Monday, 29 November 2010

The Naked Gun

Actor Leslie Nielsen has sadly died aged 84. He is best known for his starring roles in ‘Airplane!’ - widely considered to be the best spoof movie of all time - and the Naked Gun series, which are rarely shown these days due to his homicidal co-star O.J. Simpson.

Perhaps it was Nielsen's literal use of English, that made him so funny. Here are a few examples:

Airplane! (1980)

Nielsen (as Dr Rumack): “You’d better tell the captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.”

Air stewardess: “A hospital? What is it?”

Rumack: “It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

Rumack: “Can you fly this plane, and land it?”

Ted Striker: “Surely you can’t be serious?”

Rumack: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

Police Squad! (1982)

Neilsen (as Frank Drebin): “Do you think you can beat the champ?”

Briggs: “I can take him blindfolded.”

Drebin: “What if he’s not blindfolded?”

Briggs: “I can still beat him.”

Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991)

Drebin: “That’s the red light district. I wonder why Savage is hanging around down there.”

Ed Hocken: “Sex, Frank?”

Drebin: “Uh, no, not right now, Ed.”

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)

Drebin: “Sergeant Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad.”

Security guard: “Yeah, and I’m Robert De Niro.”

Drebin: “Mr De Niro, we’ve got to get inside.”

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Stationary stationery

PoundStretcher stores are selling the paper shredder below for the bargain price of £9.99.

But looking at the top left hand corner of the box, they are probably not expecting them to fly off the shelves.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Language development in children

Professor of language and communication Deborah Cameron and neuroscientist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen discuss gender differences in neuroscience and psychology on the Today Programme, BBC Radio 4 (Tuesday, 16th November 2010)

Barnet Council’s Grammar Blunder

This poster has appeared on 189 sites across Barnet, having been approved by its communications and children’s services departments. Click on photo to enlarge.

It’s enough to make Lynne Truss spit out her cornflake’s!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sublexical units and the split fovea

My previous blogpost was based on an e-mail which is currently doing the rounds. It purports to be based on research carried out at Cambridge University. According to the Snopes website, there does appear to be an element of truth to the story although they suggest that the research was carried out by Edinburgh University in a paper published in 2003 entitled: "Sublexical units and the split fovea."

As a first year undergraduate, this paper is way beyond my current level of knowledge, but I am looking forward to the lecture when we learn all about Wickelgraphs!

Monday, 15 November 2010

The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid!

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Amzanig huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt.

Back to the future

I received a corporate e-mail today advising of a change of telephone number. The message stated:

“Please ensure that the team number of ███ ████ is used going forward.”

Going forward? Who writes this nonsense? I was thinking of making a telephone call into the past, but thanks for reminding me not to do that!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

David Crystal Interview

An interview with Professor David Crystal on Simon Mayo’s Drivetime show (BBC Radio 2), 4th November 2010, about 'teenage speak' inflections.

Cameron gives succour to extremists

With all the publicity given to the student demonstrations last week, there has been little comment on Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to students at Peking University. He told them that by putting up the fees for British students, it would help keep the fees for overseas students under control.

Most people involved in education recognise the need to welcome overseas students to our shores. After all, we encourage British students to study abroad as part of their education and it is right and proper that we reciprocate.

But at a time when there is justifiable anger at the decision to treble university fees for British students, any suggestion by the Prime Minister that the increase will somehow be used to subsidise non British students is likely to be picked up by the nutters in the BNP or EDL and used to support their nefarious aims.

That was highly unlikely to have been his aim, but perhaps Mr Cameron could stop following in Tony Blair’s footsteps by telling local audiences what he thinks they want to hear, without consideration of the repercussions elsewhere.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Language of Terror

BOO!!! Did that frighten you? Of course not. It’s not very high up on the list of the scariest words in the English language. But what about: “You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.”

Now that sounds quite threatening, and by Tweeting those words, Paul Chambers from Northern Ireland was convicted of sending a menacing electronic communication, fined £400 and ordered to pay £2,600 prosecution costs.

A threat to blow up an airport is hardly a joking matter and bomb hoaxes are not exactly a laugh-a-minute subject either, but the above comment was not intended as either. Chambers was upset that the closure of the airport due to bad weather might threaten his holiday and sent a private message to a tweet-mate which then became public due to the way Twitter operates.

When you read the full comment in its proper context, it immediately loses any threatening intent: “Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!”

A real terrorist is hardly likely to make a bomb threat using an easily traceable Twitter account. The copious use of exclamation marks is a clear indication that this was someone simply someone letting off steam.

Whether justice has prevailed or the law is an ass is a matter for subjective comment. From a linguistic point of view, however, this seems to be a very good example of how context can dramatically affect the meaning of words.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

How does language shape the way we think?

An interesting article published on The Edge website by Lera Boroditsky, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Haitch Bomb

Do you pronounce ‘aitch’ as ‘haitch’? Should ‘ate’ rhyme with ‘plate’?

Watch this clip from the BBC with David Sillito outside the British Library.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Speaking proper like

The broadsheet newspapers regularly print letters from disgruntled readers complaining about the (alleged) incorrect use of language.

The current focus of attention in the Daily Telegraph is pronunciation. A few sample letters below (click to enlarge).

When John Major was Prime Minister, he used to pronounce the word “want” as “wunt” (to rhyme with stunt). Fortunately, he did not suffer the same problem with the word “can’t”!

Friday, 5 November 2010

The lying liars who lie

The former Labour Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, was today thrown out of Parliament after being found guilty by a special Election Court. The two Judges ruled that he had lied during the General Election campaign.

The complaint against Mr Woolas was made by the Liberal Democrats who also lied by telling people they would vote for the abolition of university tuition fees, but once in power decided to double them instead.

Perhaps they could all be thrown out of Parliament as well?

It ain’t what you say…

Christopher Howse writes in the Daily Telegraph about how the shifting usage of the English language defines class and culture.

On that theme, who can forget this classic advert for Heineken which was a brilliant spoof of the memorable scene from Pygmalion?

I'm Lovin' It!

I e-mailed a number of friends to let them know how I was getting on at University. I said: “I’m loving it”, which is the type of phrase to put prescriptive grammarists into apoplexy!

My American friend Rachel, however, pointed out: “You can say “I'm loving it” because love is a non-action verb that can be used in the present progressive/continuous form.”

If love is non-action, you're not doing it right!

A fine fauxmance

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, the word Cleggmania has been included in the Collins English Dictionary along with “Big Society”, “bigotgate” and “fauxmance” - a fictitious romance between two celebrities in order to gain media coverage.

My definition of Cleggmania is: “Promising political career which sinks without trace after duplicitous act of betrayal”.

Boss-Speak Bingo

Going forward, we need to step up to the plate, give 110% and touch base so that the game plan can be actioned by close of play.

Home Made

I was in a restaurant last week and the waitress gave me a menu which stated: "Home Made Desserts Menu".

I decided against asking whether it was the menu or the desserts which were home made. Nobody likes a smart arse!

Eh up duck!

The current advertising campaign for Plusnet internet services includes billboards which proclaim: “Our broadband won’t be beat on price”. If you read the small print, you note that the company is based in Yorkshire which explains the headline.

People generally choose internet providers based on price, speed and reliability rather than geographic location.

According to ‘An introduction to Language’: “Writing follows certain prescriptive rules of grammar, usage and style that the spoken language does not, and is subject to little if any dialectal variation”. (Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams, 8th Edition, p.16)

Unless you read the small print, it remains to be seen whether people in the south will understand the joke. If they don’t, this advert could flop.

They're watching you

A recent report on the BBC discussed the measures some companies take to monitor any negative comments written about them on social networking sites. The problem is that the software has a fundamental flaw in that it cannot always interpret the language used. The article states:
“It's a crude science, with accuracy levels as low as 60%, as analysis falls victim to slang and subculture. "This movie kills" can mean something different in Bradford to Boston...

Some social media tools don't allow users to customise their "sentiment dictionaries"...

But even the best software would probably judge the tweet "This board is really bad" as a negative comment, although it might be the ultimate praise among skateboarders.

One European clothing company, popular with inner city youth in the United States, admits privately that its social media team is baffled by its customers' ever changing slang, and even the online Urban Dictionary provides little help.”
I am particularly interested in the way certain words are used to mean the exact opposite of their intended/original meaning, For example, when a young person describes something as “wicked” they generally mean that it is “cool” - and that word itself has nothing to do with temperature!

Man Up!

There was a report on CBS News recently about the phrase “Man Up” which was used by political candidates in the run up to the Congressional elections.

It is a brilliant put-down. People instinctively understand what the phrase means, even if they have never heard it before. When used by a female politician, it completely emasculates her male opponent and creates the impression of him being weak and indecisive - traits which are not helpful for a politician.

Two small words - five letters in total - yet they deliver a mighty political punch. A good example of the old adage: “Less is more”.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

University Fees Scandal

This blog was originally posted on Not The Barnet Times.

It was Rog T who once wrote that Don’t Call Me Dave has made more comebacks than Status Quo. This is not a comeback! As regular readers will recall, DCMD decided to quit the blogosphere in preparation for his new life as a part-time University student. Over the course of 422 postings, he said pretty much everything there was to say about the greedy self serving parasites who run the Town Hall and the equally useless and ineffective Labour opposition.

Indeed, there is nothing that Barnet’s discredited Tories could ever do that would either surprise DCMD or induce him to resume writing about the council. Rather, this one-off posting has been prompted by the coalition Government’s announcement to hike University tuition fees to between £6,000 and £9,000 per annum.

The decision exposes the Liberal Democrats as the shameful two-faced hypocrites and liars that most of us already knew them to be. Perhaps they had simply become accustomed to making populist pledges in opposition without actually considering that one day they would have their grubby mitts on the reigns of power. They do not need to worry about voters making the same mistake again.

But worst of all, there is something deeply unpleasant about a group of privileged MPs, many of whom have benefited from a taxpayer funded University education, removing the very same privilege from future generations.

Now DCMD is well aware that the nation’s finances are in a perilous state thanks to Pa Broon’s near destruction of the economy, but when Tony Blair introduced University fees (having explicitly promised not to) the Conservatives bitterly opposed the plans - and for good reason. Put simply, it is surely better to have students in higher education than languishing on the dole with no prospects?

Of course, even in good economic times, not every degree leads to an automatic job, but it is certainly true that when times are hard, job applicants need every bit of assistance available and a degree gives students a far better chance than having no qualifications whatsoever.

In the run up to the last General Election, David Cameron said, correctly, that the country was living beyond its means and borrowing had to be brought under control. A generation has been raised on the concept of cheap and seemingly endless credit. Yet the very same person who was preaching financial prudence, is now telling students they have to rack up bills of tens of thousands of Pounds, to be paid back at a rate of interest above inflation.

Is it really wise or desirable to allow students to start out their working lives already up to their eye-balls in debt? Furthermore, students with the temerity to pay their loans off early will now have to pay punitive mortgage style redemption fees. Apparently, this proposal is a sop to the LibDems but it is hardly likely to encourage financial responsibility in later life.

A Government spokesman on the radio explained that during the review carried out by Lord Browne (he who lied during a court case a few years ago) it was discovered that when fees were first introduced, it had no noticeable effect on admissions. Well no shit Sherlock! School leavers have no concept of money or debt. They haven't had to pay a proper bill in their lives. But by the time they have to start repaying their student loans, it will be too late.

Many young students will be unable to pay the higher fees. These are the same people the country desperately needs to generate the future wealth necessary to pay the gold plated pensions for MPs and civil servants. It will be nothing less than a scandal of incalculable proportions if our best talent is excluded from higher education for short term financial savings.

The Education Minister, David Willetts, told the Commons that the proposals are in the best interest of Universities. It is not immediately clear how it can be of any benefit to society if only the richest students can afford to attend in future.