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A Yankee Dime (full episode)
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2010/10/19
4:19pm
San Diego, California
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Remember misunderstanding certain words as a child? Maybe you figured "cat burglars" only stole cats, or assumed guerrilla fighters must be angry apes. Martha and Grant discuss childhood misunderstandings about language. Also this week, Yankee dimes, culch piles, hanging crepe, educational rubrics, and whether the language you speak influences the way you think.

Download the MP3 here (23.7 MB).

To be automatically notified when audio is available, subscribe to the podcast using iTunes or another podcatching program.

There's a point when children understand just enough of their native language to be confused by homophones and metaphors. What misunderstandings do you remember? Maybe you thought cat burglars stole only cats, or that you might be swept out to sea by the undertoad? The hosts discuss childhood misunderstandings about language.

Some business owners give their establishments names like "Ye Olde Coffee Shoppe." What most people don't realize is that the letter Y in this case is a vestige of a letter we no longer use, and has a "th" sound. More about this letter here.

A woman from upstate New York says her stepfather used to keep small dishes in various rooms to collect small odds and ends like paper clips and rubber bands. He called them culch piles. Martha has the story on this term.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle based on the candy called "Mentos." It's called Mento Stimulation. Example: What kind of minty candy would be appropriate for musicians?

A North Carolina man says he was surprised as a child when he did a chore for his grandmother, and the Yankee dime she promised him turned out to be a peck on the cheek.

A Texas caller says her child's middle-school teacher insists that students should never begin a sentence with a preposition. The hosts are shocked, shocked.

Martha describes a funny linguistic misunderstanding she had while trying to read Harry Potter in Spanish.

Predictive text on cellphones can result in some amusing accidental substitutions. The word for that: textonym.

Does the language you speak shape how you think? The hosts discuss an essay on that topic adapted from the new book "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," by Guy Deutscher.

Reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, an Indiana listener is stopped short by the sentence "She carried a tray of charlotte." Who or what is charlotte?

Someone who paints a negative or pessimistic picture is said to be hanging crepe. Martha has the origin.

The word rubric derives from a Latin word for "red." Originally, it referred to red letters used as section headings in religious texts and the like. Rubric has since become a term used in modern educational jargon, as in grading rubric. What's the connection?

2010/10/19
9:38pm
Ron Draney
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Grant Barrett said:

There's a point when children understand just enough of their native language to be confused by homophones and metaphors. What misunderstandings do you remember? Maybe you thought cat burglars stole only cats, or that you might be swept out to sea by the undertoad? The hosts discuss childhood misunderstandings about language.

In my sixth-grade school play, I played the role of Pontius Pilate, and my brother (in second grade at the time) was cast as a thief in an earlier scene. Mike came home and broke the news to my parents: "Zeb's going to be Pilot, and I'm going to be a thief and steal his plane!"

Does the language you speak shape how you think? The hosts discuss an essay on that topic adapted from the new book "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages," by Guy Deutscher.

As luck would have it, I had just finished reading this book when this show aired. It's not immediately apparent from the synopsis, but the word "Looks" in the title is more literal than you'd think, since the first five chapters concentrate almost entirely on how different cultures divide up the range of colors visible to the human eye. It took me a while to think of a non-visual counterpart to Deutscher's example of Russian using the words siniy and goluboy for what we would call "light blue" and "dark blue".

An anime series I used to collect had a character who underwent one magical transformation when he was doused in water, and the reverse transformation when hot water was used. I often wondered at what temperature the direction of the spell was reversed; learning that the Japanese word for "hot water" is unrelated to the word for "water" solved that mystery.

2010/10/20
9:16am
dilettante
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Martha (as I recall) mentioned "'taint yours, and 'taint mine." It's part of a quote attributed to Mark Twain, though I'm hard pressed to find the exact source: "His money is twice tainted: 'taint yours and 'taint mine."

2010/10/20
10:10am
Glenn
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As I listened to the conversation on rubric, I was stunned with appreciation when Grant said "gaining inertia," employing the scientific meaning of inertia, rather than the common one. It was much more effective than the prosaic "gaining momentum." Bravo.

2010/10/20
8:10pm
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Last week I down loaded a Lingua Franca podcast from the ABC (Thanks Grant for reminding of this intriguing show. I used to listen when I was working in Australia but after returning to the North America had stopped) on this very topic. It focussed on how this pattern in language affected the perception or at least presentation of time.

Time is often represented spatially, like a timeline. If you are discussing something and putting them in temporal order and happen to gesture as an English speaker you are likely to wave your left hand if something happened before and your right hand if something happened after. People with cardinal direction only languages, tend to gesture from East to West and thus the hand gestures change with the direction they are facing. The researcher looking into this effect had people place photographs into temporal order (A chick being hatched form an egg was the example given). English speaker as you would expect arranged the pictures from left to right. Cardinal direction speakers arranged the pictures from east to west. If the speaker was facing North the pictures would run from right to left, if the subject was facing west the pictures were placed in an order running away from them, etc. [This makes me wonder about other languages such as Arabic or Chinese that aren't oriented from left to right.] I was so fascinated by this story I sent a link to the episode and a link to the research paper (I was so interested I looked up the research paper) to my wife

Here are some links
the Lingau Franca episode:
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/linguafranca/stories/2010/3007980.htm

The research paper:
http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/absolute-time.pdf

Oh and I just noted that When I googled the paper just below was an article about Mandarin that answered question at least for one language:
http://psychology.stanford.edu/~lera/papers/mandarin-time-2010.pdf

And then this evening I ran across Richard Feynman discussing why mirrors flip images from right to left but not top to bottom.

And makes me wonder how the Pormpuraawan would view the effect.

2010/10/21
12:59am
Ron Draney
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Mogen_david said:

And then this evening I ran across Richard Feynman discussing why mirrors flip images from right to left but not top to bottom.


Ah, but they do reverse top to bottom! Just put the mirror on the floor and step onto it, and note how your reflection's feet are above its head.

2010/10/21
3:31am
Glenn
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It's a matter of reference. What I hear Dr. Feynman saying in the clip you reference is that, technically, conventional flat mirrors always reverse front to back, or near to far, with respect to their reflective surface. If you change your point of reference to the reflected object, the position of the mirror and object will change the discussion, just as Ron says.

While I admit this point of view is not particularly helpful, I prefer to think of the effect as similar to turning a shirt inside out.

2010/10/22
8:14am
Lea2010
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I'm a native Russian speaker, so when I heard the word "charlotte", I immediately remembered that there is a popular dish in Russia called "sharlotka", which is actually a kind of pie, usually made with apples, just like Grant described. In Russia, most people will know what it is if you ask them, so it was a bit funny for me that the dish puzzled some people, and I mean it's funny how some things that are common in one culture may be completely strange in another.

2010/10/22
1:33pm
Mogen_david
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Glenn said:

It's a matter of reference. What I hear Dr. Feynman saying in the clip you reference is that, technically, conventional flat mirrors always reverse front to back, or near to far, with respect to their reflective surface. If you change your point of reference to the reflected object, the position of the mirror and object will change the discussion, just as Ron says.

While I admit this point of view is not particularly helpful, I prefer to think of the effect as similar to turning a shirt inside out.


But if your language/world does not have a left or right how does this effect you perception of what is going on in a mirror? Would it make it easier to answer the question asked by Feynman's Fraternity brothers? Or does the psychology of perceiving that your mirrorred self "walked around the the miror and is now facing you" become less prevalent. The perception is no longer left vs right but south vs south. Can this question even be asked if you don't perceive direction referentially? How do they perceive a mirrored image?

2010/10/22
1:47pm
Glenn
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You are right: with only the North-South-East-West perspective at your disposal, a mirror would be quite interesting. The perceived reversal would no longer be constant (front to back, near to far, or left to right), but would depend on the orientation of the mirror. If the mirror is positioned running N-S, the Left-Right reversal would be N-S reversal, the self facing you would now be facing to the opposite compass point (E or W depending on which side of the mirror is silvered and facing you). Vice versa if the mirror is positioned E-W. I can't even begin to guess what they would say if the mirror is positioned Northwest to Southeast, let alone NNW-SSE.

But I wonder about a simpler thing: do all their ways and paths run reliably along the compass points to make discussion of movement and position simpler, or do they have simple words for the primary angles? How complicated it might be to tell someone sitting next to you on a bus to move over to the left, if that bus is on a road going north-north-northeast. "Kindly scoot a bit west-west-northwest, would you?"

It would be a handicap in any culture to have only one possible point of reference when discussing position and movement. Unless you have several options for a point of reference, it would be easy to construct simple situations that would be difficult to express. I suspect that most, if not all, cultures might have a linguistic preference for a certain point of reference, but still have multiple options to select from, as we do, as the need arises.

2011/07/23
7:40am
willsing4bread
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Grant Barrett said:

Reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, an Indiana listener is stopped short by the sentence "She carried a tray of charlotte." Who or what is charlotte?

– I've shopped many times at a women's and girl's clothing store here in Richmond called Charlotte Russe… I always assumed it was just a girls name. It's much more interesting now that I know the true origin.

2011/07/26
7:35pm
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I grew up with the rubrics in the Episcopal prayer book, though in the everyday editions they were no longer red. They were marked with the mark you'd use for 'paragraph' in proofreading, a side-to-side reversed 'P' (dispensed with in the latest update) and printed in italics (still the case.) There, they are essentially stage directions: "Here may be sung a Hymn or an Anthem." "In the absence of a Priest, a Deacon may say all that is before appointed unto the end of the Gospel." That is, in general, part of the text that the officiant needs to see but not read aloud.

The question in this show made me think about the separate lines of descent for the two meanings the caller brought up.
The idiom "under the rubric of" could originally have been used for cases where it meant "under the qualifying rule of…".
Why are they singing "Something's coming" from West Side Story? It comes under the rubric of "Hymn or Anthem," apparently.
("Under the heading of…" is certainly applicable in many of those cases, of course; chapter headings in red ink are similarly part-but-not-part-of the text.)

The very recent use of the term as "rules, in a collection of rules that can be enumerated" also fits with the church usage; it speaks to an attempt to make standardized grading possible, so standardized testing can use essays and the like. (This approach reached its zenith with the Ming Dynasty 'eight-legged essay', a terrifically formalized set of rules for the civil service exams in China. Are we headed back that way?)

This note adds nothing in particular to the sum of human knowledge; just introducing myself, because I enjoyed the show.

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