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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The Oxford comma, used by me, myself, and I, but should you use it?

Thursday, 12 June, 2014

I didn’t study, or should I say, read, at Oxford University, but I’ve been using their comma, also known as the Harvard, or Serial comma, since my high school days.

English language linguists, editors, and writers, meantime have been in disagreement over its application since day one. So to use, or not to use? Arika Okrent, writing for Mental Floss, offers arguments for and against, to help you decide…

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Forget peeling bananas, you may be using the wrong dictionary

Tuesday, 10 June, 2014

We know we’ve been eating apples the wrong way, and not peeling bananas correctly… you’ve probably spotted some of the dozens of videos and articles floating around in recent months gently breaking the news that you’ve not been doing something fairly basic, something you otherwise give no thought to, properly.

Well, hey hey, my my.

Here’s something I can for go though, it seems we’ve been using the wrong dictionaries all this time, or so says James Somers, who thinks many lexicons in use today leave a lot to be desired:

Worse, the words themselves take on the character of their definitions: they are likewise reduced. A delightful word like “fustian” – delightful because of what it means, because of the way it looks and sounds, because it is unusual in regular speech but not so effete as to be unusable, is described, efficiently, as “pompous or pretentious speech or writing.” Not only is this definition (as we’ll see in a minute) simplistic and basically wrong, it’s just not in the same class, English-wise, as “fustian.” The language is tin-eared and uninspired. It’s criminal: This is the place where all the words live and the writing’s no good.

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