holic

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

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Gogol Bordello

Maybe I shouldn’t look too closely at tattoos on people on trains.

Last night, just before my train got to my station, I moved towards the door, along with several others. The man in front of me had a large number of large tattoos. Looking in the general direction of the floor, I noticed that the one on one calf said ‘GOGOL BORDELLO’. I just couldn’t put those two words together. I know who Gogol was, and what a bordello is, but the two words together just didn’t make sense. Continue reading

“A glass on her head”

I wish I could draw, but I can’t. Sometimes I draw very simple stick figures and sometimes those leave my students even more confused than before.

A few days ago, my students were doing a communicative activity. The book provided two sets of drawings of six people with small difference between them, the activity being to describe each person accurately enough that their partner would understand that the drawing was different. One of the people was wearing sunglasses on her head. One student said, “She has a glass on her head”. I asked “What has she got on her head?”. She replied “A glass”. I quickly drew these stick figures:

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I repeated my question and the student answered correctly. It turns out that the sunglasses were not one of the differences between the two sets of drawings. (The same often happens with “She has a long hair”.)

Glass can only mean “the substance”, and “a glass” can only mean “a drinking vessel”. But “glasses” can mean “two drinking vessels” or “spectacles”. But in this context, “She has glasses on her head” is going to be interpreted as “spectacles”. In the context of a circus performance, we’d have to say “She is balancing glasses on her head”.

“SCHOOL RUINED MY UFE”

I really should put linguistic analysis on hold while I’m in church, but a young woman several rows in front of me was wearing a jacket with the words “SCHOOL RUINED MY UFE” on the back. I have no idea why any clothing company would make such a thing, or why anyone with any knowledge of English would buy and wear it. My theory is that someone in a clothing company in a non-English speaking country saw “SCHOOL RUINED MY LIFE” and wrote it down, but wrote the L and I too close together. (end of linguistic analysis at church, beginning of reflection and research at home.) Or maybe it’s a play on “youth”.

Except that there is a song called “School ruined my ufe” (strong language: one f-word right at the end) by a singer named The Pyrate Queen (Rebecca Isbill Davis) of Greenville, South Carolina. But she semi-rhymes “ufe” and “youth”, when she could have used “truth”, “uncouth” or “forsooth”. (implied strong language after the break)

Continue reading

Is it “wrong”? If so, why?

A few days ago my class was doing a activity based on prompts like “I like …”, “ I spend time …” and “I am good …”, with various variations. There is a small number of ways in which each of these can be completed, so I started by eliciting some of the most common.

One student completed the prompt “I’m quite good …” with “at nothing”. This flummoxed me. I can’t think of any reason why “I’m quite good at nothing” (and “I’m very good at nothing”) aren’t possible, but no-one has ever said or written them where Google can find them. It is possible to say “I’m good at nothing”, though “I’m not good at anything” has overtaken it in the last 90 years. “I’m not quite good at anything” is also non-existent, while “I’m not very good at anything” has a different meaning – “I’m good at many things, but not very good at anything”.

It was impossible for me to explain why “I’m very good at nothing” was ‘wrong’ (if indeed it was). I tried to accentuate the positive and find something – anything – she is good at, but her English is limited. I eventually said “Are you good at [her language]”. She brightened and said “Yes”. Continue reading

nerdview

Two days ago I went to an automated teller machine to withdraw some money. I inserted my card, entered my personal identification number (PIN), selected “withdraw”, selected the amount, touched “Display balance on screen” (that is, don’t print a receipt) and touched “No” to answer the question “Do you want to save this as your favourite transaction? – at which point the machine told me that I had had entered my PIN incorrectly. Right, then, why didn’t you tell me that immediately after I’d entered it? In fact, I had entered it correctly, but I’d used my credit card instead of my cash card. (It was Monday morning and my two cards are the same colour.) Continue reading

Faster than the speed of time

Every new year, most people go through a shorter or longer period of writing the old year after a date in January (and perhaps into February) (some people refer to this as the 13th month of the year). I managed to do the opposite, dating a folder of photos from my photographic outing to a baseball game on Saturday ’30 December 2018′. When another member of the group pointed this out to me, I said ‘I use a fast shutter speed – faster than the speed of time!’.

(The speed of time is, of course 3.6 x 10^3 seconds per hour.)