Posts Tagged ‘language’

The ambiguity in sentence (1), At what time should we say that we will leave? stems from the fact that the clause what time can refer to either the time that the subset of people known as “we” is going to leave, or the time that the subset of people known as “we” will say that “we” is going to leave.

And you know what the best part is? To a linguist, this all makes perfect sense.
~ Ian

Your Linguistics Fact of the Day

Posted: April 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

The sound [ɹ] (for those of you who can’t see that, it’s an upside-down lowercase r, and it’s the sound at the beginning of each word in the phrase run rabbit run) occurs in only 1% of the world’s languages, but is used by 20% of the world’s people. 

This is because the largest languages that use it are English and Mandarin Chinese. 


May I just say how delighted I was to learn the etymologies of the word “hoser”?

It’s such an incredibly Canadian word (basically meaning “loser”), and it has the most Canadian etymology of any word I can think of.

Basically: the losers of hockey games, back in the days when hockey was played on frozen lakes and rivers, had to hose off the ice in order to make it all smooth again. IT IS A CANADIAN SLANG WORD THAT COMES DIRECTLY FROM HOCKEY. YOU CANNOT GET MORE CANADIAN THAN THAT.

Now if only we could throw in poutine, Rush, and Scott Pilgrim into the mix, I think that there would be a singularity of Canucktitude.

Ojalá que tu sabado sea excelente,

~ Ian

on naming

Posted: February 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Names are important. Every reader of fantasy novels knows this. And place names are also important, as I pointed out in one of the first posts I did on this blog.

But what’s more important is what place names reveal about the history of the land. The Danelaw as a political entity may be a thousand years dead, but it still exists, in the hundreds of Norse place names scattered around northern England.

With that being said, the place names in America are so chaotic that they’re almost schizophrenic.

Behind my childhood home was a creek. The creek was called Meder Creek (a Scandinavian name), and it flowed through a gully called Arroyo Seco (a Spanish name). Across the street from my house was another gully, which contained a creek called Moore Creek (English name). Both creeks flow to the Monterey Bay (another Spanish name), which is part of the Pacific Ocean (Latin name). There’s a nature preserve called the Pogonip (Costanoan name) which borders Henry Cowell Redwoods (Scottish name). You can find other Scottish names by driving up Highway 9 (Felton, Ben Lomond), and there’s dozens of Spanish names within an hour’s drive (Pasatiempo, Loma Prieta, Los Gatos, Gilroy, San Jose). And this is just within an hour’s drive of my house.

California has a stereotype of having towns with Spanish names. While this is true in some respects, it’s only really true in a narrow belt along the coast, beginning at Santa Rosa and extending south to the Mexican border– probably about ten percent of California’s area. This is because this is where the Franciscans established missions, and it helps that California’s most populous cities are located within this belt (Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Pasadena, etc.). But when you look around the state, there’s so many more names than that.

In the Central Valley (English name), there are the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers (Spanish names), but also the Tuolumne (Yokutsan) and Mokelumne (Miwok), as well as the American River (which sounds English, but in fact has a Latin name). And scattered around California, there are towns with names like Anaheim (German), Sebastopol (Russian), South Lake Tahoe (Washo), and Eureka (Greek). The names reflect California. Although I hate the term “melting pot”, it’s appropriate, although I’d describe us more as a gigantic multi-cuisine pizza.

So, your assignment for today: Look at the names in the place where you live. If you live in New York City, try to find Dutch names (Stuyvesant, Bowery) or Algonquian ones (Manhattan). If you’re in New England, find out something about the English towns that your cities are named after (Boston, Salem, Hartford, Concord)– or just find French names in Vermont. People in Spain could examine Arabic or Moorish names of your hometowns, Australians can find out about the Aboriginal words that went into names of suburbs of Sydney, and those of you (if any) in Scotland could find the Gaelic roots of your local place names.

History is all around you, in the words that you use. You just have to look for it.

~ Ian

a note on terminology

Posted: December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I really hate that people who hate gay and bisexual people are called “homophobes”.

That’s a bullshit term, really. “Phobia” means an irrational, uncontrollable fear.

If you’re a homophobe, you’re not afraid of everyone who’s not straight. What you are is a fucking bigot.

~ Ian

Why is it that the words “republican” and “democratic” are synonymous in the English language, but are opposites in the American political system?

~ Ian

When I haven’t been busy with writing, homework, classes, or sleep in the last few weeks (which honestly hasn’t been a lot), my friends and I have often got together and played Super Smash Bros Brawl. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, because I think that the SSB series is the world’s best offline multiplayer game.

One thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that we have our own lexicon that we use when playing the game. I’m not talking about the standard, worldwide definitions that everyone seems to agree on (like calling that cave area in Hyrule Temple “Fight Club”, or referring to the act of repeatedly using the same attack over and over again “spamming”, or using “Final D” to mean the Final Destination stage, or even just calling Pikachu “Pikacheap” or “Cheapachu”). No, we have our own definitions, honed over years of play together, which we use that MAKE NO SENSE to anyone outside our little play group.

Like, for example, “pulling a Josh”. To pull a Josh is to throw a Poké Ball off the edge of the map when you get it, so that you can’t summon a Pokémon to fight and do your bidding. That saying has a complex etymology. Basically, nobody in our neighborhood knows this Josh– except for me. He was a person who lived in my dorm freshman year who would play Brawl with us. Whenever he got the Poké Ball, he would invariably throw it off of the map, whether he wanted to or not. Therefore, we referred to inadvertently throwing a Poké Ball off the edge of the world as “pulling a Josh.” This saying eventually transferred to the gaming group of the local neighborhood kids.

I wonder what happened to Josh. Winter quarter of my freshman year, he was expelled for threatening his roommate with a knife.

It’s probably best not to go and find out.

But I digress. We use a lot of slang in our matches. A “trophy wife” is a summonable trophy item. When we use a smash attack against a person, we don’t “smash attack” them, we “C-stick” them (because the command for Smash Attack on the Gamecube controller is the C-stick). A lot of the time, when we talk about a specific attack, we refer to it by the button we use to perform the attack. We never call a recovery move a recovery move. We call it an “up-B”. Pit is called “Arm-Pit”.

I’m sure that every group of friends who gets together and plays a game has these little slang terms that make no sense to anyone outside the group. Whether they play Super Smash Bros, or Call of Duty, or Halo, or Street Fighter, or Marvel Vs. Capcom, or Need 4 Speed, or Mario Kart, or Soul Calibur, or even just Wii Sports or Tony Hawk or a hundred different others– whatever it is, whether it’s a fighting game or a racer or a first person shooter or anything else, there’s always those little bits of language that reinforce the idea that you’re a part of the group, one of the gang, that you belong somewhere.

Still, there’s one piece of SSB-related slang that only we use that’s a little bit closer to my heart. We always call Captain Falcon “Captain Peehead”. This is juvenile, I know, but since we made up this word when we were eight, that’s no surprise. We’ve always called him Captain Peehead, ever since the first Super Smash Bros game, when we played over at my neighbor Tobin’s house, up in his room on a Nintendo 64. Whenever I hear someone call Captain Falcon “Captain Peehead”, it takes me back, to when I was just a kid, to those early days of elementary school, when there was no such thing as Final Smashes or side-B attacks, when I watched cartoons every day and liked to draw maps of fantasy universes, back in the beforetimes.

It gives me nostalgia. It gives me peace.

~ Ian

I’m working on Syntax One homework

and listening to Queens of the Stone Age

and I dearly hope

that the Apple word processing software known as Page

s doesn’t quit up on me

which would be like being attacked by a swarm of Brobdingnagian bees

which would fill me with great rage,

you see.


It’s gray and sort of foggy outside

which makes it sort of ideal weather to hide

and for that reason I might want to sneak away

to do my homework some other day

and I’m starting to ask myself, “Why?

Why am I not slacking off and watching Firefly?”


But even though I really want to rewatch Firefly (or possible Buffy)

I know I can’t, because as for me

I have to get a good grade

so that I can someday get paid

if I choose to go into the field of linguistics

which is my backup plan if this whole writing thing doesn’t stick.

That would ensadden me.

I would ensaddened be.

My sadness would be multiplied by a certain number

(which in my head is made out of lumber)

and the number of the number is equalling three.


And because I’m bored and want to be off watching Joss Whedon productions,

I have suddenly decided to create a sudden drop (or reduction)

in the quality and goodness of my poetic rhymes.

If these poems were published in a book, they wouldn’t be worth two dimes.

(The meter is fetid, and it smells like toe slime.)

You don’t want to listen to me anymore? Fine.

I’m going to go away and make my homework the shit,

so I can get a good mark,

a shot in the dark,

I thank you for your time.

It’s been legit.

But now I have to run.

It’s been fun.

I thank you, gentle reader, for reading my fine poetries,

and hope that you are not ever stung to death by a horde of angry bees.


(with apologies to William McGonagall)

My German brother Jannek is leaving to go back to Germany tomorrow. Now I’ll miss him for many reasons: his sense of humor, his friendliness, his smokin-hot body– but most of all, because of the unique way he uses English.

Because I wanted to share some of my favorite Jannekisms, here they are:


Jannek: In Germany, the cars go so fast on the Autobahn that the soup from the windshield wipers goes over the car without touching the roof!

Calum: Um… no. Not soup. You mean soap.

Jannek: Oh. What’s soup, then?

Dad: Zuppe.

Jannek: That’s stupid! Why would you put Zuppe in windshield wipers!


Jannek (trying to explain what Fleischsalat is): So… you take pork, and you crush it, and you put it into a sausage… but it’s not a sausage, it’s a very big sausage!

Dirk (another German, who has lived in America for much longer): It’s baloney with mayonnaise.


Jannek: I think I just saw an Uhu!

Me: Yeah. We call those owls in English.

Jannek: No. I know what an owl is. That was an Uhu.

Me: Is an Uhukind of owl?

Jannek: No. It is like an owl, only bigger and different.

(It was a Great Horned Owl. So, yeah.)


Jannek: (puts a towel over his head and making vaguely Arabic-sounding noises)

Me: Jannek, that’s really racist.

Jannek: No. I am a Mars alien from the Mars.


Jannek (telling a joke): So, a man walks into the place where you get jobs, and he says, “Hey, I want a job.” And, um, yeah.


Me: Hey, you know what baloney is, don’t you?

Jannek: Yeah. It’s like Fleischsalat.

Me: Well, do you know what we mean when we say, “That’s baloney!”

Jannek: No.

Me: It’s like a more polite way of saying, “That’s bullshit!”

Jannek: Oh. (pause) You’re talking baloney out of your mouth!


I’ll really miss him.

~ Ian

Compatriot 1: Did you know particular authors publish yarns that avoid a particular conspicous orthographic symbol?

Compatriot 2: I did. Such a task is difficult, as abnormal word formations form as a continuation of this.

Compatriot 1: No doubt.

Yours Truly: That symbol said authors avoid– it is fifth in our script?

Compatriot 1: Sí, amigo.

Yours Truly: It would possibly boost said author’s story difficulty to avoid an “a” or an “i”, no?

Compatriot 2: Why do you say such things?

Yours Truly: Our fifth orthographic symbol is most common, although tiny words such as “a”, “I”, “is”, and “it” contain such symbols as told of by yours truly.

Compatriot 1: Ah, but small words such as that infamous copula form for “you”, plus that annoying “known journalistic tidbit”, contain that fifth orthographic symbol.

Yours Truly: Hmm. It looks as if writing such a story is an act in futility and blowharddom. I will stick with SFF.

Compatriot 2: Naturally.

Thus our talkings finish’d.

Yours Truly,

~ Ian