In forme of speche is chaunge

Would the five-hundred year rule have applied?

We were reading an excerpt from Robinson Crusoe in class this morning, which included an exercise in converting early 18th century English into contemporary English. One of the quotations, which come from near the start of the novel, was “crying everyone according to his usual note”.

I thought it was interesting for two reasons (and perhaps a third, although that’s a matter of editing). One is the use of “everyone”, which seems to be on the border between being a full-blown pronoun and simply a compounding of “every one”. It looks appositional to me, but I’m wondering whether this is an instance of a phenomenon which I’ve read about elsewhere in which some languages (e.g. Italian) tend to place indefinite subjects after the verb. Defoe only uses “everyone” a few times and only on this occasion in this particular construction.

However, some (most?) texts have “every one”, and most appear to have “crying, and every one according to his usual note”, but the text we’re using omits the conjunction. So it seems that I might’ve stumbled across some (incautious) editing, but I’m sure that our text lacked “and” at that point. [Later: checked the text; it does have “and”, but I think it does readers a disservice by treating “every one” as a single word.]

The other point was the use of “his” where we would have “their”, and a few zealots might have “its”, which prompted me to write a note on the board about the development of “its” in English, and how it took some time for the form to become established. I’ve read somewhere that Shakespeare used “it” for “its” on at least one occasion, although I’ve never been sure whether that’s a claim which can be substantiated.

But in turn, this had me recalling Chaucer’s famous line from Troilus and Criseyde about the mutability of language, which then made me wonder about my five-hundred-year rule. That is, the form of a language more than five hundred years ago is no longer fully comprehensible because the grammar and lexicon have undergone sufficient changes to render a lot of it meaningless. To me, for example, late Middle English looks like Modern English with brain damage, and Shakespeare is already largely incomprehensible, not because the plays were mostly in verse, but because the language is almost five hundred years old.

That had me wondering whether anyone in Chaucer’s day could’ve understood the Old English of the second half of the 9th century at all, or the effects of the Norman Conquest on the English lexicon, as well as the simplification of the inflectional system had so cut the English language off from its past that the older form of the language really was foreign. Mind you, I also have a theory that English didn’t exist as a truly separate linguistic entity from its Continental cousins until the Middle English period.



How many hornets?

I’ve just looked at the cover of The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and wondered whether the apostrophe, which is an orthographic marker of the genitive, is in the wrong place, being to the left of the inflection, indicating a single hornet, instead of the right, indicating a whole nest of them.

The Swedish title is Luftslottet som Sprängdes which seems to mean something like “The castles in the air which got destroyed”, which is no doubt a reference to the illusion of the decency of Sweden and its government. (Recent reports about immigrants in Sweden being targeted by gunmen seem to continue that demolition.)



In forme of land is chaunge, too.

香榭路 seems to be under complete redevelopment, although no one’s being stopped from using the street as a thoroughfare in spite of its resemblance to a building site with fencing at either end and gateposts (though no gates). The trees at this end have been heavily pruned and, I assume, are going to be removed. They’ll probably be replaced, but whether anyone has the wit to have the pavement run inside the line of trees rather than down the middle is for future revelation. In addition, the car park has been completely ripped up and some large holes dug in it. Anyone using the street is, however, deterred from falling into the holes by a line of small cones. Yes, it’s safety first in the imperium sericum.

Aierma appears to have been mothballed, and again, only posterity knows whether that’ll be a supermarket again. No sign that the place was going to be refurbished.

The houses down at the other end of the street have almost all gone, and a digger has been in creating a huge heap of dirt for no apparent reason. On the other side of the street the Jiulong Hotel has been gutted, although I’m not sure whether they’re going to demolish the building or it’s being stripped to the absolute bones.

[A few days later (06.11.10). 香榭路 has now been completely cut off apart from access at this end for the shops on the west side of the street and access to the flats behind them; and a break where the street which runs along the south side of the school intersects with 香榭路. The rest seems to have been cut off to cars, although pedestrians, electric bike jockeys, and cyclists can still get through. (Added while I was editing the formatting of this entry after it, the formatting, mysteriously vanished.)]

In other construction news, the bridge which was built to these two new buildings east of my place doesn’t just have coloured lights. No, for the amusement of the local spectators, it also squirts jets of water. Someone seems to have had the idea of combining a bridge and a fountain. Still don’t know what the new buildings are going to house, and the work over there has yet to be completed.

All that tech and all they can do is growl


A group of strangers find themselves thrown together in a jungle on an alien planet. They all share one thing in common – they’re killers. Even the doctor. There are also the local killers, the predators, who have snatched them from Earth. And then there’s Lawrence Fishburne, who’s taken to behaving like the predators apart from having an imaginary friend.

Anyway, they manage to outwit the predators just as the next batch of victims arrive on the planet.

More of the same except this time on the predators’ turf. Sort of film which is in the on-sale bin at HMV or Virgin Megastore the moment it arrives.

I think your halo has slipped a bit

Caving into the studio. Or should that be smialling? (Smialing?)

The Hobbit is now going to be made in New Zealand. How? Because the government there is going to change the law, and give the studio NZ$25 million. So much for it being one of the least corrupt countries. If the boys from Warner Bros tell the New Zealand PM to get them coffee, then I suppose he probably does; and then they make him go back and get them muffins, which he has to buy and can’t then claim on expenses.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d try changing the tag line at the top of the page. I don’t know quite why I can’t save my changes, but there was a lot of wheel spin and nothing happened. Perhaps the same fate is going to befall this entry when I attempt to post it.

Lights! Camera! Inaction!

Another day of hysteria on the Internet.

I went to the IMDb last night only to find it blocked. Very blocked. We’re not talking about dither blocking, but rather insta-blocking. The only film news vaguely relating to China was about Ang Lee casting some unknown in the film version of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, but I didn’t think the junta hated Lee that much. Mind you, there’s no rhyme or reason to their loathing as they continue their plan to turn the Internet into a robot eunuch.

This morning I tried the IMDb again in case the site had had some problem, or it had been the victim of Nanny’s short-lived hysteria, but again, it was definitely off the menu. It was only when I went to the Guardian website that I found the possible reason for the blocking of the IMDb. (12.08.14. And then, quite some time later, the IMDb was un­blocked.)

Some idiot of a woman in Chongqing announced on Τwίττεr that she was going to attend some anti-Japanese rally carrying a banner praising Lίυ Ξιάοβο, and was nicked by Pc Plod. (Guardian story.)

Now the IMDb has Τwίττεr displayed fairly prominently on its front page, which makes me wonder whether that was the cause of the site being blocked. The stupid thing is that Τwίττεr is already blocked here unless there’s a Chinese version with the usual gaping holes allowing the Paranoia++ software uninhibited access to tweets.

In addition, there’s a story on the Reg about the Νόβελ Prize website being hacked. This particular piece of malice was aimed at Firefox (although noscript would put a stop to it), but there was no information about the source of the hacking. The final paragraph mentioned a certain junta’s displeasure about the awarding of the Pέαcε Prize to a certain Lίυ Ξιάοβο. If I’d been marking the article, I would’ve questioned the relevance of the final paragraph because I’m sure that the imperium sericum would never condone such an action. Nor would the Americans or any other freedom-loving nation. [Open a window. The irony stinks in here. –ed.]

The Guardian article concludes with

China has accused the west of ideological warfare. One commentary on the People’s Daily website today was headlined: “It is an un­quest­ionable fact that Chinese people have freedom of expression and press.”

It’s true, of course. Look up any English dictionary produced in China and you’ll find

freedom of expression (NP) – saying exactly what the Party wants you to say.

Meanwhile, the corruption index has come out, which rates New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore as the least corrupt countries in the world, and Somalia as the most corrupt. The UK comes in at 20 and the US at 22. China is 78th on the list, which puts it on a par with Greece, but way ahead of Russia at 154.

It is a little depressing to look at the map of the world and observe that there are swathes of red across South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, which would lead any outside observer to conclude that corruption is the norm on Earth, and wonder why anyone would be particularly bothered about it.

Morphological malapropisms

Not quite, but the effect is the same.

It wasn’t until I started have a look car manufacturer websites that I encountered the words “configurator” and “comparator”. They both look and sound contrived to me, although only the latter appears in my Collins and Oxford English Dictionaries, and neither gets red-lined by Live Writer.

Regardless of their lineage or presence in the dictionary, they have all the feel of malapropisms. They appear to be used in place of the more obvious “configurer” (red-lined by Live Writer; doh!) and “comparer”, which would be the means by which I would expect such terms to be derived. That makes me theorise that whoever is responsible for these words believed that they were more elegant and sophisticated. It’s also possible that the –ator suffix was being used to form instrumental nouns to avoid the agentive use of –er, but I’m just guessing. The latter can form nouns meaning either a person or a thing which performs some action.

Alternatively, why not “car configuration tool” and “car comparison tool”, which are straightforward compounds?

As I said, both words sound contrived and feel like malapropisms. The difference is that they’re not being misused in the way Mrs Malaprop misused words, but they do come across as asinine attempts at sophisticated diction.

So is this Live Irony?

No, because I’ve edited the post.

China has launched its own version of Google Earth, which is no doubt covered in useful information like “Nothing to see here” or “Nothing happened here” or “Ghost shopping mall” or “Chinese territory. Sod off, Japan”. For North Korea it probably just says, “Beware of the insane midget”.

Windows 7 is also a year old. I thought it’d been around a bit longer. The nightmare of Vista has been forgotten, and XP, though an honoured ancestor, now feels like an antique, and is nearly nine. I’ve been fairly happy with W7, especially because I can play Need for Speed: Most Wanted again. I am, though, eagerly awaiting Hot Pursuit.

In film news, Martin Freeman has been cast as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. One of the innumerable cast of leading male actors in Spooks is going to be Thorin Oakenshield, who is the leader of the dwarves. Quite how they’re going to do that, I don’t know. Probably some CGI trickery to make him look short and broad. Of course, because of the luvvies in New Zealand being all huffy about something to do with the production, Peter Jackson is probably going to have to employ the Masai as hobbits.

I see the RN is also being ironic because not only has one of its subs run ashore off the coast of Scotland, but the name of the sub is the HMS Astute. Astute? Laughing out loud (Needed the excuse to try an emoticon. Sorry, won’t do it again.)

The genesis of inventions

Have it done by Monday.

In the current unit of the listening book which I use with the AS classes, the fourth lecture is about the development of technology over the past 2.5 million years. The follow-up exercise required students to use their notes to say whether a statement was true or false. One of the statements was that television was developed in the 19th century, which got me wondering just how soon it would’ve been possible to build a television or any other piece of technology that has been invented since, say, the Industrial Revolution.

Would it have been possible to have built an antique valve TV set before the 20th century or not? And what about steam? Why did the Romans never invent the steam engine and a rail network? Or did that require the dark satanic mills to produce steel of sufficient quality and quantity, which the Romans themselves were incapable of manufacturing? They could, of course, have produced steam-powered vehicles.

My last question is what we could create today, but which may not be invented for another 50 or so years.

Things get unbent

You wake up late for conference, man,
You don’t wanna go.

My Audi A3. Or it would be anywhere else. As I suspected, WordPress was only out of sorts until the Party boys had finished having their conference. Why this happened is beyond me. I don’t know and doubt whether there’s any direct access to their meeting in the Central Clubhouse, and I doubt whether those who know the password and the secret handshake actually know what a blog is, or can even switch on a computer without assistance from their grand-children.

Anyway, to celebrate this momentous occasion, here’s a picture of my hypothetical Audi A3 because all the cool cars are pearl black and have two doors. Brrrmm! Brrrmm!

The news from the education front was good(-ish) with the arrival of some of the extra books I ordered, including the selected readings from English lit., which I can give to the PAL classes to spare them the grief of a diet of articles from newspapers and magazines. I haven’t had a good look at the book, but it covers a range of excerpts from Jonathan Swift to P.D. James. I need to try and get things organised so that I can try to get as much of this stuff done as possible. I’d rather not acquire the books and then not use them.

The news of spending cuts in the UK sounds depressing to say the least, although a lot of people will be asking why they have to pay for the incompetence of bankers. If you believe the hysteria, the universities are going to become little more than advanced job training centres for everyone apart from the few wealthy enough to amuse themselves in the humanities. I expect that Ricardo is going to find himself addressing his students as “My lord” or “Your ladyship” or “Jia Baoyu”.

At university, as I’ve said to my little darlings when the matter has arisen, students should be studying the subject of their choice. If it happens to be vocational, that’s a coincidence because I’d hope they’d have an aptitude for and interest in it. Of course, with Chinese students, their parents have quite probably told them what they’re going to be studying. A girl in one class I once taught said that she actually wanted to be a school teacher, but because her parents were in banking, it was expected that she would do the same. Robots are obviously self-replicating.

Meanwhile, the British military are going to have so little in the way of weapons and equipment that the only means they’ll have of deterring some foe is to expose themselves à la Carry on up the Khyber. And if it’s not a deterrent, the other side will be laughing too hard at British weaponry to be any threat at all. Empire, here we come again. Mind you, why does the UK need some vast military machine except to play poodle to the Americans? Of course, the BBC could employ all those soldiers as extras in Dr Who or Torchwood.

Oh, hang on. Wasn’t the licence fee (£145.50; rip-off) going to be frozen for five or six years? No cameo for General Kitchener. “Oh, hell,” said the general. “Panto in Bognor again.”

And good ol’ boys drinkin’ whisky and rye

Jonah Hex.

Another post American Civil War tale. A barking mad general, Osama bin Laden of the Taliban Confederacy (played by John Malkovich), wants to get his hands on some super-weapon (nitro-glycerine on steroids) so that he can destroy Washington, and he needs the help of the IRA for his fiendish schemes. Only one man can stop him – his old arch-enemy, Jonah Hex, whose family was cruelly murdered by bin Laden.

bin Laden pursues his crazy dreams of pointlessly murdering everyone he can, and crippling the fledgling USA, and Hex pursues him. This being the age of steampunk, they have some oddly hi-tech kit.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the boys have a brief fight and Osama bin Laden gets blown up along with his allies.

I’ve never read the graphic novel, but I got the impression that this was a bit of a patchwork. For instance, there was the rich southern gentleman who was financing the whole scheme. He was in all of two scenes, neither of which added anything to the film. What was the point of Osama bin Laden murdering him? To establish that the villain was a villain? We already knew that.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Megan Fox, whose character was fairly pointless apart from being the tart with a heart, and bait.

In a slightly unrelated note, I’ve been wondering whether the paucity of new and new-ish films on DVD is because it’s all gone onto the Internet. “Watch a pirated film; get a lovely computer virus.”

Chinese really does have words for everything

But some of them may not get used much.

The boys on Language Log often foam at the mouth (but in a decorous and academic fashion) about claims that language X lacks a word for Y. I always felt slightly irked to be informed that Old English mōd (> MnE mood) or Middle English corage (> MnE courage) had no equivalent in contemporary English. Such words were always a little mysterious and I felt that it was being implied that English was a little wanting. Both words appear to mean something like “animating spirit” among other things, and it’s probably possible to find some phrase which would more or less capture the mysterious meaning in other contexts.

On the other hand, Chinese still appears to have words for everything, even if they don’t get used much. As regular readers will know, Chengdu (in particular) and Wuxi (often) can be foggy, misty, or hazy, and anything after that requires modification in English. I was bodging around my Chinese dictionary this morning and stumbled across the words 霾 mái “thick haze” and 阴霾 yīnmái “thick dark haze”. I’m not sure the word peasouper quite captures the latter (or even the former), but 阴霾 does describe the state of affairs usually just before it starts raining here.

The weather has been more beneficent over the past couple of days. Clear yesterday; very thin layer of cloud (or pollution) today. I expect, though, that I’ll be rolling out 阴霾 sooner or later.