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Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for February, 2014

PhD Supervision

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

PhD supervision is really easy. All you have to do is muddle your way through supervising your first 30 students and after that the rest are really straightforward.

Forms of Embarrassment (4) (“-ier”)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Worrying about how to pronounce works like “bombardier” and “chocolatier”. Should these be said like “choc-o-lat-i-er” with a naff 6th-form French accent? Or, like “chocolateer”, which has a jolly-hockey-sticks weird 1950s vibe to it. Usually end up either (1) trying to find a compromise pronunciation, which is futile and ends up being incomprehensible, not least because the two pronunciations have different numbers of syllables, and them mumbling it anyway; or (2) obscuring the clarity of my sentence in a fog of “I’m not quite too sure how you say this, but”, “or however you say it” and similar hedges.

A similar argument applies to the word “Pho”.

Forms of Embarrassment (3)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Get to the bus stop to find that someone is waiting at the wrong end of the stop. Stand at the correct end of the stop, a few other people come to the stop. The bus arrives, both of us want to get on the same bus, I let them get on first, get a slightly strange look from them, like I’ve broken some taboo about having paid enough attention to someone in a public space to recognise them a few minutes later. But, I didn’t want to barge on in front of them in case they felt I was being boorish by not recognising that they had got to the stop before me.


Friday, February 14th, 2014

Language shifts are interesting. Double language shifts in a short time, even more.

Over the last couple of years, there is a little idiom that has appeared in English, which is the use of “because” followed by a noun—no proposition, no explanation, indeed often repeating a word in the previous sentence. For example, “I’m going to stop at the chocolate shop on the way home, because chocolate.”. This had a clear meaning, that of saying that the action is actually self-evident; it isn’t just lazy leaving out of some parts of the explanation. The above sentence means something like “I’m going to stop off at the chocolate shop on the way home, because, well, if I have to explain to you why getting chocolate is a good thing then there must be something wrong with you.”. You can almost hear someone saying it “because…….(long pause to try and think of an explanation)………chocolate”. “Because because” is a similar expression. There is a decent attempt to explain the linguistics behind this by Geoff Pullum on a recent language log article.

Interestingly, after a couple of years of this having quite a specific meaning, it is now starting to influence the day-to-day use of “because”, and we are starting to see the use of “because NOUN” as a simple lazy compression. Take this real-world example from a blog comment: “You’re not depressed because single.”. Contrasted to the above example, where the sentence essentially contains the same meaning as “I’m going to stop off at the chocolate shop on the way home.”, the recent example cannot cut off everything before the “because” without changing the substantive meaning: “You’re not depressed.” doesn’t have anything like the same meaning. I have collected a couple more examples just in a few days of noticing this: “The kids are encouraged to misbehave because good TV.”, “…we ate plum pudding on the 21st of December because Jewish.”.

In the course of a couple of years we have gone from creating an interesting new idiomatic expression to it being on the point of vanishing!

Error Error (1)

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

You don’t see this in the wild very often these days: