Archive for the 'Linguistics' Category

Eye of the beholder

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

"Something in your eyes" = poetically romantic

"Something in your eye" = allegorically judgmental

"Something in my eye" = painfully annoying


Monday, June 18th, 2007

David Farber's hobby (in the xkcd sense): twisting common phrases. My favorite Farberisms:

  • A hand in the bush is worth two anywhere else.
  • Don't just stand there like a sitting duck.
  • He's cornered on all sides.
  • I could count it on the fingers of one thumb.
  • I haven't gotten the knack down yet.
  • I read the sign, but it went in one ear and out the other.
  • It's burned to shreds.
  • It's more than the mind can boggle.
  • It's the old Paul Revere bit ... one if by two and two if by one.
  • Just remember that, and then forget it.
  • Let's shoot holes at it.
  • My mind is a vacuum of information.
  • No loaf is better than half a loaf at all.
  • You're blowing it all out of context.

These almost make the original clichés and idioms sound ridiculous, don't they?

Politics of localization

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

It seems that some people are angry that a Kurdish-language version of Firefox exists. The newsgroup has been full of posts about Kurdish, many of them similar to this message.

Who knew that making it possible for volunteers to translate a web browser into multiple languages could be controversial?

Don’t sound stupid, stop saying like.

Friday, June 3rd, 2005

These posters were posted around UCSD this week. I don't know who designed and posted them.

No likes

I, like, love you

Is it, like, because I, like, say 'like', like, so much?

Why they’re called “scrollbars”

Friday, May 6th, 2005

Chalkboard drawing: a web page on a paper scroll.

Drawn by Prof. Goguen in CSE 271.

A math joke involving Clinton

Sunday, July 25th, 2004

Steven Pinker, Listening Between the Lines:

In his grand jury testimony, Mr. Clinton expounded on the semantics of the present tense ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is") and of the words "alone," "cause" and, most notoriously, "sex."

Clinton's rebuttal to the Starr report:

Literally true statements cannot be the basis for a perjury prosecution, even if a witness intends to mislead the questioner. Likewise, answers to an inherently ambiguous question cannot constitute perjury.

A joke:

Have you ever touched Paula Jones or Monica Lewinsky?

It depends on your definition of "or".

Infix placement

Monday, March 22nd, 2004

Poll (pick one): Un-fucking-believable or Unbe-fucking-lievable?

Color-constancy illusion

Friday, March 5th, 2004

Michelle, Lauren, and I stumbled on a strong illusion last night. It's similar to the checkerboard illusion but involves color rather than just shades of gray.

The "blue" tiles on top of the left cube and the "yellow" tiles on top of the right cube are actually the same shade of gray.

Articles that talk about this illusion: American Scientist: Why We See What We Do and Discover Magazine: Sensory Reflexes. (The authors of the American Scientist article wrote a book with the same name.)

Berkeley's dilemma (as described by the American Scientist article) reminds me of Quine's Gavagai problem in the acquisition of language. Berkeley's dilemma is that retinal images are inherently ambiguous -- for example, there's no difference in the retinal image created by a large object at medium distance and a small object at a large distance. In the Gavagai problem, an island native points to a rabbit and says "gavagai". Do you interpret "gavagai" as "rabbit", "there goes a rabbit", "white", "animal", "hopping", "it's a nice day", "cute", "lunch", or something else?

Both Berkeley's dilemma and the Gavagai problem are problems of infinite ambiguity. Humans have clever heuristics for dealing with both problems. Examples include color constancy and overestimation of acute angles in visual perception, and the whole-object, taxonomic, and mutual-exclusivity assumptions children use to interpret new nouns.