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25 Jun 22:10

"Many supporters, with the best intentions, will often claim that “Welsh is the oldest language in..."

Many supporters, with the best intentions, will often claim that “Welsh is the oldest language in Europe” (or one of). I wish they wouldn’t say this, because it’s untrue. It’s worse than that, in fact, because it’s not even wrong, in the sense that the claim itself doesn’t make sense.

It’s a bit like claiming that your family is older than someone else’s family. All families, and all languages, ultimately share a common ancestor, so really they’re all as old as each other.

Throughout history, parts of one family dynasty or clan have gone on to start another, yet at the time nobody would have noticed the difference. It’s the sort of thing that you can only observe with hindsight (rather like the emergence of new families of species in biological evolution). In the same way, the point at which a modern language is said to have sufficiently developed from its predecessor is rather arbitrary, and an academic convenience more than anything else. […]

The distinction between two languages is political rather than scientific. Norwegian and Danish are classified as two separate languages even though they are much more similar than the versions of vernacular Arabic spoken in Mauritania and Oman, for example, which we merly call dialects. Again, my point is simply that these labels are mainly social constructs. I’m guessing that many of Europe’s languages claim to be among the continent’s “oldest”. Basque, famously, isn’t closely related to any other language in Europe and is said to be a survivor from the time before the Indo-Europeans arrived. Lithuanian, meanwhile, is sometimes called Europe’s most conservative language since it retains many ancient linguistic elements that others have long lost. Both, it may be conceded, would have a better claim to the “oldest language” title than Welsh, but it wouldn’t really be a linguistically meaningful thing to say in those cases either.

You may, very reasonably, ask whether any of this really matters. But even if it were true (which it isn’t), I would also argue that it isn’t actually a particularly helpful point for the language’s supporters to be making. Do we really want to imply that our language is some sort of curious fossil? Emphasising Welsh’s so-called antiquity plays into the hands of those who seek to dismiss the language as unfit for the modern age.

- Why Welsh makes a good point about the problem with “oldest language” claims that are often brought up in the context of language revitalization. (Although I will note that sign languages are a possible exception: they may inherit gestures that are as old as humanity as inspiration for some signs and some have roots in older sign languages, but other sign languages are genuinely very young.)
25 Jun 22:07

Things I Won’t Let My Dog Eat, Ranked

by Kelly Conaboy

4. Bones

3. Rocks

2. Dirt

1. Bees

Things I Won’t Let My Dog Eat, Ranked was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

16 Jun 11:37

The 1830s Are Back Like A Statement Sleeve

by Rebecca Christopher

Is Romantic nationalism back too?

L to R: Net-A-Porter, Anthropologie, Aritzia

We are demonstrating, we are protesting, we resent the decisions of our parents’ generation, we are broke, the White House is occupied by a catastrophically destructive populist weirdo, we are being compelled to wear increasingly bizarre sleeves. It’s happening. Finally. The 1830s are back.

Now is the time of the “statement sleeve” aka the weird sleeve, from cold shoulder to balloon, to fluted, to “sculptural,” to ???, to the ones that end with little ties instead of cuffs, to just an extra $1,000 sleeve, to any combination of these features. I have recently had and overheard multiple conversations about sleeves, conversations not had during the Obama administration. It’s a moment, one which coincides with a participatory form of civil unrest from which primordial soup have emerged a nonzero number of soul-crushing takes about how protesting is the new brunch.

Extreme gigot/leg of mutton sleeve. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The last time this happened was 1830, when women* in Western Europe wore the largest sleeves of any period in sleeved Western European history. Some of the stuff I’ve gotten Lyst alerts about in this week alone would give that fact a run for its money.

Then, as now, sleeves erupted from the small, innocent sleeve of the Empire gown to the leg-of-mutton and elephant sleeves, a dropped shoulder silhouette that poofed so dramatically from the bicep it was enforced with whalebone, then narrowed at the forearm or wrist. Like a leg of mutton. Like an elephant’s ear. Like an inverted teardrop. Like nearly every goddamned sleeve in 2017.

Unlike previous generations of wacky sleeves like the virago, finestrella, and paned sleeve, these did not reveal an undergarment, which suits both modern sleeve construction and possibly modern undergarments. And unlike the sleeves of the Victorians, but like the sleeves of today, the poof began below the shoulder. In our case, it is most often dropped below a bare shoulder, prompting me to constantly ask everyone I’ve ever met what kind of bra you’re supposed to wear. In the 1830s this bare shoulder was most often covered, in daytime, by a little shoulder cape called a pelerine so nobody had to struggle with those goo bras or removable straps. Advances in printing and a taste for the naturalistic over the classical meant that preferred patterns were floral or striped.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

What else was going on in the places where people may have worn these sleeves or seen a great deal of them? In France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Brazil and Portugal, revolutions were going on! In the U.S., under the presidency of populist Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, one of the most gruesome and morally outrageous pieces of legislation concocted in human history. As the 1830s wore on, coal miners in Wales revolted, Gran Colombia dissolved, Germans gathered for the Hambacher Festival in a pro-republican demonstration that was also apparently fun. Ada Lovelace met Charles Babbage, so that one day we might be able to tweet poo emojis at reporters.

Nationalist uprisings took place at the edges of the Ottoman Empire, specifically Greece and Bosnia. Across Algeria, nationalists revolted against the French occupancy that recently replaced the Ottoman. In Canada, Ottawa and Quebec revolted. In Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul attempted secession. In the U.S., so did Texas. When the 1830s were semi-wistfully remembered by Victor Hugo, they were embodied by Millennial patron saint Marius Pontmercy, a mortifyingly awkward law student who couldn’t pay rent but ate desert every night and joined the antimonarchist revolt mainly out of FOMO. The end of the East India Trading Company’s monopoly on trade from China meant that then, as now, actual opiates were the opium of the masses.

Olenina Aleksandra, 1865 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This is not to say that I have recently attended a post-Napoleonic nationalist uprising or that I think a politically empowered middle class is a new thing. But history has endlessly proven its ability to look superficially familiar and here we are, wearing these sleeves, Q.E.D.

So why sleeves? They’re expressive, gestural, and silhouette-changing. They have throughout the course of human events variously indicated rank, wealth, and Cavalier-Roundhead affiliation. They have flashed our undergarments, covered our unbearably sexy arms, tactically revealed our unbearably sexy arms, served as pockets, and concealed or revealed our hands according to taste, culture, and fashion.

The dropped shoulder of the 1830s represented a Romantic ideal, as did fancy hairstyles and fabrics. Fashionable people of that era recalled the Empire and Regency costume of narrow, gauzy dresses and overt Classical references with horror; Romanticism was at once more modest and more liberated. Now, as then, none of the shapes being played with are new, but rather reimagined references in new prints, proportions, and details. They express traits like creativity and boldness, and since they do not exist in menswear, imply some celebration of the variety allowed in modern female dress, even at the price of bra confusion and that godawful red mark you get from carrying your bag around all day. “While speaking to current tastes, these sleeves are also classically romantic and appeal to feminine women of all ages,” wrote a WWD observer, while earlier referencing their ability to evoke “retro Sixties and Seventies aesthetics.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Why did they grow so quickly? Maybe everyone’s arms were getting super ripped from carrying around carbines (then) and knitting pink hats (now) all the time, and narrow sleeves would be inconvenient. But, as anyone who has worn a cold shoulder poofy sleeve top on the subway with a tote bag can tell you, this is the opposite of practical. People were, and are, ostensibly doing more stuff, so why not really sturdy sleeves that can support civic action? Probably because fashion reflects our aesthetic instinct more than it literally describes what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, and this is a shakeup. Sculptural silhouettes represent a desire to move into the future, retro details a yearning for the past. By 2018, “to sell a basic shirt [sleeve] will be out of the question,” said trend forecaster Li Edelkoort. Out of the question!

We’re just so overwhelmed that we have to wear it (with) our sleeves. Whether the overwhelming feeling is Romantic nationalism, #resistance, solidarity, wistfulness, optimism or despair, there is too much of it to face in something as utilitarian as a narrow sleeve. If we are shouldering some kind of burden, we are doing so on our bare shoulders (or bra strap-covered shoulders? Please send help.) The 1830s are back. And since some stuff I saw at Zara clearly indicates we’ve plunged into a time warp where we’re given a do-over, our lessons are clear: Do not allow a cruel populist president to continue humiliating us in front of the other eras, don’t kill whales to reinforce our giant sleeves, don’t grow up to be the conservative reactionaries of 1848, and lay off the opiates.

*What were men wearing? Suits. Hats. Next question.

Rebecca Christopher is a writer with access to several Zara storefronts and the works of Balzac.

The 1830s Are Back Like A Statement Sleeve was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

16 Jun 11:28

2/3rds of sexual minorities now identify as bisexual, but it depends

by Tristan Bridges, PhD

Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

I’ve been following a couple different data sets that track the size of the LGB(T) population in the United States for a few years. There’s a good amount of evidence that all points in the same direction: those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and possibly transgender too are all on the rise. Just how large of an increase is subject to a bit of disagreement, but the larger trend is undeniable. Much of the reporting on this shift treats this as a fact that equally blankets the entirety of the U.S. population (or only deals superficially with the really interesting demographic questions concerning the specific groups within the population that account for this change).

In a previous post, I separated the L’s, G’s and B’s because I suspected that more of this shift was accounted for by bisexuals than is often discussed in any critical way (*the GSS does not presently have a question that allows us to separate anyone identifying as transgender or outside the gender binary). Between 2008 and 2016, the proportion of the population identifying as lesbian or gay went from 1.6% to 2.4%. During the same period, those identifying as bisexual jumped from 1.1% to 3.3%. It’s a big shift and it’s even bigger when you look at how pronounced it is among the groups who primarily account for this change: women, people of color, and young people.

The thing about sexual identities though, is that they’re just like other kinds of meaningful identities in that they intersect with other identities in ways that produce different sorts of meanings depending upon what kinds of configurations of identities they happen to be combined with (like age, race, and gender). For instance, as a sexual identity, bisexual is more common than both lesbian and gay combined. But, bisexuality is gendered. Among women, “bisexual” is a more common sexual identity than is “lesbian”; but among men, “gay” is a more common sexual identity than “bisexual”–though this has shifted a bit over the 8 years GSS has been asking questions about sexual orientation. And so too is bisexuality a racialized identity in that the above gendered trend is more true of white and black men than men of other races.

Consider this: between 2008 and 2016, among young people (18-34 years old), those identifying as lesbian or gay went from 2.7% to 3.0%, while those identifying as “bisexual” increased twofold, from 2.6% to 5.3%.  But, look at how this more general change among young people looks when we break it down by gender.

Looked at this way, bisexuality as a sexual identity has more than doubled in recent years. Among 18-34 year old women in 2016, the GSS found 8% identifying as bisexual.  You have to be careful with GSS data once you start parsing the data too much as the sample sizes decrease substantially once we start breaking things down by more than gender and age. But, just for fun, I wanted to look into how this trend looked when we examined it among different racial groups (GSS only has codes for white, black, and other).Picture1

Here, you can see a couple things.  But one of the big stories I see is that “bisexual” identity appears to be particularly absent among Black men in the U.S. And, among young men identifying as a race other than Black or white, bisexuality is a much more common identity than is gay. It’s also true that the proportions of gay and bisexual men in each group appear to jump around year to year.  The general trend follows the larger pattern – toward more sexual minority identities.  But, it’s less straightforward than that when we actually look at the shift among a few specific racial groups within one gender.  Now, look at this trend among women.

Here, we clearly see the larger trend that “bisexual” appears to be a more common sexual identity than “lesbian.” But, look at Black women in 2016.  In 2016, just shy of one in five Black women between the ages of 18 and 34 identified as lesbian or bisexual (19%) in the GSS sample! And about two thirds of those women are identifying as bisexual (12.4%) rather than as lesbian (6.6%). Similarly, and mirroring the larger trend that “bisexual” is more common among women while “gay” is more popular among men, “lesbian” is a noticeably absent identity among women identifying as a race other than Black or white just as “gay” is less present among men identifying as a race other than Black or white.

Below is all that information in a single chart.  I felt it was a little less intuitive to read in this form. But this is the combined information from the two graphs preceding this if it’s helpful to see it in one chart.


What these shifts mean is a larger question. But it’s one that will require an intersectional lens to interpret. And this matters because bisexuality is a less-discussed sexual identification–so much so that “bi erasure” is used to address the problem of challenging the legitimacy or even existence of this sexual identity. As a sexual identification in the U.S., however, “bisexual” is actually more common than “gay” and “lesbian” identifications combined.

And yet, whether bisexual identifying people will or do see themselves as part of a distinct sexual minority is more of an open question. All of this makes me feel that we need to consider more carefully whether grouping bisexuals with lesbian women and gay men when reporting shifts in the LGB population. Whatever is done, we should care about bisexuality (particularly among women), because this is a sexual identification that is becoming much more common than is sometimes recognized.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

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16 Jun 11:01

missalsfromiram: prudencepaccard: jdragsky: missworthing: zombiekittensandmadscientists: One of...






One of my favorite linguistic phenomena is rebracketing, which is when a word or words is/are redivided differently, either two words becoming one, one word heard as two, or part of one word interpreted as part of the other.  This frequently happens with articles, for example:

  • apron was originally napron, but “a napron” was interpreted as “an apron”
  • newt comes from ewt by the same process
  • In the opposite direction, nickname comes from Middle English nekename which in turn came from ekename (an ekename -> a nekename) where “eke” was an old word meaning “also” or “additional” (so basically “an additional name”)
  • ammunition comes from an obsolete dialectal French amunition, which came from munition, the phrase la munition being heard as l’amunition.
  • the nickname Ned comes from Ed, via “mine Ed” being heard as “my Ned” (in archaic English, “my” and “mine” had the same relationship as “a” and “an”), same with several other nicknames like Nell
  • The word “orange” ulimately derives from the Arabic nāranj, via French “orange”, the n being lost via a similar process involving the indefinite article, e.g., something like French “une norange” becoming “une orange” (it’s unclear which specific Romance language it first happened in)
  • in the Southern US at least (not sure about elsewhere), “another” is often analyzed as “a nother”, hence the phrase “a whole nother”
  • omelet has a whole series of interesting changes; it comes from French omelette, earlier alemette (swapping around the /l/ and /m/), from alemelle from an earlier lemelle (la lemelle -> l’alemelle)

Related to this, sometimes two words, especially when borrowed into another language, will be taken as one.  Numerous words were borrowed from Arabic with the definite article al- attached to them.  Spanish el lagarto became English alligator.  An interesting twist is admiral, earlier amiral (the d probably got in there from the influence of words like “administer”) from Arabic amir al- (lord of the ___), particularly the phrase amir al-bahr, literally “lord of the sea”.

Sometimes the opposite happens.  A foreign word will look like two words, or like a word with an affix.  For example, the Arabic kitaab (book) was borrowed into Swahili as kitabu.  ki- happens to be the singular form of one of the Swahili genders, and so it was interpreted as ki-tabu.  To form the plural of that gender, you replace ki- with vi-, thus, “books” in Swahili is vitabu.  The Greek name Alexander became, in Arabic, Iskander, with the initial al- heard as the article al-.

Similarly, the English word Cherry came from Old Norman French cherise, with the s on the end interpreted as the plural -s.  Interestingly enough, that word came from Vulgar Latin ceresia, a feminine singular noun, but originally the plural of the neuter noun ceresium!  So a Latin plural was reinterpreted as a singular in Vulgar Latin, which in turn was interpreted as a plural when borrowed into English!

The English suffix -burger used with various foods (e.g., cheeseburger, or more informally chickenburger, etc.) was misanlyzed from Hamburger as Ham-burger, itself from the city of Hamburg

This can happen even with native words.  Modern French once is used for the snow leopard, but originally meant “lynx”.  In Old French, it was lonce (ultimately from the same source as lynx), which was reinterpreted as l’once!  In English, the word “pea” was originally “pease”, but that looked like it had the plural -s on it, and so the word “pea” was created from it.  Likewise, the adjective lone came from alone, heard as “a lone”, but alone itself came originally from all one.

One of my favorite personal examples is the old Southern man who would come into work and ask me if I was “being have” (as opposed to the more usual “behaving”).

the word editor predated the word edit - editor was reinterpreted as edit-er, so clearly someone who edits!

when your open borders advocacy extends to morpheme boundaries

Don’t forget the Swahili kipilefti (”roundabout”), from English keep left, with a plural vipilefti - and in reverse, singular kideo (”video”) with plural video.

In Arabic, the plural is often formed by changing the vowels around the basic three consonants. So the plural of “fals” (money) is “fuluus”. When English words with three consonants are borrowed, they’re often reanalyzed, so when “bank” was borrowed and its plural became “bunuuk”. 

01 Jun 05:00

It Came From The Search Terms: The Lusty Month Of May

by JenniferP

Both the social anxiety play dates for adults app and the Language of Flowers app need to be a thing now. :)

It’s time for the monthly ritual where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were actual questions.

True story: In 1986 my 6th grade class did a medley/pageant thing from Camelot and I sang a highly edited version of this song wearing a flower crown, an ice blue polyester bridesmaid’s dress that had been adapted to be somewhat ren-faire-ish, and (of course) my giant plastic 1980s Dawn Weiner/Sally Jesse Raphael/Log Lady eyeglasses.

1) “I can’t have romantic feelings.”

a) You don’t have to! and b) You might be aromantic. Look it up, find your people, be happy.

2) “As a bi girl am I doomed to end up with a guy?”

Depending on where you live men who like women may be more numerous than women who like women, so it may take you longer to find women you connect with. However, please don’t “end up with” or even “date” anyone who makes you wonder “Is this my doom?” Be picky and choose people who fucking delight you.

3) “He can’t be with me because of depression”

He can’t be with you.

4) “Introvert boyfriend broke up with me”

He broke up with you.

 5) He says he wants us to be together eventually, what does that mean?

He doesn’t want you to be together now.

6) “What does ‘I can’t be what you need from me’ mean?”

“Don’t count on this relationship to be what you need.” “I am checking out of/trying to end this relationship.”

7) Boyfriend makes fun of medical condition.

What. A. Jerk.

8) “He doesn’t give me allowance but he wants to control my appearance.”

Even if he did give you an allowance he doesn’t get to control your appearance unless you have an explicit “this is a fun thing we like to do/kink we share and enjoy” agreement.

9) “I don’t like my boyfriend’s physical appearance.”

Okay? Options:

  • Learn to like something about how he looks and enjoy the beautiful love you share.
  • Admit to yourself that looks are really important to you and gently set him free to find someone who loves how he looks.

10) “Too many Indian neighbours.”

Move. Your neighbors shouldn’t have to live next to a gross xenophobe like you.

11) “Should I try speed dating?”

Sure! If you you don’t like someone or they don’t like you, there will be a new person in a few minutes, and if you hate it you never have to go back.


12) “Can men and women be friends?”

Glad you asked! I run an entire website devoted to this.

13) “I won’t allow my husband to play with female band mates.”

Women are half the human race, so, that’s a pretty sucky thing to do.

14) “How can I proceed to relationship that I already know she is not interested in relationship yet?” & 15) How to make a long distance girl you don’t know fall in love?

Or, you could just…not?

If you know for a fact someone is not interested in a relationship, leave them alone?

If someone lives far away and doesn’t know you exist, maybe…leave them alone and find someone a) closer to home b) who knows you and c) already likes you?

Stop trying to project-manage unattainable love?

16) Is 3 weeks too late to apologize to guy?

Probably not, as long as you offer a clean, real apology:

  • Step 1: “I’m really sorry for [specific thing I did that hurt or upset you].”
  • Step 2: Hope for the best but let it go. Let him be the one to decide if he forgives, when he forgives, and what happens now.
  • Step 3: Don’t do the thing again.

17) “Social anxiety play dates.”

This person was probably searching for this thread about arranging play dates for your kids when you have social anxiety, but it would be so cool if this were an app or a service that hooked people up with social anxiety buddies.

18) Ugliest floral arrangement for a funeral for someone you hate.

Yessssssssssssssssss! Let’s be hate-florists!


Description: Pink carnations and roses sculpted into a penis and balls. For when you care enough to send someone a dick.

Would a corpse flower be prohibitively expensive? Are those even commercially available? If not, worry not: Here are some other stinky plants and flowers.

I found a website listing traditional flower meanings.What if we combined:

  • CANDY TUFT – Indifference
  • GERANIUM -Stupidity; Folly
  • LILY  Orange – Hatred
  • MONKSHOOD – Beware; A Deadly Foe is Near
  • NARCISSUS – Egotism
  • NUTS – Stupidity
  • NASTURTIUM – Conquest; Victory in Battle
I don’t know if it would be sufficiently hideous – a lot of those flowers are quite pretty – but you’d know exactly how much shade you were throwing.
Now I wish that the Language of Flowers had an app where you could see each flower and build a virtual hate-bouquet (or like-bouquet, or “That secret sex we had was AWESOME and it fills me with shame. Elope with me?” bouquet) from them.


30 May 12:52

Countering class-based food stigma with a “hierarchy of food needs”

by Lisa Wade, PhD

Flashback Friday. 

Responding to critics who argue that poor people do not choose to eat healthy food because they’re ignorant or prefer unhealthy food, dietitian Ellyn Satter wrote a hierarchy of food needs. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it illustrates Satter’s ideas as to the elements of food that matter first, second, and so on… starting at the bottom.

The graphic suggests that getting enough food to eat is the most important thing to people. Having food be acceptable (e.g., not rotten, something you are not allergic to) comes second. Once those two things are in place, people hope for reliable access to food and only then do they begin to worry about taste. If people have enough, acceptable, reliable, good-tasting food, then they seek out novel food experiences and begin to make choices as to what to eat for instrumental purposes (e.g., number of calories, nutritional balance).

As Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist writes, sometimes when a person chooses to eat nutritionally deficient or fattening foods, it is not because they are “stupid, ignorant, lazy, or just a bad, bad person who loves bad, bad food.”  Sometimes, it’s “because other needs come first.”

Originally posted in 2010; hat tip to Racialicious; cross-posted at Jezebel.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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26 May 12:46

"Gretchen: If you look at what kids actually do when they’re exposed to fragmented or incomplete..."


I love this podcast so much.

Gretchen: If you look at what kids actually do when they’re exposed to fragmented or incomplete linguistic input, they actually create full-fledged languages from kind of bizarre or difficult linguistic circumstances.

Lauren: A really famous example is Nicaraguan Sign Language. The fact that we’ve taken until episode 7 to talk about it is actually pretty impressive, because it’s such a great go-to anecdote for linguists, and it’s such an amazing thing that happened. In the 70s and 80s in Nicaragua there was a change in policy that meant that a lot of deaf children suddenly came together at school, instead of being isolated and using their own home sign or maybe a local village sign language. Over the course of a couple of generations, these children went from all having kind of only a rudimentary communicative system to developing what is now considered to be a fully fledged language, which is Nicaraguan Sign Language. There are around three thousand users of that sign language now, and the language has been studied since its birth since the 1970s. There have been people watching the evolution of this language and how children can use limited resources and inputs to create something really sophisticated.

Gretchen: It teaches us a lot about human children’s capacity for language. It’s not just that kids aren’t speaking some “bad” version of English now, but it’s actually that if ever we have disrupted linguistic transmission, it’s going to be the kids that save us. They’re not going to bring us back to what we had before, but they’re going to make a fully fledged linguistic system that’s capable of complex ideas and complex thoughts, even if the adults mess it up! If kids were just doing exactly what adults do, then language would be brittle and fragile. But because they change it each generation, language is incredibly resilient! And this brings us back to a point from episode one, where we talked about the language of space.

Lauren: And Space Pidgin!

Gretchen: And how the American and the Russian astronauts and cosmonauts use each other’s languages, and end up using this hybrid English-Russian pidgin to communicate with each other. But because all the astronauts so far have been adults this is kind of an incomplete, fragmented English-Russian hybrid space pidgin. However, if and when we go to Mars, if the astronauts and the cosmonauts got together and had some space babies….

Lauren: If there were children…

Gretchen: Then these Space Babies would grow up exposed to Space Pidgin and they would turn it into Space Creole.

Lauren: And it would actually develop more sophisticated grammatical structures, the children would take the input that they get and turn it into a more fully fledged linguistic system. So the kids in space are going to be okay.

Gretchen: The kids in space are going to be okay, the kids on earth are going to be okay, we’re all okay! Also, someone needs to write this story about space babies, I would like to read it.

Lauren: I would definitely love to read about babies in space standardising English-Russian pidgin into a creole.


Excerpt from Episode 7 of Lingthusiasm: Kids these days aren’t ruining language. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.

See also the original Space Pidgin quote from Episode 1, or listen to the full episode.

(via lingthusiasm)

We didn’t realize that Space Pidgin would be such a popular theme when we started @lingthusiasm, but hey, give the people what they want.

26 May 12:40

How I Wrote My Novel in Gmail

by Zan Romanoff

It always had a reader.

Image: Rob Sinclair

In the winter of 2014 I had an idea for a book so perfect and absurd that I stopped in the middle of a sidewalk to laugh about it. I’d gotten very immersed in a conspiracy theory about the love lives of the boy band One Direction; I had recently read an article about how teenage girls in fandom could translate the skills they were learning online onto post-collegiate resumes. The two ideas collided in my brain. I imagined girls who’d learned to analyze images for traces of Photoshop in order to ascertain whether Louis Tomlinson was in fact a father turning their skills to a weightier mystery.

I thought: someone should write a young adult novel about a teen girl fan-turned-detective.

Though I had recently sold a young adult novel, I felt very certain that this person should not be me. In the first place, I already had a project: 40,000 or so words whose driving force was a desire to make the metaphor often latent in supernatural stories — the werewolf, he is a stand-in for a the shame of being a gay man! — explicit. (A good idea, but not a good idea for a story, as it turned out.)

But also, I knew this book wasn’t the kind of thing I could write well: caper-y, was the way I described it in an email to my friend Logan about how someone else should write it for me.

In retrospect, of course, I told Logan about it because I didn’t want to be alone with the idea. One of the most infuriating things about writing is how it puts you in a room with nothing but your own judgment to keep you company while you struggle to pull together a first draft. This is difficult no matter what it is a first draft of, but particularly unnerving when it’s a novel, which requires that you sink months — if not years — of your life into its creation, which you can never see the beginning of at the same time as the end. My lizard brain knew perfectly well that the werewolf book wasn’t working, but it couldn’t figure out why. Before I abandoned it, and committed myself to something new, I wanted someone to reassure me: this one is really the one.

There is no such thing as the one; there is no such thing as knowing for sure when you set out on a novel-sized project how it will ultimately end out. But we tell ourselves stories in order to live, or we tell ourselves lies in order to take on projects we find intimidating, anyway, and the thing about Logan was, she wasn’t even lying to me when she said I had to write it, and that she was sure it was going to be good.

Logan truly believed in the book, and in me. Her belief opened up space, and allowed me to look at my work from a different vantage: because now that I’d introduced her to the idea, I owed it to her to follow up. Writing a novel is foolish, selfish, an elaborate guise for telling the world about your dreams. Writing Logan a story she wanted to read would just be fair. (And also: fun.)

But that didn’t mean I could get my mind around how to do it. There were plot problems, or, the problem that I have no great love for writing intricate plots — I can make things happen on the page, absolutely, but the sharp twists a detective story requires are just not my thing. I was also intimidated by the idea of trying to take a serious, diehard conspiracy theorist and quasi-stalker as my main character, and making her likeable — because I wanted this particular girl to be likeable. I wanted to write a book about being a fangirl that was engrossing and heartbreaking, not one that satirized her obsession even the tiniest bit.

How I solved those problems is another essay; the point of this one is, I never would have done it if I hadn’t had someone assuring me — Logan sent me periodic encouraging emails between my initial description of the story, and when I finally surrendered, and started writing it — that she wanted to read it. And, in fact, having a potential audience, one I knew well, helped me reshape my conception of the book. It stopped being about an abstract girl, a clever plot, and started being about how I could say to my friend, who was also a fan: can you believe what’s happening to us?

When I did start writing what became GRACE AND THE FEVER, I got excited about it the way I’d gotten excited about that first, instinctual idea: giddy, almost. Writing its first chapter was almost as fun as emailing Logan about the actual Direction’s shenanigans. So I sent it to her.

“What happens next?” she asked.

I sent her another chapter in answer.

The book is written very much in the tradition of the fan fiction about my favorite boy band that I read growing up: what’s known as self-insert RPF, or fic in which a character much like the author meets a real-life celebrity. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the way I wrote it is reminiscent of how many fic writers’ process works: my friend Verity, for instance, a prolific fic author, will sometimes send me snippets of her works in progress, scenes she’s proud of, or thinks I will like, or wants a particular piece of feedback on.

Sometimes I’ll make a suggestion but mostly, my role is as a cheerleader. That’s a bit of fandom linguistics, actually, the defined role of cheerleader, as opposed to the betas who will suggest edits when the whole thing is done. (Some fic writers will even post their WIPs publicly as they write them, which has always amazed me, the high-wire audacity of assuming that you can know in the first chapter what you’ll need to set up for the last. I have yet to write a book where I don’t end up inserting and removing characters throughout the editing process.)

Logan and I exchanged just under 200 emails in the next two months; I sent her near-daily updates to the story. Her encouragement bolstered me, but also, just the fact of her kept me from getting too far into my head about anything; it kept the priority on making this a book someone would be dying to get back to in her inbox every morning. I can still read the book and break it into emails; its beats were established by the rhythm of my writing time (8:00 am-10:00 am on weekday mornings before going in to work), and the imperative to make sure that every day Logan would write back and say oh my GOD but what happens NEXT?

There’s a lot of conversation among writers about why we write, and particularly among novelists about why we write longform fiction, a difficult, demanding discipline which can feel out of step in a hyperlinked, tl;dr literary landscape. Writing GRACE AND THE FEVER reminded me that the reason I write novels is because I love to tell stories, the longer the better, and because the breadth a novel allows can ultimately wrap up plot while also leaving the reader with tons of larger questions about the lives she’s just been immersed in.

I write for myself but I publish in the hope of finding readers, which can make the writing feel tenuous — it’s tempting, always, to look past the page to imagine who might eventually be looking. It’s far too easy to imagine that reader being cranky, saying what do you think you’re doing, which is always what you’re saying to yourself anyway — or else to imagine them getting bored and wandering off, which makes you get bombastic on the page. Part of the trick of writing is getting comfortable with your own voice in your head, but the other part is remembering that, when you’re done with it, it has to engage other people, too. Writing is a monologue, and publishing is a conversation. Navigating both terrains requires nerve and practice but is always helped along by luck.

GRACE was incredibly lucky: it always had a reader, someone sympathetic and generous, willing to take my hand and keep me focused. Someone who said, I love the way you tell this story. Who said, every morning: Can you tell me what happens next?

How I Wrote My Novel in Gmail was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

26 May 11:45

The relationship between gesture and thinking/speaking


It’s easy to see the relationship between speech and gesture; people move their hands while they speak. There is also a more fundamental relationship between gestures and thinking, a relationship that is possibly even more primary for gesture than that with speech. Earlier this year a Sotaro Kita, Martha W. Alibali and Mingyuan Chu published a paper that brings together a lot of excellent research to discuss the role that gesture has in thinking and speaking. As Kita tweeted when it was was published in January, this paper brings together 20 years of research and 10 years of writing. The authors draw on an extensive background literature, which includes their own extensive and excellent research (you may remember Kita’s work from the ‘Blind people gesture’ post, and Alibali’s work featured in an earlier post about unhelpful gesturing).

If you only read one survey paper on the relationship between gesture and language, this is certainly a good one. But reading papers about gesture is my day job, not yours, so I’ve summarised some of the good bits for you.

Introducing the ‘Gesture-for-Conceptualisation’ model

In this paper the authors argue that the main function of gesture is to help the speaker conceptualise what they are thinking about, and therefore going to speak about. The authors argue that gestures are “physical actions of a special type” (p. 1), which means that gesturing about moving a mug of coffee is linked to the action of moving coffee as much as it is talking about moving the coffee, and that makes gestures particularly important in conceptualising tasks, and also talking about them.

They argues that there are four main ways gesture affects cognition to help conceputalise thought: (1) activation, (2) manipulation, (3) packaging and (4) exploration. All may occur in the one gesture, or one function may be more dominant at a particular time. I’ll go through each of these briefly. I often talk about the relationship between language and gesture being very close, so at the end I’ll also look at what the authors say about why gesture is at an earlier stage of cognition than spoken language might be. 

Gesture activates cognition: Gesturing while thinking silently

The authors present evidence from experiments that show people gesture when thinking about problems, even if they are not speaking and are by themselves, and that these gestures can help people perform better certain kinds of mental tasks that involve thinking about the manipulation of real or imaginary objects. Being allowed to gesture means people in experiments tend to think out solutions to problems using more space and movement, people who aren’t allowed to gesture tend to use more abstract ways of talking through the problem. This means that gesture plays a more central role in cognition than just being linked to one other cognitive skill, like language or problem-solving, which is how it has been discussed in earlier work.

The authors argue that gesture can help with cognition because it represents information about objects and their manipulation in a more “schematic” way than other cognitive processes, stripping out a lot of potentially unnecessary detail.

Gesture manipulates cognition: People gesture more while dealing with complex spatial/motion information

Not only do people gesture more in these tasks, but in one set of experiments people who performed more gestures do better in later attempts at the task, even when they’re told not to gesture on the second attempt - indicating there is some ongoing benefit to cognition, manipulating their cognitive skills at the task. 

Gesture packages cognition: Changing the way people gesture changes their language

Gesture can package information about space and movement. In one experiment researchers used this to manipulate how people used language to discuss an event. By asking the participants to gesture about specific features of the event, they could also shift the language that the speakers used. Also, the more information that there is to be packaged up into speech in a task, the more gestures people tended to use, to help them package up all that information.

Gesture explores cognition: Trying out ideas before you even say them

There have been a number of studies that show that when people are learning about a new concept (particularly school-age children), there is a phase where there is a ‘mismatch’ between what they’re talking about and their gesture. For example when a young child sees water from a tall, narrow glass poured into a wider glass, the child will often say there is less water in the second glass, because the level is lower. If the child makes a hand-spreading gesture while saying this though, it is an indication that the child is beginning to understand that there’s actually the same volume of water, held in a different shape. Difficult tasks can lead to a speech/gesture mismatch, which the authors argue is the brain trying out ideas that aren’t expressed in speech. They also suggest that half-finished gestures may be an indication that the brain is abandoning ideas,  indicating unsuccessful exploration.

My favourite quote from this part of the paper:

“The key features of these phenomena are that the microgenesis of ideas in gesture is, to some extent, independent from (and blazing the trail for) the microgenesis of ideas in speech, and that ideas develop in gesture via a process of trial and error” (p. 9)

Gesture is linked to other ‘practical actions’

The authors argue that gestures share features in common with other practical actions that we do with our hands and other parts of the body. They make a number of observations on this point:

  • People gesture more when talking/thinking about things that involve movement
  • Gesture rates also affected by how easy it would be to manipulate the objects being gestured about. In their example a picture of a spiky mug propted fewer gestures in a rotation task than a smooth mug (because who the heck would want to touch an ouchy mug?)
  • If people have experience manipulating the object being discussed then they gesture about it more

But, they note that there are some extra things that gestures can do for cognition that actions don’t. Firstly, because gestures have this ‘schematising’ function, they have a stronger influence on thought and they’re better for making generalisation while making relevant information more flexible and efficient. Secondly the authors argue that gestures can affect through more strongly than actions. In a map recollection task people who gestured to remember the route did better than people who drew it. They also discussed research on expert users of abacuses, who calculate faster with an imaginary abacus BECAUSE REAL ONES SLOW THEM DOWN TOO MUCH . Kita, Alibali and Chu didn’t write that all in capitals, but I’m still blown away by the idea that reality is holding back calculation.

They do note that it’s possible that sometimes schematic representations in gesture may not have the relevant information, or be distracting, but setting up an experiment to confirm this would be difficult.

But Lauren, don’t you always say that gesture and speech are closely linked???

I do, and they are. Kita, Alibali and Chu discuss this too:

“We argue that this occurs because the action generation system and the speech production system are highly interactive. As proposed by Kita and Özyürek (2003), the two systems can exchange information and align their contents. Thus, the contents of concurrent gesture and speech tend to converge.” (p. 11)

That is, gesture and speech are very closely related, but before that gesture and thought are very very closely related, and because speech is also linked to thought, it all tends to come together so quickly that it’s taken them decades of experiments to start pulling these relationships apart.

They also discuss how their model fits with some other research that looks at the relationship between gesture and language. For example, it’s been observed that gesture helps with retrieving words when you can’t quite remember them. The authors of this paper argue that this fits with their model, because the ‘activation’ function of gesture can retrieve a representation of an item or a feature of it, which then activates associated information such as the name for it.

There has been a great deal of research that indicates that gestures are useful for the people that we are speaking to, not just our own thinking. The authors of this paper don’t deny that that may be the case, instead arguing that it is possible for gestures to be both self-oriented and have a communicative function. Indeed, the schematisation that is beneficial for the speaker’s cognition may also be what is so useful about them for an interlocutor.

They also argue that this still works for objects that we have no direct experience interacting with, because we are also able to navigate a  “virtual environment” of experiences.

One final great quote from the paper that sums it all up

“By schematizing spatio-motoric information for these four functions, activation, manipulation, packaging and exploration, gesture facilitates cognitive processing and generates novel ideas, strategies and solutions that are easy to process, adaptable, and generalizable.” (p. 14)


Kita, S., Alibali, M. W., & Chu, M. (2017, February 27). How Do Gestures Influence Thinking and Speaking? The Gesture-for-Conceptualization Hypothesis. Psychological Review. Advance online publication.

This link between gesture and thought reminds me of a previous Superlinguo post about how people who are blind from birth still gesture when they speak

26 May 11:44

New paint colors invented by neural network


I'd seen the final image shared on twitter, but this has some of the process of how the neural network got to that, which I found interesting.


So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living. But given that the human eye can see millions of distinct colors, sooner or later we’re going to run out of good names. Can AI help?

For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?

One way I have of checking on the neural network’s progress during training is to ask it to produce some output using the lowest-creativity setting. Then the neural network plays it safe, and we can get an idea of what it has learned for sure.

By the first checkpoint, the neural network has learned to produce valid RGB values - these are colors, all right, and you could technically paint your walls with them. It’s a little farther behind the curve on the names, although it does seem to be attempting a combination of the colors brown, blue, and gray.

By the second checkpoint, the neural network can properly spell green and gray. It doesn’t seem to actually know what color they are, however.

Let’s check in with what the more-creative setting is producing.

…oh, okay.

Later in the training process, the neural network is about as well-trained as it’s going to be (perhaps with different parameters, it could have done a bit better - a lot of neural network training involves choosing the right training parameters). By this point, it’s able to figure out some of the basic colors, like white, red, and grey:

Although not reliably.

In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

  1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey.
  2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.

The neural network figuring out white and red is tantalizingly close to how the first colour distinction that human languages tend to develop is between light and dark and red, although grey is one of the latest colour distinctions to show up. I wonder if you could tweak the parameters such that the neural network would learn to split colours in the same order that human languages do (or in a radically different trajectory). 

16 May 09:43

A simple truth

by Mo

Source: Facebook, with thanks to Lynda.

13 May 17:53

Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan”

by Erin Robertson

(Why? It’s sexist, of course.)

Image: Eric Kilby

In April, the Cincinnati Reds “trolled” the Cubs with an in-game Bandwagon Cam showing Cubs fans in attendance. The video clip to start it off? Two young female fans labeled “Life long Cubs fans since 2016.”

Now, they took it all in good stride, and of course, the whole bit was in jest — a jab at a very, very good team from one that’s, well, pretty bad. But, even so, what happened to those two young women? That’s my nightmare.

In 2005, I moved back to Chicago from California. That October, my University of Chicago dormmates and I huddled around a grainy, rabbit-eared television as the White Sox swept the Astros in the World Series.

Zoom in. That’s a White Sox Winning Ugly cap on my bib.

I come from a White Sox family, with a grandfather who worked for the organization for decades and memorabilia that blended into the background of our house’s decor. Still, I hadn’t followed as a kid, just lazily soaked in the baseball waters that surrounded me, and I feared being seen as a casual fan, a latcher-on. I quietly saved a copy of the Chicago Tribune in my memories box and returned to my normal patterns as though I were still living in a pre-White Sox World Series Champions world. I didn’t dare dream of becoming a real fan because I was just a lifelong fan since 2005 — this despite the fact that I literally wore a White Sox bib as a baby.

Google “bandwagon fans women” and one of the first things you get is this, about all of the female fans flocking to rugby during the most recent World Cup year. But are they really “bandwagon” fans? Or are they fans historically shut out of a locker room culture that only lets them in for high-profile events? Being a female fan is inherently fraught. There are the quizzes that don’t end unless you can list the entire makeup of the NL East in 10 seconds or less, the pink v-neck jerseys, and bedazzled hats — all of which you’ll get mocked for, even though there’s no way to avoid them.

So, being a new fan as a female — perhaps a new fan to a team that is suddenly hot, because why wouldn’t you want to follow a World Series Champion? — is nearly impossible. For one, a new fan probably won’t know that the Expos were once in the NL East, a tidbit of information that hasn’t enhanced my understanding of the game at all. For another, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that just around one quarter of one percent of high school baseball participants were girls during the 2014–2015 school year. (I’ll let you imagine what that statistic might be for America’s current reigning pastime, football.) And softball, where we divert eager female little leaguers starting in adolescence, is a drastically different sport requiring an entirely distinct mechanical form and style of play, as has been pointed out by women time and again. What all of this creates is a culture that often cuts off women from participating in baseball fandom, and then sneers at them for their lack of knowledge.

Meanwhile, the MLB Commissioner is pushing an aggressive agenda to rebuild major league baseball’s shrinking fanbase through controversial, and somewhat dubious, initiatives. At the same time, the organizations he presides over are promoting an atmosphere that punishes new fans just for being new. Following the Bandwagon Cam, FanRag Sport’s Alex Solokoff put out a rallying cry in favor of bandwagon fans, joining an increasing line of pro-bandwagon sports writers who argue against the condescending attitude traditional fans have toward their newer counterparts. If we add in that many of those new fans — like the lifelong Cubs fans since 2016 — are women trying to break into a good ol’ boys sports club, the whole thing appears even more toxic.

I can’t explain the creepy doll, but I can explain the awesome ruffled Chicago jersey.

I am here for criticizing Cubs fandom. I’m a South Side fan, after all. But you can do that without criticizing new fans: Cubs fans are notoriously ripe for the picking. The slipping MLB needs bandwagon fans, and our society needs to stop criticizing women for enthusiastically participating in things they haven’t before had access to.

This year, my mom and I sat in record-breaking Arizona heat to watch the prospect-heavy White Sox at Spring Training. It took me a decade, but I’d finally embraced my passion for the team I’d grown up with: a “true” fan who now closely follows every game, despite how far the Good Guys are from World Series contention. So, yeah, it’s possible those two girls the Reds profiled are bandwagon fans. So am I.

Erin Robertson is a freelance editor and writer living in California.

Ban the Concept of the “Bandwagon Fan” was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

12 May 17:41

Labels are not the Enemy

by (Jen)
I made a little web graphic about something that keeps coming up in conversations around bisexuality both in person and online.

While labels are optional, too often they seem to catch the blame for another thing's misdeeds.

(shareable online from here on twitter, here on tumblr, here on facebook)
11 May 10:10

auli’i cravalho’s name


for those of you having difficulty pronouncing her name, the apostrophe in her first name is not actually an apostrophe! its a bit of hawaiian punctuation called an ʻokina. because hawaiian tends to be very vowel-heavy and can have multiple consecutive vowel sounds with no consonants dividing them, the ‘okina serves an indicator of a pause between vowel sounds (a glottal stop if we’re being technical).

so auli’i would be pronounced like OW-LEE-EE rather than OW-LEE. cravalho is likely an anglicization of the portuguese surname, carvalho, which makes sense because hawaii has a pretty large portuguese population. (for example, i have a friend who’s last name, loui, is a messed up attempt at anglicizing the chinese name, liu).

usually the ‘okina is removed from hawaiian words outside of hawaii to avoid confusing people who are unfamiliar with the language’s conventions. for example, hawaii would actually be hawai’i, ohana would be ‘ohana, and luau would be lu’au (there’s actually supposed to be a straight bar above the first ‘u’ called a kahako, which lengthens and emphasizes the vowel, but im too lazy to try to format that lol).

and that concludes this linguistic primer on hawaiian punctuation, have a great day y’all.

11 May 01:18

Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of...

Linguist twitter had some fun with the wordplay possibilities of the newly-elected French president, Emmanuel Macron

11 May 01:11

It’s harder to follow the various forks in a conversational...

It’s harder to follow the various forks in a conversational thread on tumblr than on twitter, but maybe that’s why we need the word “elsefork” anyway

03 May 01:35

Why Are Women Obsessed With True Crime?

by anna dorn

There are TV shows, podcasts, and now entire channels dedicated to female-focused murders—is it one big revenge fantasy?

Image: Lwp Kommunikáció

During the season finale of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” Queen Bee Stassi Schroeder confronts Cool Girl Ariana Madix about why Ariana doesn’t like her (Stassi’s opener: “Why don’t you ever put me in your snapchats?”) The girls are beyond drunk, and Ariana responds by crying about her upcoming cocktail book. Stassi is thrilled to see Ariana vulnerable and comforts her, which Ariana appreciates. Beginning to show a soft side toward Stassi, Ariana says during a conciliatory cheers: “And don’t say I’m mean. I’m not mean. I’ll fucking kill you.”

Stassi takes a greedy sip of her beer, lighting up: “How would you do it?”

Ariana responds, “Well, it would be slow.” Stassi chuckles, delighted. “Because if I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make it hurt.”

“Well maybe we have more in common than we think,” Stassi says, “because I like the thought of murdering people too.”

“I mean, if we couldn’t go to jail — ” Ariana begins.

“ — Hashtag murder,” Stassi interrupts. “For life. But like the number — ”

Now the women are speaking simultaneously, outlining the hashtag with their fingers: “4-L-Y-F-E.”

Stassi goes, “are we the same person?” The girls break out into wild laughter.

From self-proclaimed addictions to “Law & Order” and “My Favorite Murder,” to bizarre drunken reality TV power plays, it seems women are obsessed with murder. Or at least the idea of it. I’m a criminal defense attorney who has worked on murder cases, and I fully understand the tendency toward dark humor when dealing with traumatic subject matter: it’s sometimes necessary to stay sane. But it’s always struck me as odd the way women flippantly and delightedly confess an obsession with murder, as though revealing a salacious sexual fetish. And when Stassi and Ariana simultaneously uttered “#Murder4Lyfe,” I knew I needed to figure out what the hell was going on.

A 2010 study published by Social Psychological and Personality Science found that higher numbers of women are fans of true crime than men. Accordingly, crime fiction shows like “Law & Order: SVU,” “CSI,” and “Bones,” all boast a majority of women viewers. (Hell, Taylor Swift even named her cat Olivia Benson after “Law & Order”’s protagonist, and then went on to cast the actress Mariska Hartigay in her “Bad Blood” video.) Investigation Discovery (ID), a network that features documentary-style true crime shows mostly of a violent nature, is one of women’s most-watched cable networks on television. The female-focused Oxygen Network recently rebranded to focus on true-crime programming in order to remain competitive, phasing out shows like “Bad Girls Club” in favor of weekly podcasts like “Martinis and Murder.” The podcast “My Favorite Murder,” which is hosted by two women, hit the number 1 spot on the iTunes comedy list just five months after launching in the beginning of 2016.

A recent Atlantic article attributed women’s interest in “My Favorite Murder” and similar media to the “shadow hypothesis,” or the idea that the fear of sexual assault pervades women’s thinking and makes us more fearful generally. While it is unlikely that we or someone we know will be murdered by a stranger, it very likely we or someone we know has been or will be subjected to sexual violence from an intimate partner. Francine Prose wrote that beneath the “frothy, sexy” exterior of HBO’s recent hit “Big Little Lies,” the show conveys “a message about the prevalence of overt and hidden violence against women.” And even if we aren’t subjected to explicit violence, scholar Andrea Dworkin wrote that “penetrative intercourse is, by its nature, violent;” Catherine MacKinnon argued that it is “difficult to distinguish” rape from ordinary intercourse “under conditions of male dominance.”

One theory for the popularity of these shows among women is that after years of social conditioning to be agreeable and passive in the face of constant aggressions from the men they know, watching unfamiliar male perpetrators swiftly and harshly punished by the criminal justice system is a compelling narrative. Furthermore, women can position themselves as the aggressors (in a fictional world where they can “get away with it”) — a la Stassi and Ariana — for the same reason: a revenge fantasy or a sort of inverse Freudian sublimation of the threat.

The Atlantic article declared that women are drawn to these shows and podcasts as a way to ease our anxiety and to prepare us for real-life threats. In 2015, Julianne Escobedo Shepard chronicled her own ID addiction for Jezebel, describing a summer in which she watched the network “in what was almost a state of hypnosis.” As she “became more enthralled,” the “anxiety kicked in” — her dreams became filled with “vague threats in dark shrouds,” her days spent latching locks, “convinced that it was my fate to die horribly at the hands of an evil stranger with a violent past.” The words felt familiar as I read them, as I recall a similar summer — one in which I spent my days with my childhood best friend and true crime addict. Together, we would watch Dateline, 48 Hours, SVU for full days while nibbling dry cereal under blankets on the couch.

I thought the habit was harmless. In fact, I felt closer to my friend. Then one night I left her house to get sushi and became convinced someone in the restaurant was hatching a plan to kill me. My brain concocted an intricate plot, compelling me to wait in the bathroom until I could see his car leave through a crack in the window. I had developed true crime anxiety and, like Escobedo Shepard, I realized it was time to take it “down a notch.” But without the binge-watching, I no longer wanted to watch these shows at all. The obsession was part of the fun.

Psychology Today declared that from a neurological perspective, true crime narratives can be addictive to viewers:

People [] receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing the terrible deeds of a serial killer. Adrenaline is a hormone that produces a powerful, stimulating and even addictive effect on the human brain[….] The euphoric effect of serial killers on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.

Escobedo Shepard spoke to a fellow ID Addict from Florida, who admitted to watching the network “all day every day.” She explained the shows keep her “on her guard — especially being a single woman, it keeps me more aware to know what to watch out for.” Anna Breslaw likewise told The Atlantic that she “exorcis[es]” her “anxiety through obsessively reading about true crime.”

Social scientist Amanda Vicary worries that indulging a true crime addiction will only increase viewers’ anxiety, in turn creating “vicious cycle.” Vicary believes the media helps feed this paranoia: “we hear about women getting raped and killed, and we want to know more — possibly as an unconscious way to help us survive if something were to happen to us or to prevent something from happening — and in turn, we end up reading more and more about women being killed, fueling the paranoia.” The “My Favorite Murder” hosts feed this paranoia by concluding at the end of every show: “stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”

“My Favorite Murder”’s implicit thesis is that by being smart and fierce, women can protect ourselves from random attacks from rapists and murderers. The hosts have recounted the story of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, who would lure his female victims by pretending to have a broken arm and needing help carrying his bags. Essentially, he attracted his female victims by playing into our conditioning to be polite. Accordingly, “Fuck politeness” is emblazoned on podcast merch.

While the idea that women should eschew their training to be agreeable in order to protect ourselves can be a powerful feminist statement, it becomes dangerous when we’re told the consequence is random attacks from serial killers. One of the hosts of “My Favorite Murder” frequently admits to rarely leaving the house. If these programs create anxiety to the point that women end up staying inside, they paradoxically reaffirm women’s place in the home — encouraging the very power imbalance that renders women vulnerable in the first place. Studies show that women are more likely to fear violent crime, despite that statistically men are more likely to be victims. Likewise, in the most publicized cases, the victim is a middle class white woman saved by a white man, and as Tara McKelvey wrote for the BBC, the “perception of victimhood is partly a media creation.”

Author Ariana Reines powerfully concluded in her blurb of Joni Murphy’s 2016 novel Double Teenage, which follows the lives of two girls coming of age in the 1990s: “Are dead women the only kind our culture wants or understands?” Early in the novel, the protagonist watches “Law & Order” every week with her father. She falls into the “comforting rhythm” of a “brutal attack” followed by a “swift rotation of justice.” I recently spoke to Murphy, who called the weekly procedural a “systems project” that repeatedly affirms that the cops and the DA are “doing their best” and “they know how to find the guilty person.” This is particularly comforting in a world where a Stanford athlete drunkenly rapes an unconscious woman found in an alley and is disciplined as leniently as though he were caught underage drinking. But anyone who has worked in or even read about criminal defense knows the way true crime shows portray the justice system is gravely unrealistic. In many murder cases, guilt is elusive. There are rarely eyewitnesses; even if there are, memory is imperfect. Forensic science is unreliable. There is no obvious “good guy,” no one is “evil.” Victims and perpetrators alike are poor victims of a system that repeatedly fails to protect them.

Murphy sees “Law & Order” and its spinoffs as offering “utter predictability” where none normally exists — “It is very black and white, a world without much nuance or history or deep humanity.” She also noted that shows like “Law & Order” are told from a male perspective, meaning that women watching “must watch through the male gaze to see characters they might identify with.” The general message these shows is: “you must trust the (male) structures to solve the crimes that will inexplicably happen to you.”

The tongue-in-cheek approach of My Favorite Murder, Martinis & Murder, #Murder4Lyfe is a turn away from the earnest “black-and-white” justice of “Law & Order.” Stassi and Ariana flip the narrative so that they position themselves not with the victim, but with the perpetrator. A recent interview with the My Favorite Murder girls played out similarly:

“As to the future of My Favorite Murder, well… “I think I want to start killing people,” Kilgariff deadpans. “I could get away with it, too.”

“Start with me! That’s the final episode,” jokes Hardstark.

But all versions derive from the same place: a fantasy about experiencing agency, having control over what is done with and to our bodies, unleashing the aggression we’ve been conditioned to keep bottled up. The problem is they’re all stuck in the “victim/aggressor mode” — as Murphy told me: “Liberation […] can’t just be a switching but a reorganization and move away from these binaries that cause suffering.” In an era in which the threat to women’s bodies is more intense than ever, it’s time we start examining women’s addiction to terror-inducing true crime programming — in which a fictitiously efficient and male-dominated justice system enacts revenge over dead women — with a more critical eye.

Anna Dorn is a writer and attorney living in Los Angeles.

Why Are Women Obsessed With True Crime? was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 May 01:22

Why Not This Idea: Dogs Can Talk For 25 Minutes Per Day

by Kelly Conaboy

This sounds like a very Andrew idea.

Just to check in.


I was thinking about this last week. Why aren’t dogs able to talk for 25 minutes per day? They should be allowed. It’s not much to ask. This way you would be able to check in and see how their day was, among other things.

Well, OK. Right away you know what the problem is. If dogs could talk for 25 minutes per day, would they be aware of the fact that they can only talk for 25 minutes per day throughout the rest of the day and feel trapped inside of their own minds until they’re finally allowed to briefly speak? Well, no. You’re in luck. No. Everything would be normal the rest of the time. They would just be their normal dog selves, until suddenly they were able to speak to you for 25 minutes.

Would they have a dog brain during the speaking time, or would they have more of a human brain? Scientifically speaking. And what language would they speak? Two good questions. They would have sort of a combo dog/human brain, so they were able to communicate with you while maintaining a certain dog-ness, and they would speak whatever language their owner speaks.

When would they speak? Well, this might cause a few hiccups. Normally it would be towards the end of the day but really it wouldn’t have a schedule and you certainly wouldn’t be able to plan for it. If you’re out for the speaking time — maybe you’re at work, or in the shower, or wherever — you’re sunk for that day, and you don’t even know it for sure until the day is over. That would be “ruff,” ;), especially if you needed to talk about something important.

But if you were around for speaking time, not only would the dog be able to communicate how his day was, etc., to you, you would also be able to tell him about your day (he won’t care) and ask him questions. “I heard you do a cough noise earlier. Are you feeling OK?” “Are you sad?” “Am I making your life worse than it would be if you had another person taking care of you, do you think, because maybe I’m not fun enough or you just don’t like me?” “Do you think I’m a failure professionally?” “What about I’ll tell you my age, then you tell me if you think I’m a failure.” “Did you hear that loud bird this morning?” etc.

Dogs could also tattle on their owners if they were mistreating them. Could they tattle on their owners if they saw that their owners were doing something like cheating on their wives? No. But maybe you should be afraid of that anyway, because maybe they could.

Some of you are wondering if, during the speaking time, you would be able to explain commands to the dog that you would otherwise have to teach him through normal dog methods. No. Dogs won’t remember what goes on during the speaking times; you’re not establishing a history this way. It’s just a check-in. You’ll need to teach your dog “sit” the normal dog way. However, when you do speak with him you can compliment him on his sitting.

What else? Maybe you’re worried that your dog won’t like you and that he’ll be mean to you during his 25 minutes. That would be “ruff,” ;), but I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I bet he likes you fine. And if he doesn’t, maybe he can tell you what you’re doing wrong that’s making him hate you and you can fix that about yourself. Maybe you’re annoying, etc. Maybe you’re selfish. It could be very good for you to hear things like this from a dog and then adjust.

If you tell him “I love you” during the talking period, will he understand what you mean? Yes, and over time he will remember the feeling he gets when you tell him, so when you say it throughout the day he will also understand. This may seem like it doesn’t align with the rule that you can’t teach dogs things during the speaking time because they can’t remember, but actually it has nothing to do with that. OK? It’s just about feeling, and love.

So, that’s the idea.


Why Not A One-Mug Microwave?
Why Not Ten-Ball Soccer?

Why Not This Idea: Dogs Can Talk For 25 Minutes Per Day was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 May 01:18

Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code

Discovery May Help Decipher Ancient Inca String Code:


A discovery made in a remote mountain village high in the Peruvian Andes suggests that the ancient Inca used accounting devices made of knotted, colored strings for more than accounting.

The devices, called khipus (pronounced kee-poos), used combinations of knots to represent numbers and were used to inventory stores of corn, beans, and other provisions. Spanish accounts from colonial times claim that Inca khipus also encoded history, biographies, and letters, but researchers have yet to decipher any non-numerical meaning in the chords and knots.

Now a pair of khipus protected by Andean elders since colonial times may offer fresh clues for understanding how more elaborate versions of the devices could have stored and relayed information.


Anthropologist Sabine Hyland studies a khipu board, a colonial-era invention that incorporated earlier Inca technology.

“What we found is a series of complex color combinations between the chords,” says Sabine Hyland, professor of anthropology at St. Andrews University in Scotland and a National Geographic Explorer. “The chords have 14 different colors that allow for 95 unique chord patterns. That number is within the range of symbols in logosyllabic writing systems.”

Hyland theorizes that specific combinations of colored strings and knots may have represented syllables or words. Her analysis of the khipus appears in the journal Current Anthropology.


Hyland made her discovery in the Andean village of San Juan de Collata when village elders invited her to study two khipus the community has carefully preserved for generations. Village leaders said the khipus were “narrative epistles about warfare created by local chiefs,” Hyland reports.

The khipus were stored in a wooden box that until recently was kept secret from outsiders. In addition to the khipus, the box contained dozens of letters dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Most of the documents are official correspondence between village leaders and the Spanish colonial government concerning land rights.

Spanish chroniclers noted that Inca runners carried khipus as letters, and evidence suggests that the Inca composed khipu letters to ensure secrecy during rebellions against the Spanish, according to Hyland.


A khipu from the Andean village of San Juan de Collata may contain information about the village’s history.

“The Collata khipus are the first khipus ever reliably identified as narrative epistles by the descendants of their creators,” Hyland writes in her analysis. She notes that they are larger and more complex than typical accounting versions, and unlike most khipus, which were made of cotton, the Collata khipus were made from the hair and fibers of Andean animals, including vicuna, alpaca, guanaco, llama, deer, and the rodent vizcacha.

Animal fibers accept and retain dyes better than cotton, and so they provided a more suitable medium for khipus that used color as well as knots to store and convey information.

In fact several variables—including color, fiber type, even the direction of the chords’ weave or ply—encode information, villagers told Hyland, so that reading the khipus requires touch as well as sight.

Hyland cites a Spanish chronicler who claimed that khupus made from animal fiber “exhibited a diversity of vivid colors and could record historical narratives with the same ease as European books.”


The Collata khipus are believed to date from the mid-18th century, more than 200 years after Spanish colonizers first arrived in 1532. This raises the question whether they are a relatively recent innovation, spurred on by contact with alphabetic writing, or whether they bear a close similarity to earlier narrative khipus.

“These findings are historically very interesting, but time is a big problem,” says Harvard anthropologist Gary Urton. “Whether or not we can take these findings and project them into the past, that remains the big question.”

A few years ago, Urton and Peruvian archaeologist Alejandro Chudiscovered a trove of khipus in what may have been a khipu workshop or possibly a repository of Inca records.


Deciphering patterns hidden within the devices may eventually become the work of computers, Urton says. He and his Harvard colleagues maintain a digital repository called the Khipu Database that categorizes images, descriptions, and comparisons of more than 500 of the artifacts.

The Inca at their height may have made thousands of khipus, perhaps even hundreds of thousands. But archaeologists suspect that natural deterioration and European colonizers destroyed most of the devices. Fewer than 1,000 are known to exist today.

Hyland plans to return to Peru in July to resume her research. Last summer, on her last day of fieldwork, she met an elderly woman who said she remembered using khipus as a young girl. But before Hyland could ask more questions, the woman darted away to tend to her livestock.

Hyland’s goal is not only to solve a historical mystery, she says, but also to bring to light the “incredible intellectual accomplishments of Native American people.”

21 Apr 21:44

"Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms..."

Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms are turquoise, orange, and pink.

Lauren: Yeah, because that’s not covering a lot. I mean, it might be covering a lot of the colour space in your wardrobe but not for all speakers.

Gretchen: Admittedly there is a lot of turquoise  in my wardrobe.

Lauren: So it’s not surprising that late stage colours like pink and orange have really clear and recent etymologies in English compared to something like red or green or white. I remember when I learned this stuff in undergrad a friend of mine in the class just would not believe that you could cover brown, purple, and grey in one colour. She was just like “how could you have one word that covers all of those three??” And then one day she came to class and she was so excited and was like, “look, look at the scarf that I bought!” And it was true, you couldn’t tell, in certain contexts it looked brown and some contexts it looked purple and in some contexts it looked grey and that was her, like, theoretical proof those colours were close enough that it made sense to put them in one word.

Gretchen: Well the scarf actually brings us into an interesting point about why languages developed colour terms, which is that there’s often some relationship between produced goods whether that’s dyed fabrics or gemstones or other types of processed goods that people make into specific colours. Because if you’re thinking about the sky for example, you know, we say all the time the sky is blue, but it’s really not necessary to specify that the sky is blue. You can say the sky is dark or light, the sky is cloudy or clear, and if it’s clear and its light of course it’s blue! What other colour is it going to be? Or you can say something like the tree is living or the tree is dying, you don’t necessarily need to specify the tree is is green or that it’s red. In nature a lot of things only really come in one specific colour. Whereas once you start making cars you don’t say this car is ripe or it’s not ripe, or this car is cloudy or it’s clear, or this dress that you’re going to make is ripe or unripe or that this basket that you’re weaving is dyed a particular colour. Once you start dying stuff in colours it becomes more useful to talk about a finer variations or if you send someone to buy for you a particular thing in particular colour may want to specify exactly what that colours going be once you start colouring stuff artificially.

Lauren: So certain technological innovations can give rise to the necessity for finer distinctions and colour terms.

Gretchen: And some colour terms are etymologically linked to specific things that created those colours. Purple, for example, is linked to the name of the particular mollusc that was used to make purple dye back around ancient Greece.

Gretchen: I came across a women in Eastern Europe where specifically the older women had more colour terms related to traditional dyeing methodology for textiles, whereas the younger women had become disconnected from traditional dyeing terminology for textiles and could no longer identify words like madder and russet and stuff like this that are used in traditional terms – they tended to use more industrialised colour terms. This seems to be one of those “if you use it you get more words for it” areas, like with any specialised domain.

Lauren: Yeah, there’s a professional vocabulary distinction to be made there as well. I do remember reading something, and again we’re into uncited anec-data here, but I do remember reading something that said professionals can discriminate with more technical words, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they see more colours than people who don’t have these professional words. So you might give people two similar colour chips. And someone who does fabric work will say “that’s magenta and that’s russet,” whereas someone who doesn’t have to discriminate will be like, “Well, this one’s rustier and this one’s richer red.” They can still see the difference. It’s not like not having the word prevents you. Or, people who I’m friends with in Nepal who predominantly speak a language that doesn’t have a blue-green distinction, they still see the distinction, they still prefer fabric in one colour over another one.

Gretchen: Yeah, if you’re painting your bedroom yellow, you’re not going to be like, “I dunno, all yellows look the same to me” – you probably care whether it’s like a lemon yellow or a butter yellow or a golden yellow.

- Excerpt from Episode 5 of Lingthusiasm: Colour words around the world and inside your brain. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.
(via lingthusiasm)
05 Apr 00:17

Reasons You Were Paid Less Than A Male Coworker With The Same Job, Ranked

by Kelly Conaboy

A listicle without commentary.


9. This was an oversight, more due to our inattentiveness than to anything else. I hope you understand that.

8. And I want you to know that this isn’t some wide-reaching thing; there isn’t a pattern of women being under-compensated at our company. This is an isolated incident and we’re going to see if there’s some way to rectify it, at least somewhat.

7. But, at the same time, I do want you to know that although you have more experience, technically, that’s not all that’s taken into account when determining someone’s salary. People have different tasks and roles and needs, etc. You understand.

6. I’m not saying that justifies anything, but I wouldn’t take your salary so personally. There are other things to consider.

5. What I’m trying to say is, it’s not because your coworker “is a man.” Again, not that the other considerations taken into account to justify paying your male coworker with the same job more than what we pay you justifies anything!

4. But it’s not something to get upset about. And we’re going to see if we can try to do something that might fix this somewhat, in the coming months.

3. What I need you to remember, though, is that you have a great job here. This isn’t something you’re going to be able to get somewhere else; what we offer you is invaluable.

2. This isn’t to say that you should be “grateful,” we wouldn’t say that. But you should think about what leaving would mean for your career.

1. And anyway, he negotiated!

Reasons You Were Paid Less Than A Male Coworker With The Same Job, Ranked was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

03 Apr 09:20

speibecken: Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their...


Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their speech are actually signs of highly evolved communication. When we use words like so, I guess, like, actually, and I mean, we are sending signals to the listener to help them figure out what’s new, what’s important, or what’s funny. We’re connecting with them. “Rather than being weakeners or signs of fuzziness of mind, as is often said, they create cohesion and coherence between what speaker and hearer together need to accomplish — understanding and sharing,” Lakoff says. “This is the major job of an articulate social species. If women use these forms more, it is because we are better at being human.”

Language is not always about making an argument or conveying information in the cleanest, simplest way possible. It’s often about building relationships.

A quote from the article “Can We Just Like, Get Over the Way Women Talk?” which is worth reading in full.

03 Apr 09:09


by Ben Zimmer

There's a wonderful new podcast on linguistic matters that I highly recommend to all Language Log readers. It's called Lingthusiasm, and it's appropriately billed as "a podcast that's enthusiastic about linguistics." The podcast is co-hosted by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. You may know Gretchen from her All Things Linguistic blog or her posts on The (dearly departed) Toast about Internet language. Lauren is a postdoctoral fellow at SOAS and blogs at Superlinguo. There have been six episodes so far, and they're all worth a listen.

    • Episode 6: All the sounds in all the languages – The International Phonetic Alphabet (audio, links)

You can listen on iTunes, SoundcloudYouTube or other podcast apps via rss. Lingthusiasm is also on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Update: If you'd like to support Lingthusiasm, check out their Patreon page.

03 Apr 09:07


by lynneguist

What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity

We've been having some problems with people starting to (jocular Linguist English) peeve about unrelated topics in the comments section. This has upset some readers (and also me, but I'm hardened by 11 years of blogging). More importantly it is against the comments policy, so I've had to resume being a police-y person about it. If you'd like to request a topic for the blog, please feel free to email me (see contact page). If you'd like to just let off opinion-steam, there are lots of places on the web for that. Here, we're trying to get away from the opinions and into the facts.

So, in the interest of the comments policy, I've just deleted a comment on a previous post. Having already checked out whether the assumptions in the comment were fact or fiction, I might as well make it into a blog post. I know that this is a bad idea. I don't want to set up the precedent that topic-changing comments will get immediate blog-treatment. But, it's Saturday morning and my resistance is low.

So, Rob commented on the last blog post:
It's My first time on this blog and as an amateur aficionado of grammar, I love what you've done to the place. I just wanted to share my biggest AmE-BrE bugbear:

My teeth are set a-grinding when I hear the words "tenaciousness", "ferociousness" or any word where there is an "ousness" added, largely by North Americans (to include Canada to a certain extent). I find myself shouting at the screen when I heard it for the first time.

It's not even that "ferociousness" gives a deeper description of the property. You can BE ferocious but should you exhibit ferociousness or display ferocity? I know which one I would rather hear. The same for tenacity. It suggests a certain rawness (I know. Ironic, right?) that "tenaciousness" just detracts from, yet I know the "ousness" phenomenon is grammatically legal. It just sounds lazy to me.

At the risk of inciting a blaze - what does everyone else think?

First, thanks for the compliment, Rob, and I hope we'll see more of you around here. But now I'm a-gonna get grumpy. What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity (and the role of language in forging it) and about cognitive biases in thinking about language and people. This is the theme of the book I'm sending off to the publishers at the end of April (which is not planned for publication till 2018, so [orig. AmE] don't hold your breath!).

As Rob notes, -ness is a productive suffix in English. which means it's legal to put with adjectives, even those Latin/French-derived ones that might be associated with other suffixed noun forms. Plenty of -ous adjectives are mainly nominalized (made into nouns) with -ness -- for example, consciousness, callousness, and righteousness (though that one isn't French/Latin in origin, just French-affected). Then there's suspiciousness--which generally means something different from the related noun suspicion. Those nouns are normal in British and American English, so there's nothing bad about ousness in itself.

In other cases, as Rob notes, there are other, usually French/Latin-derived, nouns that don't use -ness and that often are quite (BrE) different in form to the -ous adjective. But contrary to Rob's presumption, adding -ness to these things does not seem to be a particularly American activity. In the GloWBE corpus, we find similar rates in BrE and AmE for anxiousness (rather than anxiety) and pretentiousness (rather than pretension), for instance.

So what about Rob's examples of tenaciousness and ferociousness? For each of these, GloWBE has a statistically insignificant difference between the two national dialects--5 and 7 in AmE, 6 and 8 in BrE, respectively (raw numbers, from a collection of about 450 million words from each of those countries). These--in both countries--are outnumbered at least 100-fold by their counterparts tenacity and ferocity. In the News on the Web (NoW) corpus, there are 0.4 ferociousnesses per million words (pmw) in AmE, 0.3 in BrE (but .15 in Pakistan, by far the most). For tenaciousness it's 0.2 in AmE and 0.1 in BrE. (Sri Lanka "wins" with 0.4.)

Image from here
What's a bit interesting is that all of the related words (tenacious, tenacity, tenacously, ferocious, etc.) are found (sometimes significantly) more in the British data than the American. For example in NoW, ferocity occurs 1.05 pmw in AmE and 1.71 in BrE, and ferocious 2.29 in AmE and 4.62 in BrE. Americans use the words a fair amount, but Brits use them much more. Lower numbers set up a situation where using a more transparent morphological (i.e. suffixation) process is more likely to happen. (We see that even more strongly in newer Englishes as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.) But the UK/US differences in occurrence in ferocity and tenacity are very small, if they're there at all.

The -ity forms sound more "learnéd" because they are generally learn{ed/t} through exposure, rather than derived (orig. BrE slang) on the fly. People like those -ity nouns because they are a sign of a big vocabulary. But they're also a bit of a (BrE) faff. That is to say, they come at a cognitive cost. You have to keep them in your mental dictionary and understand that they are related to the adjective forms even though they have different vowels (compare the a and o in tenacious/tenacity, ferocious/ferocity). The -ness forms can be derived at the spur of the moment. Anyone has access to them. They are, I'd say, a bit more democratic.
The low, low numbers for the -ousness versions of these nouns mean that you'll hear the -ity versions more in any accent. The similar numbers of -ousness versions probably mean that if you regularly hear one accent more, you're more likely to have heard the -ousness form in that accent. But when we hear something unusual in an accent that isn't ours (and especially in a variety of English that's regularly accused of [AmE] messing with English), we notice it more. There's a lot of confirmation bias going on in people's (orig. AmE) peeves or bugbears about other people's language.

On a final note (oh, I can't believe I've spent the hour I was supposed to spend on something else this morning!), I was surprised to learn that US and UK use precocity at similar rates and much more than precociousness. I always feel like I'm using a joke-word [like the AmE ridiculosity] when I say it.

(P.S. for Rob:  I haven't preserved the link to your Google page from the original comment--but if you want to be identified, let me know and I'll stick a link in.)
03 Apr 08:50

"The experience of becoming conscious of previously unconscious phenomena is one of the principal..."

“The experience of becoming conscious of previously unconscious phenomena is one of the principal joys of linguistic work.”

- Wallace Chafe (via)
03 Apr 00:01

Bringing It Back Up

by Ethel Rohan

On acceptance.

Image: Renato Guerreiro

At breakfast, in a bright, San Francisco diner, over scrambled eggs and golden hash browns, a friend tells me about her blind, anorexic co-worker. “It’s really not about what’s in the mirror, it’s about control,” she finishes. I nod. I get it.

Michael Guiney’s, North Earl Street, Dublin, Ireland. The only shop in the city with clothes big enough to fit my mother. Upstairs, second floor, left at the entrance, and left again into the far, dim, recessed corner. Then straight to the end of the four racks of “plus” polyester dresses, to find the few size 30s on offer, the largest available. This was the mid ’80s, when obese in Ireland was still a rarity.

On good days, those scarce dresses hung in bright colors and bore a pattern — floral or tiny polka dots. Otherwise, it was dark, mute solids. At home, I cut slits into the dresses’ side seams the length of my mother’s deep-set ribcage, for more give. My mother forever wore woolen cardigans, to hide those scissor-ed rips that made her dresses fit.

“Do I look nice?” she asked.

“You look lovely,” I told her.

“Tell me again?” she asked, and again I told my blind mother the color and pattern of the new outfit she was wearing. She listened, smiling, and moved her hands over the buttons of her cardigans and across the thighs of those stretchy dresses with their happy hues, whimsical patterns, and secret gaping sides.

Obese, blind and mentally ill, clothes were one of the few pleasures my mother enjoyed in life. That pleasure, though, was nothing next to how much delight food gave her. She loved to feast on savory in particular, mostly mounds of potatoes spiked with salt and dampened with golden, melting butter. She also favored grease-stained, brown paper bags pregnant with fast food — oily fish burgers or fat, greasy sausages with chunky, salted, vinegar-drenched chips. She enjoyed sweet, too, and in particular chocolate, butterscotch toffee, and any dessert with dollops of fresh cream. Food filled her with good feelings, for a while. She always ate too fast, and with eager, shaky hands, her cheeks bulging. She would eat and eat and still ask, with such hope, “Is there more?”

My mother was terrible at being blind and excellent at being crazy, and both rendered her helpless and dependent. My dad, siblings and I catered to her every need. I, in particular, took care of her grooming. Her hair, nails, make up, right down to tweezing her face and giving her a bath. For practical and safety reasons, my mother sat on a white, plastic orthopedic chair inside the bathtub while I washed her. I can still see her standing naked by the tub, waiting for me to help her step inside the gaping oval of enamel — crouched, her meaty shoulders pulled to her ears, her arms covering her long breasts with an X.

Even when she sat on her chair inside the tub, while I sponged and lathered her body to white, rose-scented foam, she huddled, her arms trying to hide herself. “Relax,” I coaxed. “Sit back.” I eased her shoulders to straight, and lowered her arms so her hands were resting on her lap. Her palms always faced upwards, as if asking for something.

I rinsed the slick soap residue from her pale, bumpy skin with a steady rain of warm water. Her eyes closed, she sighed with feeling.

“Is that nice?” I asked.

“So nice,” she said.

I loved that in those moments she had enough. Loved that I’d given her that much at least.

And I hated it all, too.

As a girl, I was mousey, freckled, and sickly thin. Snappable. People called me beanpole. I looked as if I ate nothing. Like my mother, though, I loved fast food — fat, too-hot French fries and thick, greasy burgers between two white, grilled buns. I also filled myself on cakes, biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, and canned fruit in thick, sugary syrup. I mostly binged in my bedroom, alone and in secret. While I ate — fast, trembling, barely breathing, barely tasting — I felt comforted, rewarded, sated. After, I’d feel swollen. Sickened. Sore. Disgusting. Sometimes I let the food, and all those feelings, stay. More times I put my fingers down my throat and wiggled till I brought myself back to empty. There wasn’t much in my childhood I could control. Not my mother’s illness. Not that a family friend repeatedly molested me. I could, though, control the contents of my stomach.

For over two decades, I struggled with on-again-off-again bouts of binging and purging. When I became pregnant with my first daughter, I made us both a promise. I would never again stuff and empty myself. My daughter deserved better. I was not yet in a place where I believed I deserved better, too. And I stayed true to that oath. Through years of counseling and talk therapy that often felt unbearable (the memories and secrets did not want to be voiced), I made peace with so much — including my mother, my abuser, my body, and food. I put myself back together.

I never could do the same for my mother. She remained dependent for the rest of her days and in the end she wasted away to skin and skeleton. Alzheimer’s gobbled everything.

After breakfast and the bright diner, after I hug my friend goodbye, I sit into my car parked on a sunny, tree-lined street. Just as I turn the key in the engine, I fall back against the driver’s seat. It hits me that it’s even bigger than control. That’s what I should have told my friend. It was about my playing God over one part of myself because I couldn’t bring order to my other, broken parts. Couldn’t rise out of the easier, familiar territory of harm and turn my thoughts and power around to helping and healing myself. I couldn’t until I could.

My mind pivots again and I’m back in my childhood home, inside our small, dim kitchen. My mother sits in her chair at the end of the yellowed, scratched Formica table, her hand blindly searching her empty dinner plate, its face shiny with traces of butter, studded with the last of the salt. “Is there more?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, speaking not of food but of her full and joyful days. “There’s lots more.”

Ethel Rohan’s debut novel is The Weight of Him (St. Martin’s Press, February, 2017). She is also the author of two story collections, Goodnight Nobody and Cut Through the Bone, the former longlisted for The Edge Hill Prize and the latter longlisted for The Story Prize. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, OZY Magazine, BREVITY Magazine, and more. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, she lives in San Francisco where she is a member of the Writers’ Grotto.

Bringing It Back Up was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

15 Mar 06:14

Shaming statistics for the 175

by (Jen)
tw: suicide stats

I'm very - perhaps too - fond of asking why people so rarely look at their actions in the context of "what happens next?"  As Peter Cook might have asked, did A Question Of Sport die in vain?

Back when the same-sex marriage bill was wending its way through parliament, we heard many arguments for and against. Some were coherent. Some were respectable. There's a fun venn diagram to be drawn of which were one, neither or both.

Now, I've just been reading some research from the USA looking at the impacts of same-sex marriage legislation there, where change happened in bursts from state to state over several years.

No, not at the number of weddings and the impact on the sale of top hats and fabulous frocks. One of the other impacts same-sex marriage has had.

It's based on huge sample sizes and shows one of the effects of allowing same-sex marriage nationwide was about 134,000 fewer adolescents attempting suicide each year.  Looking at numbers before and after, there's a 7 percent reduction in the proportion of all high-school students reporting a suicide attempt over the previous year, and a 14 percent drop among LGB students, when same-sex marriage becomes lawful where you live.

Often we talk about these kind of statistics but we rarely pause to turn them round. To consider the "what if", the "what happens next" of the path not taken.  The path we didn't take thanks to the passage of the two same-sex marriage bills in Wales & England and in Scotland.

US and UK culture are in very many ways similar. So with about a quarter of their population we might rule-of-thumb that the impact here is 134,000 divided by four - 33,500 fewer young people attempting to end their lives each year in the UK.  Each year.  Our 2013 vote is four years ago already: so the change is 33,500 upon 33,500 upon 33,500 upon...

What an amazing number. What a horrifying number. For the 400 MPs who voted to allow same-sex marriage, what a humbling number. Yes, you let some people get married, and that was beautiful. But "what happened next" was a huge positive impact on the mental health and even survival of young people. You let some people get married and, thanks to an unwritten clause in the Bill, you saw to it that thousands did not try to end their lives early.  An unknowable number of parents never came home to the horrible ultimate consequence of social, legal and institutional homophobia.

And for the 175 MPs (and indeed 148 Peers) who planted their colours against the tide of history, with numbers like these the nature of their actions and motives is laid bare. We can see what they were actively, consciously, premeditatedly complicit in, what they were voting for, because let's be frank: while we didn't have these figures, we and they knew the answer to the "what happens next" question all along.

A handful of the 175 have said they'd vote differently today. We have to conclude that the rest are proud of the future they were voting for, and take comfort that they didn't get what they wanted.
15 Mar 06:12

allthingslinguistic: science-of-noise: William Jones, who first used the symbol π (pi) to represent...



William Jones, who first used the symbol π (pi) to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter was the father of William Jones, who first posited the existence of the language that became known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

That’s as good an excuse as any to eat PIE pie on March 14th.

14 Mar 10:51

"The alleged lexical extravagance of the Eskimos comports so well with the many other facets of their..."


Minnesota definitely has lots of words for snow. Britain doesn't, but it has more words for overcast skies and for rain. We do ourselves a disservice by piling up these racist myths.

The alleged lexical extravagance of the Eskimos comports so
well with the many other facets of their polysynthetic perversity:
rubbing noses; lending their wives to strangers; eating raw seal
blubber; throwing grandma out to be eaten by polar bears; “ We are
prepared to believe almost anything about such an unfamiliar and
peculiar group,” says Martin, in a gentle reminder of our buried racist

The tale she tells is an embarrassing saga of scholarly sloppiness and
popular eagerness to embrace exotic facts about other people’s
languages without seeing the evidence. The fact is that the myth of the
multiple words for snow is based on almost nothing at all. It is a kind
of accidentally developed hoax perpetrated by the anthropological
linguistics community on itself.

The original source is Franz Boas’ introduction to The Handbook of
North American Indians (1911). And all Boas says there, in the context
of a low-key and slightly ill-explained discussion of independent versus derived terms for things in different languages, is that just as English uses separate roots for a variety of forms of water (liquid, lake, river, brook, rain, dew, wave, foam) that might be formed by derivational morphology from a single root meaning ‘water’ in some other language, so Eskimo uses the apparently distinct roots aput 'snow on the ground’, qana 'falling snow’, piqsirpoq 'drifting snow’, and qimuqsuq 'a snow drift’. Boas’ point is simply that English expresses these notions by phrases involving the root snow, but things could have been otherwise, just as the words for lake, river, etc. could have been formed derivationally or periphrastically on the root water. 

But with the next twist in the story, the unleashing of the
xenomorphic fable of Eskimo lexicography seems to have become
inevitable. What happened was that Benjamin Lee Whorf, Connecticut
fire prevention inspector and weekend language-fancier, picked up
Boas’ example and used it, vaguely, in his 1940 amateur linguistics
article 'Science and linguistics,’ which was published in MIT’s
promotional magazine Technology Review (Whorf was an alumnus; he
had done his B.S. in chemical engineering at MIT).

Our word snow would seem too inclusive to an Eskimo, our man
from the Hartford Fire Insurance Company confidently asserts. With
an uncanny perception into the hearts and minds of the hardy Arctic
denizens (the more uncanny since Eskimos were not a prominent
feature of Hartford’s social scene at the time), he avers: 

“We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow – whatever the situation may be. To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on, are sensuously and operationally different.” […]

Notice that Whorf’s statement has illicitly inflated Boas’ four terms
to at least seven (1: “falling”, 2: “on the ground”, 3: “packed hard”,
4: “slushy”, 5: “flying”, 6, 7 …. : “and other kinds of snow”). Notice
also that his claims about English speakers are false; I recall the stuff in question being called “snow” when fluffy and white, “slush” when partly melted, “sleet” when falling in a half-melted state, and a “blizzard” when pelting down hard enough to make driving dangerous. Whorf’s remark about his own speech community is no more reliable than his glib generalizations about what things are “sensuously and operationally different” to the generic Eskimo. 

But the lack of little things like verisimilitude and substantiation are
not enough to stop a myth. Martin tracks the great Eskimo vocabulary
hoax through successively more careless repetitions and embroiderings in a number of popular books on language. […]

But never mind: three, four, seven, who cares? It’s a bunch, right?
Once more popular sources start to get hold of the example, all
constraints are removed: arbitrary numbers are just made up as the writer thinks appropriate for the readership. […]

Among the many depressing things about this credulous transmission
and elaboration of a false claim is that even if there were a large
number of roots for different snow types in some Arctic language, this
would not, objectively, be intellectually interesting; it would be a most
mundane and unremarkable fact.

Horsebreeders have various names for breeds, sizes, and ages of
horses; botanists have names for leaf shapes; interior decorators have
names for shades of mauve; printers have many different names for
different fonts (Caslon, Garamond, Helvetica, Times Roman, and so on), naturally enough. If these obvious truths of specialization are
supposed to be interesting facts about language, thought, and culture,
then I’m sorry, but include me out.

Would anyone think of writing about printers the same kind of slop
we find written about Eskimos in bad linguistics textbooks? Take a
random textbook like Paul Gaeng’s Introduction to the Principles of
Language (1971), with its earnest assertion: “It is quite obvious that in
the culture of the Eskimos… snow is of great enough importance to
split up the conceptual sphere that corresponds to one word and one
thought in English into several distinct classes…” (p. 137). Imagine
reading: “It is quite obvious that in the culture of printers.., fonts are
of great enough importance to split up the conceptual sphere that
corresponds to one word and one thought among non-printers into
several distinct classes…” Utterly boring, if even true. Only the link
to those legendary, promiscuous, blubber-gnawing hunters of the icepacks could permit something this trite to be presented to us for

- Geoff Pullum, in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax.