UK grows fast while wages and investment stagnate. So, what drives growth? The annihilation of savings & a another credit bubble. Great!

January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Take One Lemon 1971 by Margaret Harrison born 1940

Do you know which words entered the English language around the same time you entered the world? Use our OED birthday word generator to find out.  read more

ART: Margaret F Harrison

It’s OK to sleep, you’ll still be miserable in the morning

December 10, 2013 § Leave a comment


During the past decade or two, there’s been a growing body of work arguing for a special connection between endogenous brain rhythms and timing patterns in speech. Thus Anne-Lise Giraud & David Poeppel, “Cortical oscillations and speech processing: emerging computational principles and operations”, Nature Neuroscience 2012:

Neuronal oscillations are ubiquitous in the brain and may contribute to cognition in several ways: for example, by segregating information and organizing spike timing. Recent data show that delta, theta and gamma oscillations are specifically engaged by the multi-timescale, quasi-rhythmic properties of speech and can track its dynamics. We argue that they are foundational in speech and language processing, ‘packaging’ incoming information into units of the appropriate temporal granularity. Such stimulus-brain alignment arguably results from auditory and motor tuning throughout the evolution of speech and language and constitutes a natural model system allowing auditory research to make a unique contribution to the issue of how neural oscillatory activity affects human cognition…

A possible weakness of Luo and Poeppel 2007 (a fascinating and deservedly influential study) was that the same phase analysis that they found to identify the brain responses to different sentences also worked in exactly the same way when applied to the amplitude envelope of the original audio. This suggests that simple modulation of auditory-cortex response by input signal amplitude might be the main mechanism, rather than any more elaborate process of phase-locking of endogenous brain rhythms.  read more

MAP: Environmental Agency

A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness

August 16, 2013 § Leave a comment


Matthew Engel is a British journalist who doesn’t like Americanisms. The Financial Times columnist told BBC listeners that American English is an unstoppable force whose vile, ugly, and pointless new usages are invading England “in battalions.” He warned readers of his regular FT column that American imports like truck, apartment, and movies are well on their way to ousting native lorries, flats, and films…

It should surprise no one that the Brits have been complaining about Americanisms since they first came to America. The word Americanism was actually coined in 1781 by John Witherspoon, a Scot who relocated to New Jersey and became the first president of Princeton.

Witherspoon intended his new word to be neutral: an Americanism was simply “an use of phrases or terms, or a construction of sentences” that differed from British usage. He coined it on the analogy of Scotticism, a term of insult that goes back to the 17th century. Witherspoon tried to treat Scotticism as a neutral term as well, though as he did so he acknowledged that “the Scottish manner of speaking came to be considered as provincial barbarism; which, therefore, all scholars are now at the utmost pains to avoid.”

Some of Witherspoon’s best friends were Americans, and he saw that in light of American independence, and in the course of time, American English could be expected to diverge from the language of England and develop its own standards. But while he waited for this to happen, Witherspoon found many American errors and improprieties to complain about.

Witherspoon, like Engel, objected to a number of so-called Americanisms that turned out to be British…  read more


And if that didn’t happen, well, there was always an explanation, which was an inadequate degree of zeal

July 11, 2013 § Leave a comment


In 1837, the British cutter Lambton sailed from Sydney to Ngatik (now Sapwuahfik), a tiny island in Micronesia. On orders from Captain Charles “Bloody” Hart, who hoped to take control of the valuable supply of tortoise shells there, the crew massacred all the men on the island. They left behind some European and Ponapean crew members, installing an Irishman named Paddy Gorman as a “chief,” and the sailors claimed the widowed island women as their wives.

Today, the islanders speak a dialect of the Ponapean language of the region. But there is another language spoken on the island, called Ngatikese Men’s Language or Ngatikese Pidgin, that is spoken only by men. It was described by the late well-known linguist of Austronesian languages, Darrell Tryon. The women and children on the island can understand it, but it is primarily used among men engaged in male domain activities like fishing and boat-building. It developed from an English-based pidgin—one of many in Austronesia—but because Ngatik lies so far from the main shipping routes of the region, it resisted further mixing, remaining today a sort of preserved historical crumb dropped from a passing ship. It is the echo of the voices of those 19th century sailors.

This makes it different from the other pidgins of the region, such as Tok Pisin and Bisalma, which developed over a long period of steady contact with shipboard language, and have many features in common with each other.  read more

ART: Jessica Harrison

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man gets his good eye poked out

June 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


On Twitter, a friend asked “Twenty years from now, how many Chinese words will be common parlance in English?” I replied that we’ve already had 35 years since Deng Xiaoping began opening China’s economy, resulting in its stratospheric rise—but almost no recent Chinese borrowings in English.

Many purported experts are willing to explain China to curious (and anxious) westerners. And yet I can’t think of even one Chinese word or phrase that has become “common parlance in English” recently. The only word that comes close might be guanxi, the personal connections and relationships critical to getting things done in China. Plenty of articles can be found discussing the importance of guanxi, but the word isn’t “common in English” by any stretch.

Most Chinese words now part of English show, in their spelling and meaning, to have been borrowed a long time ago, often from non-Mandarin Chinese varieties like Cantonese. Kowtowgung ho and to shanghai are now impeccably English words we use with no reference to China itself. Kung fu, tai chi, feng shui and the like are Chinese concepts and practices westerners are aware of. And of course bok choy, chow mein and others are merely Chinese foods that westerners eat; I would say we borrowed the foods, and their Chinese names merely hitched a ride into English.

Given China’s rocket-ride to prominence, why so little borrowing?  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mariya Kozhanova

What fresh hell is this?

March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment


You know I hate it when people mock English-as-a-second-language speakers for their grammatical missteps. If your sense of humor is so unrefined as to find ESL speakers’ errors jestworthy, I think you’re a boor. Internet society doesn’t think the same, but then again, Internet society also thinks it’s acceptable to shout “FIRST!” in a comment thread and that being racist when you know better is somehow subversive.

So I hope you won’t think me hypocritical for mocking someone whose knowledge of English is clearly lacking. There’s a key difference, though, in that English is this person’s native language. On an old post talking about one of the only, I recently got this comment:

‘One of the only’ is poor grammar because ‘one of’ implies plural and ‘the only’ implies one. ‘One of the one’ doesn’t do much for logic.


If you have gone a sizable portion of your life speaking and hearing English (which I assume one has to have to be bloviating on what’s poor grammar) and you think that only implies one, then you do not know English.  read more

ART: Wolfgang Stifter

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