Archive for the 'language' Category

24
Mar
08

A new hobby

Well, this isn’t exactly a hobby, but it’s something I’ve done a few times and I think it’s fun, so it’s kind of like a hobby. Anyway, you may or may not know that I read a couple of gadget-related sites with reasonable regularity. In particular, I read engadget and gizmodo most days and there are some other sites I keep up with on a less frequent basis. In any case, these sites often cover new GPS systems for cars (now often called PNDs (personal navigation devices)). Usually, the image of the devices shows a map of some place on the device’s screen. There is usually no city label – just roads and landmarks. So, my new hobby has become finding where the map is from.

Today engadget covered a new PND from Mio and the map shown on the device had roads named “Turkey Shore Rd.”, “Prince of Wales Rd.”, “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” In addition, a harbor was depicted along with a ferry route. “Prince of Wales Rd.” made me think that it was likely in the UK, but not necessarily in Wales. The harbor and ferry route obviously put it on the coast somewhere. “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” made me think it was, in fact, in Wales, because Welsh is just a funny-looking language with lots of repeated consonants. So, I searched the coast of Wales and found it.

A random small town on the coast of Wales seems like a strange place to choose for a marketing photo for a new GPS device, but I suppose they have to pick somewhere. I also recall finding a place in the center of Berlin that was in a picture of a GPS device. Anyway, maybe the fact that I enjoy this makes me a huge nerd, but I enjoy the challenge of it and it helps to improve not only my geographical knowledge, but it also brings a little extra familiarity with local languages.

Looking at the original image again, I noticed that the name of the city is somewhat visible.  Even if I had noticed it when I first looked at the picture, I wouldn’t have simply searched for “Holyhead”.  It’s much more interesting to use clues to find it.  Obviously, though, this only works if the city name is either not visible, or it is unknown to you.  Though, if the city name is visible and you know where it is, it’s still entertaining to track down exactly where in a city the map is from.

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10
Mar
08

The economy and word choice in the news

I am not a big fan of the news. The news is a business and every business tries to convince you that you need its product. The news does this by making you scared of the world you live in and then positioning itself as the agency that is looking out for you or the source of information you need in order to not get burned. It also adds drama to otherwise bland news stories by overstating the significance of a story or using dramatic words even when they aren’t merited. On-going news stories are the bread and butter of news outlets so they strive to ensure that they’ve got your attention by over-dramatizing the story every day. One on-going news story that I’ve recently noticed conforms to the above pattern is the economy.

News outlets have been reporting about the weak dollar. Let’s be clear – it is weak. However, a report I saw on Google News recently announced that the “dollar plummets”. If by “plummet” they mean “continues to weaken at a not-unexpected pace”, then that’s fine. However, that is not how most people understand “plummet”. In addition, I heard an ad for the 11pm news on TV last night announcing that food prices were “skyrocketing”. I’m pretty sure that food prices are not going up enough to match my understanding of the word “skyrocketing”.

Maybe you think I’m getting overly semantic. I’m not. This is important. One of the key reports that influences Wall Street is the Consumer Confidence Index. When consumer confidence goes down, it usually causes stocks to lose value on Wall Street and it can play a role in Federal Reserve Board decisions on interest rates. Where do you think that consumers get their sense of confidence in the economy? If you said “the news”, you’re right. Obviously, it’s not the only source, but it’s certainly an important source. So, when people are surveyed about their confidence in the economy, do you think phrases they’ve heard like “dollar plummets” and “food prices skyrocket” will influence their sense of confidence in the economy? Of course they will.

So, in the interest of making a little extra money themselves, news outlets are endangering the entire economy by exaggerating the severity of its struggles.  I’m sure you agree that this type of behavior cannot be condoned, but it’s not clear what should be done about it.  If you have ideas about how we can encourage journalists to be responsible in their reporting and not exaggerate news stories for their own gain, please submit your ideas in the comments.

12
Feb
08

Things you don’t learn in German class

I was just going through some old papers of mine and I found a little scrap of paper in amongst all the other papers with 4 German words written on it. I’m not quite sure what I had in mind when I wrote them down, but they are a few of my favorite German words, so I thought I would write about them here. I first heard them while I lived in Germany and I came to like them and be very amused by them. I think when you learn words like this in a non-native tongue, you start to see the personality of the language and really enjoy speaking it. Anyway, without further ado:

  1. Zack!” (Interjection) This was used often by my coworkers as a sort of onomatopoeia when something happened quickly or unexpectedly, not unlike “Boom!” My German dictionary translates it as “just like that” or “before you knew it”, but “Zack!” is much succinct and expressive, so I like it much better.
  2. Ratzfatz” (Adverb) This word is used to denote that something is or should be done quickly. I like the fact that its two syllables rhyme.
  3. Schwuppdiwupp!” (also just “Schwupp”) (interjection) This is similar to “Zack!”, although it carries with it more of sense of the unexpected or out of control. So, while I could say “… and then I punched him in the face. Zack!”, “Schwuppdiwupp” would not be appropriate here. Instead, it could be used like this: “I stepped out the door and schwuppdiwupp, I was on the ground thanks to the ice on the step.”
  4. Dingsbums” (noun) This roughly means “thingamajiggy” or “doodad”. It’s a word you use when you can’t think of the correct name for something. This word is becoming less popular in polite society because of the “bums” part, which is reminiscent of the verb “bumsen” which literally means “to bump”, but which has become a vulgar slang word for sex. In order to get past this problem, people often use “Dingsda” instead.

Fellow German speakers, what are you favorite German words?

21
Jan
07

A Wii post everyone can enjoy

This video comes courtesy of Ben Kuchera at Arstechnica.com, which is a website I frequent with, well, great frequency. It’s basically a poorly shot video of someone getting a hole-in-one while playing golf in the German version of Wii Sports. The German expression for “hole in one” is “das Einlochen mit dem ersten Schlag” (courtesy of dict.leo.org), which doesn’t exactly have a great ring to it (even for German speakers). So, the game developers used a different term to note the achivement, which you’ll see at the end of the video.

And now, to the video.

Finally, after watching the video, to ease your bewilderment, a translation.

09
Jan
07

It turns out that I’m 100% Pittsburgh

According to a survey I found via iheartpgh.com:

You are 100% Pittsburgh.

Great job! There’s nooooo doubt about it. You’re from Da Burgh. You deserve a reward, so go have an Ahrn City or two. And GO STILLERS!

How Pittsburgh Are You
See All Our Quizzes

Unfortunately, I don’t have any Arn City on hand (you can’t get it in Massachusetts) – plus, I did the survey at like 7:15am, which is probably a little early to start drinking…

06
Jan
07

In case you didn’t know where I’m from…

this sweatshirt (courtesy of Adrian) should clear up any uncertainty.

yinzer.JPG

That is, if you know that the plural form of “you” colloquially used in Pittsburgh is “yinz” (or “yunz” – a contraction of “you ones”). Thus, a person who says this word is a “yinzer”. I get the sense that some people may view this word as an insult, to describe someone who’s not well-educated and talks like a moron. However, I know that it’s worn as a badge of pride by many Pittsburgh expatriates who are proud of where they come from, since one of the most distinguishing and recongnizable aspects of Pittsburgh is its dialect. What many people refer to as “Pittsburghese” is part of a larger dialect region known to linguists as North Midland U.S. English. If you’re interested in a reasonably scholarly examination of speech in Pittsburgh, see this webpage, put together by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  If you’re interested in finding words that are characteristic of colloquial speech in Pittsburgh, google “Pittsburghese” – there are myriad websites cataloging the various particularities of Pittsburgh speech, at least some of which come from the Scots-Irish, who settled the region after the Revolutionary War.




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