What
 · Language

Modern Corporate English · “The client’s ask is simple,” he said, “but I’m not con­vict­ed that’s a good cri­te­ri­a; any­how, there are im­por­tant learn­ings for us.” How much of that do you hate? What­ev­er; liv­ing lan­guages don’t care what you think ...
 
Content-free · I’m think­ing about suc­cess­ful new com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel­s, and how we talk about what’s in them. On Twit­ter, we say tweets. In the bl­o­go­sphere and on Face­book, posts; al­so rants, re­views, and flames. Face­book has likes and now ev­ery­thing has links ...
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The Oxford English Dictionary · The OED means a whole lot to me; pro­fes­sion­al­ly, I owe it ev­ery­thing. My work on it was 26 (!) years ago, but then this spring I got an in­vi­ta­tion to their Sym­po­sium, which hap­pened last week, and there was on­ly one pos­si­ble an­swer. I’m pro­found­ly grate­ful they asked, and would do it again in a flash. This en­try, like the OED, is ex­treme in length and prone to ram­bling; but, I hope, al­so like the dic­tio­nary in that it might pro­vide plea­sure to peo­ple who like words for their own sake ...
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Xly · Here’s an as­ser­tion: “Women aren’t in­ter­est­ed in cod­ing jobs.” It’s both ob­vi­ous­ly true (look at the num­ber­s) and hor­ri­bly mis­lead­ing, be­cause lots of wom­en are in­ter­est­ed and get great jobs in my pro­fes­sion. This piece isn’t about wom­en and soft­ware, it’s about how to patch English so we can talk clear­ly about this sort of stuff ...
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Neologofaves · I so en­joy be­ing a cit­i­zen of the liv­ing and in fact sweaty smelly and horny English lan­guage. Here are some fa­vorite ne­ol­o­gisms of my adult years ...
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Left-Handed · The oth­er night I couldn’t sleep and my brain for some rea­son stum­bled on the no­tion of phras­es you can touch-type us­ing just your left hand. Then I re­al­ly couldn’t sleep.
[Up­date: It’s get­ting pret­ty weird in the com­ments.]
 ...
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That Word · Our son, now aged nine, still en­joys a bed­time sto­ry, and I en­joy read­ing them. He’s per­fect­ly lit­er­ate but his reading-for-pleasure reper­toire is along the lines of Har­ry Pot­ter, As­ter­ix, and Garfield. So I aim high­er: Tolkien, Homer, Le Guin. Re­cent­ly we start­ed on Huck­le­ber­ry Finn ...
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Donkeyists · I have al­ways been sweet on don­keys. I’ve pub­lished some fetch­ing don­key pho­tographs in this space, and have vis­it­ed the Don­key Sanc­tu­ary in Devon on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sion­s. Here­with a donkey-centric book re­view, trav­el rec­om­men­da­tion, and French word that needs a bet­ter English trans­la­tion ...
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As a bit of an i18n geek... · Thus writes James Clark, who’s ac­tu­al­ly one of the world’s supreme i18n geek­s. I18n is short for inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion; see, there are 18 let­ters be­tween the ‘i’ and the ‘n’. And you can call me T1m. Any­how, his es­say is fas­ci­nat­ing if you care about lan­guages or names, and con­tains the fol­low­ing re­mark­able sen­tence: “For ex­am­ple, an­oth­er of my em­ploy­ees has a name that sounds like the sec­ond syl­la­ble of the word ‘apple’, but with the ‘l’ changed to a ‘n’, and pro­nounced in an em­phat­ic (falling) tone.” I hope that bright­ens up your Fri­day.
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The Tower · I was talk­ing with an old friend about lots of things in­clud­ing the In­ter­net and the con­ver­sa­tion wan­dered some­how to the Old Tes­ta­men­t. She asked “Maybe the Net is like the tow­er of Babel?” It’s not that strained an anal­o­gy; what we’re try­ing to build does par­take of large-scale hubris. “But that sto­ry had an un­hap­py ending” I replied. And in­deed, were a venge­ful hand, di­vine or oth­er­wise, to in­ter­vene, to con­fuse our lan­guage so we could not un­der­stand each oth­er, that would be dis­as­trous at the scale of Ba­bel. I don’t think we’re try­ing to re­store the pre-Tower state though: Now the whole world had one lan­guage and a com­mon speech. Try­ing just to low­er con­ver­sa­tion­al fric­tion and bar­ri­ers to en­try for ev­ery­one in the world, that’s hubris enough.
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Single Dad · Lau­ren and the ba­by girl have been away in Ox­ford nine days, and the house un­ac­cus­tomed­ly qui­et. The boy and I are get­ting along OK in the eerie space and empti­ness. This af­ter­noon, he asked if he could go for a sleep-over at Samuel’s house, and I couldn’t see a rea­son to say no. When I packed him off with pa­ja­mas and a book and a “stuffie” (what the kids call stuffed-animal toys these days) sud­den­ly I re­al­ized that wow, I was alone. I could play the odd­est mu­sic as loud as I want­ed. I could have a wild par­ty that ran till to­mor­row. I could prac­tice my drum­ming. I could, well... I dun­no. What I re­al­ly want­ed was my fam­i­ly back. Then in the late north­ern dusk, the phone rang and it was Samuel’s mom: “We have a home­sick boy here”. So I went and brought him home, and sym­pa­thized, and helped him get set­tled when he couldn’t sleep. And was glad to have him back un­der my roof.
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The Number of the Rose · The ti­tle refers ob­vi­ous­ly to the Um­ber­to Eco work which any­one who cares about knowl­edge and its preser­va­tion ought to read if on­ly for fun; but the pic­ture refers on­ly to it­self. With ex­e­ge­sis from Lar­ry Wal­l. [Oh, my; give this au­di­ence a chance to in­dulge in lin­guis­tic pedantry and, well, you don’t have to ask twice. If you like this kind of stuff, don’t miss the com­ments.] ...
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Tab Sweep · Per­haps a lit­tle more all-over-the-map even than is usu­al: GPLv3 clar­i­ty, Func­tion­al Pearl­s, raina bird-writer, Ja­va cred­it­s, frame­work pro­gram­mer­s, and hack­ing my Canon ...
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Oh My Goodness Gracious · In a re­cent piece on the new Pro­ject Black­box, I used some coarse lan­guage, in an id­iomat­ic way, not giv­ing it much thought. The con­se­quences were sur­pris­ing ...
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Online Picture Dictionary · Our son is in French Im­mer­sion school, and lots of times there are words in his sto­ry­books that don’t ap­pear in my workable-but-limited French vo­cab­u­lary. One time I’d mis­placed the Larousse, but I thought for a sec­ond and re­alised I wasn’t stuck. I went and typed it in­to the near­est on­line im­age search, and there I was. So next time you find you don’t know what a sauterelle or a cit­rouille is, look no fur­ther.
 
Writing and Speaking · Right now I’m work­ing on my ApacheCon keynote. I de­cid­ed not to use slides; ac­tu­al­ly, that’s not quite true, I have ex­act­ly four slides, which con­tain, in ag­gre­gate, five word­s. (I will, how­ev­er, have prop­s). This means that I pret­ty well have to write out the whole speech. I’m do­ing it here in on­go­ing as a blog en­try, sim­ply be­cause I’ve got a highly-tuned writ­ing en­vi­ron­ment where I can go fast. I’m not go­ing to hit the “publish” but­ton be­cause un­like some peo­ple, I don’t have the courage to show the world half-baked works-in-progress, and any­how, it con­tains a re­al ac­tu­al Prod­uct An­nounce­men­t. What’s in­ter­est­ing is that as I go back and forth edit­ing the tex­t, I’m con­scious that these are words to be spo­ken, rather than read off the screen, and it makes a big dif­fer­ence. Among oth­er things, it means that when I’m fin­ished, if I de­cide to pub­lish it here, I’m go­ing to have to go back and do a ma­jor re-write, be­cause while I hope it sounds nat­u­ral com­ing off the stage, it sure doesn’t read like any­thing I’d write.
 
Tom Cheek · Ah, Tom died. Base­ball broad­casts on ra­dio are one of the few pre­serves of English oral po­et­ry (The right-hander wind­s, work­s, deal­s... in­sid­e!) and Tom will go on those poets’ hon­our rol­l. As­tound­ing­ly, he called 4,306 con­sec­u­tive games over 27 sea­sons with­out miss­ing one. Dur­ing the Blue Jays’ double-World-Series run in the ear­ly Nineties I was a se­ri­ous enough fan that when I was watch­ing the games on TV, I’d turn off the sound and lis­ten to Tom and Jer­ry on the ra­dio. Tom’s finest hour, they say, was Joe Carter’s game-six walk-off homer in ’93, but for the re­al fan­s, I think the day in ’92 when Alo­mar blew up Eck­er­s­ley was a sweet­er tri­umph; I re­mem­ber the announcers’ vis­cer­al cry of joy like it was yes­ter­day. We’ll miss ya.
 
Zlatorog · It’s fun­ny, that’s al­l. Every­where you go in Kapor-Capodistria, the beer is Zla­torog. We were sit­ting around and I did a lit­tle sur­vey around the ta­ble and, sure enough, An­glo­phones, to a one, think that name is fun­ny. The rest of the Eurotypes looked puz­zled. I put on a melodrama-narrator’s voice and said “The Vo­gon gen­er­alis­si­mo Zla­torog ex­trud­ed a slimy ap­pendage and curled it around our heroine’s shud­der­ing curves...” but that didn’t seem to help. I have a pic­ture of Zla­torog and Danese Coop­er, itin­er­ant Open Source Di­va ...
 
The Important Things in Life · To es­says about Storms and Pol­i­tics and Love and Death I say “Bah!”; hav­ing en­joyed this mas­ter­ful FT piece by Trevor But­ter­worth, I feel that a great weight has lift­ed from my shoul­der­s, and that the semi­colons which al­ways lit­ter my first drafts are, well, OK; stand by to see a lot more here.
 
Une espionne de la CIA? · Good heav­en­s, for peo­ple who en­joy po­lit­i­cal the­atre, this Amer­i­can Rove/Plame thing looks like it’ll be a long-running standing-room-only smash hit. The bat­tle lines couldn’t be stark­er; con­sid­er The Big Lie About Va­lerie Plame vs. Karl Rove, Whistle­blow­er. If what you want is amus­ing polemic­s, the right-wingers seem to be gen­er­al­ly ly­ing pret­ty low, so you have to look left, where in­deed a few of the live­li­er colum­nists have their teeth sunk glee­ful­ly deep in­to Ad­min­is­tra­tion flesh. For ex­am­ple, drop by Bill­mon and sa­vor the fla­vor. Believe it or not, I do have an orig­i­nal an­gle; a week back, when the sto­ry first broke, Libération ran a sto­ry en­ti­tled Karl Rove: Le con­seiller de Bush est-il l’homme qui a révélé l’identité d’une es­pi­onne de la CIA? and I just want­ed to say how much I love that word es­pi­onne, there’s noth­ing in English that feels re­mote­ly the same.
 
Aw, Shucks · Calling all en­gi­neers (and sci­en­tists and mil­i­tary of­fi­cer­s, al­though I sus­pect there are few­er of those in the on­go­ing read­er­ship): hop on over and check out Dervala’s kind words about your com­mu­ni­ca­tions skill­s. Some say we’re inar­tic­u­late... bah! Al­so she’s load­ed up her piece with point­ers to use­ful writing-related stuff.
 
No Solution · Our com­pa­ny vi­su­als are be­ing re­designed, see Martin Hardee’s write-up; looks good. But as a side-effect, I looked at our front page and it still con­tains four in­stances of that vile word “solution”, plus more in the menus, plus it in­fests the rest of the site like aphids on a rose-bush. Bah. Dear world, take it from me: at Sun we sell ac­tu­al re­al com­put­ers and net­works and con­sult­ing and in­fras­truc­ture ser­vices and soft­ware sub­scrip­tion­s; you can safe­ly ig­nore the marketing-speak. It’s not just us; here’s a quick high-tech home-page “solution” sur­vey, on­go­ing is all about quan­ti­ta­tive re­search: CA leads the pack with 9, SAP trail­ing with 7. BEA has 3, IBM, Mi­crosoft, Novel­l, and Or­a­cle all have 2, Adobe, well it’s hard to tel­l, 1½ vis­i­ble but lots more hid­ing in pop-ups and so on. In­tel, Cis­co, and HP have but one. Con­sumer plays like Ya­hoo and Google are hap­pi­ly “solution”-free. [Up­date: And I thought they were so clue­ful! It turns out that, de­pend­ing where you’re com­ing from, some ver­sions of Google’s front page have a link to “Business Solutions”; thanks for the point­er to Will Fitzger­ald.]
 
Inverting Sentences · I was read­ing the O’Reilly JXTA book and en­coun­tered this: A prop­a­gate pipe con­nects one out­put pipe to mul­ti­ple in­put pipes. “OK,” I thought, “things get put in­to mul­ti­ple pipes and they get mul­ti­plexed to­geth­er and come out of one pipe.” In fac­t, a few sen­tences lat­er, I re­al­ized I had it ex­act­ly back­ward: you out­put in­to one pipe and it gets copied in­to mul­ti­ple pipes and oth­ers can get in­put from them. I think you can read that sen­tence ei­ther way with­out much strain. Ain’t lan­guage won­der­ful?
 
The Wrath of Heaven · May it vis­it laryn­gi­tis, hal­i­to­sis and a se­vere stut­ter on those ven­dors who de­scribe disk drives, net­work router­s, print­er­s, com­put­er­s, or pret­ty well any­thing that con­tains sil­i­con and plugs in, as “solutions”. A disk drive is not a so­lu­tion dammit, it’s a disk drive. This is so freak­ing re­tard­ed, can there be a liv­ing hu­man be­ing who be­lieves any­one will be more will­ing to drop the $450 on their box be­cause it’s de­scribed as a “storage solution”? Bah.
 
47 Ways To Say “Broken” ·  Ballsed up. Ban­jaxed. Blown up. Bol­lixed. Borked. Bricked. Broked. Bug­gered (up). Bunged. Bust­ed. Bus­ti­cat­ed. Casters-up mod­e. Clapped out. Crapped out. Cocked up. DOA. Done in. Down. Frapped out. Fried. Fucked (up). Fubar. Garfed. Gone pear-shaped. Goobered. Gronked. Horked. Hosed. Ka­put. Knack­ered. NFG. Off the rail­s. On the blink. On the fritz. Pooched. Roached. Screwed. Shagged. Shot. Sna­fu. Stuffed. Tits up. Toast. U/S. Wedged. Wonky. Zorched. Note once again the vi­tal­i­ty of English, with con­tri­bu­tions from en­gi­neer­ing and mil­i­tary jar­gon in­ter­breed­ing or­gan­i­cal­ly, and in one case cheer­ful bor­row­ing from our Ger­man cousin­s. I’d pre­fer not to dwell on the log­i­cal in­fer­ence that en­gi­neers re­gard any sys­tem that’s ac­tu­al­ly work­ing as a tem­po­rary anoma­ly. [Up­date: This was pub­lished in Au­gust 2004, but just now I ran across a dusty, ne­glect­ed email fold­er la­beled “words for broken” with late sug­ges­tion­s. This frag­ment is now closed, fur­ther sug­ges­tions will be rude­ly ig­nored.] ...
 
Norbert! · That would be our Nor­bert Lin­den­berg, whose blog is about in­ter­na­tion­al­iza­tion and is called “World Views” and is ex­cel­len­t. A cou­ple of days ago he showed where we need to be bet­ter world-citizens in our customer-facing in­ter­nal tool­s, and to­day he fol­lows up with an ab­so­lute slam-dunk demon­stra­tion of why you’d be nuts not to do the right thing. His chart is su­per­b; you can bet I’m go­ing to be us­ing it to help get the mes­sage across, down the road. Oh, and the meta-message: when you em­pow­er your peo­ple to speak out, some­one who’s smart and coura­geous and has ini­tia­tive, like Nor­bert, can step up and ex­er­cise lead­er­ship.
 
The Decline of Script · I think the fine art of hand­writ­ing is about done for ...
 
Politocolinguistic Militancy · Scan­ning the BBC news be­fore break­fast, I read that U.S.-Pakistan re­la­tions are im­prov­ing, and that this “coincided with an army of­fen­sive against sus­pect­ed mil­i­tants that of­fi­cials say has left 17 dead.” I am doubly-irritated; first, at the cur­rent us­age of the word “militant” (chiefly by the gov­ern­ments of the U.S. and its al­lies) mean­ing “someone whom it’s OK to kill” (or in this case, whom it’s OK to kill on sus­pi­cion). A mil­i­tant is some­one who is tak­ing up arms in sup­port of a cause: his­tor­i­cal ex­am­ples would in­clude Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, Charles de Gaulle, and Simón Bolívar. Mil­i­tants, his­tor­i­cal­ly speak­ing, are some­times con­sid­ered ad­mirable peo­ple; par­tic­u­lar­ly when up in arms against cor­rup­t, op­pres­sive, mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship­s. Like, for ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan. Which isn’t to say that ev­ery­one fight­ing against Gen­er­al Mushar­raf is a fine per­son. But when the Amer­i­cans or Is­raelis or Saud­is or who­ev­er equate “militant” with “license to kill”, that’s of­fen­sive on a bunch of lev­el­s. And as for be­ing on good terms with the cur­rent Pak­istani regime... Amer­i­ca has his­tor­i­cal­ly got very poor re­sults from prop­ping up enemy-of-our-enemies dic­ta­tors, but keeps try­ing. Fol­low the link and look at the pic­ture, which kind of says it al­l, for me.
 
WWWW and Poo Poo · I’d like, in a high-toned kind of way, to rec­om­mend the ex­cel­lent World Wide Words web­site and feed (I used four W’s be­cause the “Web” is as­sumed pre­sen­t), which, for those who care about lan­guage in a schol­ar­ly way or are just look­ing for et­y­mo­log­i­cal belly-laughs (o­ri­gin of “skivvies” any­one?) can’t be beat. Descend­ing a cou­ple of lev­el­s, I can’t help but note, in my ca­pac­i­ty as oc­ca­sion­al play­ground su­per­vi­sor, that in the decades since I was in kinder­garten, the child­hood taunt “Na-na-na-na-na” has mor­phed in­to “Na-na-na-poo-poo.” This is clear­ly an im­prove­men­t, in­cor­po­rat­ing both vow­el vari­a­tion and sca­to­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tion. My con­grat­u­la­tions to whichev­er younger gen­er­a­tion in­no­vat­ed while I wasn’t lis­ten­ing.
 
60th IETF Notes · Here­with a newbie’s first im­pres­sions from a cou­ple of days in the IETF mael­strom ...
 
Poetry, Go, Kerry · I love live sports (which is to say, rit­u­al­ized con­flic­t) and I love lan­guage, so how could I not love the po­lit­i­cal are­na? Here­with some notes pro­voked by the just-ended and much-blogged Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion ...
 
Spasms · A Ja­panese friend of many years has changed his email ad­dress and ex­plains why: I had to do this change to avoid tens of hun­dreds of spasms and un­so­licit­ed emails I re­ceive ev­ery day. Couldn’t have said it bet­ter my­self.
 
Get Up, Stand Up · I was at a con­fer­ence near Wash­ing­ton re­cent­ly, at­tend­ed by a sam­pling of geeks from across the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty; ev­ery three-letter agen­cy you’ve ev­er heard of plus lots of mil­i­tary and some law en­force­men­t. They were talk­ing about de­ploy­ing com­put­er ap­pli­ca­tions and, one af­ter an­oth­er, de­scribed about how they would “stand up” the doc­u­ment repos­i­to­ry or the search en­gine or the mes­sage router or what­ev­er. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of peo­ple talk­ing about work­ing on a lot of ap­pli­ca­tion de­ploy­ments, but this us­age is new to me. I won­der if it’s a de­fense/in­tel­li­gence thing, or some­thing that’s out there in the cor­po­rate world too, these days? It works well in con­ver­sa­tion, so I think it may spread.
 
Imbroglio Polyglotte · This, from Libération, is about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of deal­ing with the lan­guages of the Euro­pean Union, now twen­ty in num­ber. If you can read French it’s well worth a vis­it. Its charms in­clude the find­ing that more lan­guages avail­able mean­s, in fac­t, few­er used; char­ac­ters named Pa­trick Twi­dle and Ber­it Tecäär; and the won­der­ful quote “On n'a pas parlé. Alors, en fin de repas, on a dansé...” I wouldn’t know how to say that in English, we have to limp along with­out on. Know any Slovenian-Portuguese trans­la­tors?
 
Weblogueur · This popped up in the Libération RSS feed: Le Net épie l'éthique de la presse: Un jour­nal­iste faus­saire du «Chicago Tribune» démasqué par un we­blogueur. Dig that last word.
 
Two Laws of Explanation · There’s been a lot of buzz re­cent­ly around Edge.org’s as­sem­blage of “Laws” pro­posed by In­ter­est­ing Peo­ple. No­body asked me for one, but late­ly I’ve been do­ing some con­sult­ing for Dick Hardt’s stealth start­up Sx­ip Net­works while I look for a gig and it re­freshed my ap­pre­ci­a­tion of maybe the most im­por­tant les­son I’ve learned over the last cou­ple of decades, maybe enough to pump it up and claim it’s a Law, in fact two: Here­with the Two Laws of Ex­pla­na­tion ...
 
Newsfeeds and Language Learning · I have no gift for for­eign lan­guages but due to hav­ing grown up over­seas can limp along in bad French. I usu­al­ly get to France once ev­ery year or two and af­ter a few days find that I am limp­ing faster. I just re­alised that Libération, the news­pa­per I read while in France, has an RSS feed, so I sub­scribed and now I’m read­ing a few hun­dred words a day en Français (with oc­ca­sion­al help from ei­ther this French-English dic­tio­nary or this one). Why is Libération my pa­per of choice? Among oth­er things, be­cause it’s a tabloid and easy to car­ry; if you walk in­to a café or restau­rant or store in France with a copy of Libération stuffed un­der your ar­m, the lo­cals will in­stant­ly as­sume you’re not a gringo and you’ll prob­a­bly get treat­ed a lot bet­ter. Try it, it work­s.
 
To Read · The English verb to Read is un­sat­is­fac­to­ry, in that its past par­tici­ple is in­dis­tin­guish­able from many present-tense con­ju­ga­tion­s. When I say “I read that the For­eign Min­is­ter stated...” it is un­clear whether I read it last May or whether hav­ing now read it I am about to re­ac­t. This aris­es be­cause in com­pos­ing a brief email on an emotionally-charged subject—Israel/Palestine—I be­came aware that when I wrote “I read” it was to­tal­ly un­clear whether I had read or do read, and this kind of sub­tle­ty re­al­ly mat­ters in this kind of ter­ri­to­ry. I pro­pose that we dis­tin­guish the past par­tici­ple of read by adding an ex­tra ‘d’ so when I write “readd” it’s pro­nounced “red” and ev­ery­one knows what I mean.
 
Moveable Text · NetNewsWire has a fea­ture where it will show you the dif­fer­ences on suc­ces­sive re­vi­sions of a sto­ry, which is in­ter­est­ing, some­times amus­ing, and prob­a­bly too em­bar­rass­ing for pub­lish­ers to live with. Here­with a cou­ple of sur­pris­ing ex­am­ples and a war sto­ry with a fun­ny look in­side Mi­crosoft ...
 
Nasty Neologisms · A cou­ple of new us­ages have come across my radar, both from the wrong side of the English-language track­s. Many have said that English is, rel­a­tive to oth­er lan­guages, poorly-supplied with ob­scen­i­ties and im­pre­ca­tion­s. So let’s wel­come a cou­ple that have ar­rived in the last decade, and they’re not just stan­dalone word­s, they have com­bi­na­to­ri­al po­ten­tial, which is even bet­ter. Here­with a sur­vey of new us­ages based around the Old English root ass, and a look at what is as far as I can tell a rel­a­tive­ly new base for­m, frick ...
 
A Working Bit Bucket · On a non-technical er­rand to­day, I ran across a work­ing bit buck­et. I’m not kid­ding and I have the pic­ture to prove it, check it out. Which leads to a lin­guis­tic co­nun­drum and yet an­oth­er (mer­ci­ful­ly short) ser­mon on stan­dard­s ...
 
Alleys and Lanes and Their People · Here in the Western part of Canada, the blocks in res­i­den­tial neigh­bour­hoods are laid out with a lane be­tween each two street­s. From whence notes on words’ se­man­tic spread, and on those los­ing the fight against their cities ...
 
Mish-Mish · Mish-mish is Ara­bic (col­lo­qui­al Le­banese Ara­bic, any­how) for apri­cot. When I was a kid there, it was al­so the ex­pres­sion for what health food stores here call “apricot leather” (il­lus­trat­ed be­low). It al­so has an amus­ing sec­ond mean­ing hav­ing to do with a dis­tant to­mor­row ...
 
Emoji · We An­glo­phones en­joy a liv­ing lan­guage but are stuck with a long-dead char­ac­ter set; are 26 let­ters re­al­ly enough to last from now to the end of English? Others are more for­tu­nate; Asians not on­ly have more char­ac­ters but get new ones. The brand-new Re­lease 4.0 of Uni­code de­fines 96,513 char­ac­ter­s, of which the vast ma­jor­i­ty are Asian. This note is pro­voked by the Emo­ji phe­nomenon, worth a look in its own right, but the is­sues of lan­guages and char­ac­ters and their growth are big ones ...
 
On Being Wrong · What hap­pened was, I wrote a small es­say on the us­age “What hap­pened was...”, opin­ing that it was Amer­i­can and had been dragged in­to the main­stream by El­more Leonard. Was I ev­er wrong (al­so, a side-trip in­to Cor­nish com­e­dy) ...
 
What Happened Was... · I was just watch­ing the BBC TV stream (had to use a Win­dows box, my Mac can't get it). In a live broad­cast from the out­skirts of Bas­ra, their cor­re­spon­dent Hi­lary An­der­s­son in her hard-edged (for the Bee­b) North Eng­land voice said: “What hap­pened was, <pause>...” Beau­ti­ful; pure Amer­i­can, dragged in­to the main­stream, as near as I can tel­l, by El­more Leonard ...
 
On the Goodness of Unicode · Quite a few soft­ware pro­fes­sion­als have learned that they need to wor­ry about in­ter­na­tion­al­iz­ing soft­ware, and some of those have learned how to go about do­ing it. For those get­ting start­ed, here­with a brief in­tro­duc­tion to Uni­code, the one tech­nol­o­gy that you have to get com­fort­able with if you're go­ing to do a good job as a soft­ware cit­i­zen of the world ...
 
The Phaistos Disk · In an ar­gu­ment the oth­er day I said “Give up, it's like the Phais­tos Disk, you'll nev­er fig­ure it out.” I got blank stares, and re­al­ized that not ev­ery­one knows about this beau­ti­ful, unique and mys­te­ri­ous ob­jec­t. Here's a pic­ture ...
 
Wow, *new* Punctuation! · It can't be that of­ten that our lan­guage ac­quires an en­tire­ly new punc­tu­a­tion id­iom, but over the past decade, the prac­tice of high­light­ing *im­por­tan­t* words with as­ter­isks has come in un­der the radar and is now ubiq­ui­tous. Frankly, I think emoti­cons will have no more longevi­ty than CB Ra­dio or the Zero Op­tion or any oth­er short-lived cul­tur­al flour­ish, but the stars work so well vi­su­al­ly that I'm bet­ting they stick. In fac­t, when re­cent ver­sions of Mozilla's email client start­ed to em­bold­en words thus framed, I didn't even no­tice for a while, than I laughed out loud when I did. But that's noth­ing ...
 
Traction · I spent the af­ter­noon in a meet­ing of the ad­vi­so­ry board of Make Tech­nol­o­gy, on which I serve. They do what they call “Standards Based Automation”; their prod­uct lets you write down most of your se­man­tics and da­ta mod­el in a bunch of XML Schemas and XSLT and so on, then gen­er­ate moun­tains of Ja­va code to do all the plumb­ing for what­ev­er your app serv­er is - if you've got a big Ja­va de­vel­op­ment project in the works you could do worse than call them. Any­how, we were talk­ing about how they've been do­ing in re­cent months and the CEO said “We're re­al­ly get­ting trac­tion with this stuff”. Boy, I've been hear­ing that word a lot re­cent­ly ...
 
Fundoshi · OK, I know I said I wasn't go­ing to point at ephemer­a. This one cour­tesy of my broth­er. Ja­panese tra­di­tion­al un­der­wear. That step six looks risky.
 
The Faces of Asian Women · This may sound nut­s, but I think people's faces re­flect the lan­guage they speak. Per­haps be­cause of my Pa­cif­ic Rim base, I find this par­tic­u­lar­ly ob­vi­ous in the faces of Asian wom­en. A huge num­ber of the peo­ple here in Van­cou­ver are of Chi­nese ex­trac­tion, res­i­dent for pe­ri­ods any­where be­tween four gen­er­a­tions and a few week­s. Be­ing a nor­mal­ly male sort of per­son, I'm giv­en to look­ing close­ly at women's faces. And quite of­ten, when I look, I can tell in­stant­ly "she speaks gener­ic North Amer­i­can English" or "she's a re­cent im­mi­grant and has a heavy accent." ...
 
Diss · I first heard some­one use "diss" some­time in the mid-nineties, which prob­a­bly means that it en­tered the ver­nac­u­lar a few years be­fore that. I have the vague idea that it come out of Black Amer­i­can par­lance as a short­en­ing of "disrespect", but I've nev­er seen this looked in­to se­ri­ous­ly. It's a good, use­ful, word, and what's sur­pris­ing is the hole in the lan­guage that we didn't know was there un­til it was filled ...
 
Loquacious and Lackluster · To­day, in a pre­sen­ta­tion at Fort Mon­roe, Dr. Ge­of­frey Malaf­sky, a sci­ence con­sul­tant for the Navy, used both of these words in a pre­sen­ta­tion on Knowl­edge Man­age­ment (no, I don't know what KM is ei­ther). I'm not sure I've ev­er heard ei­ther of these words in spo­ken use be­fore, but they both worked well, and I bet I find my­self us­ing them.
 
No, I Don't Need To · There has been a re­al­ly ir­ri­tat­ing spread, in­to (most­ly the spo­ken) lan­guage, of the use of the ver­bal phrase "to need to". This is most com­mon­ly found in the mouths of mi­nor of­fi­cials or bul­ly­ing diplo­mat­s, as in "You need to re­move all the keys and change from your pockets" or "Saddam needs to stop hid­ing his weapons." ...
 
Wife-Beater · There is a va­ri­ety of sleeve­less T-shirt that is called a sin­glet Down Un­der (maybe in Bri­tain too?), and a muscle-shirt (most­ly on males) or tank-top (most­ly on fe­males) here in the New World. It's a little-known fact that a black sin­glet is a cul­tur­al­ly im­por­tant sig­ni­fi­er of New Zealand-ness. Google sug­gests that on these shores, a sin­glet is what wrestlers wear ...
 
Writing and Programming · on­go­ing is a project si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly in writ­ing and pro­gram­ming; I write the en­tries and in par­al­lel fid­dle with the soft­ware that pub­lish­es it. This is a pret­ty in­volv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and there aren't that many of us in the world who get to en­joy it ...
 
Bah! · It's nice to be a na­tive speak­er of a liv­ing lan­guage; if you keep your eyes open you can watch us­ages get born, flour­ish, and die; or some­times find a per­ma­nent foothold in the pop­u­la­tion ...
 
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