Do That After This

A pet cat typing on a computer keyboard.

I was building some flatpack furniture the other day (my life is so glamorous) when I came across an interesting example of how not to write technical documentation. Drill a hole in part A and insert part B once you have ensured part C has been aligned after its connection to A. Most people can […]

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There should only ever be one way to express yourself

Logo of the Python programming language.

I've been thinking about programming languages and their design. In her book about the divergence of the English and American languages, Lynne Murphy asks this question: wouldn’t it be great if language were logical and maximally efficient? If sentences had only as many syllables as strictly needed? If each word had a single, unique meaning? […]

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Who said "Brits think 100 miles is a long distance - Americans think 100 years is a long time"?

Unfortunately or fortunately, this situation will prevail for some time to come, because the United States, as a nation, is going through a delayed adolescence, and we are questioning everything. We are a very new country, even if we are an old democracy, and we don't have it all down yet. As my friend Simon, an Englishman, says, "The British think a hundred miles is a long way; Americans think a hundred years is a long time."

It's one of those pithy little quotes which reveals so much about our two cultures. The average Briton considers anything more than a 45 minute trip a bit of a schelp, whereas Americans will seemingly drive half a day just to get some ribs from that one place they like. Conversely, I went to school […]

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Sarcasm Detection and Cultural Hegemony

"Wish you a day filled with light, happiness and smiles. It has been my pleasure helping a valued customer like you today Thank you for doing Business with Amazon! Hope you and your family are safe Have a great day ahead. Your success is also our success!"

Way back in the 1990s, my family visited the USA. It seemed at every single large shop there was a person stood inside whose sole job was to say "Welcome to STORENAME! How are you doing today? We're so pleased to have you shop with us!" - their face plastered with an enormous grin. It […]

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Family trespassed from Domino’s pizza chain after claim of metal screw in pizza slice turns nasty.

Perhaps you are aware of the Mandela Effect - a psychological phenomenon where you are convinced you remember something which never actually happened. This, combined with the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon - where you suddenly start noticing something unusual - can cause extreme cognitive dissonance. What does the verb "to trespass" mean to you? I always thought […]

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What's the origin of the phrase "Baader-Meinhof phenomenon"?

Just a coincidence? Here’s Gigetto on Lincoln on The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: “Many years ago, I identified a phenomenon so startling and so broad in its application that it encompasses the current wonder surrounding the number 23, as well as many other forms of eerie coincidence. “I have dubbed it The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon – named after the notorious West German gang of terrorists. The phenomenon goes like this: The first time you learn a new word, phrase or idea, you will see that word, phrase or idea again in print within 24 hours. (This does not apply to topical things – just obscure words, etc.)

The "Baader-Meinhof phenomenon" is that weird experience where you learn of a new word or phrase and then suddenly see it crop up everywhere. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia entry for "frequency illusion" said: The name "Baader-Meinhof phenomenon" was coined in 1994 by an online message board user, who, after mentioning the name […]

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Book Review: The Prodigal Tongue - Lynne Murphy

Book cover featuring an elongated tongue wearing a top-hat.

Who "owns" the English language? Do you cringe when you see "centre" spelled (or spelt) "center" (or vice-versa)? Which Americanisms do you think are super awesome? This book asks us a simple question: What if, instead of worrying about the “ruination” of English by young people, jargonistas, or Americans, we celebrated English for being robust […]

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Book Review: The Language Hoax - John H. McWhorter

Book cover for the Language Hoax.

This guy's probably right - but there's no need for him to be such a dick about it. The book is about the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis which, simply put, says that the language people use changes the way they experience the world. McWhorter thinks this is bullshit - and goes through his reasoning in painstaking detail. […]

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The games that shape our language

A get out of jail free card from the Monopoly boardgame.

One of the joys of working with a diverse set of people from all around the world, is that English idioms are a constant source of bemusements. "It's raining cats and dogs" is quickly mapped to the more poetic "Es gießt Schusterjungs". Recently, I mentioned how our team had a "get-out-of-jail-free card". Whereupon a person […]

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Data Is / Data Are

Binary code displayed on a screen.

To be clear - I don't care about this; I just think it is interesting. Is the word "data" a plural? On a strict reading, yes. Datum is singular, data is its plural. But humans are spongey meatbags who evolve language. And there will always be a tension between traditionalists and modernists. So, I took […]

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