2005-01-31

Freezing Balls off Brass Monkeys

The origin of the expression "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey" is the subject of some controversy.

A British men's underwear company, Brass Monkeys, makes the popular claim that the term dates back to the British navy. Sailors were said to store cannonballs on brass platforms called "monkeys"; in cold weather, the brass would contract or break and the cannonballs would roll away free.

But websites dedicated to etymology dismiss this as poppycock. There is no historical reference to a "brass monkey" in any navy history, say the word police (although the boys who carried charges from the magazine to the guns were called "powder monkeys").

I post this article as it doesn't seem to provide any real relief for the question of the history of brass monkeys' balls and cold weather. Thus, if anyone needs a research project, please, feel free to pre-empt this one. I considered keeping this to myself for my own project, but I don't think I will have time in the near future, as I am still busy working on "sons of monkeys' uncles" and "water-tight asses of frogs" and the like.

2005-01-26

Experts say Australians beginning to lose their distinctive accent

Australian language experts say the Aussie accent is losing its distinctive "ocker" twang. The nasal, flattened vowels familiar from the rants of Dame Edna Everage, Crocodile Dundee, former prime minister Bob Hawke and television ads for Australian beer are making way for less extreme, more mellifluous sounds, say researchers at Sydney's Macquarie University who have just completed a 15-year study of Australian speech.
...

Source: The Daily Telegraph via National Post

Man, I thought Australians were tough. Melifluous sounds? Crocodile Dundee was one of the coolest movies of my childhood, mate!

Jokes apart, I have a hard time getting Australian English vowels. Add this to the all the American English dialects I hear frequently plus the foreign accented speech, (from people from many countries) and you can imagine what the representation of English vowels in my phonological grammar must be... Luckily, consonants do most of the job and I pass as a fluent speaker. Long live those extreme constrictions in the vocal tract.

2005-01-25

Language acquistion in Slashdot

Here is a very weird discussion in Slashdot if you are a linguist. Someone asked: "At what age do people learn [how to code] faster?" One of the first replies then mentions "language" acquisition, but in this case, language means programming language. The same person also mentions linguistics, contrasting to "language" acquisition. Ant the following posts have abundant misconception about human language acquistion. As usual, people are mostly giving opinions based on impressions. Today's leson: next time you fellow linguist chats with a non-linguistics-aware nerd, make sure he understands language as human language, not programming language.

Disclaimer: Read the post on your own risk. Slashdot discussions are usually very long and boring to read.

2005-01-22

Oops, le monkey speaks French

Zoo keepers have had to reach for their phrasebooks so they can talk to animals whose command of English is shaky to say the least. The language problem emerged when Port Lympne Wild Animal Park at Hythe, Kent, in southeast England was given 19 Guinea baboons by Paris Zoo, where enthusiastic breeding had led to a surplus. [...]''If we speak English to them they just look completely bemused and don't have a clue what is going on.''

"Our keepers quickly had to learn some basic French commands, as that is all they have ever heard all their lives," said Veronica Chrisp, the zoo's marketing manager, who described the group as a "lovely bunch".

And something a little more light-hearted ...

2005-01-20

Tsunami at FEMA

FEMA (federal emergency managment agency) apparently has a game for children in which they must fix tsunami damage. You can check it out here.

If I were a hoax eskimo...

Our New Heavenite readers probably noticed that yesterday's snow was quite unsual, not only from someone coming from the tropics. Americans and an European used to snow confirmed me, so now I can blame someone else if I look silly.

I know that there are several names for different types of snow in English, especially if you practice snowboarding, but I wonder whether there is a name for that glistening snow. So here comes another contest. If you were a hoax eskimo, how would you call this type of snow? Entries will be accepted in English, any language of the Eskimo-Aleut family or Icelandic (the last one must be in a full sentence with respective syntactic analysis).

* For our non-linguiist readers, the eskimo snow hoax is explained in this book by Geoffrey Pullum.

2005-01-17

Tsunami Usage

This, from a BBC article entitled UN urges rapid action on poverty

"Every month, 150,000 children in Africa, if not more, are dying from the silent tsunami of malaria, a largely preventable and utterly treatable disease," he said.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this usage of tsunami wholly inappropriate, given recent events. Is it also just a coincidence that the number of malaria casualties is approximately equal to that of the tidal wave that hit Indonesia? The tsunami/malaria analogy on its own is awful, which leads me to believe the writer is trying to borrow credence for his topic from the tsunami tragedy. While the malaria deaths are also tragic, I don't think the author's usage here reflects good judgment or taste. But then, this is a BBC article.

2005-01-14

Pentagon reveals rejected chemical weapons

THE Pentagon considered developing a host of non-lethal chemical weapons that would disrupt discipline and morale among enemy troops, newly declassified documents reveal.

Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an "aphrodisiac" chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Another was to develop a chemical that caused "severe and lasting halitosis", making it easy to identify guerrillas trying to blend in with civilians.

Okay. I'm sure after my last post and now this one ExpLing readers are wondering what channel I'm surfing today. The thought of an aphrodisiac WMD was just too much to pass up though. Just think, if this kind of thing is possible, surely it is not inconceivable that a non-lethal WMD might do something even worse...like cause a reversal of front and back vowels. So, if an enemy commander ordered his troops to "shoot at coordinate X!" and then their vowels were reversed... It could render a present day babel scenario among the enemies. Okay, I'll stop now. (this post was not written by W1ll13 30% Hacker)

Ad Regulators Warn FCUK Again for Double Entendre

LONDON (Reuters) - UK advertising regulators signaled a weariness of the double entendre used by French Connection to sell its FCUK brand and warned the clothing chain again, this time over a promotion for its line of fragrances.

In an ad placed for French Connection by Zirh International in the Boots pharmacy chain's magazine, a picture of a young couple sitting on a bed in their underwear included fold-out samples of perfume with the phrases "open here to try fcuk her" and "open here to try fcuk him."

Hmmm. This article might be interesting in terms of meaning and intention. Or, it might just be a waste of bandwidth.

2005-01-11

In light of recent events...

Not that there's any "light" side to the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami, but consider a certain lexical after-effect it's had: according to this post on WordLab, "Toyota Canada is abandoning plans for the 'Special Edition Celica Tsunami'."

A second, unrelated after-effect has to do with English phonology, or at least the English phonology of NPR announcers. Does anyone else notice the word-initial [ts] pronunciation of "tsunami", or has it always been this way and am I just a boor? (Both the OED and AHD4 claim it's only [ts], but I never heard anyone pronounce "tsunami" in that way till now). I should add: I don't bat an eyelash when hearing the velar fricative [x] in the pronunciation of "Bach" as in, say, a musical program, and maybe that's just because I was a music major. On the other hand, each time I've heard a radio announcer pronounce the [ts] where I'd have uttered [s], well, the halt in airflow has literally jolted me out of my seat, since each time I'd tend to misparse "the [ts]unami" as "that [s]unami." I'd say, as an affricate, it's just as bizzare as pronouncing, say, "Pf" as an actual [pf]. (For the name of the actress Michelle Pfeiffer, I'd have said [fEfr] not [pfEfr], and so forth). My question to you, dear Explingers, is: is there something to this analysis, or is it really just that I'm merely familiar with one (marked) feature ([x]) but not the other ([ts]).