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June 11, 2017

Comments on Open Thread 218:
#1 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2017, 08:13 PM:

I'm going to have to read that article at some length. But for now I'm just going to kick off the new Open Thread so it's easy to find in the list of comments.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2017, 09:16 PM:

It's an interesting article. (I tend to think of English as what happens when a pidgen gets to be old and established.)

#3 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2017, 09:19 PM:

The word for what happens when a pidgen gets old and established is 'creole', but English is neither.

#4 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2017, 09:32 PM:

From the article, my new favorite synomym for 'definition' is 'saywhat'.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2017, 11:29 PM:

Interesting bit about there being no spelling bees for other languages.

I know that one of the hints that spelling bee competitors can ask is the origin of the word, and I've heard of serious spelling bee entrants do is study the root languages: German, French, etc.

#6 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:10 AM:

No spelling bees in other languages? Even, say, Irish Gaelic? (I honestly don't know here, and would be interested to. My impression from what I've seen of that language is that its spelling is even further from the speaking than is ours.)

#7 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:37 AM:

I'm still in the middle of re-reading the article, and the author is emphasizing the strangeness of "do." Polish has a word (czy) that takes on the interrogatory duties of "do." You can't use it the same way that you do in English when you answer, so maybe its the multiple duties that make "do" the linguistic outlier.

#8 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:49 AM:

And from near the end, "In Old English, however, ‘Ving-Thor was mad when he woke up’ would have been Wraþmod wæs Ving-Þórr/he áwæcnede. We can just about wrap our heads around this as ‘English’, but we’re clearly a lot further from Beowulf than today’s Reykjavikers are from Ving-Thor."

On the other hand, "Wrathful was Ving-Thor/When he awakened."

#9 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:52 AM:

Doug: I had much the same thought.

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 02:30 AM:

David Goldfarb @6:

There may not be spelling bees per se in other languages, but there are dictation exercises. The Wikipedia article I link to there has information about French, Korean, and Chinese ones; Dutch schools do something similar as well. (There was a televised version, Het Groot Dictee Der Nederlandse Taal, but it was canceled this year for lack of viewing. A pity; it gave the Dutch something to complain about when the Belgians won, which was most years.)

Which is to say that, without disagreeing with the main thrust of the Aeon article, I note that it does fudge a few details.

#11 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 04:54 AM:

Doug @ #7:

I think it's specifically the double duty that's being pointed out.

#12 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 06:52 AM:

A counterargument from another linguist, who makes what seems to me several good arguments about errors or dubious arguments in McWhorter's essay (e.g., the supposed uniqueness of English among Indo-European languages in lacking grammatical gender), as well as some points of agreement.

Also, as to the absence of spelling competitions in other languages:

To my knowledge, national spelling competitions are organised in many countries, including Poland. I have finished runner-up in one of them, and I can testify it was tough going. Is Polish a normal language?

#13 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 08:18 AM:

Even, say, Irish Gaelic? (I honestly don't know here, and would be interested to. My impression from what I've seen of that language is that its spelling is even further from the speaking than is ours.)

It's not; you just don't know the rules. :)

Irish Gaelic has a quality in its consonants referred to as "broad vs slender". This is a variety of mutations that can be applied to what we as English speakers would refer to as the "normal" sound of the letter. For example, broad S is /s/, but slender S is /sh/. The way this is marked is by which vowels are adjacent to the consonant--sort of the way Russian Cyrillic does it (and often indicating the same thing, palatalization), but instead of changing the form of the vowel glyph, IG inserts a 'dummy' vowel that does nothing but indicate the pronunciation of the consonant. A, O, and U are broad, I and E are slender.

This is why actor Connery's first name is pronounced /ʃɔn/: the initial S is mutated to ʃ by the E, which is not pronounced, then the main vowel of the word is A, which is broad so it doesn't mutate the N. Usually the main vowel of any given syllable is helpfully indicated with an acute accent so you know which one is there to pronounce and which is there to mutate a consonant.

Gaelic spelling is actually a lot closer to the pronunciation than is English, but since it uses rules we don't it looks intimidating.

#14 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:02 AM:

Yep Irish is intimidating. Especially names, which are embarrassing to get wrong.

Aoife and Caoimhe are pronounced very similarly (eefə and queevə) but look very different to someone with an american english background.

(leaving apart all the spoken accents, where in some areas, th is pronounced as a hard t. So "I think three trees" would be "I tink tree trees")

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:08 AM:

The linked article by John McWhorter is basically a condensation of some, though not all, of the arguments made in his 2009 book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English. We were given a copy of this some years ago*, and from the title I assumed it was going to be another rehearsal of the standard whiggish tale of how the plucky English language uniquely hoovers up words from other languages all over the world etc etc. In fact, as McWhorter notes in both the book and the article, English is far from unique in its openness to this; English is unique, or at least odd, for other reasons.

I do recommend the book; it's an enjoyable and highly accessible run through some very solid stuff (his demolitions of prescriptivism are unfailingly fun), along with a bunch of highly entertaining speculations and slightly contrarian arguments. One gets the sense of McWhorter as an expert who enjoys his subject, who is comfortably familiar with the existing literature and consensus understandings, and who isn't reluctant to advocate for a eccentric hypothesis or two. Also, here's the second paragraph of chapter one:

German, Dutch, Swedish, and the gang are, by and large, variations on what happened to Proto-Germanic as it morphed along over three thousand years. They are ordinary rolls of the dice. English, however, is kinky. It has a predilection for dressing up like Welsh on lonely nights.
Pretty much got my interest right there.

* PS: I can't remember who gave it to us! If you're reading this, please remind me.

#16 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:41 AM:

Peter Erwin @ #12:

Hm, I have a slight quibble with "Swedish has morphed male and female into a second neuter", from the linked linguist blog. I would rather say that four grammatical genders are too many and the mostly-similar male and female genders have been essentially folded into the other neuter, based on the fact that Swedish was considered to have four grammatical genders in the 1970s but not in the 1990s. There are still some odd corners where you can see traces of the mostly-gone male gender, since adjectives (tend to) take -e rather than -a when referring to grammatically-male.

Of course, many Swedes really only think of grammatical genders as "N ord" and "T ord" (the determinate suffix for all utrum (the grammatical gender formerly known as "male, female and reale") words is "-en" and for neutrum words it's "-et").

#17 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:43 AM:

See also Empires of the Word which argues in some detail that a language is *not* "a dialect with an army and a navy". Instead, military dominance doesn't lead reliably to language spread. The advantage goes to languages which are easier for adults to learn.

#18 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:04 AM:

eric @ #14:

When I was young, I was told the tale of three Irishmen who were travelling around the countryside looking for work when they had a falling-out, with the result that Paddy went his own way while Mick and Dan continued on together.

The following day, Mick and Dan came upon a sign saying, WORK AVAILABLE - TREE FELLERS WANTED.

"Ah," said Mick, "what a pity it is that Paddy is no longer with us."

#19 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:21 AM:

@Stefan Jones no. 5: Indeed, I made it to the national bee twice by learning the spelling patterns of each language (as borrowed into English). Even if I'd never encountered the word before, I could puzzle it out using the etymology. It isn't a perfect system, though. I was something like six rounds from the championship the last time, but came a cropper over a word derived from (of course) French.

#20 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:21 AM:

Pointing back to Open Thread 217.

#21 ::: Greg Hullender ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 11:06 AM:

One should not take this too seriously.

I have a masters in linguistics, and I speak seven languages--four of them well enough to read novels. The author makes lots of false claims. People have already commented on spelling bees. I'll talk about prepositions at the ends of sentences.

The author claims that "normal languages" don't allow prepositions at the ends of sentences, but this simply shows his ignorance. German not only does so, it often requires it.

One can get around that by arguing that there's a difference between a real preposition (which introduces a phrase) and a "particle," which has the same spelling as a preposition but accompanies a verb. That "fixes" German, but it also "fixes" English, as follows.

The grammar rule becomes "don't end a clause with an unnecessary particle," where the test is to remove the word and see if the sentence still works. "I put my clothes [on]" clearly survives but "where is my car [at]" does not.

Anyway, after the comment about prepositions at the end of sentences, I quit reading. The author is an ignorant idiot, and his presence on Columbia's Linguistics faculty lowers my opinion of them.

#22 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 11:27 AM:

Carrie S. #13"Usually the main vowel of any given syllable is helpfully indicated with an acute accent so you know which one is there to pronounce and which is there to mutate a consonant."

Unless the language has changed since I last studied it in school in Ireland (Fadó, fadó, troiche bliain ó shin), the way I learned it, an 'acute accent', (a Fada, as Gaeilge), lengthens the vowel sound. so that ó sounds like oh, á sounds like aw, é sounds like hey, í sounds like eeeee, etc.

Also, the name of the language is Irish. Gaelic is what Scottish people speak.

#23 ::: Jameson Quinn ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 11:44 AM:

I like the idea of "forstand", "underget", and "undergrasp", and I think neologisms should mine this vein more deeply. "Download" is a good start, but to be Frank we probably would have used "subscribe" for that if it weren't already taken.

#24 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 12:04 PM:

odaiwai: I'm certainly willing to believe that I am misremembering what I was taught; it's been a while.

#25 ::: Jameson Quinn ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 12:06 PM:

Taking advantage of the fresh open thread:

This blog is, of course, the birthplace of the E Pluribus Hugo voting method, so I think it's appropriate to give a quick update on my further work in voting methods. Respecting the rules, I'm not going to plug my organization (and none of the links below go to it), but I would like to mention a few proposals for political voting methods that I've refined in the last 6 months or so. So if you're not interested in voting method reform, feel free to skip the rest of this message; and if you do want to get into details of this stuff that you think would be threadjacking in this setting, you can go to the endfptp reddit or Slack channel.

The first is 3-2-1 voting, a single-winner voting method based on a 3-level rated ballot. That is to say, you rate each candidate "Good", "OK", or "Bad". Find the winner in 3 steps: semifinalists are the 3 most "good", finalists are the 2 least "bad", winner is the 1 more preferred. The third semifinalist can't be from the same party as both the other 2, and must have at least half the "good" ratings as the top semifinalist.

This method is designed to have simple but expressive ballots; and to minimize strategy, especially in cases where there are no more than 3 viable potential winners. In particular, it is as robust as possible across a variety of common 3-candidate scenarios, including "center squeeze" and "chicken dilemma". The method gives good outcomes and I think that minimizing strategy leads to a healthier debate.

For a proportional representation method, there's GOLD voting, based on a combination of districts and delegation. This method would be a low-risk replacement for FPTP in the US, UK, or Canada (especially British Columbia, which will probably actually institute a PR method in the near future).

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming.

#26 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 12:18 PM:

So, Language question, specifically UK/Irish usage vs American.

When you're on a 4 lane road, where is the inside lane?

In my American usage, the inside lane is the one towards the center, so it's the fast/passing/overtaking lane. In Irish usage, the inside lane is the one by the shoulder, towards the edge of the roadway. This led to comical issues with the driving lessons required for a license here. (let alone that I probably had been driving longer than my instructor had been alive)

Is this an Ireland/UK thing, or am I just interpreting this from logic and not language?

#27 ::: Kat Crighton ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:14 PM:

On the topic of linguistics: I'm really fond of breakdowns of internet-grammar. To pick one (out of many) to demonstrate the phenomenon, see this cumulatively authored post titled "Internet Abbreviations as Discourse Particles".

#28 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:24 PM:

Greg Hullender @21:

I think you may be being a bit unfair to McWhorter. It seems to me that he was referring to what's sometimes called "preposition stranding", not merely "ending a sentence with a particle". For what it's worth, the Wikipedia article (I know, I know, it's Wikipedia) mentions preposition stranding as a possibility in Dutch and some German dialects (but not standard German), and then argues that this is not the same thing as what is done with prefixes from separable German verbs, which is the analogy I think you're making.

In preposition stranding, there is usually a noun or noun phrase that the preposition could head -- e.g., "Which city is my car in?" --> "In which city is my car?". In your example sentence "I put my clothes on", there is no corresponding noun or noun phrase that "on" could attach to, because in this instance "on" is an adverb, not a preposition.

#29 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:25 PM:

eric @ 26:

Yes, the inside lane is the outside lane, and the outside lane is the inside lane.

Or, less flippantly, in the US the inside lane is the most central lane (possibly excepting the carpool lane), and the outside lane is the one closest to the shoulder. In England (and presumably the rest of the UK and Ireland) the inside lane is the one closest to the shoulder, and the outside lane is the most central lane.

This was one of the many things that made pursuing my California license interesting.

#30 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 01:41 PM:

English's various 'loans' from French could be confusing to those of us whose mother tongue was French while learning the language of Bugs Bunny... For example, 'figure' in French really refers only to someone's face, which could lead to perplexing sentences.

#31 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 02:01 PM:

Ingvar @11: Do you?

#32 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 02:35 PM:

#23 ::: Jameson Quinn

Uncleftish Beholding-- Poul Anderson shows what science would look like if all the words had Germanic roots.

Mostly about Uncleftish, but has a bit at the end with no Germanic roots.

#33 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 02:41 PM:

KeithS @29:

As an American, I find the American convention completely sensible (the outside lanes are outside the inside lanes), but I am bewildered by the logic of the UK convention.

I assume that the reverse is true for those who grew up with the UK convention, but there's a perfectly sensible explanation for it (to a native Brit)

Why are the lanes closest to the shoulder the "inside lanes", and the lanes closest to the middle the "outside lanes"?

#34 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 03:02 PM:

Doug @31, Do I see what you did there...?

#35 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 03:11 PM:

Outside lane: I would guess the British usage is linked with the idea of 'pulling out'. You start at the kerb, and you then move out from there into the wider reaches of the central lanes.

#36 ::: Em (Now Em, BA!) ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 03:15 PM:

I am in search of book recommendations for my (quite bright, avid reader) 10-year-old niece, C., who is appalled that school is closing soon and that the local library is difficult for her to get to. She doesn't like Harry Potter because it's scary and she doesn't like scary books, but she does like diaries along the lines of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. My own tastes in kids' and YA lit run towards things she'd find scary, and I'm having a hard time thinking of non-scary epistolary/diary fiction. Any suggestions?

#37 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 03:25 PM:

Em, would Wrede's Sorcery & Cecelia be too scary for her? I think it's a charming epistolary Regency fantasy story, but it DOES have an Evil Sorcerer. (Which is -- <spoiler alert!> -- thwarted by a couple of teenage girls...)

#38 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 03:55 PM:

Em@36: Ursula Vernon's Hamster Princess series?

#39 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 04:15 PM:

Paul A. @18 When I first heard that, the three men were Ole, Sven, and Lars - it's a Norwegian joke. But then, I live in Minnesota.

#40 ::: Sarah E. ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 04:46 PM:

Abi @ #10:

French is my only language apart from English, so this may be too small a sample, but I think the dictée is slightly different from the spelling bee in that it tests one's ability to cope with homophones, rather than with spellings that don't match the pronunciation.

#41 ::: Del Cotter ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 05:08 PM:

Don't you tell children not to run out into the road? Clearly the outermost part is the middle, or they couldn't run out to it!

Less flippantly, in multilane divided roads, the lanes over the division aren't part of the road under consideration at all: they are part of an alien universe, like Beszel/Ul Qoma. This is why I'm always uncomfortable thinking of a motorway as having "six" lanes, or the M25 as having "eight". To me they are roads with three, or four, lanes, roads that go in both directions.

#42 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 05:22 PM:

Re: Inside lanes

I wonder if UK nomenclature is considering roads as borders of the land around them, and thus the "inside" is the bit of the border closest to what it's enclosing.
Is the "pulling out from the kerb" phrasing more common than "merging into traffic"?

(I tend to think of traffic as analogous to water - outside lanes are the shore, the closer you get to opposing traffic, the deeper / farther inside you are going. Deep water can be dangerous!)

Peter Erwin @28 and Greg Hullender @21:
I would argue that "I put my clothes on" ends with an unspoken "my body" (or "the hanger, if you're finishing up the laundry). So formatting it like the car sentence, you could ask "On what did I put my clothes?"

#43 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 05:23 PM:

Patrick @15:

From the bits and pieces (and bits of videos) I've seen over the years from John McWhorter, I've almost always gotten the impression his head is screwed on straight and he knows his stuff. It's just odd that that particular article has so many dubious (or even outright wrong) things in it.

#44 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 05:54 PM:

My kids liked the Big Nate books, which were sort-of along the same lines as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

#45 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 06:13 PM:

shadowsong @42:

If you want a less ambiguous example of "on" as an adverb, consider something like "We looked at the paintings for a while, and then we moved on."

#46 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 06:32 PM:

I've been trying to remember the SF book (or whatever) in which the government had a small army of contractors on call so that significant municipal damage from aliens/magic/etc. would be fixed overnight, leaving the general population believing that Nothing Had Happened Here. ID, please?

This is prompted by yet another Doctor Who episode in which everyone immediately forgets all about the alien invasion as soon as it's over, oblivious to the municipal damage, the people terrorized and/or killed, etc. If I'm remembering correctly, back in the day, yes, there were aliens out there and everyone knew it; that was what UNIT was for. Giant robot on the rampage? Call UNIT. All of the plants start moving quickly and murdering people? Call UNIT. I don't think there was any suggestion that people forgot about the messes afterwards.

#47 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 06:43 PM:

In fact, people remembering the messes became a definite plot point (in the Tennant era, particularly with all the Donna Noble story arcs).

#48 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 07:45 PM:

As far as English being a historical oddity, I think we're right in the midst of a historical oddity that may or may not endure. That is, English as the language of programming.

Globally, everyone programs computers in English, often even not knowing the language. In some ways this is just another lingua franca, but in others it is unique. A standard lingua franca is almost tautological: It is easier to use that language for business because it is used for business by people that do business, therefore people use it for business. But that can change swiftly, because once businessmen stop using it, it stops being useful.

Programming has this weight of backwards compatibility and legacy systems behind it that adds a significant value to simply maintaining the current system. If you know what the word 'while' means, you know what it means in most every programming language out there. It may not involve many words, and those words are just symbols, but there is significant value in their not changing or diversifying.

Obviously, this has been going on for only a few decades, so it will likely just be a blip in the historical record, but I still think it's a rather distinctive situation.

#49 ::: Jameson Quinn ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 08:13 PM:

@48: Do you really think that it's more useful to me to be able to read or even run code from 25 years ago than it was to somebody from 1800 to be able to read what was written for a "global" audience in 1775?

#50 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:26 PM:

I would have said that "put on" is a phrasal verb, and that parts of a phrasal verb can sometimes be separated. (German does this with verbs that when they're together are written as a single word.)

#51 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 09:43 PM:

Jameson Quinn @49 - That would depend a lot on the details. There's a little software utility that I wrote roughly 25 years ago, initially for SCA heraldry stuff. I use it multiple times a day at work now for searching code -- it's like grep but allows many concurrent tests. About a year and a half ago, I found a bug in it, a bad assumption based on DOS's case-insensitivity for file names.

#52 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:11 PM:

I'm pretty sure that the "inside-outside" of American roads is inherited from track racing- horse or auto.

#53 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:25 PM:

David 6: It really isn't. Its orthography is complex, and there are some ambiguities, but you can always (or mayyybe "almost always") tell how a word is pronounced by how it's spelled. Less so in reverse, but more than English by a good way. (And different dialects pronounce the same spelling differently, but consistently within one dialect.)

Much of the confusion comes because the vowel letters are used both to represent sounds and to indicate palatalization (or lack thereof) of consonants.

For example, my name in Irish is Críostóir, pronounced roughly krihhstohhr. The real vowels are the ones with the fadas (long marks), which is just lucky, because both the vowels in the name are long; if they weren't you'd have a harder time figuring it out.

The kr cluster at the beginning is palatalized ("slender"), because it's next to an i (in this case an actual-vowel long í). The st in the middle is unpalatalized ("broad"); it's followed by an o vowel, which is broad. But here's the rub: you can't have a broad consonant next to a slender vowel, so the first o is put in to separate the st from the í. It's not pronounced as a vowel.

Similarly, the r at the end is slender, so a letter i (not pronounced) is present to indicate that, despite the fact that it follows the ó, which ordinarily is a broad vowel.

It's confusing to explain, but it really is quite systematic.

And now I see that the estimable Carrie S., at 13, has also explained this, and quite well, with my usual Stratificational reservations about "mutated" and such terms. And odaiwai is quite right that the fada (acute accent) is a long mark (indicating a real long vowel, not like the fake ones in English). While it only appears over vowel letters used as vowels, it's doesn't always appear over them.

David 50: I would have said that "put on" is a phrasal verb, and that parts of a phrasal verb can sometimes be separated.

You would be correct. The alleged impropriety of a preposition at the end of a sentence is pure nonsense, invented by the same jerks who made up the rule about splitting an infinitive.

#54 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 10:42 PM:

@49: I don't think as many people in 1800 made a living specifically using another language to create products and tools that are fundamental to everyday life, where it was impossible to craft the tool without that language. This isn't just reading it, this is using pieces of the language to actually create the tools.

As for 25 years, Java's 22 years old, and that's most all Android apps, so you'd best be able to use those APIs. Linux is 26 years old, and that's a goodly chunk of web servers and basically all supercomputers. The BSDs are 40 years old, and that's another chunk of web servers. Then there's every command-line tool. They may take foreign-language input, but they're not made in those languages, they're made in English, and they're quite old.

Using the tools isn't English-only (mostly), but the tools themselves still are.

Again, perhaps just a blip and it will all get translated once English isn't on top in other regards. My point was that it was an odd way for a language to get used and spread, something different from other historical spreads of language. A different way in which English is odd.

#55 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2017, 11:07 PM:

Peter Erwin @12: McWhorter doesn't say English is unique because it lacks gender, or has spelling bees. Those are illustrative details, not central arguments.

Carrie @13, I too have experienced the sneaking Anglophone suspicion that Gaelic's spelled that way to mess with our heads. The only time I've ever made Ken MacLeod look genuinely affronted was when I asked whether all those letters were necessary, or whether some of them were just there for swank.

Patrick @15: The book was a Christmas present from Nina Lowry.

Nancy Lebovitz @17: The old, fully decked-out languages are good for identifying who's a member of the tribe by birth and upbringing, and who married in and will forever speak it with an accent. The stripped-down trader languages are good for improvised negotiations and for fast acquisition.

My theory, developed during many interesting discussions of linguistics with immigrant cab drivers, is that at this point English is actually two languages, Little English and Big English.

Little English is grammatically straightforward, drops articles and particles and other linguistic loose change, and barely recognizes the existence of past tense verbs, much less irregular ones.

Big English is one of my core professional skills. Appropriate occasions for the use of its subjunctive are determined by factual content of sentences in which it is used. There are no signals identifying its numerous phrasal verbs. Its system of prepositions was established by Congress via the Full Employment for Native Anglophone Copy Editors Act. And it has way too many words for everything.

Jenny Islander @19: You got further than I did.

The trouble with spelling French-derived words is that so many of them were brought in by people who hadn't been speaking French very long.

More tomorrow, all --

#56 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 12:02 AM:

My favorite language for weirdness is Japanese. How many other languages are there where you can know how to write a person's name but not have a clue how to pronounce it, and vice versa? How many have an entirely separate character set for writing foreign words? (Or, historically, have separate writing systems used by men and women?)

#57 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 12:40 AM:

Buddha Buck @ 33:

My speculation is that the British outside lane being closest to the center is either derived from being farthest away from the edge of the road, or because it makes more notional sense to overtake someone on the outside rather than the inside. That's just speculation, though.

In southern California, of course, one passes on any side one can get away with...

Em (Now Em, BA!) @ 36:

The James Herriot books. Some Jules Verne. Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon. Heck, anything by Respectable Children's Book Author™ Ursula Vernon. (Save the T. Kingfisher stuff or the prior to respectable children's book author Vernon for yourself.)

Also, congratulations!

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 01:12 AM:

I've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks, waiting for a new Open Thread.

Remember this discussion about whether/when there would be a mass shooting incident at a con? We very nearly had one at Phoenix Comic Con. This dude managed to walk into the con with a shotgun, 3 handguns (all of which were fully loaded), a lot of extra ammo, and assorted other weapons. He thought of himself as an avatar of The Punisher, and his intention was to kill "bad cops" and the actor who played the Green Power Ranger. He was caught because he couldn't resist posting pictures of his "targets" on social media, and someone who knew him tipped off the police.

He was arrested without incident; no shots were fired and no one was injured, despite his offering active resistance. In this case, I don't believe his race entered into the way the police approached it; he was inside a convention center full of people, and their highest priority had to be keeping anyone from getting hurt, which included preventing a panic, which would have happened if even one shot had been fired.

This happened Thursday afternoon, the first day of the con. The con organizers were given a choice: comply with some fairly draconian security rearrangements, or get shut down. They took choice A, not without some difficulties. Friday morning admission was a complete clusterfuck. By Saturday they had a better handle on things, partly because they were listening to people who pointed out problems and suggested solutions.

I don't see any way that this is not going to make a significant and permanent difference in the way major cons handle their security from this point forward. At the very least, there will have to be bag checks at all entrance points. There may have to be separate entrance points for cosplayers, because AFAICT this guy got past the entrance checkpoint by looking like a cosplayer, and then dodged the weapons-inspection tables altogether.

This is why we can't have nice things.

Getting back to the post topic, if you have any interest in languages at all you really need to read this fic from last year's Yuletide. Anthropomorphic languages from the earliest beginnings to the present -- with sex! And conjugations! The best part is the different voices for all the various languages. Long, but absolutely worth the time.

#59 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 03:13 AM:

Doug @ #31:

I do, indeed. Don't I?

#60 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 04:49 AM:

Nancy @17: My understanding of the old saying about a dialect with an army and a navy is that it’s not about language spread, but about classification: What gets called a dialect, and what gets considered a full-fledged language.

A better counter-argument would be pointing out that American and British English are still considered dialects, despite each nation having its own military.

#61 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 06:38 AM:

36 @ Em (Now Em, BA!)

Looking at my kid's shelves, which contain Wimpy Kid (minus portions of covers and such):

-- The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog by Jeremy Strong

-- The Humphrey stories by Betty G Birney

-- The N story treehouse (n==13,26,39...78) by Andy Griffiths

-- Dick King Smith Lots of animal stories, like The Sheep-pig, Three Terrible Trins, and Mouse called Wolf.

-- The How to Train Your Dragon Series. Cressida Crowell. (Not like the movie. Still funny)

-- Wings of Fire, Tui T Sutherland (Dragons. A quest. We few, we happy few. Who act like cats)

-- Warrior Cats, Erin Hunter (honestly, this one sounds like Wings of Fire with more fur)

-- The Calvin and Hobbes Box set. (On reflection, getting this in to a house where there's a 7yr old with a stuffed tiger was... destiny I guess. Got this second hand, 10yr old was in the back seat and just chortling the whole way home. At least now they're not destroying my old paperbacks. )

Most of these are pitched somewhere that my almost 8yr old and my 10yr old will both read them.

And it almost goes without mentioning (here anyway), any kids stuff by Ursula Vernon. The 10yr old boy had a complete collection of Danny Dragonbreath a couple of years back (and he's still suspicious of potato salad), so I got him Harriet #1 for Christmas. He opened it, took one look and was like: Pink? Glittery?. I pointed at the author, and he said OK. He's now bought the next three with his kindle money. (Pink and Glittery and Princess was a good gateway drug for my niece though. )

#62 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 10:51 AM:

In southern California, of course, one passes on any side one can get away with...

And that includes lanes clearly marked "right turn only". (Which I've seen several times, including, one afternoon, twice by the same guy. Who parked at the poll supply place just down the street from where I was living at the time, and as a result got a note stuck on his car.)

#63 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 11:40 AM:

When I spent a week driving up and down Rt. 90 near Sacramento, CA, I was astonished. People were zooming along at terrifying speeds--but the moment I was visible on the on-ramp, they all drifted neatly to the left-hand lane, leaving the right one clear for me to merge into. The courtesy took my breath away.

#64 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 12:00 PM:

I've lived in some big metro areas, and drivers there were often aggressive, and sometimes less than courteous. But it seems like every time a traffic light went out, the drivers instantly became civilized and would calmly treat it as a four-way stop. I guess the veneer of brutality sometimes came off.

#65 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 01:17 PM:

Joel Polowin @46 This reminds me of both Charles Stross's Laundry novels and Larry Correia's Monster Hunter novels. In the Laundry books, the fixers are a government agency. In the Monster Hunter books, the fixers are a family owned business that often has to work with the government, to the dismay of both parties.

#66 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 04:04 PM:

Off topic... Berkeley's Dark Carnival is closing.

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 06:09 PM:

Lee 58:

Geez, that's a terrifying story. It sounds like that was one missed connection away from a bloodbath.

#68 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2017, 08:11 PM:

albatross, #67: Pretty much. Also, according to one rumor I heard, the person who reported him was an ex-girlfriend. There are a lot of cops who would have brushed that off as "revenge attempt". OTOH, he was targeting cops, and that's much less likely to be ignored.

This all happened a couple of floors above where we were. All we knew about it was the PA announcements, and what I could find on Google.

#69 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 12:48 AM:

Uh-oh. I'm an American, and I've never heard of an inside/outside lane when driving. Maybe vaguely in horse racing.

#70 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 02:05 AM:

Re: 34, 59

ELIZA: Ooh! I do I do I dooo! Hey!

[makes Hamilaria sign]

#71 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 08:27 AM:

Em #36: There's the "Dealing with Dragons" series by Patricia Wrede.

#72 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 08:42 AM:

Micah #48: The thing is, in modern programming languages those "English" keywords like "while", "if/else/elseif", and so on, are just lexical tokens for an interpreter or compiler.

You could easily set up an IDE that would automatically translate them on load and save, thus presenting them in the user's own language. The big issue there would be code that came into the IDE with typos or such.

#73 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:52 AM:

Dave Harmon @ 72:

Microsoft Excel's formula language is localized. If you're running it in, for example, German, all the formula keywords are in German, and the decimal point is as appropriate as well. I see programmers (even ones for whom English is not a first language) complain about this all the time because it messes with their innate sense of logic or clarity or something, but it's a boon for the vast majority of users who just want to get their spreadsheet done.

And speaking of language, I finally had time to read the article linked in the original post. I am unimpressed. Sure, English is weird, but I'm not sure it's really weirder than other languages. It's going to take more than a few carefully-picked sentences in old English and old Norse to convince me that English has changed significantly more over time than related Germanic languages. And complaining about English spelling versus pronunciation isn't going to hold any water when Spanish, often held up as a model of phonetic/phonemic correspondence, can be easily misspelled by native speakers. What about Chinese? Traditionally it doesn't have an alphabet at all!

We could talk about Finnish or Russian, which seem to have baroque systems of case and inflection. We could talk about Japanese, which encodes social standing and respect deeply into the language. There are languages where adjectives and nouns are grammatically more similar than different.

It's true I'm not a linguist, but, from my perspective as an interested layperson, all languages are equally weird — they simply express their weirdness in different ways. I'm open to being persuaded otherwise, but that article didn't do it for me.

#74 ::: Takamaru Misako ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 10:02 AM:

As I understood it, with respect to cars,
for the driver is the side that is inside the car, i.e. the left-hand side for a British car, where the driver sits on the right, and the right-hand side for a continental car where the driver sits on the left, and
is the side that is outside the car, i.e. the right-hand side of a British car, and the left-hand side of a continental car.

Which makes sense, but possibly that idea is a post-hoc logic application.

Of course the whole idea falls to the ground when taking a car to an opposite-drive country, but even if that happens, it probably doesn't happen enough to change the language.

("Overtaking on the inside" being a particularly bad thing to do, apart from it being illegal, but it's very hard to see someone doing that to you, therefore dangerous. That is true even if you take your car to the wrong country.)

#75 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 10:06 AM:

KeithS @ #73:

Hopefully it's saved in a tokenised format these days. It used to be a great anti-boon, since the various formula keywords were saved as text, which meant that if you ever needed to exchange Excel spreadsheets between "excel for language A" and "excel for language B", formulas (for sure) would stop working, since "=SUM(A1:B3)" is not the same as "=SUMMA(A1:B3)". Actually, I cannot recall if the Swedish l10n had "SUMMA" (noun) or "SUMMERA" (verb) as the command, which is why I preferred having an English version, where "SUM" is both noun AND verb.

If it's done properly now (as opposed to the mid-late 90s), I don't really care if you see the same keywords as I do, although I have a strong preference for the language of comments and language keywords to be the same language, or at least very closely related.

Dave Harmon @ #72:

I may possibly have released (for April 1st, one year or another) a partially localized "Vanlig Lisp" (all Common Lisp functions and macros starting with a letter in the range A-D, plus a few others (format, print , if and a few more) had been painstakingly translated to Swedish. The two I was most proud of were "CAR" and "CDR" being translated as "IAR" and "IDR" (going back to translating the machine instructions they were named for).

I probably should not re-do that work, because it would be silly. Fun, but silly.

#76 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 10:40 AM:

Ingvar @75: I was curious so I went and looked. Evidently you first did it in April 2005, then brought it out again a year later. The site hosting the tarball thence linked has since changed hands, predictably. Which is a shame; it could have been fun to look at. Silly, but fun. :)

(Link is all in Swedish, natch.)

#77 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 11:06 AM:

@Takamaru Misako,

My two cents, as a US driver, who speaks a Midwest dialect.

The "driver's side" of my car is on the left. (I've noticed that when indicating something on a car -- a parking-lot ding, or which tail-light is burned out, or which front tire is a little soft -- people here more typically say "driver's side" and "passenger side" than "left" and "right".)

The "outside lane" is the one on the right (closest to the shoulder; farthest from the median).

The "inside lane" is the one on the left (closest to the median; farthest from the shoulder). It's also called the "passing lane".

I was taught never to pass in the outside lane.

It's always made sense to me, because as you get farther and farther outside the highway, soon you leave it altogether....

#78 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 11:43 AM:

estelendur @ #76:

The machine (and probably the disk) those lived on died in, um, April 2011 or 2012. I have yet to find the sufficiency of round tuits to complete dealing with the fallout (although some of the recovered code now lives on GitHub; and it's mainly only time-consuming, not difficult, to lovingly set function definitions and/or write macros, depending on if you're wrapping a function, or a macro).

#79 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 11:55 AM:

me @ #78,
estelendur @ #76:

Whatever you do, don't try using Google Translate for that page. There's puns that depend on the tension between Swedish and English and the end result is surreal and almost incomprehensible (and I say that as someone who now vaguely recall the initial thread, having quickly read through it).

#80 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 05:26 PM:

Is it possible for the news to get more depressing?

#81 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 05:33 PM:

Fragano, #80: Sadly, the answer to that question is always "yes" -- and don't tempt fate!

#82 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 08:24 PM:

They've found two more moons for Jupiter. The count is now 69, they think (there are a number for which they don't know the orbital parameters, yet).

#83 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:10 PM:

A fascinating discussion of some of the background for Nicoll's famous summary (and a confirmation of Piper's less-rude conclusion.) A nit: McWhorter says "And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something." In Latin, a leading "num" converts a declarative sentence into one expecting a positive answer, and "nonne" a negative (IIRC -- could be the reverse, as I did my last Latin test the morning RFK was shot). Although these words have no other meaning, unlike "do". Or you could just look at it as another particle-vs-order case; cf indirect objects, which either fall between verb and direct object or are preceded by "to".

abi@10: I remember dictation in both middle-school English and upper-level French; does Dutch have enough homophones to make it a contest?

Keith S @ 29: was that what Lennon was on about in "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey"?

Em @ 36: Diana Wynne Jones, if you can find her? (Dead 6 years, so I don't know what's still in print.) Tend to get a little darker toward the end and to end abruptly, but almost everything is good. (I was bored by Dalemark, and would not recommend Fire and Hemlock to someone who thinks Potter too scary.) She might not get the goals of Friesner's Temping Fate, but it's interesting, YA, and the only one I can think of that doesn't turn dark toward the end.

Lee @ 58: I don't see any way that this is not going to make a significant and permanent difference in the way major cons handle their security from this point forward. What are you defining as a major con? Locally, Arisia is pushing 4000; their code of conduct hasn't been updated, and they're so entangled with the public spaces of their hotel that bag-checking would be a nightmare. (Not to mention ironic, since one of their founding principles was tearing down the weapons ban that became general at SF conventions after several idiots.)

Takamaru @ 74: this sounds very logical; however, the issue is that usage disagrees with the logic -- and would disagree with almost any logic since UK and US usages are reversed. cf "table", which in the UK means to present for discussion and in the US means to remove from discussion. I vaguely recall "two nations separated by a common tongue" being attributed to Churchill; who remembers/finds someone else?

#84 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:13 PM:

And on the lighter side: Taking his own path: The world's leading maze designer. I'm sure it has as much tsuris as any other job and more than many, but it sounds like serious fun.

#85 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:17 PM:

CHip @ 83: One of my other siblings actually did take Latin in school, but Dorothy Sayers has, I think in Gaudy Night, something about "Num" expecting the answer No.

#86 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:32 PM:

CHip -- my last Latin exam was a couple of years later, but I'm also the wrong one to ask.... Uncle Google agrees with D., though.

#87 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 09:43 PM:

I seem to recall that "nonne" is close to "isn't it?" in English. But it's a long time since my Latin classes (I have a dictionary handy, though).

#88 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 10:01 PM:

Anyone else getting an error 503 for

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2017, 10:09 PM:

(It seems to go down this time of evening, fairly often.)

#90 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 12:15 AM:

This day started out very depressing indeed, but:

Erdogan's goons are being charged for their rampage against demonstrators.

Congress got together and said no, the president isn't going to lift sanctions on Russia without a fight.

And the president is under investigation for obstruction of justice, and possibly money laundering.

#91 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 12:24 AM:

Takamaru Misako #74:

Apropos language, it amused me the first time I was informed that overtaking on the 'inside' lane is also known by some as undertaking...

FYI, in New Zealand where I'm from, undertaking is not illegal. Visitors from the UK where undertaking is illegal, upon discovering this, were surprised.

#92 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 01:17 AM:

Does anyone here have a subscription to the New Yorker, or otherwise have the ability to search their archives?

I was flipping through My Crowd, a collection of Charles Addams's cartoons, and the one on page 10 caught my eye. It shows a couple of sailors looking down from a ship at a nearly-submerged Statue of Liberty. Caption: "High tide, I see." I'm curious as to when it was published. The copyright info in the book is general; just that the cartoons were published between 1937 and 1969 (less a few years). Well before global warming was a thing.

#93 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 01:37 AM:

AKICIML: What would a modern cook call this dish? First the original, from Simpson's Complete System of Cookery, where it is headed "Fondues":

Grate half a pound of Parmasan cheese; put a bit of butter in a stew-pan; when melted add a few spoonfuls of cream, put the cheese in while on the fire, and keep stirring it until it is melted, then take it off the fire; put a little pepper and salt, and a little ready made mustard, and the yolks of six eggs; beat it up well until it becomes like a thick cream, then beat up the whites of three eggs until they become quite firm; put them to the cheese. Stir all up together, then put it into the paper cases folded up for them; ten minutes will bake them. If for one fold the case up yourself; if for small ones there are moulds sold at the turners' for making paper cases.

And my attempt at a paraphrase:

Preheat oven to a temperature low enough not to burn paper. Have ready a single baking dish folded from heavy paper or some individually sized ones. Separate six eggs, keeping six yolks and three whites. [Would ceramic or glass ramekins be too thick? Could metal baking dishes be used?] Grate 8 oz. Parmesan cheese.

Melt a pat of butter in a saucepan, then add a few cooking spoonfuls of cream. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted. Take off heat. Season with salt, pepper, and prepared mustard. Add the egg yolks and beat until thick, then beat the egg whites until stiff and stir in. Bake 10 minutes.

#94 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 03:09 AM:

Jenny Islander @ #93:

A cheese souffle? You probably want the thin walls of the paper to set the outside (well, the form-touching parts) quickly. Metal form would probably work, ceramic would probably make it cook predominantly from the top, then over-cook on the sides and possibly bottom afterwards. Some over-cooking is a possibility with a metal form as well. The paper should hold almost no heat once out of the oven.

#95 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 03:13 AM:

Me @ #94:

If I had to name it in Swedish, I would name it "äggstanning med parmesan" (and according to Wikipedia, that would be "Eierstich (mit Parmesan)" in German and I simply cannot find an English translation that way).

Google Translate proposes "egg custard with parmesan" as a possible English translation.

#96 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 06:23 AM:

Teresa @ 55:
Peter Erwin @12: McWhorter doesn't say English is unique because it lacks gender, or has spelling bees. Those are illustrative details, not central arguments.

I think the problem is that McWhorter's argument is basically nothing but illustrative details (plus historical explanations for some of them). It's basically "English is really weird. For example, A, B, C, and D. Oh, and here are historical explanations for C and D."

If he's wrong about some of these, and if the others are true but not all that unusual in a global or even European context, then you end up with two or three things that are (almost) unique to English, which I suspect translates to "English is really weird, like just about every other language." (More or less KeithS's argument @73).

(You have a point about spelling bees: that's a subsidiary example used to buttress his general argument that English spelling is uniquely weird. But if spelling bees aren't unique to English, it does undermine that point slightly. More generally, English can't hold a candle to the uniquely "weird" writing system of Chinese, or the uniquely "weird" composite system used by Japanese. One could also point to cases of single languages that have changed their writing systems entirely within the last century, like Turkish, or which are currently written in multiple scripts, like Serbo-Croatian. It's kind of hard to argue that English orthography is really that weird.)

#97 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 06:51 AM:

Another problem with McWhorter's article (not specifically addressed in the counter-argument blog post by Piotr Gąsiorowski I linked to) is that he keeps shifting the grounds of comparison. The subtitle promises that the comparison is basically with all the world's languages ("... it really is weirder than pretty much any other language"), and he makes this comparison with the third-person-singular verb ending, with preposition stranding, and with "do", for example. Other times, English is weird just in comparison to other European languages, or to just Indo-European languages spoken in Europe,[*] or even just to "its nearest relatives."

Sometimes he'll start off discussing how unusual English is in some fashion, and then admit that it actually isn't that unusual in the worldwide context. E.g., after an extended discussion of the wonderful diversity of the English lexicon, he qualifies it with: "To be fair, mongrel vocabularies are hardly uncommon worldwide, but English’s hybridity is high on the scale compared with most European languages."

[*] Note how specific this is. English looks uniquely weird compared to IE languages spoken in Europe, because it lacks grammatical gender. But this avoids the comparison with non-European IE languages that lack gender (e.g., Afrikaans, Persian, Armenian, Bengali) and also with European-but-non-IE languages that lack gender (Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Gagauz, and I think all the Sami languages). Since between half and three-quarters of all languages lack grammatical gender, English is... really quite normal in that respect.

#98 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 09:52 AM:

Joel Polowin @92: I can't find it in the New Yorker archives, as their search engine isn't designed for image searches, but this book by Iain Topliss mentions that Addams cartoon as having been drawn in the seventies.

#99 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 10:13 AM:

Jenny @93

Ingvar is definitely right, it's a souffle. The division of yolks and whites, using the yolks to make a rich custard-like sauce, whipping the whites, and then re-mixing to have the whites provide lift is the definitional souffle technique.

My instinct is with a base that heavy and only three whites, it might wind up rather dense for our image of a souffle, but I suspect that souffles have gotten lighter and airier over time as a sort of culinary oneupmanship. Here's a relative using a more standard yolk/white ratio (and a(now?) standard bechamel base) for comparison

#100 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 10:50 AM:

Em @36: If she likes sci-fi at all, I would suggest selected HM Hoover books--probably out of print, but I suspect they're still easy to get.

Recommended titles:
The Delikon
The Rains of Eridan
The Lost Star
This Time of Darkness
Return to Earth
The Shepherd Moon
Away Is a Strange Place to Be
Only Child

Most of these have female leads, and "Away" has a heroine of color. The rest of her work is also good, but would probably qualify as scary.

There's also Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, but that might also be too scary.

#101 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 12:27 PM:

@nos. 94, 99: Thank you! I don't make souffles because I'm feeding growing children without a lot of time and I need leftovers, but now that you pointed it out, it's obvious.

And culinary one-upmanship is very likely how a recipe that was originally probably just scraps of cheese baked with eggs and so on as a nice tidbit became something like a chef's hat!

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 01:56 PM:


Decades ago, when I was a teenager, I read a short story that was on the following theme: Tory politician turns up at an advertising agency and wants a subliminal message urging people to vote Tory. Several different slogans are tried out, and politician departs satisfied. Until the morning after election day, when he irately tries to get into advertising agency and can't. Inside agency, we see head of agency chortling to his AI (avant la lettre, okay) about the effectiveness of a simple "Vote AntiTory" message.

What was the story, in what collection, and by whom? My memory wants to say Arthur Sellings, because the book was my father's and he seems to have been a favorite of the old man's.

#103 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 03:00 PM:

CHip, #83: I'll admit that I was thinking primarily about cons held in convention centers, which most of the traditional fan-run cons are not. But I also think it's a mistake for us to assume that it couldn't happen within our smaller community. The social brakes on this sort of behavior have been disintegrating since about 2008. Stonekettle Station has just posted an interesting essay about this.

#104 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 05:45 PM:

Today is being celebrated as the official 50th birthday of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

There was ice cream for employees.

Happy to have been here for 39 of those years. Let's see what happens next...

#105 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 06:12 PM:

The "High tide" Addams cartoon is found on page 185 of The World of Charles Addams. The index in back places its origin in 1970, for the book My Crowd. Most of the other cartoons have dates, indicating when they appeared in The New Yorker. It would seem, therefore, that the cartoon first appeared in the book, rather than in the magazine, and first published in 1970. From the style of the drawing, I'd expect it was drawn in 1968, probably around May. (We wish to announce that the writer of that last sentence has been sacked.)

#106 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 08:02 PM:

Ingvar M @ #16:

Hm, I have a slight quibble with "Swedish has morphed male and female into a second neuter", from the linked linguist blog.
I'm not sure if it affects your quibble, but you misquote what Gąsiorowski says, which is 'Among the Scandinavian languages, Danish and Swedish have merged the feminine and masculine into one “common” (non-neuter) gender'.

#107 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 09:38 PM:

Soon Lee @ 91: that's darkly ironic; I'm reminded of a Danish bumper sticker (reported in a general-medical journal in the early 1970s): "Pass by all means -- we can use your kidney."

Ingvar M. @ 95: the translator isn't accounting for usage; in US English "custard" may have yolks or whole eggs, but not whites whipped in (so far as I've seen) -- e.g., a flan (or something less rich but still not fluffy). My modest knowledge of UK English remembers "custard" as meaning a sweet thick sauce (egg-thickened?) poured over desserts (e.g., UK steamed puddings, as in the discussion here some threads ago about suet for puddings vs lard for pastry).

BSD @ 99: I like the idea of souffles growing competitively. The local SCA cooks' guild rules provided for the disciplining of any member who became more puffed-up (egotistically, not physically) than their pastry, some years before the tagline "size doesn't matter".

Lee @ 103: I'm not assuming ~non-commercial cons' attendees are different, just wondering whether you expected the cons to change before a crazy gets down to that level. I've been watching this a long while; I was just barely offsite for the SWAT team showing up at the 1980 Disclave (in response to costume weapons, not real ones) and saw people being idiots with steel both before and after. (I am sometimes bitterly amused that someone who I tried to get banned in 1982 for repeated very careless steel handling was finally banned from another con, over 30 years later -- for harassment.) I have this horrible vision of a discontented (or banned) attendee revenge-SWATting a convention....

#108 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 11:33 PM:

I thought Hamilaria was some sort of pelagic microorganism. One featured in one of those engravings by Haeckel, maybe.
HLN: Area pontist notes an important anniversary.
Seattle's Fremont Bridge is 100 years old today. The low-slung double bascule span began public use this day in 1917, though the rituals were saved for the 4th of July. Area pontist is glad that Seattle finally has a centenarian movable bridge, like Portland and Tacoma. Take proper care of them and they will last a while.

#109 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2017, 11:53 PM:

File770 is back up.

#110 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 12:01 AM:

Angiportus @108: I was stopped by that bridge being up today as I drove home from the staff meeting at the chiropractor's I work at. I had no idea it was a centenary stop! Thank you for letting me know.

#111 ::: Sten T ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 02:21 AM:

Ingvar @ 75: Many years ago, I was involved in localizing a now outdated version of these formulas. The help files, with useful examples and tutorials, were also localized. They were not localized by the same person. Everyone assumed that someone else had checked that they used the same translations.

The tutorials turned out to be surprisingly unhelpful.

#112 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 02:59 AM:

Tim May @ #106:

But that is exactly what I have a quibble with. That quote implies that there was a neutral gender, then masculine and feminine were merged to form another, going from three, to two.

But Swedish had two grammatical neutral genders (neutrum and reale), a masculine, and a feminine. So there was a transition from four, to two (neutrum and utrum).

#113 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 03:35 AM:

There's a well-known virtual world provider whose documentation is written in English, and which sometimes seem to adopt a different name for something on every web-page. I have been messing around with CGI for a long time, and they manage to completely miss standard jargon terms for some of these things.

Some elements do make a sort of sense, one of the multiple non-standard words is a good gloss for the jargon, but they don't make a connection, and forget what they chose when the next web page appears.

#114 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 06:08 AM:

Angiportus @ #108: Area pontist notes an important anniversary

At first glance, I misread that as "Area pointillist notes an important anniversary"...

#115 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 11:34 AM:

Happy Bloomsday! Happy Juneteenth!

#116 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 08:08 PM:

Kip W @105: Thank you for digging that up!

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 09:31 PM:

File770 reports that John Dalmas has died.

#118 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 16, 2017, 11:20 PM:

Speaking of Juneteenth, I just remembered it a couple of days ago because for some reason it isn't on the kind of calendar they sell at Wal-Mart. I would appreciate anyone's suggestions for a Juneteenth playlist, suitable for students ranging in age from early teens to early primary.

#119 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 03:37 AM:

odaiwai @22: “Also, the name of the language is Irish. Gaelic is what Scottish people speak.” — ‘Gaelige’, ‘Gaelic’, and ‘Irish Gaelic’ are alternate names given in this article on the Irish language.

The corresponding disambiguation entry, Gaelic, does also include ‘Scots Gaelic’... but note the need for that preceding modifier, ‘Scots’ [i.e. Scottish].

CHip @83: “In Latin, a leading ‘num’ converts a declarative sentence into one expecting a positive answer, and ‘nonne’ a negative (IIRC -- could be the reverse...)” — The reverse.

‘Nonne’ expects a positive answer:
‘Nonne me amas?’ Surely you love me?

‘Num’ expects a negative answer:
‘Num me amas?’ Surely you don't love me?

The suffix ‘-ne’ is a simple question expecting either a yes or a no:
‘Amasne me?’ Do you love me?

— Raven | Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd • An Fhírinne in aghaidh an tSaoil • Veritas contra Mundum | [the Bardic Motto]

#120 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 04:01 AM:

Oh, and if we're being language fans (please let’s!), go take a look at the new poster for DC’s upcoming Black Panther movie, with T’Challa enthroned at home in Wakanda, angular characters enscribed on his throne resembling Ancient Berber (the ancestor of Tifinagh) or Ancient Sabaean/Yemeni/South-Arabian (befitting an idea that the Sabaeans were the Shebans, as in the Queen of Sheba).

I attempted a transcription here, and made other comments, but have had no luck at a translation. Anyone else want to take a try?

#121 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 06:09 AM:

(P.S. & ObMakingLight: the Black Panther inscription and such ancestral scripts as the Ancient South Arabian musnad should always be found on topic or at least inoffensive for this site... as they are inherently devowelled....)

#123 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 11:19 AM:

They call them “Flower” or “Snooky”; it is a simple task
To put a few letters together: like writing a report
Vowels here, consonants there, meaning somewhere else,
If anywhere. Silly, really. Brain the size of a planet:
Should be telling these water-based clods how to save their world,
But to-day we have naming of pigs.

#124 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 01:01 PM:

Kip W <applause!>

#125 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 01:51 PM:

Cassy B: ::grin:: Yes, I saw that! (It's frustrating that they have enough throughput to need help in naming. :( My local cavy rescue can probably relate.)

Kip W: Please accept this Internet.

#126 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2017, 02:17 PM:

Cool! I always wanted one of those!

Ooh! And an internet!

#127 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2017, 01:18 AM:

Stephen Furst (Vir on B5) dies at 63.

I'm so glad I got to talk with him at a con a few years ago. I told him that he was my favorite character on the show, and it was because of his character arc.


#128 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2017, 05:01 AM:

Lee @127: For me it was more Vir’s character traits, notably that inside that eager but fumbling young puppy already shone the fundamental decency, wisdom, and capacity for ethical [I do not say “moral”, considering the mores his society gave him to follow] outrage... one just knew that would be so desperately needed where and when he was.

As a certain Inquisitor said of someone else, the right person at the right place at the right time.

That Vir’s arc took him where it did was... well, gravy, and also cake plus frosting and ice cream and cherries on top, and karma and justice and all those good things... but extraneous to the good of his traits. And one can heartily approve of his personal happy ending, yet wish a whole lot of other good people in the B5 universe received likewise.

#129 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2017, 12:08 PM:

Marcus Cole: "I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe."

#130 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 12:46 PM:

Theophylact @ 115: According to Ethan Mordden's Anything Goes: A History of American Musical Theatre (if I haven't misread it again), the original Bloomsday (1902) was also the day that the first dramatization of The Wizard of Oz opened. Book and lyrics by Baum, music by Paul Tietjens, plot reworked to provided plenty of gags and cues for irrelevant songs (and to eliminate the Wicked Witch of the West). The detailed description sounds worse than the way US cinema reworked The Dark is Rising, but it suited the audiences of the time well enough to run on various stages (starting in Chicago) for seven years.

Jenny Islander @ 118: I'm partial to Grace Slick's "Rejoyce", but it is sufficiently explicit that I don't recommend it unrestrictedly for that age bracket -- parents could ignite over either the sex or the politics.

#131 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 01:00 PM:

This is harrowing reading, and I strongly recommend it, by a firefighter who was at the Grenfell Tower fire.

#132 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 01:16 PM:

AKICIML: Hardware folks, I'm being asked to find an appropriate PC for a coworker whose old one died (not before time; there's no such thing as a new PC with XP on it).

I have not kept up with PC evolution. She will mainly use it for word processing and spreadsheets. She picked one out, but it had a 1.8gz processor speed, which appears to be very slow these days (Amazon reviews, but they may have been from gamer AFAIK). OTOH, cost is certainly an issue (we're a small local charity).

I don't know enough about this to have a method of looking. Google isn't that helpful. Suggestions welcome.

#133 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 01:37 PM:

Race Traitor Xopher @ 132:

I've been educating myself recently on what to look for hardware-wise, since I'm starting to think it's time for a new computer again.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about AMD processors any more.

For Intel processors, they have a bunch of different ones, but mostly you're going to be running into Core i3, i5, and i7 varieties. The i3 is low end, used in cheap laptops, netbooks, and tablets. The i7 is high-end, and suitable for serious number crunching. The i5 is in the middle, and probably what you want to be aiming for.

The first digit of the four-digit number that comes after the i-number tells you the generation of the chip. Intel's on the 7th generation now, but 6th generation chips are still in common use.

Also important is RAM and disk space. Minimum RAM for the sorts of tasks she's looking at is probably 8 GB, and minimum hard disk size is 256 GB. There are still machines with 128 GB, which can be enough, but can also start to get pinched depending on what else is installed.

For calibration purposes, my work machine has an Intel Core i5-4300U CPU running at 1.9 GHz, 8 GB RAM, and 256 GB hard disk. It's running Windows 7 because work. I mostly use it for word processing, spreadsheets, email, and web browsing, but it still has enough oomph to do CAD work and some 3D stuff. I doubt it would be great at playing today's A-list games, but that's not what it's for.

#134 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 02:03 PM:

Race Traitor Xopher @ 132:

My general rule of thumb is that virtually any machine available is going to be sufficient for word processing and spreadsheets. Yes, 1.8 GHz is on the slow end today, but it's plenty fast for those applications.

If she's picked out a system that meets your budget, you can get that, or get the best system that meets your budget. I assume you are buying a pre-built system from someplace like Dell or Gateway, not building one from scratch.

If you are building one from scratch, check out something like The Tech Report's System Guide for May 2017 or similar for in-depth discussions of what's good at various price-points.

#135 ::: Race Traitor Xopher, grateful for help ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 02:06 PM:

Yeah, not building one from scratch. Gods forbid.

Thanks, KeithS and Buddha! I think I have enough to be going on with.

#136 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 02:16 PM:

Xopher, even low-end hardware today is pretty powerful. What you need, no argument, is DDR3 RAM and PCIe expansion slots. On-motherboard graphics is usually powerful enough for office software.

The CPU will have multiple cores, and should have a clock speed of over 2 GHz. 2 cores will give you one for the OS, one for the program, and I doubt it's worth more than 4.

4GB of RAM should be a minimum. I don't really expect you need more, but if there are spare RAM slots on the motherboard it's worth having the space.

Gigabit ethernet on the motherboard has been the default for years. No need to change anything, the speed is set automatically.

Hard drives: 1TB SATA is pretty much standard for new drives. You can get smaller, but the cost difference is slight.

USB Ports: USB3.0 is worth having for the speed, though USB2.0 still works.

It isn't critical for Windows machines, almost everything depends on DirectX, but I would want graphics hardware that supported OpenGL v2.0 or later. Call it a sanity check (And Linux compatibility the same). I also prefer nVidia. The SVGA connector is still pretty common, no big worries about re-using an existing LCD monitor.

I don't think I have picked anything grotesque. I know I see good office machines on eBay, second-hand servers and workstations, that would be fine, and at very low prices. Though one pitfall might be the RAM type and the expansion slots. "low-profile" can be awkward.

I expect people to get geeky about the trade-offs. I might be a bit wrong about the useful minimum. And I have been assembling my own PCs for a long time. So much has changed, and it can be surprising what hasn't.

(Small minor fact: an old 73GB drive can use 5 times more power than a current 1TB drive)

#137 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 02:58 PM:

CHip @130
I was just looking at the sheet music for Tietjens's "Wizard of Oz," which I downloaded (free) from, which also has Victor Herbert's score for "Little Nemo," complete with a color cover by Winsor McCay.

#138 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 03:05 PM:

PNH @131
I agree. Painful as it is to read, someone has to listen.

#139 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 03:57 PM:

Xopher @135:

Glad to help.

As a point of reference, the cheapest, lowest-line Dell machine I could easily find on their site almost meets Dave Bell's recommendations. It's got a dual core processor, 4GB ram, Win10, and a 500GB hard drive.

I feel Dave Bell only went with 1TB because it's not much more expensive, but its not necessary. I just checked the Mac I use at work and it's only a 500GB drive; I've used 1/3 of it over the past year, and I'm a developer.

Finding a cheap machine that meets the specs isn't hard. It's almost harder to find a machine that doesn't meet the specs.

#140 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 04:15 PM:

AKICIML: I just discovered that Neil Gaiman appears as a character in Paul Cornell's novel The Severed Streets. Does anyone know if Cornell appears as a character in any of Gaimain's work?

#141 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2017, 04:56 PM:

Soon Lee (#91) Where I live, we don't talk about the inside lane and the outside lane (although I think that language appears in the drivers' handbook). We say "passing on the left" and "passing on the right". Used to be that passing on the right (we drive on the right) was Not Allowed, but then freeways became common and one could pass in any lane. I think passing on the right is still thought to be unmannerly. The whole "inside -- outside" discussion really confused me; I could think of reasons for each interpretation. Oh, and I think that passing on the right is legal so long as one's wheels remain on the paved portion of the road during the maneuver.

#142 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 02:27 AM:

Bruce H.: No he doesn't, unless there's something that's very obscure.

I've never asked about it, but I assume that Cornell used Gaiman as a character with permission.

#143 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 04:04 AM:

David Goldfarb @ #142:

If my memory is correct, that is explicitly stated in the afterword, yes.

#144 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 05:46 AM:

Xopher @135

I think that over the last n years (n~=5) the biggest changes have been SSDs and lower power chips.

Processor power used to double every couple of years, now it's stretched dramatically. Ram used to double every few years, now it's only on the ultra high end. Drives went through a dramatic increase in capacity. But most of that tapered off when the phone revolution took over.

Personally, my priorities would be big enough SSD, enough RAM, and a decent LCD. I'd aim for a processor that's low enough power to do passive cooling, so there's one less fan to hear and have clog with dust. But that's kind of a stretch goal. I'd avoid spinning disks unless you _know_ you need tons of space. And even then, I'd be tempted by a larger SSD.

FWIW, I'm using a refurb Thinkpad T410 (2010) as my main dev machine, maxed out ram and a 512G ssd. The desktop is from 2009, the other laptop is a 2012 MBAir. Then again, all the new faster gear is in a data center, so I don't actually need anything terribly heavyweight here.

#145 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 11:08 AM:

Kip W @ 137: synchronicity!

Xopher @ 132: (not before time; there's no such thing as a new PC with XP on it). which is a pity. I refused to be "upgraded" to W7 at work (4.4 years ago) and have an XP notebook (networking disabled) so I can still run my library database. I have no idea whether NESFA's systems will ever be upgraded.

A branch off this thread's theme: the BBC on Why British English is full of silly-sounding words

#146 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 01:47 PM:

Xopher - Is this for a laptop or desktop? Especially with laptops, one concern is screen resolution (not only what's built in, but also what you can support externally. 1920x1080's a minimum reasonable choice for external these days.)
SSDs are a big win - if you need a lot of storage, then maybe a smaller SSD (e.g. 128GB) and a hard drive, though that's easier in desktops than in some laptops. RAM's the next big need - 8GB or more is worthwhile, especially as browsers get memory-hungry.
My work laptop CPU is fairly hefty, but the only times it needs more than two cores are when it's running some monitoring app the IT department installed that likes to burn all 8, or when I'm doing virtual machine stuff. Even my Raspberry Pi 3 almost never runs out of CPU (though that's partly because it runs out of RAM first.) (But if you did want to build a desktop machine yourself, it's about as easy as you'll find.)

#147 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 03:13 PM:

CHip @145:

I am glad you specified that you have networking disabled.

For anyone who is unaware of why that would be a thing... IT Security Due Diligence Mode Engaged!

Now that XP is no longer supported, the number of known exploits for the OS just keeps increasing and none of them are ever going to be fixed. Avoid connecting an XP machine to the internet if at all possible.

#148 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 08:17 PM:

Thanks again, everyone. We placed the order today.

#149 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2017, 09:36 PM:

What did you decide, Xopher?

#150 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 10:00 AM:

Question for Agile practitioners...

Would having over-arching themes like "Fix all the things", "Zap all the bugs" and "Make all software perfect" be classed as "epic fantasy"?

#151 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 11:17 AM:

Ingvar M @150:

I dunno, I think things like "The client is paying us to add new features, not fix old bugs" falls more into the category of "horror" not "epic fantasy".

#152 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 12:24 PM:

Raven @

— ‘Gaelige’, ‘Gaelic’, and ‘Irish Gaelic’ are alternate names given in this article on the Irish language.

The corresponding disambiguation entry, Gaelic, does also include ‘Scots Gaelic’... but note the need for that preceding modifier, ‘Scots’ [i.e. Scottish].

Wikipedia is not reflecting the usage I am familiar with in this instance. When I was growing up in Ireland, learning Irish in school from age 4 to age 18, we called the language "Irish" when speaking English. When speaking Irish, we would say: táimíd ag caint as Gaeilge. We would never say that we were speaking "Irish Gaelic", or "Gaelic", only Irish.

The Irish Constitution refers to the "Irish Language" in English, while the Irish language version calls the language Ós í an Ghaeilge an teanga náisiúnta is í an phríomhtheanga oifigiúil í.

#153 ::: odaiwai ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 12:33 PM:

Yiu Ming is Ainm Dom a short movie about a foreigner learning Irish and assumptions about who speaks what language.

#154 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 06:03 PM:

Carol 149: We went with one from NewEgg. ML won't let me link to it. It's faster than the one I was looking at before, with a bigger screen, otherwise comparable...except it's $50 cheaper.

NewEgg is a find! Lots of very cheap but perfectly serviceable stuff there.

#155 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2017, 07:07 PM:

PC or Mac? Desktop or laptop? Specs?

I'm afraid I may be in the market soon...

#156 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 10:30 AM:

I have boughten lots of stuff from NewEgg through the years, and their service and prices have always been great.

I think they are a successor-company of the old Egghead computer store chain.

I bought my last laptop, a refurbished older model Lenovo, from Woot!, Amazon's liquidation site. Even a modest* laptop does everything I want from a computer. (I don't edit video or play high-end games.)

* Avoid "student grade" computers.

#157 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 01:25 PM:

NewEgg has also made a reputation as being aggressive when it comes to patent trolls. Several times they've had conversations with patent trolls which have gone like so:

Troll: You are infringing on our bogus patent. Pay us licensing fees or we'll sue.
NewEgg: We aren't paying. We'll see you in court.
Troll: Uh, never mind.
NewEgg: No, we'll see you in court, challenging the validity of your patent.
Troll: Uh, we'll settle?
NewEgg: See you in court.
Judge: Bogus patent is bogus.
NewEgg: Can we get legal fees?
Troll: Please say no.
Judge: Yes.

My current "play" laptop (as opposed to the work-issued laptop I should be using for work stuff) was bought from NewEgg as a refurbished computer. It's a bit old in the tooth at this point, but it's working well.

#158 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 04:29 PM:

Mary Kay Kare tweeted (and retweeted—I caught it on the second time) that Jordin is in the Cleveland Clinic for heart surgery. They will be in the city in a few days and will stay until well after the end of the month, when they will operate.

I probably don't need to tell most of you about Jordin—filker, punster, mad scientist (not only out there zapping mosquitoes with frickin lasers, but he and his team are even sexing them first… with frickin lasers), and a great guy to be around at conventions, especially when he's not punning. (I know: Jealousy is so ugly.) A quick look at his Wikipedia page will reveal other achievements that I am too technically unsophisticated to convey.

Mary Kay has indicated that good thoughts, prayers, emotional support, and the customary huge check (which she inexplicably forgot to mention) are all welcome.

Jordin's a fine lad, and Mary Kay says he is taking this better than she is, so don't hesitate to let her know that we wish him the best, if not more.

#159 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 09:14 PM:

Carol 155: It was a Dell Optiplex 780 USFF All-in-One Computer System, Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0GHz, 4GB DDR3 Memory, 1TB Hard Drive, WiFi, DVD/CD-RW Optical Drive, Microsoft Windows 7 Professional

#160 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 09:38 PM:

Fabulous, Xopher - thank you. If I suddenly need a replacement, that (or best approximation if that's unavailable) will fit the bill exactly.

#161 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2017, 09:49 PM:

People who are into game design:

Let's say your potential buyers could all see the previous path of an object in motion, or predict where it was going to go even if it were moving very slowly (so, look up at any light in the sky from any point on Earth and point to where it had risen and where it would set without pausing to think). Say furthermore that they could predict all plausible outcomes of any action they were about to take. What might their games look like? Would they all be chess masters or something?

#162 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 01:47 AM:

odaiwai @152: The Irish Constitution refers to the ‘Irish Language’ in English....”

Article 8 has “Irish language” with lower-case L, so that phrase is a specification but not a “proper name” of the language.

The Irish Constitution also, in Article 1, refers to the “Irish nation” in English, which again is a specification but not a proper name — that being given as “Éire” and “Ireland”, both within the linked English text. (Then in Article 2 it repeats the phrase, this time capitalizing Nation... so should we now presume “Irish Nation” is the “proper name”?)

#163 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 02:39 AM:

odaiwai #153. Lovely.

In the other direction, there's been news here in NZ about an Irish linguistics student, Aoife Finn, who has never been to New Zealand but accidentally came across te reo Māori and got seriously interested in it (eg)

#164 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 03:06 AM:

Jenny Islander@151: What are your buyers NOT good at? Most games start with activities that are easy and natural, but a challenging one leads you into more difficult tasks. Consider Asteroids, where you start by tracking four rocks (we're good at trajectories), but end up dealing with thirty or so (bad at multitasking). Or Diplomacy, where there are only two or three possible outcomes for a given turn, but you have to figure out who's lying to you to know what will actually happen. It's how you get that "thirty seconds to learn, a lifetime to master!" thing.

#165 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 03:22 AM:

Jenny Islander @ 161:

Probably not "straight path intercept". I could see a great line in various types of logic games (depending on how uncanny their foresight is).

It might, just might, be that something like Go would appeal, in that the game space is not only huge but also not (necessarily) acyclic.

It may also be, like in Player of Games that the preferred style of game has open information, hidden information, as well as randomness.

The closest human board game would probably be something like Stratego, where the other player doesn't know what your pieces are, until you reveal them, but that has no randomness, so imagine Stratego with a die roll and if you roll a specific number (1? 6? 3? doesn't matter) you get two moves before the other player moves. Injects sufficient uncertainty to make eth game taht much harder to predict, long term, but should in general never hurt the player who gets the double move, I think.

#166 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 06:00 AM:

HuffPost article by a teen explaining how she isn't in the market for YA literature and discussing some perils for writers thereof.

#167 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 07:06 AM:

re 150: I think of them more as squares on Buzzword Bingo.

#168 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 09:28 AM:

C. Wingate @166: Good article. It really brought home to me that I don't have clear memories, any more, of being a teenager. I wonder how much of the things she points out would be better understood by YA writers if we had a less age-segregated society; most people don't spend a lot of time really getting to know teenagers unless they have one, or are some sort of teacher, I think.

#169 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 11:31 AM:

Jenny Islander@161: "Say furthermore that they could predict all plausible outcomes of any action they were about to take. What might their games look like?"

Woohoo! Time for some game theory!

(Sorry. That was a twitter meme.)

In a sense, you're describing human beings. You can easily predict all plausible outcomes of a game action, and all possible responses by your opponent, all the way to the end of the game -- if you're playing tic-tac-toe. Any adult who knows the game knows that feeling. You might even remember the moment, as a child, when tic-tac-toe turned from a fascinating well of uncertainty into a bore.

Our response, as adult game designers, is to invent more complicated game boards. In chess or go, the possible outcomes for *one* move are easy to see, but the number of possible outcomes after N moves is exponentially larger. It quickly becomes too large for the (unassisted) human brain to see clearly.

But (with practice) you can see *roughly* where the game could go over N moves. You use tricks like focusing on important subsets of the board (watch the queen!), or rule-of-thumb estimates of how well you're doing (losing your queen is bad). This is difficult, and prone to surprises, and if your opponent sees just one important thing that you missed, you're in trouble.

This is the quality we call "fun". (For perfectly strategic, non-random games like chess and go.)

What's important here is that we, as designers, want an *appropriate* level of complexity for the board and pieces. Tic-tac-toe is too simple. But if the possible outcomes branch too fast, you can't see an interesting distance ahead or estimate anything useful. Then the game "feels too chaotic" (even though there are no random elements) and it's not fun.

So if the audience was superhuman at seeing outcomes, they'd invent games which were complex enough for them to enjoy. There are a lot of ways that could happen. Chess where you move two pieces simultaneously. Three-dimensional boards. Go where the stones are asymmetrical and orientation matters.

If the audience was literally omniscient, that's a different problem. Usual warnings about trying to write deities as characters apply.

#170 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 11:44 AM:

Andrew 169: Some friends of mine played a variant with a 3-by-3 grid of tic-tac-toe boards. Each move on a given board determined the next board in play (mapping the board to the grid). Victory condition was board-level victory on three boards in a row. Adds a layer of strategy, because you can try to keep the other player away from a board where you're about to lose.

The fact that their kid eventually got bored with that, I think, shows what a true gamer family is like.

#171 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 11:48 AM:

As Ingvar M says, there's also the design path of adding randomness and hidden information. These have the effect of bringing the "fog of uncertainty" closer -- game skill becomes less about thinking many moves into the future, and more about being able to react better to surprises in the moment.

(But again, since we are neither gods nor tic-tac-toe enthusiasts, this is a difference in degree and not in kind.)

Note that the opponent's mind is *sort of* hidden information, but not really. In a purely strategic game, both players are constantly peering into each other's minds using the age-old telepathic gimmick of "What would I do if I were him?" This is why tiny differences in estimative skill are crucial!

#172 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 02:01 PM:

Looking for suggestions: To relieve stress, I set up a Twitter list just for cute animal pictures. So far I have Cute Emergency, Emergency Kittens, and The Scamperbeasts. What other feeds I should follow?

#173 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 02:13 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 172

@HourlyKitten is also cute, and they credit their sources.

#174 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 02:28 PM:

Jenny @161, et alia:

Even being able to predict plausible outcomes of any action doesn't necessarily lead to boring games.

For instance, take a game with an embedded "Prisoner's Dilemma". In a classic Prisoner's Dilemma, two players are simultaneously given the choice to cooperate or defect. Both cooperating is better for both players than both defecting, but defecting is better for any individual player. Even with full knowledge of the possible payouts it's hard to decide what the best strategy is.

#175 ::: I forgot my name ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 02:58 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 172

@dog_rates is also very wonderful and sometimes laugh out loud funny.

#176 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 03:26 PM:

Naomi Parkhurst (173)/I forgot my name (175):

Those both look good. Thanks!

#177 ::: David Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 03:58 PM:

If you're following @dog_rates you also need to follow @EverythingGoats. The two have a low-grade twitter "war" that is really one of the greatest things on the internet. Plus, cute baby goats!

#178 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2017, 08:05 PM:

C Wingate @ 166: it sounds like there's a lot of lame YA out there. (Not that that's new; the Hardy Boys are ... massively contrived ...) OTOH, the writer may be more articulate (etc.) than many of her peers; would less-aware readers be more content with ~wordwooze? I wonder what the writer thinks of Judy Blume -- is she old-hat now? I guess one of the advantages of SF is that the author can set up an internally plausible situation, without having to mimic the current world; this means a younger person can be dumped in a Situation, or plausible have somewhat more responsibility (and not necessarily be believed immediately -- that sounds like especially bad writing).

#179 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 07:28 AM:

I am not sure how relevant it all is, but when we're talking about teenagers, we should remember that times keep changing. A quick check came up with this outline of compulsory education ages in the UK.

In the 20th Century this started at age-13 and finished at age-16, and there was also a reduction of voting age from 21 to 18.

This affects the transition from being at school to having a job. That youth in some of the fiction of the inter-war era might be learning trade-specific skills, might be listened to warily, but wouldn't seen in the same way as today.

And then think about the whole idea of Boy Scouts, starting with what Baden-Powell wrote, and continuing with how they really did keep watch for spies and saboteurs in WW1.

I think there are reasons why it is hard to believe in the way the youngest teens might be used, but in the past there would have been far more ways in which a 15-year-old might have established a reputation amongst adults who knew him.

Arthur Ransome produced Swallows and Amazons and while some of the sequels are very unreal, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea is a group of teenagers who plausibly know enough to cope with the situation. And some of the other stories are built around the belief problem.

The flaws and weakness in today's YA fiction were around then. I read enough of it, old books in the farmhouse acquired in auction job-lots by my grandfather.

#180 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 11:18 AM:

HLN: Local man is frying an egg for breakfast and hears a popping sound. Local man realizes that the egg has basically exploded, sending most of the yolk onto the floor. Local man is unsure what caused the egg to explode, but fries a second egg anyway. This egg does not explode.

#181 ::: Guess ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 11:34 AM:

There is a terrific youtube channel called The Metatron. The guy who does it is a limguist who speaks several languages including Italian, English, Greek, and Japanese. He teaches language in university. Most of the channel is history related to ancient medeivil (including japanese and chinese) military history. Its the kimd of history that fantasy fans would be interedted in.

He occassionally does videos on languages. He did one in respinse to another youtuber named Limdybeige when he talked about how much easier it us to use an english dictionary than a chinese one due to chinese characters.

He made an interesting point. Most languages dont have alphabets. They have characters that have rules involved in how they are created. Its a totally different concept. He said chinese is a tonal language. You dont look stuff up alphabetically its based on the rules of the lnguage. He said its not hard at all when you know the language.

His videos are very good.

It would be interesting to fimd out what the equivalent of a spelling bee is in a language that doesnr use an alphabet.

#182 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 11:56 AM:

Guess, perhaps a writing bee? Someone says an obscure word and you have to write the ideogram for it? (Purely guessing; I have no idea.)

#183 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 01:28 PM:

"Most" languages don't have alphabets? I suspect it depends on how you count (both languages and alphabets). I assume we're talking about languages that have been written, which is most (not all) these days.

Chinese, as has been discussed here before, is not one language, but many languages using the same writing system. Do you count it as one or many?

According to this page, 132 languages use the Roman alphabet. There are many more that use variations on it. Over 80 use the Arabic alphabet. Smaller groups use Hebrew or Devanagari.

I don't know; I'd have to count, and I don't have the energy at the moment. But due to European imperialism, ISTM that most of the languages that were first written in the 19th and 20th centuries would be alphabetic.

#185 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 05:36 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @ #171: In a purely strategic game, both players are constantly peering into each other's minds using the age-old telepathic gimmick of "What would I do if I were him?"

Side-tracking, but one of my favourite tropes is when the villain completely screws up by using this method, because the hero does *not* share their villainous personality traits.

#186 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 08:55 PM:

Jaque, 184: I knew they were going to bring up infrasound at some point during that show. I have been reading about it for quite some time and I think that neither has it been fully proven nor fully disproven to affect human consciousness as claimed; I think some experiments could have been done more carefully, and there is just a lot more to find out about it. That bit in the middle with the old movie showing car accidents caused by it, I wish they'd told us where that was from.
Effect on nonhuman objects is certain--I recall screwing around with a synth one time and wondering how come the room was shaking, and when I looked at the woofer, I dialed the power back real fast...

#187 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 10:06 PM:

@HourlyFox has some really cute foxes.

Foxes do happy really well:

#188 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 11:21 PM:

Stefan Jones (187): Oh, that's a good one! Thanks!

...I wonder how many other hourly[animal]s there are.

#189 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2017, 11:47 PM:

I wonder how many other hourly [animals there are.

Watch dogs?

#190 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 02:30 AM:

One archaicish Asian timekeeping method assigned the 12 lunar zodiac critters to divide each day (starting at midnight iirc) into 12 ~2-hour segments-- can't recall offhand whether they applied seasonal dusk/dawn adjusted stments. The time sgments are usually simplified in translation to "the hour of the Rat/Ox/etc."

#191 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 04:35 AM:

Race Traitor Xopher @183: “‘Most’ languages don't have alphabets? I suspect it depends on how you count (both languages and alphabets).”

Often, very very loosely, people apply the term “alphabet” to any written script... but some major such are technically not alphabets at all.

Chinese (or “CJK” because of the other users, Japanese and Korean) is ideographic rather than phonetic...

Like Hebrew, the Arabic writing system is (mostly, i.e. “impurely”) an abjad, a consonantal marking, though it does show a few vowels; Ancient South Arabian (Sabaean), Old Berber, and modern (Neo-)Tifinagh are full (i.e. fully consonantal) abjads.

Ethiopian’s Ge’ez script is basically Sabaean with vowel markings attached to represent C+V syllables (plus 24 of the original 29 consonant glyphs), making it an abugida or alphasyllabary...

In this respect it resembles Japanese’s Kana (katakana and hiragana, and their mutual predecessor man’yōgana), which is a C+V syllabary...

The Brahmic scripts seen across the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia and parts of east Asia — including everything from Devanagari and Gujarati to Thai, Tibetan, and Balinese? See the table of values: ka, kha, ga, gha,... that’s an abugida table.

The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, with each glyph having either a C or a V value, but no syllabic values (and Cyrillic pushes this bar with some vowel-glyphs we might consider diphthongs: Я ya, Е ye, Ё yo, Ю yu), begin to look like a minority if we stop focusing our attention only on European languages.

#192 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 04:49 AM:

Oh, and Korea’s own Hangul is a story unto itself. What you could call the “atomic” elements are alphabetic, but it’s constructed syllabically (in “molecular” blocks) rather than sequentially. The North and South differ in how much they still use Hanja (Chinese characters, what the Japanese call kanji), perhaps for political reasons.

#193 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 04:55 AM:

Ahh, correction, modern Neo-Tifinagh is fully alphabetic, with vowels.

#194 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 06:09 PM:

@183 The Soviet Union was very big on mass literacy in the middle of the 20th century, and while they did heavily promote Russian as the official common language, they also invented writing systems for a number of Central Asian languages that didn't already have them. These systems were based on Cyrillic, because the textbook printers already had type for that.

Oddly enough, one of these languages, Dungan, is a close relative of Mandarin.

#195 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2017, 06:24 PM:

Sarah E @185: Side-tracking, but one of my favourite tropes is when the villain completely screws up by using this method, because the hero does *not* share their villainous personality traits.

"See, if I were him, I'd march up to the gates with the Ring, claim it for my own, and issue a challenge to single combat using its power. Like that would ever happen." (When Sib Machat performs her song "Evil Eyeball", she makes much of the extremely rocky gritty harsh environment around the Dark Tower.)

#196 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 09:29 AM:

Zack @194: “... they also invented writing systems for a number of Central Asian languages that didn’t already have them.”

Er, well, sort of. Mongolian, for instance, already had a writing system, having (during the reign of Genghis Khan) adopted a vertical script from Sogdian, which in fact the “Inner Mongolian” regions of China still use. The Mongolian People's Republic (aka “Outer Mongolia” to the Chinese) was more closely allied with the Soviets, which goes far to explain their adoption of a Cyrillic script plus added letters for the extra sounds. [In this post-Soviet era, the nation’s name is simply “Mongolia”.]

Genghis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan had a Tibetan advisor, Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, better remembered by the name of the script he devised, 'Phags-pa, for all the written languages within the Yuan dynasty. But the Ming dynasty supplanted that a century later, and the older Chinese script resumed use... for all ‘dialects’.

Is it generously promoting mass literacy when an empire’s script supplants local scripts, or is the empire going to promote specifically its own literature — its laws, orders, and propaganda?

#197 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 10:07 AM:

... more @194: Dungan is written in Cyrillic in, for instance, Kazakhstan; well, so is the vast majority language, Kazakh... except: “On April 12, 2017, President Nazarbayev ordered the authorities to transcribe the Kazakh alphabet into Latin by the end of the year, thereby signalling the end of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh.”

#198 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 04:08 PM:

I think a lot of local languages' written forms were first created by Christian missionaries, who were generally going to use the Roman alphabet with some variations to capture the sounds in the language.

But the coolest story I know along these lines is of Sequoyah--as I understand it, he didn't know how to read in any language, but he understood that phonetic writing was *possible*, and that was enough for him to create a written form of the Cherokee language. (I think each letter is one syllable.) Written language is a technology like any other, and a smart person can figure out enough to reinvent it simply by knowing it exists and having a very basic idea how it works.

#199 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 04:33 PM:

Michael I @180: Maybe it was the thermite? <g,d&r>

#200 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 07:42 PM:

Mary Aileen@172 ...

(a) Thank you for reading my mind. I've been trying to get an epoxy finish to DTRT, and if I hadn't put so much time into it already, I'd throw the dratted thing out the window, even though it'd take out the window and frame in the process ...


#201 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2017, 08:04 PM:

Xopher, #170: Does anyone else here remember Qubic? It was a 3D tic-tac-toe variation on a 4x4x4 grid, and the number of ways you could get 4 in a row to win was staggering. IIRC, there was still a way for the first player to win, but it wasn't nearly as automatic as in the 3x3 game.

My math-geeky friend and I took it one step further. We drew up and printed out sheets of paper with a representation of 4 Qubic boards on them, making up a 4x4x4x4 game. Any 4 levels in a straight line constituted a board, you played on all 10 boards at once, 4 in a row on any board was a win. That was challenging!

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