Archive for the 'Language' Category

“Right now, I’m all right.”

Posted in Language, Stuff on August 4th, 2015

I was reading Rajnar Vajra’s novella “Zen Angel” in the May 2015 Analog (I’m about four months behind on my SF magazine reading) and encountered this:

From necessity, I’d developed a coping strategy for times when trouble overflowed: repeating the phrase “right now, I’m all right” until it became true.

A few days earlier, we’d been to see The King and I at the Bankhead Theater. And, for the life of me, when I read that sentence I could not help but get an earworm involving whistling a happy tune…

No, no deeper significance. (Good novella, by the way; Vajra’s usually a good read.) Just found the parallel amusing…

Now, back to the OA checking…

Great advice (if possibly translated clumsily)

Posted in Language on June 25th, 2015

I just have to quote the following authorial guidance from a Brazilian law review, which shall go unnamed because this is, after all, Google’s translation. But what great advice, idiomatic English or not:


1. Write to be read (a). Encourage your reader to not give up your text.

2. Words are there to say (and even do). If you do not properly formulated, in every sentence, what you want to say, then do not write.

3. Clarity of writing indicates clarity of thought. So, define what you want to say and tell the simplest way possible.

4. Avoid metaphors, long sentences, classicisms, unnecessary latinisms.

5. When you express your views, do not just make statements. Use arguments, arguments and evidence.

6. Do not be arrogant. Who disagrees with you is not necessarily stupid or insane. No one need be described as foolish: let your analysis show the “folly” of others.

7. Use the active voice, whenever you need. If your research is innovative, using the “I understand … we hold … I conclude … it seems necessary to complete”, etc.They are perfectly acceptable, and even necessary.

8. If in other areas such as biology, health, engineering, mathematics, and even some areas of applied social sciences, write 8 to 10 pages of text is almost a dogma of scientific writing, it does not occur in the legal framework. Long texts are not necessarily incompetence of scientific writing. But papers are not textbooks. So theoretical revisions very extensive, and merely informative, they are unnecessary. Concentrate on the important literature that discusses, refute and adopt.Quote jurisprudence than leading case , it’s usually a waste of time. Propose innovative interpretations without consistent logical construction, empirical and theoretical basis, it is dispensable.

9. Your text should be clear, technically accurate, engaging and elegant.

10. Break any of these rules, if necessary. But do not write barbarisms in scientific work.

Would that we could all remember esp. #6, but also the others.

Update: In case it’s not clear, I really admire what’s being said here, the clumsiness of machine translation quite aside.

Visual discrimination test

Posted in Language, Stuff on February 9th, 2015

At least one of the three numbered terms below is the name of a physics subject repository. At least one is not.
Can you tell which is which?

Comments open for a few days.

(A note: the terms appear as a screen capture from Word…because WordPress’ visual editor literally will not let me retain the proper glyph; it autotranslates it to X, no matter how I enter it. Cute.)

Yes, I’m a feminist

Posted in Language on December 29th, 2014

In the past, I always thought of myself and, when appropriate, called myself a feminist.

Which doesn’t buy me anything–gratitude, etc.–nor should it. It’s just a fact.

The last year or two, seems like there have been some who think men shouldn’t call themselves feminists because issues–essentially, that we should just shut up.

That’s their privilege. But for me to not say I’m a feminist is wrong and stupid. John Scalzi’s excellent statement reminded me of that.

So: No, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) buy me special treatment. No, it doesn’t give me authority to explain to anybody (much less women) what women’s issues really are. But…

Yes, I’m a feminist.

Favoring the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct

Posted in ALA, Language on January 16th, 2014

It appears that there are still people coming out of the woodwork–sometimes people in high-profile situations–who are unhappy about the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct.

I honestly don’t understand this, except in two cases:

  1. People who themselves are guilty of conduct that is frowned on in the Statement, or who operate from such a position of privilege that they regard such conduct as acceptable.
  2. People whose understanding of free speech is seriously flawed.

I fear that my previous post on this topic in my earlier post, “Codes and levels“–a post that said I probably wouldn’t be writing more on this topic, partly because I’m not the right person to be doing so.

I think that latter clause is still true, but just so there’s no misunderstanding:

I believe the Statement of Appropriate Conduct is both appropriate and useful.

I believe it will have a good effect on ALA conferences.

I do not believe it limits free speech in any meaningful sense.

I do not believe it would hinder the speech or action of any reasonably responsible grown-up person during a conference.

I emphatically do not agree that it is a solution in search of a problem. Honestly, if you’ve been to, say, half a dozen or more library conferences (ALA or otherwise) and have never witnessed, overheard or been subject to inappropriate conduct (including unwanted attention), then I suspect you’ve avoided hotel bars, receptions, social events–and I wonder whether you’ve been paying attention during discussions and programs Q&A sessions. I’m not saying the problems are rampant; I am saying they’re frequent enough that “show us the problems!” strikes me as coming from a very sheltered perspective.

And that’s enough to say.


Freedom of speech

Posted in Language on December 20th, 2013

Freedom of speech (in America) means that the government may not prevent you from saying or publishing something in a public space.

Freedom of speech does not mean

  • That you can say anything you want anywhere you want, even on the job or on private property.
  • That there can’t be consequences for what you say.

Freedom of speech is all about prior restraint, not about consequences.

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can’t be successfully sued for libel or slander.

Freedom of speech doesn’t in any way prevent your employer from taking action against you because of something you said or wrote.

Freedom of speech sure as hell doesn’t mean that a TV production company can’t penalize you, suspend you or cancel your show because of what you said.

On the other hand: Freedom of speech does mean that absurdly partisan ignorami can spout off as though, if you happen to be one of them, freedom of speech should mean freedom from consequences.

Because freedom of speech does mean the freedom to be wrong and willfully ignorant.

Chances are, you already know this. But sometimes it needs to be said.


Added 12/23/13: It should go without saying, but apparently does not, that freedom of speech does not require a publisher to publish what you have to say (or keep publishing it), or a bookstore (online or physical) to carry a publication or anything of the sort.

Because anecdata

Posted in Language on November 27th, 2013

That title is too short, but then this post is pretty short.

The newish use of “because” as a preposition is being discussed. I like it, when used appropriately. I’ve even used it. As a prescriptive old fogey when it comes to language (well, sometimes), I’m happy with this–because concise.

Here’s another one that won’t make it, but maybe should:

But anecdata


However anecdata

Mostly interchangeable, and used to summarize the counterarguments you see to well-done survey results, especially when the results are at odds with whatever Today’s Common Wisdom is. And the counterarguments against strongly-established scientific theories/facts.

You’ve seen them. “I know surveys show 90% of people do X and Y and Z, but my acquaintances all think alpha, therefore X and Y and Z are wrong.”

In other words, “Yes, you have overwhelmingly strong evidence, BUT ANECDATA.”

Prime recent examples? Those who are absolutely certain that The Kids These Days Don’t Read Print Books…because their kids, or at least two kids they know, prefer tablets.

Or, for that matter, the pundits who tell us that nobody borrows books from public libraries anymore, because their drinking companions don’t.

It won’t catch on, but it’s useful, noting that “But anecdata” is another way of saying “in response, I got nothin’.”


I do not live in Cali

Posted in Language on September 11th, 2013

Dunno why, but I’ve been seeing way too many references lately to “Cali” as short for California.

Some of them from Southern Californians, who should know better.

I do not live in Cali.

Cali is a city in Colombia.

I don’t live in NoCal either. If y’all down south want to call it SoCal, that’s your privilege. NoCal is everywhere except California. NorCal is OK, I guess, if you really must. (Although people in Chico and Eureka and Healdsburg would say that I don’t live in Northern California anyway…but let’s not go there.)

Cali? Ugggh.

I was pleased to see this when I looked up “Cali”–from the Urban Dictionary:

*The first definition has two parts, the first of which is the city in Colombia, the second of which is:

2) An annoying name for California.

*The third definition–after one for the city in Colombia–suffers from urban spelling, but:

A name that non-native Californian’s use when refering to California and trying to seem like a real Californian.
Typical of an East coaster

*The fourth:

A word for “California” used by no one who has ever lived in California. Use “Cali” and you will immediately sound like a hick.

Sigh. Unfortunately, there are people in the bottom half of the state who have used that term. Not many, perhaps, and the last part of that definition may still apply.

This being the Urban Dictionary, definitions go on and on (and get worse and worse)…

If you live in California, and find anything longer than two syllables and four letters just too overwhelming to deal with, a couple of suggestions: Move to Utah. I would mention Iowa and Ohio, but those are each three syllables.

A tiny little listy grump

Posted in Language on June 14th, 2013

They’re email lists. Or just lists.

Some of those lists use the Listserv® software from L-Soft.

Many others different list software from other companies.

It’s sort of like there being librarians (or professional librarians) and others who happen to work in libraries.

And, y’know, librarians really should be able to make the distinction.

Heck, at home we use Safeway Home (previously Softly) facial tissues rather than Kleenex® tissues. Because we like them better.


Ad hominem or learning from experience?

Posted in Language, open access on June 8th, 2013

One of many, many so-called logical fallacies is ad hominem–“to the person,” short for argumentum ad hominem.

That link is to a Wikipedia article, and in this case (as in many others, although not always), it’s a pretty good discussion. If you read it, read the whole thing–including the Talk page (which I always recommend reading if you’re using Wikipedia for anything more than quick lookup).

I find it interesting that some academics and philosophers argue that ad hominem isn’t a fallacy at all.

I won’t go quite that far. I will say that some things that can be faulted as ad hominem are really something else: Learning from experience.

Viewed through the prism of long experience and various arw–sorry, awkward–attempts, it’s not unreasonable to be deeply suspicious of new initiatives from old antagonists emerging to a chorus of selective praise from the usual suspects.

That’s not ad hominem; it’s learning from experience. It’s learning that, based on oodles of previous cases, you should view proposals from certain parties with extreme skepticism, even reasonably beginning with a stance of “demonstrate that this isn’t another trick” rather than “sure, sounds like a good idea, let’s investigate further.”

Technically, it’s true that just because an agency or group or person has been wrong 100 times doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be right the 101st time. But saying “well, you can’t judge the future by the past, so you have to give them the benefit of the doubt” is just silly–and calling an inclination to judge the future by the past argumentum ad hominem is equally silly.

I won’t claim that I won’t get fooled again–that would be as absurd as hoping that I would die before I get old. (A bit late for that by now!) I will claim that I’ll apply substantially more critical analysis, looking for loopholes, questioning underlying motives, assuming the worst…all those nasty things…to proposals coming from parties and groups with long histories of suspicious proposals.

If doing so is a logical fallacy, so be it.

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