Idioms from languages other than English

Thursday, 26 February, 2015

Idioms. Where would we be without them? We probably use them so frequently that we’re not aware we actually are. “Add insult to injury”, “back to the drawing board”, “costs an arm and a leg”, or “kill two birds with one stone”, to reference but a few, that English language speakers commonly use.

I doubt we could go too wrong by incorporating such phrases from other languages into our vernacular though, even if their meaning may not be entirely clear, at least at first.

For starters, there’s “to buy a cat in a sack”, from German, or “to slide in on a shrimp sandwich” from Swedish, or “to jump from the cock to the donkey”, from French, although there are many more to choose from.

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Google pronounce, helping travellers say place names correctly

Friday, 13 February, 2015

Streatham is a suburb located in South London. Supermodel Naomi Campbell was born there. We used to go and see movies at the Odeon along the high street. Not with Campbell however. But if this is by chance the first time you’ve heard of Streatham, how would you pronounce its name? It’s not quite as straightforward as it looks.

What then of all the other places across the globe that stand to be misspoken? Enter then a Google initiative, that promises to make things a little easier for travellers, by offering them the opportunity to learn the correct pronunciation of a town, or place, name ahead of time:

The patent details how Google could determine the most common pronunciation of a place name from audio clips submitted by locals, then offer that pronunciation when someone searches for the place on Google Maps. This function could be handy, as Google says in the patent, “when traveling in a foreign country.”

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It’s not cherry, it’s not rose… time to look up the colour thesaurus

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014

Just as there are a thousand, or thereabouts, shades of grey, there are many shades of other colours. Variations of the colour red, for example, could be cherry, rose, jam, merlot, crimson, or garnet, to name but a few.

It looks to me like a colour thesaurus is something we should not be without.

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A sign language that defies our understanding of their development

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, or ABSL, is a form of sign language that has emerged in recent years among the deaf inhabitants of a village in a region of Israel’s Negev Desert. What is particularly fascinating to linguists here however is the structure of the language, which differs somewhat from many others:

ABSL provides fodder for researchers who reject the idea that there’s a genetic basis for the similarities found across languages. Instead, they argue, languages share certain properties because they all have to solve similar problems of communication under similar pressures, pressures that reflect the limits of human abilities to learn, remember, produce, and perceive information. The challenge, then, is to explain why ABSL is an outlier – if duality of patterning is the optimal solution to the problem of creating a large but manageable collection of words, why hasn’t ABSL made use of it?

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How how our function words say things that we don’t

Tuesday, 9 September, 2014

Our use of so-called function words – such as the, this, though, I, and, there, and that – can say a lot about who we might be romantically compatible with, through to where we see our place in some sort of hierarchy, says James Pennebaker, a University of Texas psychologist:

We use “I” more when we talk to someone with power because we’re more self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves – how we’re coming across – and our language reflects that.

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Could should always be an option when it comes to decision making

Monday, 8 September, 2014

From the office of infinite possibilities, an alternative problem solving method… when a decision looms, instead of asking yourself what you should do, ask instead what you could do.

Asking yourself, for example, “What should I do with my life?” tacitly implies that there’s a right and a wrong answer to that question. It seems that the word should can cause us to think in black and white, while could reveals the in-between shades of gray.

Now where was this pearl of wisdom when I needed it the most?

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The future lies in front of us doesn’t it, or is it actually behind us?

Thursday, 28 August, 2014

When we think of the future, many of us see it as being ahead, or in front, of us. When it comes to the past, what’s behind. But not everyone visualises the future or past in those ways, and the language we speak may play a part in our perceptions in this regard. Many Moroccan Arabic speakers for example think of the future as being behind them, and the past in front.

This test confirmed that, despite speaking of the future as being in front of them, the majority of Moroccan Arabic speakers think of it as being behind. Around 85 per cent of them located tomorrow’s object behind the person in the diagram, compared with just over 10 per cent of the Spanish speakers. De la Fuente’s group think the reason has to do with temporal focus. Their theory – “the temporal-focus hypothesis” – is that people and cultures who focus more on the past tend to locate it in front.

It’s an interesting way to look at how we move through time, as if we have our backs to the future, as we move forward, meaning the future is indeed behind us, and the past is before our eyes, hence in front of us, even if we are moving away from it.

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OMG, we don’t curse in public like we used to

Tuesday, 26 August, 2014

I’ve tended to regard the phrase “Oh My God” as more an expression of shock or surprise than as an expletive, but apparently as a cuss-term it is more popular – among women anyway – than a certain word that starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet. Men however still favour that word over any other profanity.

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How is it that our typos can often evade us?

Tuesday, 19 August, 2014

From time to time, while looking back on older posts here, I find myself cringing when I find a typo, be it a missed word, or a spelling mistake. And all the more so when the faux pas was made years ago…

I’m left wondering how such errors could have slipped by, given I write everything in a word processor that spell checks, and then copy and paste the article into a web browser that likewise spell checks, usually a day or so later. I’ve long figured that not looking at a piece of writing for a time makes typos easier to spot later on.

So much for that proof reading technique then. Well, not really. Part of the problem in error checking comes about, it seems, from a conflict with what our eyes see, compared to what we think we should see:

When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

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Can gender be discerned by analysing vocabulary?

Thursday, 26 June, 2014

Men and women have distinct preferences for certain words it seems, and knowing who is more likely to use a particular word may be useful in determining the gender of a person – who you know little of – that you may be interacting with online.

Well, up until now that is. Someone wishing to be evasive in this regard may find this information of assistance…

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