Monday, February 06, 2006
Given the massive popularity and incredibly publicity for the Super Bowl in the US, it always comes as a bit of a surprise to me how little attention it gets in the UK. I was planning to watch it last night (it is at least broadcast on a major network -- not difficult given the late hour), but couldn't even stay up until coverage began at 11:30. This morning, well, it may as well not have happened. To give you an idea, here are the top sport stories at the moment, according to BBC's Sport Bulletin:
1. Football: Arsenal defender Sol Campbell returns to training after disappearing on Wednesday.
2. Football: Queens Park Rangers have suspended manager Ian Holloway as suspicion mounts that he will become the manager of Leicester City.
3. Rugby: Scotland upset France 20-16 in Six Nations rugby
4. Rugby: England beat Wales 47-13 on Saturday's Six Nations match; England are now strong favourites to win the tournament (betfair currently gives [decimal] odds: England 1.75, France 3.5, Ireland 13.5, Scotland 19, Wales 38, Italy 1000).
5. Rugby: Ireland beat Italy 26-16 on Saturday, in part due to what is widely believed to be a terrible call.
6. Formula One racing: Michael Schumacher returns to training early, grumpy about Ferrari team's preparation
7. Cricket: Pakistan beat India in the first one day international. According to this article, "Pakistan 311-7 beat India 328 by seven runs (D/L rule)". For those few readers unfamiliar with the D/L (Duckworth/Lewis rule), it can be explained very simply. So simply, in fact, that I won't even bother, but will instead refer you to a few relevant websites:
Summary of D/L method, International Cricket Council
The dummy's guide to Duckworth-Lewis
Cric Info Duckworth-Lewis Update
Duckworth/Lewis made easy?
although of course the definitive reference should be the Duckworth/Lewis source "Your comprehensive guide to resetting targets when the overs have been reduced in some limited overs/one day matches", available for a mere £5.95+p&p here. But I digress.
8. Tennis: Tim Henman moves up in tennis rankings, now #38 in the world. Even though he lost in the semifinals of, erm, some tennis tournament in Zagreb.
And that's it. End of the sport bulletin. No mention of, erm, hot new superstar who led his team to the pinnacle of NFL success. Or, of the grizzled old veteran who taped up his broken knees and made the game-saving tackle. Or perhaps the shamed kicker whose shaky nerves lost his team the ultimate prize. Or, I dunno, hotshot receivers shamed after being caught live on camera at halftime in a cocaine-fuelled romp. Whichever, if any, of these stories were relevant to this year's Super Bowl, I couldn't say. I should note that it wasn't *completely* ignored. For example, on this morning's Radio 4 sport news, they did report that the Super Bowl had indeed happened, and gave the final score (probably for the benefit of American expats alone).
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Last week I wrote anout BBC's series "Balderdash and Piffle", a program about words and the stories behind them made in collaboration with the Oxford English Dictionary (that post is here). I was especially bothered by all the fluff that was included in the attempt to create some suspense, and to make the show more interesting or accessible. Well, yesterday was the second episode of the series, focusing upon the letter M. My hopes were not high, and rightly so as this episode seemed to include even more fluff. It started with an investigation of the term "management-speak" which, the show's presenter argued, is frequent enough in the language that it warrants an entry in the OED. Well, that seems straightforward enough, right? Just assemble an assortment of evidence showing consistent use over a period, submit it to the OED who will decide whether it warrants an entry. Well, that's not entertaining enough. So before the dénouement (SPOILER: the answer is "yes"), there was a lengthy and painful digression showing how ineffective Churchill's wartime speechifying would have been, had it been implemented and delivered in the application context of a management-speak framework paradigm. Ho! Ho! Ho! How silly it would have been if his speeches had been delivered in management-speak with crucial supplemental information provided by Powerpoint(TM). We'd all be speaking German today, jawohl! Und so weiter.
Another "fluff" element of Balderdash and Piffle I didn't mention before: various famous individuals telling the delighted viewers about their favorite word beginning with this week's letter. I can tell you that Germaine Greer's favorite M-word is "moan" (in the sense of "to complain"). Why this matters I cannot say, but just in case I should choose one for myself (I'll decide by the time I finish this entry).
Another sizable chunk of the show investigated the origin of the phrase "the full Monty". Various unsubstantiated theories have been put forward: "Perhaps. the most plausible is that it is from a colloquial shortening of the name of Montague Maurice Burton (1885-1952), men's tailor, and referred originally to the purchase of a complete three-piece suit. Also popular but unsubstantiated is the belief that the phrase is somehow derived from Monty, the nickname of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976)." After substantial investigation, on-site interviews with individuals somehow connected with the two Montys, and some other digressions, various unsubstantiated theories remain unsubstantiated. However, an early piece of evidence for this term was found: a 1982 Manchester telephone directory which listed The Full Monty Chippy. Not exactly headline news, though.
Perhaps the best part of this week's program relates to the term "Mackem" (someone who comes from Sunderland, or a supporter of the Premiership's worst football club at this moment [won 1, drew 3, lost 16]). This term didn't appear in the OED (until now!), but is widely used (at least regionally). The piece may have been more interesting because it did not involve an annoying presenter, but instead focused upon a local publicity effort to find the origin of the term, and also because it really focused upon the word: the regional extent of its use, the semantic breadth of reference, and also trying to find printed documentation of its use (also raising the issue of difficulty in finding such evidence for terms that are much more common in speech than in writing). The segment also featured some brief interviews with young Newcastle football supporters (Newcastle and Sunderland are fierce local rivals) who provided helpful and amusing definitions of Mackem ("It's a _______ ________", "*******", "%£%@$%", and so on).
But I reserve my greatest vitriol for (what felt like) the longest segment in the program: exploring the term "man" (to me it's mainly interesting because of the amount of detail in the OED's etymology). It featured my favorite presenter who seems to relish the idea of providing filler fluff for the program, and went on and on about how shocking it is that "Man" once meant "Person", not just "Adult Male Person". This segment reached its low (and a low I doubt can be exceeded in future episodes) when the presenter made her way to the Cerne Abbas Giant (another link, National Trust link) (if you don't know about the Giant, follow one of the links or the following won't make much sense). While an overhead (helicopter) shot showed the presenter standing on the Giant's phallus (removed by the Victorians but returned to him later), she reminded us that a phallus does not make a man; she then made her way to the Giant's head! Aha! That is what makes a man! A brain! Not what's down below! This segment irritated me so much I intentionally soiled myself. I can't wait till next week's episode.
Anyway, now it's time for my favorite word beginning with "M". There are just so many to choose from. "Myth" has been a word of some discussion in the Dunce household (Mrs. Dunce wonders whether its origin is related to the cult of Mithras. Answer unknown so far), but I can't really call it a favorite. For now, I think I'll go with "maim": OED: "Originally: to disable, wound, cause bodily hurt or disfigurement to. Subsequently: to deprive of (the use of) a limb, etc.; to mutilate; to cripple." Documented uses of "maim" in the OED range from centuries old (Chaucer, c1395) to quite new (Maya Angelou, 1981). And there is some debate about the ultimate origin of the term, which comes to us from Anglo-Norman (mahaigner, maheimer, mahemer, mahimer, maigner, mehainer), and Old/Middle French (mahaignier, mehaignier, meshaignier). I was having a lot of trouble deciding between "maim" and "mayhem". Turns out I shouldn't have bothered; "mayhem" originated as a variant of "maim".
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Yesterday was the first episode of
BBC's series "Balderdash and Piffle", a television program about words
and the stories behind them (made in collaboration with the Oxford
English Dictionary). I'm extremely interested in this topic (see
references to BBC's Word Hunt from my "nerd post"
in July) but was rather skeptical about how the topic would translate
to television. Sadly, I have to report that the answer is "not very
well". The episode was brought to you by the letter "P" (all the words
under investigation [except one] started with "P"). I suppose this is
as good a theme as any, given the lack of similarity of any other kind
among the words and phrases in question.
The main aim of the investigation was to find conclusive evidence of a
particular usage (for example, "gay" [the one non-P word] used to mean
"homosexual". Earliest such documented use 1935) predating the earliest
instance in the OED's current records. And this, on its own, makes for
very dull television: either a particular piece of evidence is
definitive or not. In order to liven things up, an annoying presenter
wandered around, visiting various members of the public who had found
potential pieces of evidence (or even, visiting the National Archives
looking for early evidence herself), then presenting this evidence to
an OED panel. When the panel found the evidence insufficient (quite
reasonably, I thought) she tried to wheedle (wheedle: Origin
obscure. Possibly a survival in a specialized application of OE.
"waedlian" to beg, orig. to be poor, from "waedl" poverty. - OED)
and beg for the evidence to be accepted anyway (in a most unseemly
fashion). She did have one instance of success: the term "ploughman's
lunch" to refer to (essentially) a cheese & pickle sandwich, but
this took a convoluted path laden with television-friendly fodder.
First she visited a number of pubs (where ploughmen's lunches are
served), then without success, went to visit some ploughmen (and did
some plowing herself, you know, because she was talking to ploughmen).
Still no success so then she visited someone associated with the
British cheese industry, who directed her to someone who was
responsible for cheese-related publicity in the 1950s and 60s, and
indeed this person had some early advertising materials (unfortunately,
undated) which predated the earliest documented usage. But then,
finally, we followed her to the National Archives where she
(eventually) breathlessly waved a few dated records of ploughmen's
lunch publicity. And hooray, this evidence was good enough for the
suits at the OED. But only a tiny smidgen of this segment had anything
to do with words or phrases.
Other p-words were included, I guess, to fill out the program. "Pig",
for example, is one of the few English words that actually seems to be
of Anglo-Saxon origin. This was enough to launch a piece on pigs (and
piglets, for of course the term "pig" originally referred only to the
young of the species; once the term expanded to include swine in
general, the term "piglet" was adopted to fill the gap). Similarly,
there was a long (and quite entertaining) diversion into "polari" (an
argot/cant used by various underworldly sorts, taken up by gay
communities on sea and in London [EDIT: As Chig commented below, use of Polari was certainly not restricted to London]),
mainly consisting of older Polarists reminiscing about some of their
favorite terms. In passing there was another visit to the OED panel
with supposed evidence for the homosexual sense of "gay", all rejected
as ambiguous, thanks to coreference with the Gay 90s and very frequent
use of "gay" in other senses. This is one of those cases where, most
likely, the only acceptable evidence would be an overt definition or
explanation in context (for example, one of OED's examples, from 1955,
goes like this "Most of the officers at the station had been ‘gay’..an American euphemism for homosexual.").
By setting a goal of providing definitive, conclusive proof, the OED
has made this a difficult (but reasonable) task, but one ill-suited to
There is one real benefit to this series, however (in addition to
gaining additional linguistic evidence which will be incorporated into
the OED). In conjunction with it, the OED is making (some of) its
online content available to members of the public (ordinarily there is
a substantial subscription charge. Fortunately my institution
subscribes). Words beginning with "P" are now available for browsing by
the public (go here
to play), and the full content of the OED can be browsed for 48 hours
after transmission of the program (so you have 28 hours from the time I
post this message). Judging from the list,
I guess we should also expect B and M to follow. Possibly N too ("naff"
was mentioned in the discussion of "polari", but no indication was made
that its origin was also being investigated. In fact, its etymology was
presented as an acronym N.A.F.F., but the current OED entry suggests
that this is a "later rationalization" rather than an origin). I'm sure
I will eagerly watch the additional episodes, but will be similarly
disappointed. The world is just not ready for a proper etymological
television series without the fluff.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
I have to break my one-a-day habit if I'm ever going to finish my travel posts before I'm off traveling again (heading to a conference in Belgium on Saturday where I will be presenting a little of this and a little of that.). But I had to say something about our TV experience in Tallinn. Previous trips have taught us that we enjoy watching TV in other countries as a good way to chill out while traveling and at the same time getting a different take on things, especially commercials which can be especially hilarious (e.g. Japanese commercial which showed a young man choking down massive amounts of noodles, with a message something like "Cook them in 3 minutes, eat them in 3 minutes") and/or mystifying (it can be incredibly hard to figure out just what's being sold if you don't know the language or the popular brands).
As I mentioned in a previous entry, we got a good variety of channels from different countries, but were drawn to the German telly from the start (perhaps because the Finnish edition of Big Brother hadn't quite started). Perhaps because we both understand a certain amount of German, but I like to think the content had something to do with it.
DISCLAIMER: My interest in the following has nothing to do with any relatives living in Kentucky, or any relatives-in-law living in the Carolinas
First, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of coverage of Forbidden Love, ja, the Liebe between an Inzest-Mutter and an Inzest-Vater, and featuring plenty of images of the resulting Inzest-Baby (the latter with pixilated eyes as appears to be the custom in German images of young children). I'll summarize from a nice Austrian report. Susan (21) and Patrick (28) are brother and sister from Zwenkau (Saxony) who have now had four children together at an impressive rate of just over one per year. Patrick is imprisoned at the moment (on charges related to the first few), and the big issue now is whether Susan will be locked up as well. Every news report contained more developments (The lawyer speaks. Then a parents' rights advocate speaks. Then we hear from child services. Then an angry mother. The only thing we didn't get was a German version of I'm My Own Grandpa), and believe me it's difficult to keep a straight face hearing "das Inzest-Baby" again and again.
But wait, there's more. During the programs there was constant reference to "Sarah & Marc in love", including brief clips of these characters. She, a blonde German girl. He, a dumb dark-haired American guy. And then suddenly, the reality program commenced. They're apparently both pop stars (she, he) who have fallen in love just like America's favorite newlyweds [sic]. Perhaps the situation is quite parallel, as her music career seems to be a bit more advanced than his (she has not one but two English-language sites, he doesn't seem to have any. They also have a son, Tyler [who had pixilated eyes on the series] who does not seem to have any musical career at the moment). I'd never heard of either of them, but perhaps in Hasselhoff-land they are household names. Anyway, the program was following them up to their DREAM WEDDING which happened while we had access to German TV. We saw a couple of episodes, which revealed one important thing: despite being a German pop star, poor Mr. Terenzi seems to have a very minimal amount of ability in the German language. Which caused him great difficulty as he tried to understand and produce German while being followed by cameras shooting a documentary for the German market. Both Mrs. Dunce and I learned German in the midwest, and there was a great similarity between his attempts at German, and our duller classmates in, say, the first year of instruction. Even speaking directly to camera, his German was limited to the most basic sorts of words and phrases and slipped back to English at the drop of a hat (e.g. Sarah ist, erm, sehr schell, erm, about the wedding. [I think he meant to say that she's stressed, upset, nervous, but probably not "fast"]). Conversations in German went on around him, not the most difficult but he gave an impression of understanding nearly nothing.
The wedding happened on a sunny beach in Barcelona (apparently they occupied a public beach and tried to turn away the public, requiring the Spanish police to get involved. And "Frank" the wedding planner left some of the gifts behind in rainy Germany by mistake, so she wouldn't speak to him for most of the wedding day). Mrs. Dunce applauded the choice of a beach wedding as Sarah was able to be barefoot, reducing her severe height advantage over poor Marc. And most romantic of all, he sang his new single to her at the wedding (available now for purchase, imagine that!). Their vows were in English, fortunately for him (She did not suffer from the American Second Language Syndrome; her English was flawless, and I am sure this is not just from rehearsing the vows).
A strange and mysterious television world indeed. But now we have to leave them behind as none of our channels seem to be interested in covering their daily activities. Thank goodness for the comprehensive Official Site which offers plenty of photos, music, even the details to hire Frank to plan your own wedding!
Thursday, August 11, 2005
It's all over the news today (or at least
all over the "news"): there is some concern that one of the final four
contestants on the UK's sixth season of Big Brother1 is not really a genuine, ordinary member of the public! As everyone's favorite best-selling newspaper in the UK put it,
Big Brother bosses Endemol have some urgent questions to answer over contestant Makosi Musambasi.
Makosi is revealed to be an actress who won her place on the show with the help of a slick, professional audition video.
That firm is said to have invoiced Endemol for £600. But Endemol deny
payment and say they did not know Makosi was with an agency.
Reality TV is supposed to be about ORDINARY people impressing the producers at auditions to win their chance of fame....
(wonky line breaks and emphasis courtesy of the original article, which
by the way appeared as the main front page article). So let me get this
straight. One of the contestants on this television entertainment
program is revealed to be an actor?! In the strange world of reality
television, that seems as real as you can possibly get, after all,
other housemates from this season have included (from the official Big
Brother site) an "entertainment entrepreneur", model and runner-up as
Miss Northern Ireland (1999), "Promotions Girl", "Most Handsome Man in
Italy" (1996). A plain old wannabe actress is plenty "real" in this
context. Anyway, when did "they" decide that reality television was
supposed to be about the ORDINARY? As far as I know, most ORDINARY
people are not quite so desperate for fame (or at least the low-grade fame that some contestants manage to achieve)
Or maybe I'm just jealous that they didn't want ME to be in ANY OF
their shows. But perhaps that's because I am not ORDINARY but only
1Big Brother is still hugely popular in the UK:
evictions are still decided (mostly) by public vote, daily programs are
quite highly rated, and extensive coverage appears even in the most
legitimate of news sources (Times, Guardian).
EDITED: Quick denial by everyone involved (SOURCE):
"Nothing untoward has gone on and Makosi went through the same audition process as anyone else," a spokesperson for Endemol insisted.
A rep for Envenio admitted that Makosi was on their books after signing up through the company's website but denied that the invoice related to her.
"As far as we know, Makosi is not an actress," Envenio chief executive Paul Booth told the BBC. "She signed up for our new faces section, which is for members of the public who aspire to be involved in the business. She put her details on our website. We emailed Makosi details of the Big Brother auditions, just like we emailed a lot of our members... it is no different to a company walking down the street looking for people....
A statement from Channel 4 read: "Makosi went through the same audition process as every other housemate and was not fast-tracked in any way."
Not that I'm keeping track or anything.