another meaning for PR

When I think of "PR", I think of "public relations" or "Puerto Rico", but I just found out from an American who recently spent some time in Singapore that "PR" means "permanent resident". So when a Westerner is seen frequently walking around Singapore or regularly goes to stores or restaurants, people will ask him if he's a "PR" or just visiting. I've been to Singapore, but I guess I wasn't there long enough to be asked this question. But then again, I don't know if there are as many Western females there as men, since I think it's more common for guys to marry the women from there and stay.


Full preview of the book

Here's a full preview of the anthology I put together. You can get a really nice-looking paperpack edition (people say they like the cover and even text fonts) from Amazon or Barnes & Noble (and other booksellers online) or via the ISDN number at any bookstore, or you can get a download for half the price.

And if you want to hear what some of the authors sound like, you can listen to the audio here (each lasts around a minute or two).

Mary Beard did the Foreword, which is pretty cool since she's an established writer and thinker :D

Down the Block


Universal computer language

I was wondering what non-English speakers (and other language speakers who don't use the same alphabet) do when they want to build websites. Well I found out that they use UTF-8:

UTF-8 encodes each character (code point) in 1 to 4 octets (8-bit bytes), with the single octet encoding used only for the 128 US-ASCII characters.

I have no idea what they're talking about. And the more detailed description is even more baffling:

The UTF-8 encoding is variable-width, ranging from 1-4 bytes. Each byte has 0-4 leading 1 bits followed by a zero bit to indicate its type. N 1 bits indicates the first byte in a N-byte sequence, with the exception that zero 1 bits indicates a one-byte sequence while one 1 bit indicates a continuation byte in a multi-byte sequence (this was done for ASCII compatability). The scalar value of the Unicode code point is the concatenation of the non-control bits.

Well here's something that's comprehensible, if your screen can display it all: a web page that has been "encoded directly in UTF-8", which explains why you might not be able to see some of the languages.

Anyway, it's pretty cool that people are able to program in a universal computer language. Too bad my brain isn't big enough to understand it :(


Looking askance at "-ence" and "-ance"

A few weeks ago I wrote about the trickiness of English words that end in "-ible" and "-able." Another pair of English suffixes that, in my opinion, appears equally troublesome is "-ence" and "-ance" or "-ent" vs. "-ant." For instance, English has the word "independence." It may be traced back to Latin "independens," but it entered English from French, which spells the word "indépendance." To complicate matters, why is "independence (and "independent") spelled the way it is "while the related word "pendant" is spelled "pendant"?

Looking for an explanation of this irregularity, I found the following:

The suffixes are usually applied to verbs that have survived the journey from Latin through Old French, Norman French, and Middle English into Modern English. In addition, there are several words derived directly from Latin which have been recently added to English as scientific and technical terms. Frequently, the verbs themselves didn't survive, but the nouns and adjectives formed from them did.

As some of you may know (and somewhat fewer care), Latin verbs fall into four basic classes describing their conjugation. In one of these classes of verbs (in fact called the "first conjugation"), the infinitive forms end in -are. In another class, infinitives end in -ere. This forms the basis of the suffix rules for most verbs: words derived from first conjugation verbs usually get -ant and -ance, the rest get -ent and -ence. But there are exceptions, even to this!

To add to the confusion, there is a class of words (which we will not list here) which end in -ment.

In the long run, we will have to throw up our arms and proclaim "there are no rules here!"
Indeed, as with "-ible" and "-able," this is essentially a question of "Well, you should know how the original Latin verbs are categorized and then be aware of the exceptions." This isn't terribly helpful.

To complicate matters, sometimes both "-ant" and "-ent" possibilities are acceptable, and others are not:

Spellings with in words such as independence (Latin dependere) are due to later qualms by English scholars. But etymological respectability did not always weigh heavily with the public, and so the dictionary makers have had to allow both spellings in some common words, notably dependent, dependant, dependence, dependance. To allow free variation like this in some particular words only serves to confuse spellers still further. These relaxations are not, however, very consistent: *independent, unlike dependant, is not permitted. The speller may feel entitled to ask: if I am allowed in dependent/dependant, why is this choice not allowed in independent, resplendent, and abundant? An out and out free thinker might even wonder: if a Romance language such as French, regulated as it is by a fearsomely conservative Academy of scholars, can fix the spelling in French as , , , , very conveniently but quite unetymologically, why cannot it be done for English?

(taken from A Survey of English Spelling by Edward Carney (1994), p. 422)
Indeed, why cannot it be done for English?

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


A very long title!

I was looking at info about Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped (which you can read online or download for free!), and I noticed the very long title, which seems to be typical of 18th century literature:



Maybe they used long titles because that was the only way for people to know what the book was about, since their press was a lot tinier than what we have today (we probably have the most fractured outlets ever). Plus, language has become more concise in modern times, especially since literacy is more widespread than a few hundred years ago.

Now I'm interested in reading about Stevenson's life. I wouldn't be surprised if end up reading a biography of him (if I can find a juicy one).


I finally read The Tipping Point

I finally read The Tipping Point, which came out almost a decade ago. Yes, it took me that long to find it intriguing enough to read. I guess I avoided it because there was so much hype surrounding it, and so many people in the media talked about it, I figured it probably didn't have much substance, and it seemed like a fad.

But that book is very important--I'd say it's going to go down as one of the most important books of this century. I even think that a lot of people have taken it and have either profited from its ideas, or they've used it as a basis to spin their own theories.

On a side note, I'd like to say that Malcolm Gladwell is blessed because he's making a [very good] living from using his brain and having an effect on the culture. He's also probably met a lot of interesting people too, and has gotten to write and speak about his ideas. That's a rare opportunity that probably makes life a lot more fulfilling and interesting :D


Hebrew site

A guy living in Israel set up a Hebrew site called Milayomit that includes a word of the day and other info. There's one page in English that contains an introduction, including an explanation of the site:

What if it were possible to subpoena the internet to the task of reforming language not in the Orwellian vein of a higher authority dictating prescriptions from above but in a collective, interactive spirit encompassing all levels of society? The goal of milayomit.co.il is to do just that: to harness the vast capacity of the internet with a mind to make Hebrew a richer language, to allow Hebrew speakers to contribute and share innovations relating to their language, and in so doing to make communication between Hebrew speakers both more intelligible and more intelligent. It is a more ambitious goal than that of word-of-the-day websites in other languages in that milayomit endeavors to serve as a communal, collaborative nexus, an organic, user-driven interface between language and the people using it.

When I was growing up, I studied Hebrew and ended up knowing it well enough to actually be able to speak it when I visited Israel when I was a teenager. Before I went there, I had no idea that I could speak it until one day I was talking to a guy in Hebrew about trees and other stuff, and then I thought, "Hey, I'm speaking Hebrew!" But now, I can't speak it at all! I can only read it with the vowels, but I don't understand what I'm reading. I guess my speaking ability was a tiny blip on the radar within my language history.


Ukraine's war in sand

This video is quite popular because it won first place in "Україна має талант" (Ukraine’s Got Talent), and it probably wouldn't win a similar competition elsewhere because she's telling the sad story of war through sand. I can imagine that a lot of Americans wouldn't think too highly of sand art on mass-market TV.

I noticed that various people are crying, including a judge, during a song which I think is by Mark Bernes, who captured the sadness about World War II in Ukraine.

Also, according to various online sources, the final words mean "You are always near". There's a short discussion about the video in the comments section at Chicago Boyz (which isn't a blog about Chicago).

And here's a link to a Ukranian TV/entertainment/media site that I can't understand, but looks interesting because it's really different to me :D


Japanese guy shocked by large American drink

I found a Japanese site that gives information about the US, and was amused by the post: 映画館でこのコーラはMサイズ(WHAT!?). [Translation: this cola at the movie theater is an M size (WHAT!?)]

Here's the short blog post in Japanese, and below it is my translation. I've just tried for over an hour to upload the picture, but for some reason, Blogger isn't able to upload images, so you'll have to see the photo at the site.



My translation:

I went to the movie theater on Friday. I wanted to drink something, so I got a drink, and I was surprised! The M size was bigger than my head (my head is big). This cola was five dollars (about 500 yen), but I couldn't drink it! The drinks and food at the movie theater are very big--that's dumb.

Next time, I'm going to get the L size to see what it's like. Is it going to be a bucket?

And to that guy I say: ようこそアメリカへ! Welcome to America!


Our Fine-Feathered and Four-Legged Verbs

Throughout human history, humans have had to interact at some level with animals, whether for food sources, companionship, study, repulsion, or fascination. Given the close coexistence of humans and animals, it is not surprising that words for animals have entered natural languages. For instance, Portuguese speakers, at least in Brazil, may refer to objects of affection as "gatinho" or "gatinha" (little cat). French speakers may call twilight the period "entre chien et loup" (between the dog and the wolf).

Animal metaphors abound in English, including such adjectives as "catty" and "foxy." Verbs represent one part of speech that is particularly rich in animal inspiration. The verb "lionize" ("to treat as a celebrity") suggests the idea that lions are deserving of attention, perhaps very fitting for the King of the Jungle.

Animal names that are used directly as verbs are plentiful in English. Among a few are "to chicken out" (to lose courage, suggesting that chickens are cowardly," "to fox" (or "to outfox") (to trick someone, suggesting that foxes are wily), "to ape" (to imitate, suggesting that apes are frequent mimics), and "to ram" (to hit something hard, suggesting the a ram's combative motion with its horns).

An extensive, but probably not exhaustive, list of animals used as verbs appears here.

In some cases, such as "to tomcat" (to be promiscuous, used of men) the link between the verb and the animal seems self-explanatory. In other cases, the link appears to be coincidental, such as as "to yak" or "to swallow." I doubt that yaks are notorious chatters or that swallows have exceptionally talented throats.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)


DP for free!

Almost exactly four years ago, I went to a Depeche Mode concert for the first time ever, even though I've been listening to them since their first album, when they were still considered an import. It was an excellent concert and the view was great because I was in the seventh row!

I heard they were coming to Lollapalooza this year, and even though it's been in Chicago for several years, I've never gone because a huge festival with thousands of people doesn't sound like fun. Plus, I didn't want to pay all that money for it. So when I heard that Depeche Mode was going to be there, I thought, "Sounds good but it's not worth the money."

Well, unbelievably, someone gave me a FREE media pass for today! And Depeche Mode was playing! So I went, and it was great. I even was close enough to be able to see the band quite well, which is amazing since there were tens of thousands of people behind me. The only downside was that people were trying to push and bully their way to our area, but luckily the weather was great--the rain stopped and it wasn't hot at all.

I can understand why people go to Lollapalooza--even though there are too many people, it doesn't seem frantic or obnoxious and there's a lot of good music. People actually seemed relaxed and it was quite organized. I still can't believe I got to see that excellent band for free, surrounded by the beautiful Chicago skyline. It definitely helps life seem not so boring.


Weird translation site

After I linked to an article in my previous post that Mad Minerva suggested, she sent me a link to a weird site that does back-and-forth machine translation between various languages. The guy who created it seems like a very smart nerdy type. Below is the mutation of something I really think, which actually ended up sounding like abstract poetry:

Original English Text:
I wouldn't mind being discovered one day.

Translated to Japanese:
I wouldn' 検出されるtの心1日。

Translated back to English:
I wouldn' The heart 1 day of t which is detected.

Translated to Chinese:
我wouldn' 重点检测的1天t。

Translated back to English:
My wouldn' Key examination 1 day of t.

Translated to French:
Mon wouldn' ; Examen principal 1 jour de T.

Translated back to English:
My wouldn' Principal examination 1 day of T.

Translated to German:
Mein wouldn' Allgemeine Prüfung 1 Tag von T.

Translated back to English:
My wouldn' General check 1 day of T.

Translated to Italian:
Il mio wouldn' Controllo generale 1 giorno del T.

Translated back to English:
Mine wouldn' General control 1 day of T.

Translated to Portuguese:
Mina wouldn' Controle geral 1 dia do T.

Translated back to English:
Mine wouldn' General control 1 day of the T.

Translated to Spanish:
Mina wouldn' Control general 1 día del T.

Translated back to English:
Mine wouldn' General control 1 day of the T.


New German dictionary

new Duden German dictionary
Mad Minerva had a link to an interesting article about a book with new German words:

"New words, such as 'twittern' (a German verbal form meaning 'to send a message via Twitter') or 'Komasaufen' ('saufen' means 'to drink,' 'Koma' means 'coma,' so 'Komasaufen' means 'binge-drinking') reflect new social realities...

"...the real strokes of folk genius occur when a German word is mixed with a foreign word to create something which is totally new, like 'urcool,' which adds German prefix 'ur-,' meaning 'primordial' to the well-known English colloquialism."

I'd also like to note that I like the name of the publisher Duden. "Duden Editor" has a nice ring to it. It's urcool!


A seemingly nice translator

A while ago, I started reading There's Something About Translation, a good blog about the translating business and process. Since Sarah's writing seemed friendly, I decided to email her to ask her for advice, and amazingly, not only did she respond, but her responses were quite extensive and detailed!

So because she was so helpful, I'd like to say that she seems like a nice person. I use the word "seem" because I've never met her, and probably won't because she lives in Australia (though I'd like to go there sometime). But in spite of being busy and not knowing me, she really was very considerate and I really appreciate it!