather patches on his elbows, in common with most speakers in the Rent-an-Idealist-Boffin stables. And the inevitable and entirely gratuitous bit of hanky-panky with Zoe Wanamaker was buttock-clenchingly  pointless.

But for the most part it's good, and stands the test of time...

(which is more than can be said for the idiom 'it stands the test of time'. Why did I use it? Beats me.

. It deals with a detective (Bob Peck) investigating the death of his daughter and learning about her in the process (and finally coming to sympathize with her). Made in 1985, it is strangely reminiscent of – though obviously different, both in political background and sex of the main characters ...

(the word protagonists sprang  guiltily to mind [and to my lasting shame and regret] , but I suppressed the urge. I try not to entertain the etymological fallacy – which decrees that words can only ever mean what their roots [etyma?] originally meant [eg decimation can only ever refer to a 10% cull] – but I find it hard, knowing an admittedly tiny amount about classical Greek tragedy [Greek O-level Best Before June 1968, but I have read at least one Euripide {sic}] to imagine a play with more than one protagonist. So I try to avoid kicking the hornets' nest. But an inventor whose prototype is a failure, and who designs and builds another should surely not feel constrained to call the second one a deuterotype.)
... – the 1982 feature film Missing, which has Jack Lemon reprising (preprising?) the Bob Peck role of a politically naïve...
<etymological-fallacy take="2">
(and that's another thing, I don't insist on naïf for a man, although I'd probably use it if I ever had need of the phrase faux naïf, which I've managed without for the last seventy yea...(whoops))

... bereaved father. I suppose there was something in the water in the '80s that encouraged the revisiting of this trope.

But, as good old Willy Wordsworth so eloquently put it, 'Up! Up! my friend and quit your books'.

I shall return.


Wednesday, 22 February 2023

Preventatives - better than cures

Whenever I hear the word "preventative" I think of – if you'll pardon the expression – haplology  (or rather, the inverse of haplology, which is the shortening of a word by dropping a repeated syllable: "probly", for example...
I rather wish, not without a generous dash of whimsy, that the lecturer who introduced me to the word had called it "haplogy" (but there's only so much whimsicality a body can stand...)
...). The word (preventative, this time) makes  me wonder two things:

  • What's the difference (if any) between "preventative" and "preventive"?
  • Is  "preventive" just a haplologized (dunno if that's a word, but it is now – I suspect that in the linguistics world some mealy-mouthed circumlocution would be preferred; something like
    "form that has undergone haplology"
Ask Google if there's a difference, and one of first hits is unequivocal: gives the same definition for both preventive and preventative. places a direct link to preventive instead of a separate definition for preventative. The words mean the same thing. {my emphasis}

The source for this unbending certainty is the Gramarly blog (which long-standing readers of this blog will recognize from an earlier rant of mine, about ten years ago). It goes on:

Around 1635, someone had the idea of adding the -ive suffix to the verb prevent. Around the same time, preventative evolved as a variant spelling. According to Google Ngram Viewerpreventive is and has always been the more popular choice.

The Google Ngram Viewer is a new discovery for me; I think it probably deserves a Tezzy (that's my invented award, mentioned fairly often in this blog: "Time-wasting Site of the Year") but I haven't put it through its paces ye... (Hang on though, "putting it through its paces" will constitute time-wasting: so I should just cut to the chase and award a Tezzy).

Here is the output for the two prev-ive words:

The shorter word has a clear edge; a simple Google search suggests it's around four times more common; But "preventative" crops up more than 100,000,000 times, though; so it couldn't be called rare. That Gramarly blog, though, says it's virtually unused across the Pond:
As usual, there is a difference between American and British English. Preventative is only a little less common than preventive for the Brits, whereas Americans rarely use it. 

Hmm... Do they really "mean the same"?  Etymonline dates "preventive" to the 1630s and "preventative" to the 1650s. That Gramarly blog splits the difference and gives "Around 1635...[re: preventive, and] Around the same time ... [re preventative]."

I suspect that "preventive" appeared first, and at least half a generation later (I'm not sure this justifies Gramarly's 'Around the same time') someone made a false analogy with words like preserve/preservation/preservative to invent the triplet prevent/preventation/preventative. Going by the Google Ngram Viewer output, "preventative" scarcely got off the ground for the first 100 years. If this is what happened (and  the preserve/preservation/preservative triplet had been around for well over a century before the 1630s, so the model was at least available for wordsmiths), my feeling is that, unless there  is a strong collocation for "preventative" [I'm looking into this;  stay tuned for an update] "preventive" is preferable.


Update: 2023.02.27.15:40 – Added PS


In the British Bational Corpus, hits for 'preventive' are found in only 97 collocations (when directly preceding a noun); and of those only the most common nine make it into double figures; while hits for 'preventative' are found in only 38 contexts; and of those only the most common five make it into double figures:

In COCA  meanwhile (ten times bigger, having a billion words [as compared to  BNC's paltry 100 million]) so it includes more one-off collocations (that is, ones that are represented only once), hits for 'preventive' are found in 362 collocations (when directly preceding a noun); and of those only the most common eight make it into treble figures; while hits for 'preventative' are found in only 208 contexts; and of those only the most common fifteen make it into double figures: So 'preventative' is less common in American English than in British English, but it's far from "rare".
I was too quick, though, to accept the near-certainty of the Gramarly blogger.
North America is a big place, and the blogger was probably reporting a tendency present in their own speech community. In fact, this is the sort of issue that brings out the worst in self-styled grammar-guardians, and a single college lecturer may have passed on a prejudice against "preventative" (one that I share, not that I'm proud of the instinct) to  hundreds of trainee teachers, who then passed it on to tens of thousands  of students, who now go around saying things like "Americans rarely use it".

Monday, 13 February 2023

My, my, my

When I first heard the song Delilah, in the late 1960s...

<parenthesis subject="Uncertainty over date">
Wikipedia has the song recorded by Tom Jones in December 1967 and winning an Ivor Novello Award in 1968, but the footnote to the win links to an irrelevant page; and while the song's writers did win an Ivor Novello Award in 1968, it was not for Delilah (it was for the execrable The Last Waltz (what could the judges have been thinking of?). The same two writers (lyricist and composer) won the Ivor Novello Award for 'Britain's International Song of the Year' with Delilah (International? Why?) in 1969. So I may have heard the song  in December 1967, but it could have been much later (not that it matters)

... I  assumed that the 'My, my, my' was a variant. of 'Goodness me'. This was a fairly naive interpretation, I admit, but the song was (and is, in my view) trivial and undeserving of anything better; the lyricist wanted a makeweight to balance 'Why, why, why?', and 'My, my, my' was the best they could do.

But the latest edition of Antisocial has made me think again. That episode is all about the context of songs involving murder, and changing attitudes to them, centring on the fuss surrounding the singing of Delilah. It is, if you haven't heard it (and if you haven't I'd say there were better things you could do with your time than to make good that lack of experience), a murder ballad (oh yes, it's an official genre) about a man killing his lover for sleeping with someone else.

She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more

Murder ballads involve various victims and killers: in Bruton Town the killers are two brothers:

'I think our servant courts our sister
I think they have in mind to wed.
I'll put an end to all their courtship.
I'll send him silent to his grave.'

The murdered servant appears in her dreams, and blabs:

'Your two brothers killed me cruelly,
In such a place you may me find.'

If you know the Keats poem Isabella, or the pot of basil it's broadly the same story, and dates back to Bocaccio (if not before).

In Cruel Sister it's one sister killing another (over a knight, wouldn't you know?) by pushing her into the sea:

'Your own true love that I'll have and more...
But thou shalt never come ashore.'

In Frankie and Johnny it's the woman (Frankie) killing the man... and so on. Sex is usually involved, and the man is often the aggressor. And one speaker on that edition of Antisocial points out that this sort of violence isn't the exclusive province of The Great Unwashed: Carmen involves a murder of passion.
And high culture infects other areas: a recent edition of Radio 3 Breakfast was slumming it for a moment, playing Joan Baez singing El preso número nueve, and the presenter said it was about a man going to the Underworld to find his 'true love'. Now maybe the sleeve notes gave this impression to the announcer. I rather think though that she (no names, no pack-drill, though if you were having Alpen for breakfast you'd be only one letter short of her name) had romantical notions inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice.

The prisoner in question is about to be shot for the double murder of his love (anything but 'true') and his rival. He tells his confessor 
'Padre, no me arrepiento...
Voy a seguir sus passos
Voy a buscarlos al más allà' 
He's unrepentant (which, as any Catholic will tell you – at least in those less morally flexible times meant he accepted that he was not going to be absolved). They had sinned in their adultery, he had sinned in his murder, and he didn't want absolution; he wanted a ticket to Hell so that he could follow them al más allà and make their eternal lives (deaths) a misery. (OK, it doesn't make a lot of sense, but cut the poor bloke a bit of slack; he was upset.)

So, with all this talk of domestic violence, and dodgy statistics (which may lead to an update at some stage) I've realized that 'My, my, my Delilah' is an assertion of possession (which 'justifies' his behaving like a man possessed (geddit?)).

But I must do some note-bashing for this: 

Just over a month to go...


Update: 2023.02.15.14:50 – Added PS


I first sang Monteverdi's Beatus Vir in CCCCCC (that's Corpus Christi College Cambridge Chapel Choir)...

(which was the first real choir I sang in, apart from my school's "VIth Form Choir", which was less a choir than a scam to bulk out our UCCA form – predecessor of UCAS – and my primary school's contribution to a massed children's choir that sang Jerusalem at Ealing Town Hall in the late 1950s)

... in 1971. It sticks in my mind for three reasons:

  • I sang one of the soprano lines, as in those unenlightened days there were no women in the choir and the baritones sang the soprano lines (at their pitch). 
  • I was standing rather precariously on a bench (and even now the refrain Beatus vir qui timet dominum makes my legs tremble). The bench also contributed to the amplification of...
  • ... the disturbance caused by my foot-tapping, which a fellow baritone told me was 'not the sort of thing a chap did'

Update: 2023.02.19.19:30 – Added PPS


I've been thinking about that man on death row (El preso número nueve). I gave him too much credit for clarity of thought when I said he wanted to go to Hell; he thought he was going to heaven (at least until his time for judgement): yo sé que allá en el cielo el ser supremo nos juzgará ('I know that up there in heaven the supreme being will judge us'); he just assumed that the supreme being would share his warped view of what's right: a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. In fact he shares with the singer of Delilah the same self justifying 'it was all I could take' attitude: Ardió en su pecho el rencor/E no se pudo aguantar ('Anger flared up in his breast and he couldn't stop himself' – not unlike Tom Jones' 'Forgive me Delilah, I just couldn't take any more'). 

And just what happened at the scene of the crime? The lyrics say el preso... iba la noche del duelo...and there are no prizes for guessing what duelo means. On a first hearing I thought he just saw the two together ( mirar a su amor en brazos de su rival...), lost it, and killed them both. But a duel is one against one isn't it? So did he find the two, have his one-on-one, and then kill her (with malice aforethought, execution style)?

Perhaps I'm over-thinking this...

Update: 2023. – Added PPPS

You may have noticed that one of the works in tomorrow week's concert is <ching> Beatus Vir (well,. the programme just says Beatus Vir, but ever since this realization (read on for details) I have come to regard the <ching> as an important part of the title.

When I first saw the score for this piece it struck me that it would have made sense to start the syllable Be- on the up beat to a new bar ...

(I'm not sure whether  Monteverdi cared much about concept of bars; but the idea was curent – if fairly novel – in his day. Anyway, I imagine it's safe to assume that the barlines in the current published score are editorial.)

So why does the piece start with a <ching> on the harpsichord (catching the sopranos napping if they're not careful)?

And, over 50 years after I first saw and wondered about this, it's finally come to me. If the Be- did  fall on the up beat to a new bar the word Vir would fall on the fourth beat, which is no place for a butch word like Vir (='man').

....[C]onsider: 1+2+3+4+. The 1 and 3 are the strong beats and the 2 and 4 are the weaker beats. But the subdivided beats represented by the + are even weaker. The concept of stress in both music and in lyric has to do with meter. In a sequence of notes of equal length, some parts of the sequence are perceived as having a stronger emphasis.

When the piece starts with a <ching>, Vir falls naturally on the strongest beat of the second bar..I'm not sure this makes a whole lot of difference  to the way the music is perceived (after all, this Vir is Joe Blogs [albeit a fairly devout one], as opposed to the person identified in Ecce homo, so he doesn't especially merit a strong syllable), but it's satisfying to know why the editor did it

Monday, 6 February 2023

Suffer the little children...

 '...don't they?', in the words of a monologue I co-wrote (in the days when this wasn't such an Old joke).

The naming of this monologue, which had a vicar delivering a sermon...
 'The Lord My God is a jealous god, and he coveteth 10% of the gross' ... 'For behold, I am with you, even though ye walk in the Balls Pond Road'.                     
...marked my one and only collaboration with Douglas Adams: he was running the review where I hoped to deliver it, and suggested the title The Cross and the Switchblade
(Perhaps 'collaboration' is over-egging the pudding a little.)

The effect of social media on young people (on old people too, but especially on the young) has been of much current concern. In the light of the recent Independent article on young people's exposure to Internet porn, I thought a recent Medscape article  might be of interest. It wasn't

The U.S. Surgeon General says 13 years old is too young to begin using social media. [HD – Gosh!]

Most social media platforms including TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook allow users to create accounts if they say they are at least 13 years old.

"I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early. … It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, told CNN. [HD  I, personally, make a point of ignoring any sentence that starts 'I, personally, ...', unless it expresses a personal opinioin rather than, say, a professional one. Who cares what he thinks as a private citizen?]

Research has shown that teens are susceptible to cyberbullying and serious mental health impacts from social media usage and online activity during an era when the influence of the internet has become everywhere for young people. [HD  Who writes this stuff? 'Research has shown...' {jeez} 'the influence... has become everywhere']

But there was some value  in the Medscape article: it linked to one that actually said something – an artiucle from Pew Research, with the title 

Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022

It leads with an interesting graphic that shows the relative popularity in this age-group of various social media apps (and for a definition of 'this age-group' read the small print; presumably a teenager [a word I still use, fuddy-duddy that I am] of 18 or 19 is not 'a teen'). And if you're looking for the start of the Tik-Tok line, it didn't exist at the time of the earlier survey.

But stand by for damned lies. The survey was done in the USA, where the winner of a local race is 'the world champion', and where 'the world series' is played between teams based in the USA. The findings are similarly skewed:

Since 2014-15, there has been a 22 percentage point rise in the share of teens who report having access to a smartphone (95% now and 73% then). While teens’ access to smartphones has increased over roughly the past eight years, their access to other digital technologies, such as desktop or laptop computers or gaming consoles, has remained statistically unchanged.

The survey shows there are differences in access to these digital devices for certain groups. For instance, teens ages 15 to 17 (98%) are more likely to have access to a smartphone than their 13- to 14-year-old counterparts (91%). In addition, teen boys are 21 points more likely to say they have access to gaming consoles than teen girls – a pattern that has been reported in prior Center research.

"95% of teens have access to smartphones." Oh yeah? What about those in sub-Saharan Africa? Another survey (2018) from the same source says

Majorities in sub-Saharan Africa own mobile phones, but smartphone adoption is modest

And the first graphic shows how uneven the coverage is: 1 in 2 adults in South Africa, but fewer than 1 in 7 in Tanzania:

And that's just the adults. So next bit of clickbait that screams 

95% of teens own a smartphone

...take it with a pinch of sa... no, make that a squirt of BBQ sauce.

Update: 2023.02.07.16:55 – Added PS

When I first read that '95% of teens article' I thought 'Oh yeah? I bet the percentage is in single figures in Africa'. I was under-estimating the uptake of cell technology in Africa...

(in a way reminiscent of the racism reported in a recent Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, which makes it easier for Western conspiracy theorists to believe that aliens built the pyramids than that Egyptians did it themselves [and without, pace my primary school history books, using slave labour])

... .  But I should have known better.

One of my last teaching jobs, in 2013 or 2014, was at the Newbury HQ of Vodaphone. The student I was working with was concerned with the marketing of mobile phones in Africa, and in one lesson I reviewed and commented on a presentation she was going to give to her department ('all part of the service, ma'am'), with lots of figures about market penetration there and projections for the future. I have no clear memory of the details, but at the time they were surprising; and with the advent of smartphones I might have guessed that sales there – nearly 10 years later – would be considerable. 
World Bank collection of data, quoting figures from the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) gives an idea of the speed of this uptake: it is, as marketers would say, a hockey-stick curve. My Vodaphone lesson took place fairly early on, in the foothills of that near-vertical bit of the curve. As I had previously worked in the field of communications, and was used to marketing executives seeing such hockey-sticks round every corner, I was unconvinced at the time. But since that lesson the number of cellular subscriptions has more than doubled. 

Not all of these are smartphones though, and the spread of smartphones is very patchy.

That 2018 Pew Research article gives an idea of this patchiness:

In the lower three cases, in the two later years (and as the article was published in 2018 those two years are not bang-up-to-date) the rate of the increase was – at most  – 2% per year. In the top three cases the rate of increase was – at least – twice that; in the case of RSA, it's nearer 5%.

Sunday, 29 January 2023

AI - mightier than the sword?

Distinguished linguist Professor Naomi Baron, whose new book Who Wrote This? How AI and the Lure of Efficiency Threaten Human Writing is 'under contract' (which could mean anything...
In my brief time editing at Macdonald & Co. (soon, when I arrived, to become part of Robert Maxwell's ill-starred empire BPCC), I inherited dozens of titles that had been under contract (and repeatedly not delivered) for years. My chief responsibility, I soon realized, was to cancel them; I didn't last long.
...but I look forward to the book's apperarance).

In the meantime she has written about ChatGPT. an article whose discovery is an example of the chief reason for my contuing to maintain a very modest presence on Twitter as @leBobEnchainé; it lets you get to hear about interesting stuff that's in the pipeline.
Tools like ChatGPT are only the latest in a progression of AI programs for editing or generating text. In fact, the potential for AI undermining both writing skills and motivation to do your own composing has been decades in the making.

The academic world was intially fearful about tools like ChatGPT on the grounds that they would make cheating easier to do and harder to detect. But the possibilities are much more serious and far-reaching than that. She goes on:

In literate societies, writing has long been recognized as a way to help people think. Many people have quoted author Flannery O’Connor’s comment that “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” A host of other accomplished writers, from William Faulkner to Joan Didion, have also voiced this sentiment. If AI text generation does our writing for us, we diminish opportunities to think out problems for ourselves.

One eerie consequence of using programs like ChatGPT to generate language is that the text is grammatically perfect. A finished product. It turns out that lack of errors is a sign that AI, not a human, probably wrote the words, since even accomplished writers and editors make mistakes. Human writing is a process. We question what we originally wrote, we rewrite, or sometimes start over entirely.

This seems to be serious; and possibly it is. But some years back I wrote about the advent of desktop publishing and my kneejerk reaction against it, and then on mature reflection my growing sense that – although uncomfortable for the publishing industry – it was probably a Good Thing. I'm not convinced in the case of AI, but I am aware that when new technology changes things, people with a vested interest in the past oppose it – often by pointing at what we're losing; what they ignore is what is to be gained by the change. So I'm not going to rush to judgment (and yes, spellchecker, I do spell it that way).

Somewhere in Knowles Towers there is a copy of an unpublished article that I wrote - many years pre-blog - about how authors writing on computers meant that users of libraries bequeathed literary archives would no longer be able to piece together the genesis of a literary work, with substitutions and crossings out and reorganizations.

The naming of characters 

Just reporting an aperçu here. I was watching the new Pinocchio over Christmas (or rather the first 10 minutes; Oscar? Can't see what all the fuss is about). And as a result found that the eponymous wooden boy was named after the tree that his 'father' cut down; it was a pine tree – un pino.
And I suppose the creation of the name may have been influenced by one of the church-goers who reacted against the graven image ('... or the likeness of anything, either in the heavens above or the Earth beneath' as we used to say in RC circles). She used the term malocchio (='evil eye'). But I don't know whether this was a later addition by Guillermo...
The older of my brothers – in his mid-teens when I was learning to talk – was sensitive about being addressed with a name that sounded ( in my version of 'William') like 'women'. He had recently had a holiday in Spain, and knew the word Guillermo. So he tried to get me to use that instead. Until I could get my tongue around 'William'  I called him 'Gammo'.

...del Toro's scriptwriter. 

If he had been made from a balsa tree, he might've been called "Balsacchio", which might be thought to be a bit near the knuckle.


I met a new word earlier this week: alexithymia (which loosely translates to “no words for emotion” ' as Wikipedia puts it [I wonder who was the subject of that conversation]. As I usually do with words new to me, I tried to break it down into bits of words already familiar to me. The a- (as in 'aphasia') was obvious enough, and the -lexi- (as in 'dyslexia'). But what about the -thym-?

This is where a distant memory came to my rescue. In the 1950s, when advertising copy writers had a classical education,  household products had names with a classical pedigree like Vim (strength), Lux  (light), or Bovril (beef). There was a brand of toothpaste whose name  seemed strange to me when my family used to use it. 

Some of these products have survived more or less unchanged, and  Euthymol is one (with a reassuringly archaic design). And at last 
all is clear: eu- as in 'eulogy',' euthanasia', 'eucharist'...; -thym-' as in ... ALEXITHYMIA. It's all about feeling well. Whoever thought of that must have been very proud of themselves, but I don't imagine many of the product's users know or care.


And, in re HMRC and the tax dispute, I'm sick of people sanctimoniously trotting out that thing about the age-old British principle of 'Innocent until proven guilty'. That's about criminal proceedings, and we're not there (yet?). A decent person would have stood down pending investigation. Never mind 'Innocent until proven guilty'. What about 'Decent until proven duplicitous'?

Things to do.