“Us pedants”

Today at work our editor was talking to an administrative colleague about a mistake he’d spotted in some administrative document. The colleague was surprised he’d spotted it. He said “That’s what us pedants do”. Of course, I just had to say …

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Two days ago the textbook had a reading about a course for “speedaholics”. I started simply by writing speedaholic on the board and asking them what they thought it meant. They quickly figured out that it was somehow analogous to alcoholic. One student guessed it referred to cars – a car provides speed in the same way that a drink provides alcohol.

The suffix -(a)holic means “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity”. When you think about, it really should be –ic, because alcoholic is alcohol+ic, but no-one would understand speedic etc. Continue reading

‘I am your father …’

While I was preparing another post (which I might complete some time soon), its topic brought to mind the line in the movie Space Balls, when Dark Helmet (the parody version of Star Wars’ Darth Vader) says to  Lone Starr (ditto Luke Skywalker) ‘I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate’. The simplest interpretation is that your father’s brother’s nephew is you, and you may easily have met your cousin’s roommate. The next is that your father’s brother’s nephew is your cousin, and his cousin is you; you have certainly met your own roommate. Either way, you, your father, his brother, his nephew and his cousin are all in the same gene pool. But the nephew could be by marriage (your spouse’s sibling’s son) and/or the cousin could be through his other parent; either way the chain of relationships is not all that long. I can trace my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law’s cousin’s step-mother.
One thing, though – Dark Helmet probably wouldn’t say ‘I am the former roommate of the cousin of the nephew of the brother of your father’, and I probably wouldn’t say ‘The mother-in-law of the cousin of the brother-in-law of my brother-in-law’.

Commas save lives!

Circulating around the internet in various forms is a short text, often in poster form, to the effect: “‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ Commas save lives.”

I’m not convinced that commas save lives or, if they do, that this pair of sentences is a very good example of it. Firstly, I doubt that anyone in the history of the world has ever written either of those two sentences in earnest. Regarding the first sentence, if you were seriously considering eating Grandma, you wouldn’t want to leave written evidence of it; regarding the second, you would just say it, rather than spending the extra time writing it, unless, perhaps, Grandma was deaf, in which case miming would still be quicker than writing. Secondly, I doubt that anyone in the history of the world has ever said the first sentence in earnest. If you were seriously considering eating Grandma, you would probably raise the suggestion in a far more roundabout way. Thirdly, no-one would say the first sentence in exactly the same context as the second: the second sentence is directed to Grandma; the first is directed to anyone else (probably not in Grandma’s presence, but possibly with her there, especially if she if deaf). Fourthly, the grammatical structure and/or meaning of a spoken sentence are indicated (and can be changed) by intonation and timing. ‘Let’s eat / || Grandma’ (that is, upward intonation, slight pause) is unambiguous when spoken.

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‘no room in the ___’

Two words in St Luke’s Greek vocabulary are ‘kataluma’, where the Last Supper took place and which is usually translated ‘upper room’ (22:11, see also Mark 14.14), and ‘pandocheion’, where the Good Samaritan took the injured traveller and which is usually translated ‘inn’ (10:34). So in 2:7, describing the birth of Jesus, when he writes ‘there was no room in the ____’, which word does he use? ‘kataluma’, the upper room or guest chamber of a private house.

The Bible Gateway website compares 51 different translations. 34 of them (just on two-thirds) use ‘inn’. Other translations are: village inn 1, ‘inn [or guest room (of a private residence); or caravan shelter]’ 1 (the Expanded Bible), guest room 4, guestroom 1, guest-chamber 1, guest quarters 1, chamber 1, hostel 1, the house for strangers 1 (which suggests more a commercial inn than a private house), living-quarters 1, lodging 1, lodging place 1, the place where people stay for the night 1, malon (inn) 1 (the Orthodox Jewish Bible; ‘malon’ appears to be the Hebrew word for ‘inn’). There are several other Greek words translated ‘lodging’.

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