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kottke.org posts about language

“Airport Novella? Sounds interesting,” he said with a nod.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

Airport Novella by Tom Comitta is what he calls a “literary supercut”. Constructed exclusively from the kinds of novels one normally finds in airport bookshops, the 48-page book contains four chapters, one each for the gestures most often found in airport prose: nodding, shrugging, odd looks, and gasps. An short excerpt from the shrugging chapter:

Jeremy was silent for a moment before finally shrugging.

She shrugged without answering. “Can I be frank now?”

He shrugged. “Anything that might help me with the history of the cemetery and the town.”

She shrugged. “Shows me what I know. Being that you’re a journalist from the big city.”

He shrugged, acting innocent.

She suddenly remembered that he’d been trying to guess her age yesterday. “Yep,” she said with a shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug, and she had a sudden vision of what he must have looked like as a small boy. “Hey, I know it’s none of my business, but how did it go with Rodney?”

She hesitated before finally shrugging. “You’re right. It is none of your business.” He could almost hear her shrug.

He gave a sheepish shrug. “I suppose that depends on the perspective.”

For source material, Comitta used books like The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight series, and a novel commissioned by Donald Trump (tagline: “Leave your modesty downstairs. Trump Tower is the sexiest novel of the decade.”)

Scrabble pros recount their best and worst plays

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2017

The New Yorker interviewed a bunch of top Scrabble players about favorite moves they’ve played…their best, worst, and most humbling. I dislike playing Scrabble1 but love watching expert practitioners talk about about their areas of expertise.

  1. When I’m playing and an opponent lays down “qi” or some shit, I want to take the board and throw it across the room. I love Boggle though. It’s basically pattern matching at speed, something my brain seems to be particularly good at.

Reaction GIFs and digital blackface

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 29, 2017

In the latest installment of the newish video series Internetting with Amanda Hess, Hess discusses The White Internet’s Love Affair with Digital Blackface. From Teen Vogue, an explanation of digital blackface by Lauren Michelle Jackson:

Adore or despise them, GIFs are integral to the social experience of the Internet. Thanks to a range of buttons, apps, and keyboards, saying “it me” without words is easier than ever. But even a casual observer of GIFing would notice that, as with much of online culture, black people appear at the center of it all. Or images of black people, at least. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Oprah, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, NBA players, Tiffany Pollard, Kid Fury, and many, many other known and anonymous black likenesses dominate day-to-day feeds, even outside online black communities. Similar to the idea that “Black Vine is simply Vine,” as Jeff Ihaza determined in The Awl, black reaction GIFs have become so widespread that they’ve practically become synonymous with just reaction GIFs.

If you’ve never heard of the term before, “digital blackface” is used to describe various types of minstrel performance that become available in cyberspace. Blackface minstrelsy is a theatrical tradition dating back to the early 19th century, in which performers “blacken” themselves up with costume and behaviors to act as black caricatures. The performances put society’s most racist sensibilities on display and in turn fed them back to audiences to intensify these feelings and disperse them across culture. Many of our most beloved entertainment genres owe at least part of themselves to the minstrel stage, including vaudeville, film, and cartoons. While often associated with Jim Crow-era racism, the tenets of minstrel performance remain alive today in television, movies, music and, in its most advanced iteration, on the Internet.

Why is it called Black Friday? (Oh, and some Cyber Monday shopping deals…)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2017

Psst, I added some Cyber Monday deals to the bottom of the post.

Good morning! I hope you had a good Thanksgiving…or at least annoyed your family with this NY Times piece, Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong.

Today however, is “Black Friday”, which…wait, why do they call it that? Ben Zimmer explains that the term originated in Philadelphia’s law enforcement circles:

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, when holiday shopping kicks off and sales-hunters are in full frenzy. The day has come to be known in the United States as “Black Friday,” and there are a number of myths about the origin of the name. Retailers would like you to believe that it’s the day when stores turn a profit on the year, thus “going into the black.” But don’t you believe it: the true origins come from traffic-weary police officers in Philadelphia in the early 1960s.

Retailers love invented holidays, and the name with the negative connotation was later twisted into a shopping event. But with carefully targeted online shopping, you can now skip the rush and get some great deals on things you might need or gifts for family & friends. Poking around a little this morning, I found the following:

- The 6-qt pro version of the KitchenAid stand mixer for $280 (51% off).

- Everyone loves the Instant Pot. The larger 8-qt and the smaller 3-qt are both on sale for $82 (37% off) and $49 (30% off) respectively. The 6-qt model, the one I have in my own kitchen, was also on sale for $68 but is totally sold out already.

- Kindles are on sale. The regular one starts at just $50 (38% off) while the Paperwhite (my fave) is $90 (25% off).

- Build your own computer with The Kano Computer Kit for $100 (17% off).

- The 23andMe DNA test kit for $99 (50% off).

- I know, I know, Moore’s Law and all, but it still boggles my mind that you can buy a 4TB portable external hard drive for only $96 (26% off).

- For easy sous vide cooking, the Anova Precision Cooker is only $109 (40% off).

Update: That sound you hear is Cyber Monday kicking in. Here are a few more deals to be had today:

- This 11.6-inch Acer Chromebook is on sale for $99 (44% off). $99!

- The 6-qt Instant Pot is going for $75 (38% off)…I bet this sells out pretty quickly.

- A bunch of LEGO sets are on sale today, which is a pretty rare event.

- My pals at 20x200 are offering discount codes on orders of $75 or more today only…20-30% off.

- This quadcopter drone is only $30 (46% off).

- I’ve heard good things about these Amazon-branded t-shirts, on sale for $8.40 (30% off). I just ordered a couple to see how they compare to American Apparel b/c who knows how long that’ll be a thing…

An AI makes up new Star Trek episode titles

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2017

Star Trek Ai Titles

Dan Hon, who you may remember trained a neural network to make up British placenames, has now done the same thing with Star Trek. He fed all the episode titles for a bunch of Treks (TOS, DS9, TNG, etc.) into a very primitive version of Commander Data’s brain and out came some brand new episode titles, including:

Darmok Distant (TNG)
The Killing of the Battle of Khan (TOS)
The Omega Mind (Enterprise)
The Empath of Fire (TNG)
Distance of the Prophets (DS9)
The Children Command (TNG)
Sing of Ferengi (Voyager)

Spock, Q, and mirrors are also heavily featured in episode titles.

The Lost Words

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2017

Lost Words

Written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris, The Lost Words is a collection of words related to the natural world that are fading from our children’s minds as the “wild childhood” disappears from western society.

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds.The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke.

Ohio high school sports teams with Native American names/mascots

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2017

Daniella Zalcman

Daniella Zalcman

For Topic, photographer Daniella Zalcman went to Ohio to document high school sports teams using names and mascots that refer to Native Americans.

Outside of professional sports, words and names referring to indigenous Americans abound: there are high-school teams and squads called the Redskins, Redmen, Big Reds, Braves, Warriors, Chieftains, Indians, Savages, Squaws, Apaches, Mohawks, and Seminoles. Many of them are in the state of Ohio, which, some reports say, has over 60 high-school mascots with names considered to be slurs. (It’s worth considering the cost of “tradition”: a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress found links between these team names and the lowered self-esteem-and increased suicide rates-of young Native Americans.)

In praise of Cookie Monster, the literary muppet

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 26, 2017

monsterpiecekcomp.jpg

In De pueris instituendis (On the education of children, 1529), the great Renaissance humanist, borrowing from the classical rhetoricians Horace and Quintillian, helped reintroduce an important idea:

I have now come to the stage of my argument where I shall briefly explain how love of study may be instilled in children - a subject which I have already touched upon in part. As I have said, through practice we acquire painlessly the ability to speak. The art of reading and writing comes next; this involves some tedium, which can be relieved, however, by an expert teacher who spices his instruction with pleasant inducements. One encounters children who toil and sweat endlessly before they can recognize and combine into words the letters of the alphabet and learn even the bare rudiments of grammar, yet who can readily grasp the higher forms of knowledge. As the ancients have demonstrated, there are artful means to overcome this slowness. Teachers of antiquity, for instance, would bake cookies of the sort that children like into the shape of letters, so that their pupils might, so to speak, hungrily eat their letters; for any student who could correctly indentify a letter would be rewarded with it.

In grad school, I worked with a British literary historian who expertly broke this down into a post-psychoanalytic framework. Biscuits, like speech and writing, form a circuit between the eyes, hand, and mouth. The regulation of desire clears the way for the discipline of discourse. Like Plato, we move from the immanent and particular to the abstract and universal, but this is always mediated by the body, whose conflicting drives trouble these ideal categories.

I responded: “It’s Cookie Monster.” Growing up in England, he’d never heard of him.

Cookie’s idiosyncratic pronouns and truncated consonant clusters are a ruse. He’s easily the most verbally adept, best-educated character on Sesame Street. He teaches children the alphabet and vocabulary, and of course doubles as Alistaire Cookie on Monsterpiece Theatre. The growly voice, googly eyes, and outsized yearnings mask the heart of a scholar.

I bet he used to be a graduate student. You can’t show any of us free food without us reacting like this.

cookies.gif

He even loves absurdist metafiction:

Cookie is all of us who always get underestimated, just because we refused to always change how we talk and how we act because we went to school. But we love those sweet leatherbound books, too.

NOTE: Cookie Monster was invited and was originally slated to collaborate on this post. He was excited; I was excited. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, he wasn’t able to appear. You have his and my regrets. (I swear on Mr. Snuffleupagus: All of this is 100 percent true.)

Dictionary of Ikea product name meanings

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2017

The Ikea Dictionary is a listing of the meanings of the names of more than 1300 Ikea products.

Part of what makes IKEA unique is their product names. Each name means something, often in a funny or ambigious way. When IKEA went international, they decided to use the same Swedish names everywhere. This makes sense from an organizational sanity standpoint, but it deprives most of the world of this particular joy.

Some examples:

JERRIK - Ancient Scandinavian boy name
TROLSK - magic/enchanted, troll-like
MÖRRUM - city in south east Sweden
SNITTA - (to) cut (flowers)
SOLVAR - Norwegian boy name
VÄGGIS - made up -IS word ‘Vägg’ means ‘wall’, so ‘väggis’ could mean ‘wall thingie’

Dictionary Stories, a book of short stories composed entirely of dictionary example sentences

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2017

Dictionary Stories

From illustrator, designer, and writer Jez Burrows comes a book called Dictionary Stories, a collection of illustrated short stories that are composed entirely of example sentences from the dictionary.

One day, while looking up a word in the New Oxford American Dictionary, Jez Burrows was stopped in his tracks by an example sentence: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” It seemed like a tiny piece of fiction had gotten lost, wandered out of another book and settled down in the dictionary. With that spark, and a handful of experimental stories posted to Tumblr, Dictionary Stories was born.

Super clever.

Our collective happiness on Twitter reaches a new low

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

Twitter Happiness 2017

The Hedonometer measures the average happiness of Twitter on a daily basis and the shooting in Las Vegas has pushed the index to a new low. The previous low point was after the terror attack in Orlando last July. The two other lowest scores have occurred in the past year and a half: the mass shooting of Dallas police officers and the election of Donald Trump, which is the only non-shooting or non-terror attack to achieve such a low score in the 9-year history of the index.

How to Talk Minnesotan: The Power of the Negative

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

In the Upper Midwest, particularly in Minnesota and the northern part of Wisconsin (where I’m originally from), there’s a tendency to never say exactly what you’re thinking. Which, dontcha know, can lead to some misunderstandings when communicating with people who didn’t grow up in the area. This short video, taken from a longer documentary on How to Talk Minnesotan, demonstrates how a Minnesotan speaker uses negative words (e.g. bad, not, can’t, worse) to express positive feelings. For example, a translation of the phrase “I’m so excited, I can’t believe it!!” into Minnesotan yields:

A guy could almost be happy today if he wasn’t careful.

The pattern for color names from around the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2017

If you look at the basic colors from a variety of cultures & languages from around the world, there are differences in the number of colors represented in each language. Some languages only have words for black, white, and red while others have words for more than 10 basic colors. Surprisingly, there’s a pattern behind the development of these color words across many of these languages: the words for colors were often invented in the same order.

See also one of my favorite segments of Radiolab on the color blue.

Premium mediocre

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Venkatesh Rao recently coined the phrase premium mediocre to denote a certain type of product, service, or experience with which we are all very familiar these days.

Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden. Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is “truffle” oil on anything (no actual truffles are harmed in the making of “truffle” oil), and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio.

Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes.

Premium mediocre is Starbucks’ Italian names for drink sizes, and its original pumpkin spice lattes featuring a staggering absence of pumpkin in the preparation. Actually all the coffee at Starbucks is premium mediocre. I like it anyway.

Premium mediocre is Cost Plus World Market, one of my favorite stores, purveyor of fine imported potato chips in weird flavors and interesting cheap candy from convenience stores around the world.

The best banana, any piece of dragon fruit, fancy lettuce, David Brooks’ idea of a gourmet sandwich.

Premium mediocre, premium mediocre, premium mediocre, premium mediocre. Mediocre with just an irrelevant touch of premium, not enough to ruin the delicious essential mediocrity.

A friend used to say that if something is described as being “classy”, it almost certainly isn’t. Premium mediocre is knowing that and being fine with it. (via mr)

Fictional names for British towns generated by a neural net

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2017

Dan Hon recently trained a neural net to generate a list of fictional British placenames. The process is fairly simple…you train a program on a real list of placenames and it “brainstorms” new names based on patterns it found in the training list. As Hon says, “the results were predictable”…and often hilarious. Here are some of my favorites from his list:

Heaton on Westom
Brumlington
Stoke of Inch
Batchington Crunnerton
Salt, Earth
Wallow Manworth
Crisklethe’s Chorn
Ponkham Bark
Buchlingtomptop
Broad Romble
Fuckley

See also auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds.

Update: Tom Taylor did a similar thing last year using Tensorflow. Here are a few of his fictional names:

Allers Bottom
Hendrelds Hill
St Ninhope
Up Maling
Firley Dinch

There’s also an associated Twitter bot. (via @philgyford)

Also, Dan Connolly had a look at the etymology of the names on Hon’s list.

Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.

I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!

The United States of Food Puns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2017

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Foodnitedstates

Each of the 50 US states made of food and named accordingly, e.g. Arkanslaw, Pretzelvania, Tunassee, Mississippeas. Maps? Food? Language? How many more of my boxes could this project possibly check? Oh, this was a kid’s idea and his dad went over the top in helping him achieve it? CHECK.

Oh, and to teach the kid about capitalism, of course there are t-shirts and posters available.

The distribution of letters in English words

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2017

David Taylor analyzed a corpus of English words to see where each letter of the alphabet fell and graphed the results.

Letter Distribution

No surprise that “q” and “j” are found mostly at the beginnings of words and “y” and “d” at the ends. More interesting are the few letters with more even distribution throughout words, like “l”, “r”, and even “o”. Note that this analysis is based on a corpus of words in use, not on a dictionary:

I used a corpus rather than a dictionary so that the visualization would be weighted towards true usage. In other words, the most common word in English, “the” influences the graphs far more than, for example, “theocratic”.

Taylor explained his methodology in a second geekier post. (via @tedgioia)

This incredible State Word Map explains everything about America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2017

State Word Map

No, not that one. Or this one. Or any of these. This one.

State Word Map

Translating music into American Sign Language

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2017

Amber Galloway Gallego is a ASL interpreter who has developed new techniques and expressions to translate popular music into a richer experience for deaf and hard-of-hearing people than just simply translating the lyrics.

If you frequent music festivals and concerts, you might see her — or an interpreter like her — grooving to the music, mirroring the emotions and physicality of the artists onstage, interpreting their imaginative lyrics for concert-goers who rely on visual accommodations. She’s interpreted for more than 400 artists at this point, and has a special knack for interpreting hip-hop acts.

Part of the challenge here, particularly with fast-moving rap or hip hop, is combine or abbreviate signs in order to keep time with the lyrics. See Shelby Mitchusson performing Eminem’s Lose Yourself or Gallego doing a faster song of his, Rap God:

A dialect coach demonstrates 12 different accents

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2017

Sammi Grant is a dialect coach and voiceover artist for television and theater. In this video, she demonstrates her expertise in speaking English with several different accents, including Irish, Scottish, German, the American midwestern accent, and the Transatlantic accent, an accent invented to sound both American and British simultaneously.

No, really. That’s not a real accent. It’s a now-abandoned affectation from the period that saw the rise of matinee idols and Hitchcock’s blonde bombshells. Talk like that today and be the butt of jokes (see Frasier). But in the ’30s and ’40s, there are almost no films in which the characters don’t speak with this faux-British elocution-a hybrid of Britain’s Received Pronunciation and standard American English as it exists today. It’s called Mid-Atlantic English (not to be confused with local accents of the Eastern seaboard), a name that describes a birthplace halfway between Britain and America. Learned in aristocratic finishing schools or taught for use in theater to the Bergmans and Hepburns who were carefully groomed in the studio system, it was class for the masses, doled out through motion pictures.

This short video has some more examples of the Transatlantic (or Mid-Atlantic) accent:

How MLK’s I Have Dream speech was composed

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2017

Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is one of the greatest examples of American oratory. In this video, Evan Puschak looks at how King’s speech was constructed and delivered, examining King’s references to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address & Shakespeare, his use of lyrical techniques like alliteration and anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses), and the mixture of plain and poetic language throughout the speech. Spoiler: King was a rhetorical genius and there’s a lot going on in that speech.

(Fair warning: Trump comes in abruptly at the 6:00 mark. I get the point he’s trying to make with the contrast, but I wish Puschak would have done without it.)

Auto-generated maps of fantasy worlds

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2017

Uncharted Atlas

Uncharted Atlas

Uncharted Atlas

Martin O’Leary is a research scientist who studies glaciers, but in his spare time, he built Uncharted Atlas, a program that auto-generates maps of fantasy lands (like from Game of Thrones or LOTR) and posts them to a Twitter account. The explanation of how the terrain is generated is quite interesting and includes embedded map generators that you can play around with (i.e. prepare to lose about 20 minutes to this).

There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.

There are a few different stages to the generator. First we build up a height-map of the terrain, and do things like routing water flow over the surface. Then we can render the ‘physical’ portion of the map. Finally we can place cities and ‘regions’ on the map, and place their labels.

And here’s how the languages for the place names are generated; each map has its own generated language so all of the place names are consistant with each other and different from those regions shown on other maps.

I wanted to produce something which was a step above the usual alphabetic soup of generated placenames, and which was capable of producing recognisably distinct languages. The initial idea was that different regions of each map would have different languages, but I abandoned this because it was too hard to make it clear that this was what was going on, while still having the languages themselves be interesting.

The problem is to generate something like what the constructed languages (conlang) community call a ‘naming language’. This is a light sketch of a language, focusing purely on the parts which are necessary to produce names. So there’s little to no grammar, but a good sense of what the language sounds like, and how it’s written.

Honor and Respect: how to address President Obama and Donald Trump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2017

Robert Hickey is the deputy director of The Protocol School of Washington, which provides etiquette and protocol training. In his book Honor & Respect, he covers the “correct written and oral forms of address for everyone from local officials to foreign heads of state”. For The President of the United States, the proper forms of address are:

Letter salutation: Dear Mr. President:
Complimentary close: Most respectfully,
Announced: The President of the United States
Introduction: Mr. President, may I present …
Conversation: Mr. President

And contrary to how many media outlets refer to former US Presidents, they should not be referred to as “President” (e.g. “President Bush”):

“While it is common practice in the media and elsewhere to address and identify former presidents as ‘President (Name),’ this is a mistake,” said Hickey. “Serving as President of the United States does not grant one the personal rank of ‘President’ for life. The office of President is a one-person-at-a-time role that a specific individual holds and then hands off to the next person.”

“Courtesies, honors, and special forms of address are symbols of the power of the office. They belong to the office and to the citizens, not former office holders.”

Hickey recommends “The Honorable” as an official title (e.g. “The Honorable Jimmy Carter”) and “Mr./Ms.” for conversation or salutation (e.g. “Mr. Clinton”).

While Donald Trump was officially sworn in as the President on Friday, this site will continue to refer to Trump as “Trump” or “Donald Trump”1 and not as “President Trump”. Again and again, almost to a pathological degree, Trump has demonstrated, in word and deed, that he has not earned and does not deserve our respect and the title of his office. It’s a small protest by a small “media outlet”, perhaps petty, but as long as the First Amendment still applies, I will publish what I like on my own damn website.

And since I am all for the “one-person-at-a-time” rule, this site will also continue to refer to Barack Obama as “President Obama”. He’s earned it many times over.

  1. Or even “Fuckface Von Clownstick”. We don’t stand on ceremony here. But I won’t call him just “Donald”…that would be disrespectful to greater Donalds like Sutherland, Glover, and Duck.

AI Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2016

In the NY Times Magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus reports on Google’s improving artificial intelligence efforts. The Google Brain team (no, seriously that’s what the team is called) spent almost a year overhauling Google’s translate service, resulting in a startling improvement in the service.

The new incarnation, to the pleasant surprise of Google’s own engineers, had been completed in only nine months. The A.I. system had demonstrated overnight improvements roughly equal to the total gains the old one had accrued over its entire lifetime.

Just after the switchover, Japanese professor Jun Rekimoto noticed the improvement. He took a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, translated it into Japanese, and fed it back into Google Translate to get English back out. Here’s how Hemingway wrote it:

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

And here’s the AI-powered translation:

Kilimanjaro is a mountain of 19,710 feet covered with snow and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. The summit of the west is called “Ngaje Ngai” in Masai, the house of God. Near the top of the west there is a dry and frozen dead body of leopard. No one has ever explained what leopard wanted at that altitude.

Not bad, especially when you compare it to what the old version of Translate would have produced:

Kilimanjaro is 19,710 feet of the mountain covered with snow, and it is said that the highest mountain in Africa. Top of the west, “Ngaje Ngai” in the Maasai language, has been referred to as the house of God. The top close to the west, there is a dry, frozen carcass of a leopard. Whether the leopard had what the demand at that altitude, there is no that nobody explained.

The Great American Word Mapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2016

US Map Language

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas or Hanukkah. As the year winds down, it’s an opportunity for Americans to investigate how differently they use words in different parts of the country. In December 2013, for example, people lost their damn minds over the NY Times’ dialect quiz. This year, you can play around with The Great American Word Mapper which uses Twitter data from 2014 to plot geographic usage patterns.

For instance, you can see where people use “supper” vs. “dinner” (see above). The map indicates mixed usage where I grew up, which checks out…we mostly said “supper” but “dinner” was not uncommon, particularly as I got older. Other results are less useful…the Twitter-based “soda” vs. “coke” vs. “pop” doesn’t tell you as much as directly asking people what they call soft drinks.

US Map Language

The swearing maps are always fun (see also the United States of Swearing)…I wonder why “shit” is so relatively popular in the South?

Some other interesting searches: “moma” (alternate spelling of “momma” in the South with a small pocket of usage around NYC for MoMA), “city” doesn’t give the result you might expect, the distribution of “nigger” vs “nigga” suggests they are two different words with two different meanings, and in trying to find a search that would isolate just urban areas, the best I could come up with was “kanye” (or maybe “cocktails” or “traffic”). And harsh, map! Geez. (via @fromedome)

Timeline maps of the most popular baby names in each state, 1910-2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2016

This is cool and a little mesmerizing: animated US maps showing the most popular baby name in each state from 1910 to 2014 for boys and girls. There are three separate visualizations. The first just shows the most popular baby name in each state. Watch as one dominant name takes over for another in just a couple of years…the Mary to Lisa to Jennifer transition in the 60s and 70s is like watching an epidemic spread. Celebrity names pop up and disappear, like Betty (after Betty Boop and Betty Grable?) and Shirley (after Shirley Temple) in the 30s. The boy’s names change a lot less until you start getting into the Brandons, Austins, and Tylers of the 90s.

The next visualization shows the most particularly popular name for each state, e.g. Brandy was the most Louisianan name for female newborns in 1975. And the third visualization shows each name plotted in the averaged geographical location of births — so you can see, for example, the northward migration of Amanda during the 80s.

P.S. Guess what the most popular boy’s name in the state of my birth was the year I was born? And the most particularly popular boy’s name in the state I moved to just a year later? Jason. I am basic af.

Update: From Flowing Data, some graphs of the most unisex names in US history. (thx, paul)

Actors’ movie accents, rated

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2016

Erik Singer is a dialect coach who works with actors to perfect different accents and dialects. In this video, he quickly analyzes the performances of 32 actors based on their use of accents. Pretty fascinating to watch. He singles out Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote as an exemplary use of the proper accent. High marks also go to Kate Winslet doing a Polish accent, Idris Elba’s South African accent while portraying Nelson Mandela (and his Bal’more accent in The Wire), and Cate Blanchett playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.

Nicolas Cage in Con Air and Tom Cruise in Far and Away? Well, let’s just say they couldn’t pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.

Update: Actress Sarah Jones takes a slightly different approach to speaking in different accents. Instead of aiming for a particular generalized dialect, she picks out a particular person to impersonate.

Let’s say you want to sound like a Trinidadian woman, as Ms. Jones does in her show. She recommends you watch YouTube clips of speakers at council meetings in Trinidad until you find the person you most want to sound like. If you can meet your subject in person, it will help make your goal much easier to reach.

“I ask them to speak something very slowly three times in a row and then I have them say it at normal speed the way they’d say it three times in a row,” she said. “I have them say it the way they’d say it in school as compared to how they’d say it to a friend.”

Be sure to play the embedded audio clips of Jones speaking as her different characters. And you can watch her in action in this TED Talk:

Isis Hair Salon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Carrie Banks has owned and operated Isis Hair Salon in LA for more than 20 years. But because of recent events in the Middle East and jokers on social media, the name has become a liability in recent years. Banks has even had difficulty finding someone to replace the sign outside the salon in the event of a name change.

Harry Potter and the Translator’s Nightmare

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 20, 2016

Due to its popularity, the Harry Potter series of books has been translated into dozens of different languages from around the world. Given the books’ setting in Britain, heavy use of wordplay & allusions, and all of the invented words, translating the books accurately and faithfully was difficult.

Translators weren’t given a head-start — they had to wait until the English editions came out to begin the difficult and lengthy task of adapting the books. Working day and night, translators were racing against intense deadlines. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the longest book in the series at 870 pages for the US edition, was originally published on June 21, 2003. Its first official translation appeared in Vietnamese on July 21, 2003. Not long after, the Serbian edition was released in early September 2003.

Also not mentioned in the video is all of the foreshadowing Rowling uses in the first few books in the series that pays off in later books. Since the translators probably didn’t know the plot details of the later books, some of that foreshadowing might have been edited out, downplayed, or misinterpreted.

Stutterer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary won the 2016 Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film and is now available to view online for free courtesy of the New Yorker.

It’s a thirteen-minute movie about a young London typographer named Greenwood (Matthew Needham). Greenwood stutters, to the extent that verbal conversation is difficult. When he tries to resolve an issue with a service representative over the phone, he can’t get the words out; the operator, gruff and impatient, hangs up. (For surliness, she rivals the operator in the old Yaz song.) When a woman approaches Greenwood on the street, he uses sign language to avoid talking. But in his thoughts, which we hear, he does not stutter.

Great little film…my heart broke three separate times watching it.