It’s all relative

In a conversation today I referred to “one of my wife’s brothers”. I have one wife, who has two brothers, and the man I was referring to is “one of the brothers of my wife”. I was immediately aware, though (and, by the look on his face, so was the man I was talking to) that it sounded very much like I have multiple wives, and that I was talking about “one of the brothers of one of my wives”. There is a distinction, though: the second (hypothetical) person is “one of my wives’ brothers”, but this is easily missed in general speech.

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engaged

Yesterday we celebrated the engagement of one of my nieces and her fiancé. So who is engaging whom, or are they both engaging each other?

The past participle form of a verb can used as a verb to show a process, or as an adjective to show the result of that process.

My employers engaged me to teach English. I was engaged to teach English by my employers. I am engaged in teaching English.
She engaged me in conversation. I was engaged in conversation by her. I am engaged in conversation with her.

The change from to teach English to in teaching English and by her to with her is a sign that something has happened to the grammatical status of engaged in each case.

In my niece and nephew-in-law-to-be’s case, presumably:

He engaged her. She was engaged by him. They are engaged.

Ummm ….

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or

Many years ago, air hostesses archetypally asked passengers

“Tea or coffee?”

The possible answers were

“No, (thank you)”
“(Yes), tea(, please)”
“(Yes), coffee(, please)”
or
“Yes.”

In the last case, the air hostess would then ask

“Tea? Or coffee?”

This can also be written as “Tea or coffee?” but is distinguished by a rising intonation on “tea”, followed by a small pause, then a falling intonation on “coffee”, compared to an overall upward intonation for the first “Tea or coffee?”.

English grammar distinguishes polar (or yes/no) questions and alternative questions. The answers to “Do you want a hot drink?” are “Yes(, I want a hot drink)(, please)” and “No(, I don’t want a hot drink)(, thank you)”. Offering tea and coffee as a choice doesn’t fundamentally change that. Strictly speaking, the only two answers are “yes” and “no”. Answering “yes” is not non-cooperative; answering “yes, tea” or “yes, coffee” is cooperative, but not required.

On the other hand, the answers to “Do you want tea? or coffee (?)” are “Tea(, please)” and “Coffee(, please). Answering “Yes(, please)” is decidedly non-cooperative, and may result in a cup of coftea. (There are more choices; I found a 50-page academic paper titled Responding to alternative and polar questions. And less academically:

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memo-risation

Yesterday someone asked me for a piece of information which I might have stored in the memo app of my mobile phone. I checked and it wasn’t there, but I was able to find it otherwise. Scrolling through the memos, I spotted three which I thought would make a good blog post. (Among a lot of perfectly useless stuff which I can’t remember why I memo-rised.)

Roasting consists of a balance of right handed TIMING and intuition. NOW. LIKE. FREE. ADDICTION.
&up cafe size up, taste up & feel up
Dq vv our Is lay all i have sos hh hny i do mmm / ggg chiq winner as good as new super does yr mother thank you mm

The first two are obviously from coffee shops in Korea (the first was the university campus branch of a major chain; I can’t remember where the the second was, but the date means that it was either in my regional city, possibly the bus terminal, or at Incheon airport), but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the third was/is. I looked at it again in the train on my commute home, but it wasn’t until I typed it into my blog drafts document that I realised what it was. I’ll let you ponder that before you click ‘read more’. (The only clue is that it’s got nothing to do with the first two.)

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nipple

Last night a friend showed me a photo of his nipple. It turns out that in plumping and piping, nipple is a standard term for a small fitting with a ‘male’ thread at each end. It screws into the ends of two other pipes with ‘female’ threads. This friend is studying for an Australian trade qualification, and was showing me photos of his work and study projects. His nipple is a study project he had to design and tool. Because I was previously unaware of this metal-working usage, and previously aware of the anatomical usage, I couldn’t quite believe that he was saying what it sounded he was saying. His Korean pronunciation of English didn’t help.

I don’t know whether his workmates are predominantly Korean or Australian. For a moment, I thought that his Australian workmates (if indeed he works with any) had set him up by telling him incorrect and slightly naughty words for things, but a quick check of the mobile internet showed that he was indeed correct. There are other slightly naughty words in the metal trades: tool, nut, cock, screw and male and female parts spring to mind. I showed him a photo of an anatomical nipple, but he didn’t indicate whether he already knew that use.

And

C’mon, it’s only 16 years ago!

Oh now I feel old! The topic in the textbook was science, and as a filler I showed the students some science-related movie trailers, starting with the ‘based on a true story’ movies Hidden figures, The theory of everything and The right stuff. Then I showed some science fiction, starting with 2001: A space odyssey. I said ‘How many of you remember 2001’? I was expecting a few hands. I don’t know how old my students are, but I would guess late 20s or even early 30s for some of them. (Others are much younger, possibly late teens or early 20s.) No-one (but me) remembers 2001???? At least they could have said ‘Oh, that was the year I started school’ (as indeed one of my nieces said when I posted on Facebook about this later.)

Then I showed them Back to the future 1 & 2, and 1989’s imagining of 2015 made much more sense to them than 1968’s imagining of 2001. (In general, BttF got more right than 2001.) Along the way I found 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Right, 10 Things Back to the Future 2 Got Wrong and a parody by CollegeHumor made in 2015 with the benefit of nowsight. I also tried to find the American talk/comedy show which snared Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd as guests on 21 October 2015, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t remember whose show it was on. A Facebook friend later told me it was Jimmy Kimmel.

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