Super Normal

Just another normal day, shopping for Normal Things at Rosauers.

 

PenneChreese

 

Oh, nothing to see here.  Just a perfectly normal box of penne and ch–

 

Chreese

 

…of…

…of…

…what in the unholy $%&# is chreese!?

I feel like whoever titled this product’s mouth melted in the midst of saying it, and no one bothered to question it.  I mean, surely, they thought, surely, an actual human being, living here in this reality, speaking this very language, meant make the sound “chreese” on purpose.

That’d be normal, wouldn’t it?

 

Bene ēdite.

Forvo

forvo_logo

 

Speaking of interesting word websites – here’s another!

Forvo is an audio pronunciation database which aims to have every word in every language (yes, even swear words and slang) pronounced by a native speaker.  It looks like it’s already most of the way there for the more widely spoken languages – at least any random thing I tried in English, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese was available.

The interface is presented in multiple languages, but any word in any language can be queried from any of them without needing to specify the language of origin.  Words not natively in Roman characters can be searched for either in the native script or their Romanized versions (e.g., 犬 or inu).

Common words also tend to have multiple pronunciations to listen to, phrases with the word, and translations to other languages as well.  If you’re a native speaker of a language whose word is not yet included, or is not pronounced to your satisfaction, you can help Forvo out by submitting your own words and pronunciations.

Give it a look (and listen) at http://forvo.com – it’s pretty neat!

 

Bene scribete.

What Three Words?

w3w_logoG

What three words could unambiguously identify where you are right now?  A question you probably didn’t ask, but was nevertheless answered by U.K.-based organization what3words in their efforts to create a universal addressing system for the world.

They’ve divided the planet into a grid of nine-square-meter (3×3) segments and given each and every one a globally unique sequence of three common words – the fact that that’s even possible just goes to show how vast the permutations of language are.  (>^-‘)>

 

w3w_sciencelovingraven

 

It sounds a little silly at first, but the more you think about it, the more useful you realize it could be. Most of the world – including much of it where people actually live – has no address, no way to positionally identify a given location beyond longitude and latitude, and to reach this level of precision with coordinates, you’d generally need to get down to the hundred-thousandth of a degree.  A sequence of three words is a lot easier to remember and convey than a series of fourteen digits.  It’s even simpler than a lot of conventional addresses – what’s more efficient to get across, slinky.little.fox or 2301 NE 32nd St. Bldg #102?  Plus, how much more fun is it to say “deliver that pizza to slinky.little.fox“?  (>^-‘)>

There are several disadvantages, however, even aside from the obvious one of adoption.  The sequences are meaningless in isolation, and there’s no relational information built in; if you’re familiar with an area, the street name of a conventional address will at least give you a general idea where something is, but the real slinky.little.fox is not even on the same continent as, say, slinky.little.ferret. The order of the words also matters (slinky.little.fox and little.slinky.fox are entirely different places), but so does the order of numbers, which are still easier to mix up.  Not every sequence flows together nicely as a phrase, but with a grid of this resolution you’ll have several to choose from on a typical plot, and so are likely to find one that’s snappy enough.  Finally, discovering the name of the square you’re in or the location of another given sequence requires the use of a computer or mobile device of some sort, which is not as conducive as it could be to the places where this could be the most beneficial.

Still, it has the potential to be a pretty nifty alternate addressing scheme, especially because it’s already done.  The developer offers a lightweight API to implement into any application, service, or website that deals with locations.  You can get their standalone application for phones and tablets right now (Android | iPhone), or find out where you are right in your browser:

https://map.what3words.com.

So what say you, fellow word lovers?  Feasibly functional or just flippantly fun?  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

Word Crimes

As both a copyeditor and long-time Weird Al fan (I’ve seen him live three times – he puts on a fantastic show!), how could I not share his parody of “Blurred Lines”?  (>^-‘)>

If you missed it earlier this week, check it out in all its perfection below.

 

 

Bene scribete.

Pineapple

Pine...apple...?

 

I always love these sorts of hypercognates that have so specific a point of origin that they managed widespread propagation with negligible mutation centuries before the global communication boom.  Oh, English, you just had to break the mold, didn’t you?  (>^-‘)>

Although, to be fair, ‘ananas’ is also a perfectly valid English word for what we usually call the pineapple.

And Spanish speakers are more apt to call it a piña.

…and let’s not forget languages like Japanese that are perfectly happy to say パイナップル (PAINAPPURU!!!).

 

Bene scribete.

Something Positive

Plus

 

One of the most important benefits of language is that it fosters the organization of thought.  One of the most interesting things about the study of language in its many forms is what it tells us about transcultural psychology.

For instance, do you know what is perhaps the most widely disseminated term in a given language?

Gracias.  Grazie.  Merci.  Danke.  Arigato.  I’m willing to bet that the majority of you native English speakers could tell me not only what that means, but also the language to which each of those words belongs.  I bet many of you have even used one or two for fun in an otherwise English conversation.  And yet, I imagine most of you couldn’t tell me off the top of your head what the word for ‘I’ is in those same languages.

That says something kind of nice about what we at large have felt is most important to be able to convey to our fellow earthlings, don’t you think?

 

Bene scribete, et gratias vobis ago.

Hot h’What?

Hot...what, now?

Put chalk in your hair, kids

 

Saw this…thing…in the store the other day.  “Hot (h)wezz”?  What…why would anything be called that?  It sounds like, well, Spanish slang for something filthy.  What—what does it mean?

I have a habit of taking pictures of weird products, so I did just that.

Then, when sharing my photographic incredulity with others, I was promptly informed that it was “hot hues”…just, you know, spelled stupidly.  Ohhhh.

…that’s not nearly as funny.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: don’t spell things stupidly, or they might end up sounding…let’s say…implicitly unsavory.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Zeugma

Zeugma

/ˈzugmə/  |  ZOOG-muh

 

Zeugma is a fun little device that occurs when a word is used in multiple contexts simultaneously – i.e., to mean two (or sometimes more) things at once as it applies separately to the other words in its purview.  Mostly used for humorous brevity, it naturally requires that the word have some homonymous or polysemic properties.

 

Examples:

  • Billy ran from the slog and for mayor.
  • The minstrel plays the flute almost as well as he does the fool.
  • I punched the slog with fury, indignation, and my fist.
  • I like chips in my cookies, not my teeth.

 

Bene scribete.

Singular ‘They’

Lots of theys

 

“Did someone leave their wallet in here?”

It’s not unusual to hear this sort of sentence in English.  The sex of the subject (‘someone’) is unknown, so the speaker uses the pronoun ‘they’, even though the subject is not plural.  Now, as a copyeditor (and otherwise general linguistic snob), I may be expected to rail against such usage, but alas – I am, in fact, about to do just the opposite.

The problem with this sort of construction is that English, like many languages, doesn’t have explicit fourth person* syntax, so any way we cast it becomes a sort of workaround.  And, when it comes down to it, singular ‘they’ is simply the least ambiguous and awkward of a lot of bad options.

* (“What the #&@$ is fourth person!?” a non-super-language-nerd might ask.  Well, I’m glad you did: a fourth-person entity is one that is unknown, generic, or irrelevant.)

Let’s take a moment to consider the alternatives.

  • The formally prescribed solution is to randomly choose a gendered third-person pronoun: “Did someone leave his wallet in here?”  The issue with this option, aside from the awkwardness of randomly assuming a gender, is that it creates a particularly strong pronoun-antecedent disagreement, so the initial impression is that you are asking if an unknown someone left an identified other person’s wallet in here.
  • The construction “Did someone leave his or her wallet in here?” is also a preferred one, but it is needlessly cumbersome.
  • ‘One’ is the closest thing English has to a real fourth-person pronoun.  So you could ask, “Did someone leave one’s wallet in here?”  But that sounds terribly stilted.
  • Similarly, ‘someone’ itself is, in essence, a fourth-person pronoun as well, but “Did someone leave someone’s wallet in here?” recreates the pronoun-antecedent divorce that makes it sound like you could be talking about two different people.
  • You could subvert the need for the second pronoun altogether by using passive voice: “Was someone’s wallet left in here?”  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that phrasing, but it changes the focus of the inquiry to the presence of the wallet itself rather than the owner you’re trying to reunite it with.
  • You could try a number of other rewordings, but each would have a slightly different meaning than what you’re intending, and they would only be applicable to the specific sentence.

So we’re left with ‘they’.  It’s hardly ideal, but it’s cleaner than the other choices, and it’s used so often informally that it now sounds the most natural, and its meaning in context is immediately clear.  Reusing plural terms for certain singular cases is not without precedent (we have only to look at the subjunctive form of “to be”), and ‘they’ is frequently used in other fourth-person constructions, anyway (“You know what they say.”).

Thus, while I’m not about to encourage anyone to start using singular ‘they’ in formal writing, I would advocate for a grammatical shift in that direction, if for no other reason than to be relieved of the constant need to convolute phrasing that avoiding it entails.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Epistrophe

Epistrophe

/ɛˈpɪstrəfi/  |  eh-PISS-truh-fee

 

Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of consecutive sentences or clauses (basically the converse of anaphora).  Like its counterpart, it is mostly used for emphasis through poetic redundancy.

 

Examples:

  • The slog is the worst, its face is the worst, and its mere existence is the worst.
  • Stop writing, and you lose.  Stop editing, and they lose.  Humor the slog, and we all lose.
  • I’d slay the slog with pleasure, then dump its remains with pleasure, so I could finally write – with pleasure!

 

Epistrophe.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.