More and less.

I bring to your attention, once again, the Transition, as currently featured in the Oven Glove news.  While I have my doubts as to just how roadworthy this plane would be in ‘bad weather’, particularly in icy or stormy conditions, it’s still awesome.

Also awesome is an article that recently came to my attention about the Pirahã.  Of course you say it like pee-da-HAN, but who really looks at the letters in a word, anyway?  Certainly not THESE Amazonians.  Considering that they don’t have letters.  Or art.  Or MATH (that one’s for you, Alex).  From my brief days of teaching language, I know how important it is to be able to work from shared concepts – concrete nouns, pantomimed action verbs, visible adjectives.  But what if these concepts are not shared, or cannot be communicated?  What then?  What happens when  a culture with words for ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘many’ cannot conceive of or count to three, even in a language different from the native one? How do you communicate?

There is some debate as to whether the term for our number one is really a number at all – it could simply mean ‘a small amount’ or ‘few’, as opposed to the words for ‘some’ (two) or ‘many’.  The only thing that is real is the concrete, the immediate, the observable.  There is no recursion in sentences, no abstraction in terms, no hypothesizing or future planning.  What decoration or art there might be is solely for immediate purposes – the model of a plane just seen carelessly tossed away once the actual plane has left, or some other instant expression of an event or action.  Nothing is meant to last.  What is emotion, in this context?  Is it too abstract, or something transitory that is very real in the moment?  In a language where stress and tone matters more than syllable, vowel, or consonant, where singing possibly says more than saying, what does music mean?

Finally, in this article on linguistics and other wonders of the world, I was laughing at a Boston reference – Noam Chomsky as interviewed by Spare Change news.  Next time you see one of those guys asking for a dollar, just think about it.  You never know what gems might be on the inside.

The case for ‘nother’.

It is a special time for those of us who consider words an art: Merriam-Webster has published a new dictionary.  Among the newly included words are some familiar (edamame) and some strange (prosecco, which is a type of Italian wine I would now like to try).  The dictionary makers have decreed which words should be included by closely monitoring usage of the English language, which I applaud.  However, it makes me wonder just what the criteria for inclusion are.  Do these words eventually go into the Scrabble dictionary?  if so, when?  Why is the not-yet-word ‘nother’ still not included?

Many of you are familar with the word “another”, a combination of the singular article ‘an’ with the word ‘other’, meaning ‘one other’.  I am unsure what evolutionary twist of language smooshed these two words together into a single word, but I do know that they have again been separated in new ways.  Yes, I am am talking about the frequently-used phrase “a whole nother”.  Examples of common use of this phrase include movies (Star wars, Luke says “But that’s a whole nother year!” in regards to helping with the farm for the rest of the season instead of going to pilot school.), music (“A Whole Nother Thang” is the title of Clarence Haskell’s debut album), and personal experience.  Yes mom, I refuse to say “another whole”.

Now, the grammar sticklers would say “a whole other” would be the correct phrase that does not create a new word.  And I’m sure the dictionary sticklers would say that ‘nother’ is not really common usage – meaning might not be conveyed outside the “a whole nother” phrase.  Someone saying “I have two nother bathtubs” might be misunderstood.  However, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.  One day (someday soon) ‘nother’ will no longer be discriminated against.  We will be free at last.

Words I love.

Ok, so I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, and today, I’m extra-bored. SO –

Punk – Jo says this one is the hard consonants, which I think is true, as far as sound goes. But

Wiggins – As in ‘Weird old guys really give me the wiggins.” Did anyone else have Mr. Wiggins in high school? I’m sure he was not creepy, but he has a name that sounds like it should be a ridiculous butler.

Wapiti – not only are these little deer things cute, they also have a name that stings like a sandwich in the FACE. Also, the plural gives you a Scrabble bingo.

Eunuch – I love this word, and I hate it. The hate comes from my inability to pronounce the thing. I see the ‘e’, and think it should start with a ‘ee’ sounds, not a ‘you’ sound. I love this word, because it’s better than you’re basic threat: “I’ll make you a eunuch.” See, that even looks wrong.

Ragamuffin – Not only for the aspirated ‘f’ sound do I love this word. It looks like what it is – a little ragged around the edges, possibly spongy like cake. And when you say it, it sounds as if there are little sprouts growing out of it. Delicious!

Tomfoolery – This is Corina’s input. It does have a certain hickish/grandpa ring to it. ‘Dagnabit, quit your tomfoolery, Huckleberry!’

Bebop – This works both as a music genre and as a name for a cute little robot.  What other word could encompass the pep, energy, vim, and vigor of both?

Smorgasbord – Maybe it’s my European blood, but this word just sounds like THE ULTIMATE.  It’s like an infidel conqueror of a word, something reserved for total annihilation.  Who can resist the power of the mighty SMORGASBORDI?!

Tsunami – Ok, that last one got me thinking about destruction, and what natural disaster is more fun-sounding and anime than !Tsunami! ? For real though, it sounds even like the title of a cheesy
70s beach movie, which I would love.  Actually, it may be the title of a cheesy 70s beach movie.  In fact, I’m going to be disappointed if it’s not.

It’s only Memorex

I’m not sure all of you remember it, but there was an ad campaign from my childhood that questioned or not whether or not something was real, or Memorex.  The whole idea was that cassette recordings were so accurately rendered that on Memorex tapes, you couldn’t tell the different between the actual or recorded voice.  Of course, no recording sounds exactly the same, but maybe Memorex was sophisticated enough to fool very early voice-recognition software.  Maybe.

However, in the modern world of email forwarding, YouTube, and Flickr, among other technologies, I’m starting to wonder if there’s an real content left out there.  Paramount is releasing movie clips as a means of expression on online sites, and MTV is soon going to release clips of its shows in a similar fashion.  Big news industries around the world such as CNN and the BBC are advocating for user comments and blogging in a bid to increase readership.  We’re all passing along the blog posts or articles we think others might enjoy, but are we giving our own response to it, or just starting with ‘thought you’d like this’?

For a short period of time I did some babysitting for an absolutely adorable boy with Downs Syndrome.  He loved the Wiggles and Bear in a Big Blue House, and used quotes from these shows whenever possibly relevant in a conversation (and sometimes when not relevant).  Because he loved these shows, he would watch them over and over again, as do many children with favorite shows, and certain phrases became ingrained in such a way that they became stock phrases for certain expression.  While in this case I think the quotes helped with self-expression, I don’t think movie or television quotes are really widening that range for most of us.  I would hate to see a time when we can only express ourselves with phrases preserved in media.  Language should grow, not collapse in upon itself and fall out of use.

TEAL at last!

I was perusing Facebook today (as I do when bored at work and I have nothing to write on my blog) when I became aware of a most fabulous occurrence – TEAL is now online!  I am officially calling this a ‘Wonder of the Web’.  Soon there will be the early stories, the early travails of typo eradication, but I am expecting only a happy ending.  Jeff, do not disappoint me.

For those of you who do not know, a teal is a type of duck.  Hence, a teal is the mascot of the group.  I’m excited, but as of yet, there’s not much to report…

A little more music.

It seems that once I get going on a topic, I just can’t stop.  So I was pondering music a bit more today, especially about the typing of songs.  All genres of music seem to have a few things in common that are almost archetypal.  There is a certain type of song that I can’t quite define – longer, more melodious perhaps, with longer note lengths and a slower beat – that seems more reflective and/or sad.  This can be true of any music genre – pop, country, folk, indie, R&B.  Even rap is more reflective and sometimes sad when it’s slower and more ponderous.  Even Chinese Opera is.  Why is that?  Why is a song with words I can’t even understand, or a song with no words at all, automatically interpreted as mournful or pensive by my brain?  What are those little wirings and firings in our head or genetics that get us all to think and feel these same things?  And how did they come about?

I get on a similar kick about language.  There are obvious parts, like onomatopoeia where a word sounds like the noise it is representing, that make sense.  But most words we use are strictly arbitrary.  Why is tree called ‘tree’ instead of ‘bush’?  In this case the words are strictly based on how you were brought up, what you heard as a child.  Still, isn’t it interesting that despite these early categories and distinctions we learn to make, there are universal constants in music and perhaps in other arts that transcend them?

A Plug for TEAL

Recently a friend of mine noted the way sports writers were corrupting the use of articles. Well, I happen to know a few writers of sports articles personally myself, and I can safely say this is not necessarily a trend. However, I was curious – could I really be sure? What if I only have personal acquaintance with the more literate brand of sports writers? Since I’m not writing in French so much, how can I ever even know Est-ce a ou de? True, there are organizations out there pledged to heal this country’s grammar and usage maladies. Organizations like TEAL (Typo Eradication and Advancement League). But are they really enough to stem the tide? And just how much of a tide is it?

I decided I would take my alleged ‘work time’ to find out. I looked at the Yohoo! Sports page (since sports was the area in which the first article use thingy happened), since I felt yahoo would be a more potentially under-grammared site than CNN. This is what I found (in the top headlines):

“The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that addressed each of those issues Tuesday plans to hold a Feb. 13 hearing that promises to be far more riveting, featuring Roger Clemens and his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, who has said he injected the star pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone. ” – Improper use of ‘that’ related to article use.

I did read a second article that had no egregious errors (though a few stylistic tweaks could’ve certainly helped), and realized I actually had to do some work this morning. So I was unable to complete my task. Anyone up for taking another look for me?