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2003-03-21 15:23 (UTC)

Safeguarding Vitalstatistix

A translator's eye view of Asterix the Gaul:

[T]he women's names in the English versions, Gaulish and Roman alike, end in the usual feminine -a (the chieftain's wife becomes Impedimenta). This allows the wife of the Gaulish fishmonger, who in French is Ilosubmarine (yellow submarine, from the Beatles song), to her husband's Ordralfabtix, alphabetical order, to become Bacteria to his Unhygienix in English - a well-matched couple, since the fish they sell are always very elderly, and are frequently used as ammunition in scuffles between the villagers. And so on.

Ordralfabtix is very clever, but Ilosubmarine is pure genius, is it not? I just love non-native punnage...

[via Language Hat]

Meanwhile, consider the horrors of digital storage for linguistic data:

"We are sitting between the onset of the digital era and the mass extinction of the world's languages," [...]

"The problem is we are unable to ensure the digital storage lasts for more than five to 10 years because of problems with new media formats, new binary data formats used by software applications and the possibility that magnetic storage just simply degrades over time," said Professor Bird.

Can InterWebNet and its plucky sidekick XML save the day? We'll have to wait and see.

[via /.]


2003-03-21 10:37 (UTC)


If I had realised that demonstrations were going to be happening at 6pm before I left for Swedish class at about ten to, I would have been at my first ever actual demonstration. (I'm not much of a one for crowds, see.)

Instead I stuck with Plan A, and we did "s" passives, which are after all really neat and probably about as likely to change Our Tony's "mind", I suppose. (Yes, I know it's not the same.)

They are cool though - you just do stuff with an 's' on the end of a word and it magically goes all passive on you. E.g., Jag oppnade det., "I opened it" -> Det oppnades, "It was opened."

Next time, though, I'll be out there putting the Jag stoppade kriget in the Kriget stoppades.


2003-03-20 17:09 (UTC)

The latte battle concluded

So I'm learning Italian, of course, and I looked for phonological information on the web, of course, and I found this, which isn't bad. Quote: "a is always pronounced as [a] and never with the English/Latin [A]."

[A] is the vowel in (for example) BrE "father"; [a] is a bit more open than the vowel in BrE "cat" which is traditionally written [] (or [&] in ASCII renditions of IPA) but is significantly more open than the Norwegian vowel with that spelling. Phonemically, both "cat" and "thanks" have /&/, but in my speech the former is phonetically pretty much [a], while the latter is still [&].

So, when snooty baristas repeat my order of "latte" (['lateI]) back as what they think is the vastly more Italian ['lA:teI] (the colon means the vowel is long), they replace the only thing in my pronunciation that happens by chance to coincide with the Italian with something that is completely wrong.

Genuinely Italian would be ['lat:e] (the double t means its geminated or long, so it gets the colon), which I can pronounce just fine, thank you, although if I were speaking Italian I would ask for a "caff latte", since "latte" just means milk and is likely to be misunderstood, except I wouldn't, I'd order an espresso instead. When in Rome, isn't it?

The End.

(Earlier installments of this engrossing saga still available, while stocks last.)


2003-03-20 12:01 (UTC)

Cognitive politics is not an oxymoron: George Lakoff's Storytime.

George Lakoff tells it like is about how it's being told to us, which is not especially like it is.

One of the most central metaphors in our foreign policy is that A Nation Is A Person. It is used hundreds of times a day, every time the nation of Iraq is conceptualized in terms of a single person, Saddam Hussein. The war, we are told, is not being waged against the Iraqi people, but only against this one person. Ordinary American citizens are using this metaphor when they say things like, "Saddam is a tyrant. He must be stopped." What the metaphor hides, of course, is that the 3000 bombs to be dropped in the first two days will not be dropped on that one person. They will kill many thousands of the people hidden by the metaphor, people that according to the metaphor we are not going to war against.

Remember, though, this isn't about oil:

In Gulf War I, Bush I tried out a self-defense story: Saddam was "threatening our oil line-line." The American people didn't buy it. Then he found a winning story, a rescue story - The Rape of Kuwait. It sold well, and is still the most popular account of that war.

In Gulf War II, Bush II is pushing different versions of the same two story types, and this explains a great deal of what is going on in the American press and in speeches by Bush and Powell. If they can show that Saddam = Al Quaeda - that he is helping or harboring Al Qaeda, then they can make a case for the Self-defense scenario, and hence for a just war on those grounds. Indeed, despite the lack of any positive evidence and the fact that the secular Saddam and the fundamentalist bin Laden despise each other, the Bush administration has managed to convince 40 per cent of the American public of the link, just by asserting it. The administration has told its soldiers the same thing, and so our military men see themselves as going to Iraq in defense of their country.

[via Mr Wood and His Celebrated S Lot]


2003-03-19 17:55


The Bible in Polari:

1 In the beginning Gloria created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was nanti form, and void; and munge was upon the eke of the deep. And the nanti lucoddy of Gloria trolled upon the eke of the aquas.

[via Bluejoh]

So we'd better have "How bona to vada your eek!" to wash it down with, isn't it, Sir or Madam?

It is intrinsically funny that Ethnologue has an entry (and a code) for Polari, but never more so, I like to think, than in such a context as this is.

And since I was last out trolling for a spot of Polari action, the original Round the Horne sketch scripts seem to have come online and everything.


2003-03-19 13:27 (UTC)

In these difficult times...

It's good to know you can rely on Kronprinsess Vickan. In camouflage gear, oh my!

You can declare war every day of the week (and twice on Sundays) so long as you keep the Princesses in Uniform photoshoots coming!

(Not really.)

2003-03-19 13:06

Be vewwy vewwy qwiet!

I'm hunting bugs.

Thankyouverymuch, I'll be here all week.


2003-03-18 14:24 (UTC)

Cricket for Americans (and Norwegians).

An explanation of the game itself, at a .edu address. Long and looks very thorough. (I didn't check.)

And an explanation of the game's timeless appeal, again via the Guardian's commentary:

15th over: Sri Lanka 60-5

Brad Hogg comes on immediately gets some turn. Too much turn, in fact, as one slides past Gilchrist for a few byes. "I hardly understand any of the rules of cricket, but I've still being paying attention since it's clearly much better than working, and it has the advantage over, say, football, that it passes an entire working day," says a tungsten-sharp ystein Brekke from Norway.

Of course, a proper cricket match takes five days, as someone else promptly points out, and it goes on at an agreeably relaxed pace most of that time. For many years BBC Radio 4's Test Match Special broadcast every ball of Test Matches in England, apparently largely as an excuse for the charming old buffers it employed to sit around at an all-day tea party. Lately, though, there has been a distressing tendency to replace them with former players who will insist on going and and on about the cricket, and hardly ever tell you about interesting buses past the ground, the behaviour of pigeons on the ground, or the cakes sent in by listeners, all of which had been staples in the programmes hey-day. Perhaps best of all was the period when it occupied the FM stereo frequency of snooty classical station Radio 3, shunting the Mozart onto crappy old medium wave, hoorah.

All of which is to say that the Guardian's coverage taps into a deep reservoir of silliness, and seems to be combining the best of sporting commentary, blogging and the spirit of TMS passim. I wish I'd known they were doing this earlier.

It turns out that the football world cup was a classic, too; here's an extract from the US vs. Mexico match:

64 min: GOAL Mexico 0 - 2 USA. Two soccer points to no score! Eddie Lewis makes a cross-pitch play from the left zone, finding Landon Donovan alone in the danger area. He top-bodies the sphere into the score bag, and Mexico have a double-negative stat!

Marvellous, marvellous stuff, and I detest football.


2003-03-18 12:16 (UTC)

For the greater glory of the Guardian

The Guardian's live cricket coverage continues to delight sentient beings the galaxy over:

34th over: Australia 141-3

Missed that over. Apologies. Was reading Matthew Norman waxing on about my colleague Scott Murray in the Mirror. "Is putting a Phil Collins album on in the office sufficient grounds for sacking?" asks Marie Anderson. You have to ask, Marie?

Meanwhile in the books pages, American historian Henry Kamen has been annoying the Spanish:

Mr Kamen's book has shaken the accepted, school-taught Spanish view of the New World conquista as an epic tale of organised empire-building carried out by brave, loyal Spaniards for the greater glory of their country and monarchs.

The historian has, instead, painted the destruction of the Inca and Aztec civilisations as the work of ruthless, self-interested entrepeneurs and mercenaries who used the Spanish crown as little more than a shield for their ambitions.

Say it isn't so! Younger readers may need to be reminded that Spain was ruled by the Fascist dictator General Franco until well into the 70's, and probably missed a bunch of memoes during that time. Spanish conservatives, meanwhile, are busily saying it isn't so.

My theory, which is mine, is that history lessons in EU countries should only be taught by teachers from other EU country, using textbooks written by scholars from every EU country except that of the pupils. This wouldn't lead to greater tolerance, mutual European understanding or even a higher level of immunity to nationalist bullshit, of course, but it would be worth it just for the letters to (conservative) newspapers.


2003-03-18 09:33 (UTC)

Oi, Tony, you could at least make the trains run on time.

In a meeting late yesterday afternoon with my American boss and my Spanish cow-orker (I am UKian, remember) we established that we were not at all keen on all this war malarkey. Sadly, although we are surely more representative of the feelings of at least two of our nations than their elected leaders, this is unlikely to make much difference.

In any case, Tony "The Twat" Blair has paused half-way through a "reform" of the House of Lords, having thrown out the hereditary peers (who tended to be Tories) and absent-mindedly forgotten to replace them with anything else, thus muzzling an already toothless second chamber.

In UK elections, voters select an MP for their constituency (on a first past the post basis) and a party or coalition with a majority in the House of Commons will then be invited (by Her Majesty the Queen, hurrah!) to form a government, under the leadership of a Prime Minister of its choosing. In other words, I didn't vote for Mr Blair as president, I voted for an MP. And look where that's got me - Mr Blair's willingness to ignore his party, as he has ignored public opinion, amounts to a claim to a replace Parliament with a presidency with essentially no checks on his power. No clearer expression of his contempt for the system of UK democracy could be imagined.

There is a striking parallel here with Mr Bush's contempt for international consensus - there appears to be a feeling that it is no longer necessary to observe any niceties; instead you can do whatever you think you can get away with. (Oh, and puh-lease, don't try and tell me that Spain and that twat who thinks he speaks for the UK are even a credible fig leaf of international consensus.)

I am really quite cross about all this. I detest all activism and demonstrations, of course, but Mr Blair has crossed some important lines, lately, and I might just have to join the many who he has succeded in inspiring to act in recent weeks. If this war ends up creating the momentum needed to reform the dangerously eccentric UK system of government then that would be no great consolation to any Iraquis squished in the process or their surviving relatives, I suppose, but it would make me feel better, and that's the important thing, right?

From Libration:

Une manifestante pour la paix, munie d'un bouquet de jonquilles et d'un slogan Vive la France, se prsente lundi midi devant une base de la Royal Air Force dans le Gloucestershire.

[A demonstration for peace, equipped with a bouquet of daffodils and the slogan "Vive la France" presents itself Monday afternoon in front of an RAF base in Gloucestershire.]

It's a special kind of achievement to unite so much of the UK population in support of the French, make no mistake about it. But for now "Vive la France!" is very much the slogan du jour. Well done, Tony. Now, about these trains...


2003-03-17 16:46 (UTC)

Jag r mycket missbelten.

Who the hell do they think they're kidding?

USA, Storbritannien och Spanien har dragit tillbaka sitt frslag p en ny resolution om Irak.

Nu frsker man inte lngre f ett std frn FN.

I natt framtrder president George Bush och beskedet till Saddam Hussein vntas bli:

- Lmna Irak - annars blir det krig.

[The USA, the UK and Spain have abandoned their proposals for a new resolution on Iraq.

They're no longer trying to obtain a mandate from the UN.

Tonight George Bush will perform and the message to Saddam Hussein is expected to be:

- Leave Iraq - or it's war.]

There is much to object to here, but most grating is the apparent delusion on behalf of the Spanish and UKish governments that they actually contributed to the process. (Blair, you dismal wanker, you're fooling precisely no one, you do realise that, don't you?)

The timing of this war was set by the need to get it over with before the desert gets too hot; the diplomatic kerfufflage we've been subjected to has just been tinsel and show-business.


2003-03-17 12:08 (UTC)

Scorchio! (Brrr!)

Back when I watched TV (the shame of it!) one of the highlights was a comedy sketch show called The Fast Show, and one of the highlights of that was a running gag (the show was a collection of running gags and catch phrases) based on a $MEDITERRANEAN TV channel called (I think) Channel 5. The whole segment would be done in a made-up language based mostly on the sound of Italian, with bits of Spanish. "Goodbye" was "Boutros Bourtros-Gali", and don't knock it till you've tried it.

Anyway, one of these had this bimbette doing the weather and, what with it being the Med and that, everywhere was "Scorchio!". The consistent repetition of this was funny enough (with a weather map completely covered with sun icons) and the little pause between stating the location and the unvarying diagnosis...

But see for yourself, Varied Reader - the script is online:

CA: Hello! Classiya costa para dos meterology a Valley Portos... scorchio! In lea por notra anterior... scorchio! E nu como a ta exterior... scorchio! Manto Blanco... scorchio! Coasta... scorchio! Metorologicos manyana... Oh - scorchio!

PS: Mmm - scorchio!

PW: Brrrr-rrrr! [PW mimes being cold]

The final Brrr-rrrr! was one of the great television moments of our times, and scorchio! has stuck in British usage ever since.

Boutros Boutros-Gali!


2003-03-17 09:05 (UTC)

Una macchina da scrivere?

The Amazon fairy not having arrived in time and the public library only being able to provide a Berlitz cassette course and the need for a finite verb having reached the point of desparation, the Italian study weekend took a slightly different course from that initially envisaged. Instead of the anticipated orgy of paradigm-bashing I got myself all immersified and that, which was at least good practice in the art of spotting long consonants ("greenness" provides a rare English example).

On Sunday it was so warm out that I just sat out in the garden with a glass of wine reading the accompanying book out loud in my best Italian accent. Ironically, this is probably the most successful assimilation of Scandiwegian behaviour I have yet managed - out fetishising the first of the spring sun and dreaming of Syden ("the South", which is at the centre of the contemporary Scandewegian mytho-poetic universe). It won't last, of course - in another month or so it'll be too hot for me and I'll go back to dreaming of a little wooden cabin beside a fjord.


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