Monday, 20 October 2014

Geek English

This is an open question, or an idle wondering, depending how you view it.

I've noticed a particular variety of English which I'm calling 'Geek English'. I'm calling it that because I notice that it's particularly used by people who I would broadly identify as geeks, nerds, whatever you like, in a basically positive sense. You know, the kind of people who spend time playing online games, a lot of time in the internet in general, and are happy to be thought intelligent. It might also be people who would otherwise sound quite posh. For instance, some of the QI elves on their podcast 'No Such Thing as a Fish' have this accent (particularly Anna).

My question is, what characterises it and where does it come from? I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it, but my immediate impression is that it has a vaguely transatlantic sound. There's a bit of what sounds like 'flapping' of the t's, and also the intonation is quite distinctive, and I think perhaps the vowels are a bit non-UK-like. But then, all this could be an incorrect assumption based simply on its unfamiliarity to me. A proper phonetician needs to study it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Postik notes

I was recently at the excellent Petrie museum in London. It's got loads of ancient Egyptian stuff, including a lot of beads. They also had this board:

It says 'Please write any comments on postik notes'.

Someone has rather snarkily corrected the error by putting a squiggly line under the word and writing the correct word and putting 'sp' next to it. This is overkill, but no matter.

I thought the mistake was quite charming. Post-It notes are sticky, after all, so 'postik' is kind of an eggcorn, almost (it doesn't quite fit the definition). And 'post' is used in a not-very-British way - I think you post things on walls more in American English than UK English, and Lynne Murphy confirms this at her blog Separated by a Common Language. So that makes it more likely that the person didn't realise the meaning of the name Post-It (i.e. display it on the wall).

Monday, 13 October 2014

On being impolite to our smartphones

I'm behaving like an old person and getting disgruntled at new developments in technology. Google and Apple both have a voice-controlled thing in their various devices which allows you to speak your search query. You can activate this with a button, but now there's a way to make it notice that you want it by saying a specific thing. In the case of Google you have to say 'OK Google' and in the case of Apple you have to say 'Hey Siri' (Siri is the name of the pretend person in your iphone).

Both of these are very rude, 'Hey Siri' perhaps less so, but still rude nevertheless. I think it's just about OK to say 'hey' to a real person if, say, you were just talking to them and you're walking away and then you remember something and you want to signal to them that you want their attention again. Or you can say 'hey' instead of 'hi', if you know the person quite well. So perhaps you can say 'Hey Siri' as if you're saying 'hi' to it, but I haven't tested it to find out. From the inflection in the advert, it's much more like you're summoning a minion (which you are, but if they're going to make it sound like a real person, then you ought to treat it like a real person).

'OK Google', on the other hand, is just downright rude. It sounds to me as if Google is consistently messing up and you're resigned to that but giving it yet another chance to get it right. Poor Google. Or perhaps you're challenging it, like 'OK Google, you think you're so clever, try this'.