s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: March 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You are what you wear

I have a rule. My rule is: If you’re wearing a T-shirt with a logo or slogan on it, you have to know what it means. However, I suspect that not everyone I see on the street is following this very important rule, so I’ve put together a short crib sheet:

1. Adolf “AdiDassler was a German shoe manufacturer who started his own company in the 1930s. His brother, Rudolf, also worked for the company, but they later had a falling out, and Rudolf went on to found PUMA.

2. A banana republic is a small, politically unstable third-world country whose economy is dominated by outside influences. (The economies of such countries are often highly dependent on a small number of exports, such as . . . bananas.)

3. In Australia, a stagnant pool of water is called a “billabong.” (“Once a jolly swag man / camped beside a billabong / under the shade of a coolibah tree . . .”)

4. Penn a Wlas (English: “Land’s End”) is the western tip of Cornwall, near Penzance (whence come the pirates of whom you’ve “often” heard). It’s a famous landmark for races and sailing, so a small American sailboat equipment company decided to use the name. When their first batch of promotional materials came with a wrongly-placed apostrophe, they couldn’t afford to have them reprinted, so they stuck with the typo, instead.

5. In the Northern Hemisphere, the north face of a mountain is typically the coldest and steepest (and therefore the hardest to climb, for all you “because it was there” types).

6. Patagonia is an area of South American which now spans parts of Argentina and Chile. It was settled by the Welsh (among others) in the late 19th century.

7. “Quicksilver” is another name for the element mercury. The term was common in the 19th century but is attested as early as c. 1000 AD (albeit spelled “cwic seolfor,” which I would love to see on a T-shirt).

8. The “rhebok” is a type of African gazelle, spelled “reebok,” in Afrikaans. The term became the name of a shoe company, when its founders randomly saw it in a dictionary (which had been published in South Africa).

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cat. & Reference: A classic couplet, reinterpreted in MARC format

240 1 0 Poems / $c fools like me.

245 1 0 Tree $h [realia] / $c God.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A manifesto

One of the great misconceptions about linguistics majors is that we like to go around correcting people’s grammar. (That stereotype properly belongs to English majors, if anyone.) So, just to be clear:

I will not correct your grammar because . . .

1. It’s rude.
2. I don’t care.
3. I might be wrong.
4. It really doesn’t matter.

Under certain circumstances, these rules don’t necessarily apply. I might correct your grammar if . . .

1. You are a nonnative English speaker who is trying to improve your English.
2. You are highly grammatically or linguistically aware, and can hold your own in a grammar debate. (Even then, I’m not overly troubled by colloquy, but I’d probably point out a hypercorrection.)

This is what actually does go through the mind of a linguistics major when they hear a bit of nonstandard English:

1. Did she really say that? (Observer error.)
2. Does she always say that? (Performance error.)
3. Is this a consistent phonological shift? (Different accent.)
4. Is she a native speaker of English? (L2 error.)
5. Does she have brain damage? (Some neurological conditions cause specific types of errors.)
6. Does everyone say that where she comes from? (Regional idiom.)
7. Does she form other such expressions along the same grammatically consistent pattern? (Dialectical difference.)
8. Is this part of a larger linguistic trend in English as a whole? (Today’s pet peeve is tomorrow’s standard usage!)

By this point, I’m either musing on the nature of language in the abstract, or possibly I’ve come back to the conversation and am desperately trying to catch up on what she’s talking about.

Either way, I’m not correcting her grammar.