Thursday, 11 December 2014

Spelling reformers get wrong end of stick shocker

Crikey. This Guardian article seems designed to elicit spluttering apoplexy. I think the author must be trolling. Nevertheless, I shall content myself here with pointing out a few minor quibbles. Throughout, letters within <pointy brackets> refer to orthography (spelling) and letters within /slash brackets/ refer to sounds and are in the IPA. My statements apply to English only unless otherwise specified. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Eric Pickles' personal taxpayer has funded a limo... oh wait

I'm aware that it's been far too long since I blogged. Life and work have both been a bit busy; I'll be blogging about our Genius of Language events soon. For now, I thought I'd share this crash blossom with you. This news story has now got a new headline, but when I saw it it looked like this:

Eric Pickles' Taxpayer Funded Limo Bill Passes Major Milestone

A crash blossom is a syntactically ambiguous headline that is either humorous or misleading or simply confusing, usually due to the telegraphic style of headlinese. In this case, it sounds like Eric Pickles has his own personal taxpayer. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Money for old rope

Pragmatics showed up again on this week's The Apprentice. (Pragmatics shows up in all communication but you know what I mean.)

The contestants were asked to find a one-metre length of old rope. One team found a length that was 1.7m long, and were given a right good telling-off for it. Now, whether that fits the bill depends on what you want it for. Suppose you want to lower something down a one-metre drop. Then, you might ask if someone has a metre-long rope and if they have a 1.7m-long one, they'll say yes. It's enough that the rope is at least one metre long for it to be true that it is one metre long. Lord Sugar is a literal chappie, though, and if he says one metre he means one metre, no more, no less, and they were not permitted to have it.

We saw this literalness again: the teams had to find an anatomical, full-size skeleton. One team found a full-size paper skeleton, which I thought was pretty clever, but it was also disqualified, on the grounds that it made Lord Sugar look stupid I think. I suppose that a completely flat skeleton is not technically anatomically accurate.

*The title of this post is not accurate either: the team got the old rope for free so no money changed hands.