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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Titles and Pronouns

Some giant question marks standing in a field.

I am not a linguist, nor an expert on gender. I'm just trying to muddle my way through this confusing world the same as anyone else. The English language is adaptable. We'll happily bodge words together to make new ones, verb our nouns, and grammar-flex to the point of breaking. It's a fun language! English […]

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Micro-Aggressions vs Micro-Incivilities

Perhaps you've heard of Micro-Aggressions. They're the steady drip-drip-drip of poison which gradually wears you down. "Where are you really from?" or "I can't pronounce your name, can I call you Jo?" or "Your lot are good at running, right?" or "You're clever, for a ...". Individually, they are tiny pinpricks of discrimination. None of […]

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Postel's Law also applies to human communication

Early Internet pioneer, Jon Postel, beautifully captured the "Robustness Principle" for networked communications. "Be strict in what you send, and generous in what you receive." That is, any computer sending data to another, should stick closely to the specification for that communication channel. Any computer receiving data, should expect that the sender isn't following the […]

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Netizens or Webizens?

Screenshot from a Guardian article about Chinese Webizens.

Way back in the 1990s, the word "Netizen" was coined. I always took it to mean "someone who lives on the Internet". In modern times, the neologism has been superseded with "webizen". I find this an interesting development. It is well known that people often confused the Net with the Web. Hence the need for […]

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Christian Names (part 2)

Four points of identification must be written on the bottle i.e.: Christian name, Surname, DOB, and Hosp No.

This is a follow-up post to 2015's "What's Your Christian Name?". tl;dr "Christian Name" used to be synonymous with "First Name" or "Given Name". The majority of people in the UK are not Christian and, therefore, don't have Christian Names. Yet there are lots of local Government forms which still insist on this archaic phrasing. […]

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The law leaves skeuomorphs in language

The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. Terry Pratchett The law leaves indelible traces in our […]

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Diverse or Representative?

Some casual thoughts about language. I recently received an invitation to a tech talk where all the speakers were blokes. As is normal for these sorts of things, I dropped the organisers an email saying I wouldn't be attending because of the lack of diversity. I received a very polite email back protesting that the […]

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