Thursday, December 29, 2005
The first time I heard it, I thought it was a small slip-up, that bank people use the term "social" among themselves and the rep had used it inadvertently when talking to me. But overnight, it seemed, everyone was using this foreshortened version with the public at large; I can't recall the last time someone asked me for my "social security number" by that name.
Obviously, it's not a term that's difficult to grasp. Still, I wonder how many times the customer service person is asked "My what?". And of course I wonder whether the public at large will use the term outside of the context of banks and credit card companies and those who traffic in "socials" every day.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Flickr labs have been hard at work creating a way to show you some of the most awesome photos on Flickr.Free extra bonus new word included at no charge to you.
We like to call it interestingness.
Explore the gorgeousity by choosing a point in time...
(On an entirely extra-linguistic note, I personally find the use of we and especially we like to think or we call it in advertisements kinda oily. But that's just an opinion, not a usage observation.)
I will say that at this exact point in time -- it's early today, perhaps -- I can't think of an existing noun that would substitute for interestingness in place. One would have to recast using interest as an adjective, wouldn't one?
I'll also throw in that the word labs in this kind of context seems to me to be ambidextrous with respect to number. I think we could say either Flickr labs has been hard at work or Flickr labs have been hard at work. In British English, at least, the plural would be preferred always. We Americans often like to think of collective nouns as singularities. Is labs a collective noun? You decide.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
In English, we have:
need (I, you, we, they)
needs (he, she, it)
needed (all persons), also functions as participle
I count four forms -- two present, one for past (including participle), one for progressive. Did I forget any?
Even gnarly verbs in English don't have that many forms. An irregular verb like eat has only one additional form: eat; eats; eating; ate; eaten. A wackier verb, still pretty simple: think; thinks; thinking; thought. Still only four. Another: ring; rings; ringing; rang; rung. The star irregular verb is, as usual, to be, which has these: be; am; are; is; being; was; were; been.
For further comparison, I just totted up some German verbs, and unless I am missing some forms (I wouldn't be surprised), it looks like in German, most verbs have about 11 forms. Rather more than our four or five, but still way simpler than latinate languages.
(Incidentally, if you're wondering how we can get by with such greatly simplified verb forms in English, it's because we have effectively excised the semantic component represented by a verbal inflection and transferred it to another word, such as a pronoun. Thus Spanish amo is I love, amas is you love -- they like inflection, we like not-inflection and pronouns. Spanish has pronouns, of course, but they're often optional. Our habit of preferring to use separate words instead of inflecting verbs -- which is to say, the tendency of English toward being an analytic language -- applies also to verbal tenses and moods. As in German, many of our past and all of our future verbal forms involve auxiliary verbs. Ditto subjunctive -- If he would have come, ...)
And the point of this is? Well, I was talking to a 12-year-old the other day, and the topic of swimming came up, and when the phrase have swum was floated (haha), my interlocutor did not believe that swum was a word. "I have swam," she insisted was the correct form. This was all the more surprising to me because this is an extremely well-read girl who regularly tackles texts several grade levels above her age. Yet she has as yet not learned the "correct" participial form for a verb that is by no means obscure.
This seems like evidence to me that the drive in English to reduce verb forms continues, albeit somewhat checked among those who have formally studied the language. Non-standard English has all sorts of examples where, as with our swim example, the simple past has taken over the participle and further reduced the number of forms -- I have went, I have ate, etc.
It is of course in the vulgate where continued change will manifest, and one therefore is not surprised that speakers of non-standard English are in the vanguard of evolution. But when people who for the most part speak standard English are confused about things like the form of a participle, further evolution in English is snoofling around at the door.
Lest any of us get to feelin' too smug, though, consider that even us speakers of more perfect English can find ourselves unsure of forms, at least till we run to our beloved reference works for rulings. Which is it, dragged or drug? Sneaked or snuck? And as noted here before, there's that perplexing to dive -- I dive, I dove, I have ___________ ? It will be the rare folk among us who can confidently roll out every form of every verb in English, and especially, who can do it based on instinct alone. The fact is that we "know" the correct forms of such verbs only because various "authorities" have made a decision for us and we have studied their rulings.
 It doesn't take advanced linguistics study to guess that the forms of to be are probably not tortured inflections of a single base verb; instead, our current forms are the result of smooshing together several verbs into a single to be.
 Sometimes the participle wins: I seen him.
 At this point, even among educated people it's hard to find someone who can explain the difference -- or heck, even bothers to distinguish -- lie and lay.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
In a recent article in the New Yorker ("Hogs Wild"), Ian Frazier writes about an urban-legendish monster boar that was shot, photographed, and shortly thereafter buried. The lack of concrete evidence inspired descriptions of an ever-bigger pig until it came to be known as ... tada! ... Hogzilla. (The boar did prove to exist, and did indeed prove to have been huge, though not quite up to the size of legend.)
The suffix -zilla is another one of those morphemes that falls out of reparsing an existing word. The meaning seems to be "monster." So Hogzilla is a monster hog. Something like truck-zilla would be a monster truck. Here are some examples I found using Our Friend Google:
- ForumZilla a kind of meta-forum for finding forums. They use a lizard logo.
- Blogzilla. Nice graphic.
- Gozilla, "monster downloads."
- Nanozilla, in the cleverly titled article "Nano-zilla strikes Tokyo."
Update 28 Jan 2006 I just thought of another: bridezilla, which per Paul McFedries is "a bride-to-be who, while planning her wedding, becomes exceptionally selfish, greedy, and obnoxious." That is, a bride-monster.
The suffix -zilla is handy, because as far as I know, we don't have a particle in English that we can add to a word to create "big version of." We have diminutives -- dog, doggy -- but no, uh, what? increasative. (Actually, it's called an augmentative.) In Spanish, there are a handful of augmentatives, such as -on and -ota, to name two. Una caja is a box; un cajón is a big box, etc. (For the curious, more on Spanish augmentatives to be found here.) Of course, -zilla isn't just "big version of"; it's "unprecedently enormous version of": the monster version.
And whence this term, anyway? I can't say definitively, but a very good bet is that it began with the movie Godzilla. That's in itself a slightly strange word, an Anglicization of the Japanese word Gojira, with an extra -d-. (One etymology posited here.) Given that Godzilla is an unprecedently enormous lizard, it's not a stretch to break the name on boundaries that make sense in English (god+zilla) and reuse the suffix-like part.
A note on Mozilla, the umbrella name for the browser foundation. The foundation uses a lizard as its mascot, but according to some purported diary entries from Jamie Zawinski, the name's originator, the name came first as a portmanteau of something like Mosaic+killer, Mosaic being the browser guts on which many a commercial browser was originally based. And in an interesting twist, some uses of -zilla do not directly mean "huge"; they instead echo the Mozilla name and suggest some affinity with that browser or its community, such as Bugzilla and podzilla.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I got an appointment on the schedule for a good-bye shindig on Friday, but I am not the greatest cruise director for these sorts of things, so I could use planning and implementation help from the more socially inclined among you.and
I'll ask XXXX next week if I can make a brief announcement after class to see if we can sign up more people, but if you know of or have met other people you'd think would be good additions, let me knowIt's always interesting to see if a term that has a specific cultural context -- here, a TV show -- can make it out into the lexicon without its context. IOW, whether people who don't know the original context will pick the term up anyway. So far, people I know who use the term all explicitly understand that they're referring to a TV character. (At least, as far as I know.) Anyone have further info on this?
aka Julie the Cruise Director
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Not known at this time is when the word blog evolved from web[ ]log.
* My 40th birthday.
Via Dave Winer.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Are the holiday cards greeted?The un- prefix does not exist, AFAIK, in the transitive version (I greet you!, but no I ungreet you!).
Yes and No! The holiday cards come greeted with the words "Happy Holidays" or they can be ungreeted, please specify when ordering.
It does represent economy -- the more traditional way would be something like "come with preprinted greetings" or the like; greeted surely is a lot shorter.
So, this usage is passive (the cards are greeted), which implies a differently transitive verb to greet meaning "to add a greeting to," right? I wonder if the folks at this company sit around at meetings and say things like Should we greet these cards? We should subpoena their emails.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The Bogdanov Affair article has been plagued by vicious POV warrioring from a number of sides, including IPs belonging to Igor Bogdanov, the subject of the article.Aside from being hard to pronounce, it seems that the term "fighting" would be appropriate. So why does the author use "warrioring"? Because it appears to derive from a noun "POV warrior," which (heh) Wikipedia helpfully defines as "someone whose writings consistently lack a Neutral point of view." Another Wikipedia entry uses the term in a similar way:
In short, I object to RoB's knee-jerk reverting of any change I make to the article, without any consideration for process (explaining his edits, responding to my explanations). Moreover, I object to his knee-jerk POV warrioring, refusing to accept views other than his own.So within the Wikipedia community, this seems to be established. The verb is just a, uh, bonus.
As for turning "xxxx warrior" into a verb, we can find other examples:
- An Amazon reviewer (of PlayStation) who signs himself "warrioring."
- A clear example where "weekend warrior" (not completely defined) is converted to "warrioring."
- A straightfoward example from a page that addresses machismo: "Macho posturing is a hangover from hand-to-hand combat times when tribal societies were in need of fierce warriors to survive. Now that women fly combat planes, warrioring no longer suffices as a sufficient proof of masculinity." [Note: site is perhaps not work-safe. -- M]
- Ditto: "Warrioring is a necessary evil, like chemotherapy against cancer - not the kind of remedy I like to celebrate - we should use it sadly, only when necessary. Think of all the greatest atrocities in our history, like the holocaust - they were all committed by warriors. Warrioring is how we evolved as societies."
BTW, the original Wikipedia entry also introduced me to a term I hadn't heard before: a "sock puppet," which they define as "an additional account created by an existing member of an Internet community. This account allows them to pose as a completely different user, sometimes to manufacture the illusion of support in a vote or argument." I generally suspect that overly enthusiastic reviews on Amazon and CitySearch.com are put there by sock puppets. But then, I'm a skeptic.
Monday, December 05, 2005
- One specific feedback we’ve received from our customers is that they would like to ...I found this just a very tiny slightly small bit odd. Feedback is, in my experience, a collective noun. Granted, the standard means to indicate an individuum from the collective is the unsatisfactory "a piece of feedback," which is not only bland, but which doesn't even work -- you can have a piece of cake, but what the heck would a piece of feedback look like, anyway? Haha.
I sent this around for commentary, and one of my co-editors made this astute observation:
"Feedback" as a collective noun seems analogous to "e-mail": "One e-mail I received said..." I'm probably the only one on the planet who doesn't refer to individual e-mail messages as "e-mails." Let's see how long it is until you find "Many feedbacks we've received..." :^)I had a fight once with someone (in email) about the use of email to mean "piece of email," and about the inevitableness of that usage and moreover its lack of ambiguity in everyday speech. (The counter-argument was that you would never refer to a letter as "a mail." FWIW, our in-house style guide insists on both the hy-phen ("e-mail") and on referring to "e-mail messages.")
The fact that people don't refer to feedbacks suggests that even if the analogy to "e-mail" has some merit, the word feedback has not yet fully made the leap to count noun. So keep your ears (and email eyes) open, folks.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Performancing.com is a group weblog written by professional bloggers, for professional bloggers. The emphasis at Performancing is commercial blogging.
The Performancing.com Mission
"To create a home for professional bloggers. A place where those that want to make money from their blogs can learn, and perfect the art of making a living from weblogging."
What exactly is "performancing" intended to mean? Working backward, we posit a verb "to performance." Is it transitive? I performance you. If so, what am I doing for you? Is it intransitive? I'm performancing = I'm working at a high-performance level?
I suppose I could just ask them, couldn't I?
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Farrell conceived of the Lollapalooza festival in 1990 as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction. The name Lollapalooza means "something outstanding or unusual"; Farrell heard the word in a Three Stooges short film and liked the sound.Ok, sure, whatever. With increasing frequency, the -palooza bit has been broken off and applied in other contexts. The meaning seems to be along the lines of "festival of ...", often meant with an ironic twist.
- Penant Palooza (Web site)
- Salsa-Palooza (Web site)
- Wrestle Palooza (Web site)
- Potty Palooza (a traveling potty to advertise Charmin. Nice.)
- "After April's repairapalooza, when I could actually hear the dollars whizzing out of my bank account, this left me comparatively giddy." (Blog entry)
- (Insert about 100 more here)
I suspect that the particle is popular also for the simple reason that it's fun to say and funny to hear.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Most famously, [Guy Fawkes Day] also bequeathed us "guy". At first this meant the effigy of Guy Fawkes traditionally burnt on the bonfire (children once constructed guys and begged money with them for fireworks with the cry "a penny for the guy!"). But it's also where "guy" in the sense of a person comes from - it was originally applied to a man of grotesque appearance, like a bonfire effigy, but when it was taken to the US in the late nineteenth century it turned into a neutral term for a man, more recently a person of either sex.
(Emphasis mine.) Nice to know the origins, right, guys?
I believe that Quinion is right, but the use of guys in a sex-neutral way is limited to the plural, as in you guys -- a vernacular second-person plural. My sense is that guy as a singular still refers to a male person. Yes?
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The problem I am having is to have the changes reflected back to the database table. i.e. updation.
We suggest you to please contact xxxxx for the updation.
It's pretty clear to me where this is coming from. In the first instance especially, updation is one of the four basic database operations: select, insert, delete, update. The other three have nice nominal forms: selection, insertion, deletion. Update is, uh, ... update. The temptation to make a form parallel with the rest is very strong.
In fact, it's a strong enough temptation that Google gets 195,000 hits, with much un-self-conscious use for the term:
In searching for cites, I also found a forum post entitled "Updation is not a word." Yeah, well ... not yet.
Monday, October 17, 2005
It's clearly not a new phenomenon, since most dictionaries list it as a noun, "informal." I suppose my real question is whether people who use an invite regularly also use an invitation in more formal contexts or whether it's more dialectical -- you use one or the other more-or-less exclusively. (I'll send you a wedding invite.)
 Mind you, no one's inviting me, and certainly not if I persist in asking "Did you just say an invite?"
Anyway, Joel Spolsky comments today in passing on how Google does things fundamentally differently than other companies. Here's the cite that caught my eye:
Look at how Google does spell checking: it's not based on dictionaries; it's based on word usage statistics of the entire Internet, which is why Google knows how to correct my name, misspelled, and Microsoft Word doesn't.As anyone who's mistyped a phrase in Google knows, Google is eerily good at DWIM searching.
What's interesting to me about Joel's comment is that from Google's perspective, the accuracy of a term -- specifically its spelling -- is effectively a democratic process. Put another way, Google does not care what any given authority might say about the correctness of a particular spelling; instead, it is the ultimate in descriptivist empiricism -- the term with the most usage is the "more correct" term.
Given this hypothesis, let's see if I can devise a way to test it. Using GoogleFight, I'll compare some terms whose official spelling, speaking very broadly, might be open to debate:
light (468,000,000) versus lite (53,100,000)
Not a close contest, but that's still a respectable number of hits for a comparatively new variant. (One in nine, right?)
night (421,000,000) versus nite (8,780,000)
Clearly lite has made more inroads into light than nite has into night.
dependent (131,000,000) versus dependant (7,430,000)
I guess I can tell my writers that empirical evidence overwhelmingly favors the first. (And, may I add, whew.)
checkbox (9,880,000) versus check box (7,670,000)
It appears that common high-tech usage has not yet had broad influence.Aha. Now I can go back to our editorial committee and tell them to get with the 21st century.Update: Someone pointed out (see Comments) that I was searching for "check+box" (two words on same page), not on the literal string "check box". Stats updated, conclusion updated. (I thought I'd looked it up as a literal, but guess not.)
collectable (7,600,000) versus collectible (15,900,000)
Bet you didn't think that one would be this close, did you?
canceling (5,210,000) versus cancelling (3,950,000)
Ooh, close one. Brits, obviously.
through (2,350,000,000) versus thru (35,600,000)
I'm sure purists everywhere are relieved.
cachable (95,300) versus cacheable (362,000)
This, if I read it right, contradicts what we're told in our corporate styleguide (2,100,000) or style guide (25,900,000).
dialog (71,900,000) versus dialogue (124,000,000)
The former I would bet is both more American and definitely far, far more prevalent in computers ("dialog box").
vendor (172,000,000) versus vender (8,980,000)
hiccup (2,060,000) versus hiccough (166,000)
Well, that seems pretty clear.
donut (3,330,000) versus doughnut (1,760,000)
The historical spelling is the loser here.
I don't think there are too many surprises in there, and nothing that would contradict what a reasonably contemporary authority would say. But of course the point is that Google cares not a whit for what authorities say (the learnèd opinions of an august "Usage Panel," say); it's going entirely by what people actually use. Then again, do people actually use what an authority (AHD, for example) says they should? Well, mostly, but people do what they want, and no one is going to put lite back into the can.
 In finding a link for DWIM, I found ran across the Wikipedia entry, which says this: "Obviously, no real-life implementations of DWIM exist for any platform." I wonder if one could say that Google goes some way toward refuting this statement.