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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Hurricane winds: D, S, H and M

The US National Hurricane Center’s forecast maps show wind speeds as D, S, H and M. There is the explanation that D winds are less than 39 miles per hour (63 km/h), S winds are 39-73 mph (63-117 km/h), H winds are 74-110 mph (117-177 km/h) and M winds are more than 117 mph (177 kn/h). I’m sure that people in the forecast path of M winds don’t stop to wonder what these letters mean, but I’m safely on the other side of the planet, so I do. I can’t think of any set of four words beginning with these letters which would describe hurricane-force winds, In other contexts, and by themselves, S might mean strong, H high and M moderate, but that can’t be the definitions here (moderate winds are certainly not the highest category, and what’s the difference between strong winds and high winds?) The US National Weather Center’s website doesn’t have an explanation, and I can’t find anything anywhere else. Any guesses?

I can’t imagine any emergency authority saying ‘Evacuate the area immediately. M winds are forecast for the next 48 hours.’

Ugly congratulations

Yesterday my wife posted birthday greetings in English on Facebook. One of her friends wrote something in Korean which Facebook automatically translated as ‘Ugly [smiley face]’. ‘Congratulations’ in Korean is 축하해요 (chuk-ha-hae-yo) normally and 축하합니다 (chuk-ha-ham-ni-da) formally. The verb ‘[subject] am/is/are ugly’ is 추해요. An unaspirated stop like ㄱ followed by a ㅎ is always pronounced as the corresponding aspirated stop, in this case ㅋ, so 축하해요 is pronounced 추카해요, which is what the friend actually wrote. Facebook’s translator (and Google Translate when I experimented) interpreted 추 as the verb stem of ‘ugly’ and ignored the 카, which is meaningless if 추 is interpreted as ‘ugly’. It also ignored the verb conjugation.

PS I asked my wife about this. She said that people sometimes write 추카해요 in text messages or social media posts, but 축하해요 is definitely the correct spelling, and people would never write 추카해요 in any formal context.

literally

No matter what you think about the use or misuse of the word literally, the statement about last night’s (my time) eclipse, reported on a news website this morning:

It was literally cold and dark

strikes me as a remarkably clunky way to use literally (as well as a remarkably unimaginative way to describe a total solar eclipse).

(Because of time zones, I wasn’t going to stay up, or set the alarm. I just happened to wake up at 3.53 am, so I went downstairs and watched NASA’s webcast for about an hour.)

“Screw it”

Today I told the man in the coffee shop to screw it.

And he did.

Since last week I have been using a reusable coffee cup with a screw-type lid. Last week I held the lid when I gave the cup to the man, then screwed it back on myself. Today, for some reason, I put the lid on the counter. He made the coffee, filled the cup, picked up the lid and attempted to snap it on, like a disposable cup.

So I said “Screw it”.