S****ing with all these hookers

Over on Facebook, a friend posted a link to the article “Lotto lout Michael Carroll going back to being a binman after blowing £9.7m win”, in which the Daily Mail, a paper known for its even-handed quality reporting, is nearly falling over itself in breathless excitement over the story of a man who spent a £9.7 Mio lottery win in only 8 years. My friend commented: “One thing I’ll say is thank God the Daily Mail starred out the word “sleeping”. Unless it was something else…”. Here is the passage in question (including the surrounding paragraphs for context):

Daily Mail article asterisking out slumming (probably)
Daily Mail article asterisking out "slumming" (probably)

I rather do think it’s “something else”, given that “sleeping” (in the sense of “having sex”) appears without asterisks in just the previous paragraph.

Whenever I happen to open a copy of what is called the Red Tops here in the UK, the numerous words that are being camouflaged by asterisks surprise me anew. Once, it took me a minute or more staring at “b******s” to finally figure out the word was “bastards”.

As always when you make people work harder for understanding, it increases the salience of the object they have to put in all this effort for and thereby draws greater attention to it — as evidenced by my friend’s comment when posting the article. So this, rather then prudishness, may be the real reason the tabloid press is so fond of the asterisks of avoidance.

Votes on Facebook

The polling stations for the UK General Election 2010 have closed, the exit poll predicts a hung (some call it “balanced”) parliament, a loss of seats of the Liberal Democrats, and a Conservative party only a few seats away from a majority. The first MP has been announced — Sunderland South, a safe Labour seat, but with a swing to the the Conservative party that, if extrapolated to all of England, would probably translate into an outright Conservative majority. As-is, I’m listening to the usual speculations in the absence of hard data, about alliances of the Lib Dems with Labour, or maybe the Tories with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionists. It’ll be a long night.

Meanwhile, a different titbit. All day, my Facebook page has had this box right above my “Wall”:

The number on the right has been going up in real-time all day. It is the number of Facebook members that have hit the “I voted” button. This is, apparently, a Facebook feature that is switched on for users from a country during elections in that country, as I learnt after clicking on “What’s this?”.

The first interesting point about this is the figure. It’ll probably go up a little further during the evening, and I’ll be curious to see where it ends up. The number of registered voters is given in the press as 44 Mio. If the turnout ends up at about 75%, that means that 33 Mio. people will actually vote. Out of those, nearly 2 Mio. will not just be on Facebook, but engaged enough with this site (or product) to click on “I voted” on election day. That’s about 6%. Not at all negligible.

The second point that comes to mind is the surprise that I’m only discovering the feature today, even though it was visible to, and presumably being used by, friends of mine when there were elections in their countries. I may even have voted in at least one of those (the last German Bundestag election). It would be interesting if Facebook managed to publicise at least the results elections internationally through such a tool.

As for me, I clicked “I voted”, even though in reality I only voted in the local election that’s taking place today in my borough as well: Being an EU citizen, I am not allowed to vote for UK parliament. Strangely, if I were a UK resident from a Commonwealth country, it would be much harder to live and work here, but I would be allowed to vote.

So modern snakes eat dinosaur eggs?

From the article “Prehistoric snake gobbled-up dinosaur babies” by Jeremy Hance, which was published on mongabay.com on March 2, 2010:

A fossilized snake has been discovered inside a titanosaur nest in India, leading researchers to conclude that the snake fed on newly-hatched dinosaur babies, rather than their eggs like modern snakes.

The thought process is quite clear, though probably even in its long form simplistic:

  1. This prehistoric snake ate freshly hatched baby dinosaurs.
  2. Modern snakes evolved from prehistoric snakes.
  3. Birds evolved from dinosaurs (though there’s some fuzziness around the edges of this statement).
  4. Birds (and most reptiles) lay eggs.
  5. Modern snakes eat eggs.

But here, it got telescoped into an over-shortened version in which the pronoun “their [eggs]” carries the entire weight of referring, simultaneously  to  dinosaurs in the prehistoric case and (unnamed) birds in the modern case.

An illegal translation

Via a recent Failblog post, our attention is drawn to a very bizarre sign in Czech:

Bilingual Czech-English sign forbidding... translating
Bilingual Czech-English sign prohibiting... translating

What is most puzzling about this sign is that it is not an example of what we’ve seen in the past, a translation error: Zákaz tlumočení does indeed mean “translating [interpreting] prohibited”. Apparently, and without explanation, the sign’s injunction doesn’t apply to the sign itself  — how else would it have been possible to make the sign without the act of translation?

According to the comments in the Failblog thread, the most likely explanation is that at this particular spots, noisy tours for tourists are unwelcome. Except if the tour guide speaks Czech.

Prague photos & a monitor background

I finally edited and uploaded to Flickr pictures from a trip I took to Prague a year ago (August 2008).

A few of them looked like they’d be nice as screen backgrounds, so I experimented with making backgrounds in the correct monitor sizes. I have this one right now on my Mac – external screen and the Macbook Pro’s built-in LCD:

TV Tower in Žižkov with David Černý's sculptures
TV Tower in Žižkov with David Černý's sculptures

Click on the image (or the following link) for the 1920×1200 version, or choose one of the smaller sizes: 1680×1050, 1600×1200, 1440×900, 1024×768.

Let me know what you think of the quality, the sizes, and if you like it, in which case I can make more. I didn’t want the image sizes to be too large, but there is a quality trade-off involved.

Unlike the rest of this blog, the CC License on these is BY-NC-SA.

Noun phrase of the day (too long for this post title)

Simon Willison tweeted about an event to commemorate the death of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, 12 years ago today. The memorial was held at the Tea Cosy in Brighton, a tea room the menu of which contains an item with a name so long it refuses to fit into my own mental memory. Behold the 28-word (well, 27 word, 1 number and 6 comma) noun phrase:

Diana, Princess of Wales memorial tea: "Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, Queen of Hearts, 10 year Anniversary, Your Death Has Torn Our Lives Apart, Farewell Dear Princess Queen of Hearts, Memorial Afternoon Tea"
Diana, Princess of Wales memorial tea: "Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, Queen of Hearts, 10 year Anniversary, Your Death Has Torn Our Lives Apart, Farewell Dear Princess Queen Of Hearts, Memorial Afternoon Tea"

I particularly like the capitalization choices. Reasonably priced, too.

Let 1000 crash blossoms bloom

So we’ve come to enjoy Cupertinos, eggcorns and snowclones, and now the Society for Found-Object Internet Sociolinguistics (SFOIS) has acquired a new member. What is this all about? Well, there was no word for it! What, you’re asking? Those train wrecks of newspaper headlines that lead us down the garden path to end up against a wall, scratching our head and wondering what on earth the subeditor might possibly have been thinking.

A particularly eyebrow-raising specimen was posted by Bessie3 on the Testy Copy Editors forum:

Violinist linked to JAL crash blossoms

Confused? It may help to know that JAL means Japan Airlines, that there was a crash in 1985, that “blossoms” is the verb of the sentence, and that “linked to” means the violinist in question is a child of one of the crash’s casulties. Be that as it may — the testy copy editors had no problem decoding the mess — the discussion spawned by the oringinal post turned to the “we have no word for this” problem, which was resolved by the excellent suggestion that crash blossom would make an excellent term for referring to this kind of infelicitous headline.

A site was put up on Blogger, and the staff of the Eggcorn Database extends our most heartfelt welcome and wishes a long life to the new endeavour.

Here come the crash blossoms: welcome to the party!

Hat tip: John McIntyre and Elizabeth Herrington, first seen on Facebook.

P.S.: The same thread notes the mindboggling Man held for attempted murder of policeman after detention for confining girl expires, which while not containing a snappy term, is an even more egregious example.

[good stuff] Thinking Allowed by Laurie Taylor, a sociolgy podcast & radio show from the BBC

This is the first of a series of posts tagged “good stuff” — recommendations for sites, software, tools or, anything else that I keep coming back to. Thinking Allowed, one of my favourite podcasts, comes first because of the BBC’s formula for their podcasts: the feed only contains the latest episode, while the rest are available on iPlayer (for some recent ones) or in the archive as Real Media files (ugh).

The recipe of Thinking Allowed is simple: Laurie Taylor, an academic sociologist, invites other social scientists who have recently published an interesting paper, or have a new book out. Each show covers two topics, running the gamut of the discipline, and is kept in a humourous yet somewhat professorial tone, spiced up with anecdotes from the host’s life (of the “se non è vero è ben trovato” kind). The entire thing is over in under 30min — condensed thought-provoking fun at the very least, and sometimes spectacularly good. There’s a tie-in with the Open University’s net activities — the OU runs a site with additional material, which I haven’t checked out, though it looks interesting.

The latest episode, posted last week, was one that grabbed me particularly keenly. It deals with the religiosity of modern societies as its first topic, and Oxford university admissions as the second. Here’s, and the blurb:

Is it fear and hardship that makes people of one country more religious than another, or is there a mysterious third factor that can explain why some nations pray so much more than others? Laurie talks to Tom Rees and Sociologist of Religion David Voas Also, abotu new research into the links between income inequality and religiosity. Also, what are the key factors the underlie acceptance into Oxford University? Laurie talks to Alice Sullivan about her new research.

As a secular agnostic, of Catholic background as far as my family history is concerned, I tend to be unhappy about how other secularists approach the debate about the role of religion in modern (Western) societies. First of all, however much I’m personally at the margins of it, religion looks like quite a universal phenomenon throughout human history and can thereby not simply handwaved away. Second, critics of religiosity tend to be disconcertingly Christianity-centric in positing belief as their main target, even though religion is obviously so much richer, containing dimensions of culture, ritual, and the experience of the transcendental. This as a preamble. In the podcast, one researcher describes how he is looking for statistical correlations between religious behaviour and other social indicators, in particular income inequality. The discussion only gets more interesting from that point, at one point even very briefly touching on the current US healthcare debate — indeed, what do members of a society expect in terms of social/psychological security, and who do they expect it from?

The Oxford admissions topic is one of those that tend to make me angry — a diffuse anger at a certain mindset I want to characterize as specifically European, whereby reproduction of an existing social order — here: orders of class, gender and ethnicity — trumps getting the best, most hard-working, keen and vital students into the right places. It would help everyone in the end if university admissions stood for values like fairness, transparency, supporting bright minds, intellectual inquiry, diversity and originality.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in this kind of thing, get the podcast before this episode expires August 26, 2009, I expect (here’s the direct download link.)

Texting in Welsh

I found this in one of my own open browser tabs.

The UK mobile (AmE: cell) phone comparison site right mobilephone has a short English-Welsh phrasebook for what they say are the 10 most common text message (AmE: SMS) abbreviations in use. Useful if you’re learning Welsh.

Right mobilephone's English-Welsh texting phrasebook
Right mobilephone's English-Welsh texting phrasebook

Apologies for the lack of attribution to who ever it was whose link I followed.