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Sesame Street Linguistics

This morning my son was watching Sesame Street and I heard Grover ask rhetorically, "Anyone know what 'agglutination' means?" I immediately had Aran practice saying the word, but he's a little young to lecture on morphological structure, so I left it at that.

Diagramming Word Salad

Friday, I wrote about Kittey Burns Florey's attempts to diagram a few of Sarah Palin's utterances. Today, I'm going to continue with the second of her attempts, which is decidedly more challenging because the utterance has serious grammatical issues no matter how you slice up the sentence.

Palin's Diagram

Slate has a piece by Kitty Burns Florey, the author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, in which she attempts to diagram a few of the more egregiously strange comments that Sarah Palin has made during her interviews.

As she notes, diagramming a sentence tells you nothing about the sentence's meaning:


I don't blame Elmo

At Language Log, Arnold Zwicky has a post on illeism, which I found personally relevant, as my son Aran is 3, and I find myself frequently using appa (the Tamil word for father) to refer to myself ("Appa will get you juice," etc.). He rightly dismisses the complaints of parents who blame Elmo from Sesame Street.

Tasty Relief

While driving in to work this morning, I head the reporter on NPR talking about a sense of "palatable relief" on Wall Street due to the bail out of AIG. After I finished snickering, for which elitism I will soon, doubtlessly, be punished by the law of prescriptive retaliation, I googled the phrase. It's not very common (only 100 g-hits as opposed to 8080 for 'palpable relief'), and a few are just accidental collocations crossing phrase boundaries, but clearly this is not unattested.


Contain your righteous indignation for a moment and consider the much-maligned word irregardless. There are two arguments typically advanced against it, usually together: first, that it is "not a word," and second, that it is a kind of double negative. The first claim is simply stupid. By any reasonable definition of what a word is, of course it's a word. Just because a word irritates you does not demote the utterance from wordhood.

Those pesky pronouns

Your high school English teacher always warned you about those ambiguous pronouns, but many of the examples she gave you probably weren't really ambiguous in a practical context. Here's one that is demonstrably ambiguous, but not, I think, for the reasons usually offered in high school textbooks. Language Hat grouses about an explanation offered by Dear Abby about the distinction between "burn down" and "burn up."
DEAR ABBY: Does a house "burn up" or "burn down"?

Yep, I'm a computer nerd

As evidence of which, I read Geoff Pullum's example in this Language Log post without initially twigging to its strangeness in terms of ordinary English:
Please select a valid pick up date (DD/MM/YYYY) greater than today.

Captchas should be fixed

I've apparently been having problems with the captchas that protect the comment and contact forms, but I don't see them when I'm logged into the site, so it took me a while to notice. Sorry for that. They should be working now.

The Predictive Validity of the SAT

A few days ago, the New York times carried an article about the SAT with the headline "Study Finds Little Benefit in New SAT."

Here's the lede:

The revamped SAT, expanded three years ago to include a writing test, predicts college success no better than the old test, and not quite as well as a student’s high school grades


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