Tag Archives | Language

Genpatsu-Shinsai: The Language of Disaster That Stalked Japan

Japan Earthquake 03/11/2011Interesting article from Leo Lewis in the Times from 2007, about how Japan nearly avoided a “nuclear power-quake disaster” back then. It always seems when these great disasters happen there was the one lone expert who no one took seriously. Leo Lewis writes"
Japan’s turbulent history of war and natural catastrophe has already given the world a terrifying vocabulary of death: tsunami, kamikaze, Hiroshima. But the country now stands on the brink of unleashing its most chilling phrase yet: genpatsu-shinsai — the combination of an earthquake and nuclear meltdown capable of destroying millions of lives and bringing a nation to its knees. The phrase, derived from the Japanese words for “nuclear power” and “quake disaster”, is the creation of Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Japan’s leading seismologist and one of the Government’s top advisers on nuclear-quake safety. He said that the world may never know how close it came to its first genpatsu-shinsai this week. Luck, as much an anything else, helped to avert it.
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How Anything May Signify Anything: William Friedman And The Biliteral Cipher

FriedmanNYPL2_FINALCabinet Magazine has a fascinating and mysterious article on William F. Friedman, perhaps the greatest code-breaker in modern history. Friedman became a hero of World War II by breaking Japan's PURPLE code and inventing the Army's best cipher machine. He did it all using the 'biliteral cipher', a simple but powerful encoding technique invented in the sixteenth century, which allows for hidden messages to be conveyed by anything from flower petals to musical notes to faces in a photograph:
It is unlikely that Bacon’s cipher system was ever used for the transmission of military secrets, in the seventeenth century or in the twentieth. But for roughly a century from 1850, it set the world of literature on fire. A passion for puzzles, codes, and conspiracies fueled a widespread suspicion that Shakespeare was not the author of his plays, and professional and amateur scholars of all sorts spent extraordinary amounts of time, energy, and money combing Renaissance texts in search of signatures and other messages that would reveal the true identity of their author. Even after the recent publication of James Shapiro’s comprehensive history of the authorship controversy, Contested Will, it is difficult for us to appreciate the depth of conviction — among writers as diverse and as distinguished as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Henry Miller, and even Helen Keller — that Shakespeare’s texts contained the secret solution to what was widely considered to be “the Greatest of Literary Problems.”...
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‘Democracy’, ‘Extremism’, ‘Stability': Decoding The Code Words In News Media

2960235713_9c5c610b98Terms such as "stability", "democracy", and "religious extremism" in political discourse are generally used in a way that is different or opposite to their generally understood meaning. Metadeniz presents a quick, amusing, and insightful primer on what Noam Chomsky calls "words with a technical meaning." Including:
Promoting Democracy verb installing a government friendly to our interests in another country. Freedom Fighters noun a proxy terrorist army that we support National Interest noun the interests of the ultra-rich, particularly those in the U.S.A. Stability noun (used referring to other countries) subordination to US power interests -> Usually achieved through war against the population. Example: "We should promote democracy by supporting the freedom fighters in Nicaragua because it is in America's national interest to promote stability in Central America." Translation: "We should send weapons to a proxy terrorist army that murders civilians to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua, for the benefit of U.S investors and to intimidate other countries into doing what we say."
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How ‘OK’ Took Over The World

OKBBC News reports:

It crops up in our speech dozens of times every day, although it apparently means little. So how did the word “OK” conquer the world, asks Allan Metcalf.

“OK” is one of the most frequently used and recognised words in the world.

It is also one of the oddest expressions ever invented. But this oddity may in large measure account for its popularity.

It’s odd-looking. It’s a word that looks and sounds like an abbreviation, an acronym.

We generally spell it OK – the spelling okay is relatively recent, and still relatively rare – and we pronounce it not “ock” but by sounding the names of the letters O and K.

Visually, OK pairs the completely round O with the completely straight lines of K.

So both in speech and in writing OK stands out clearly, easily distinguished from other words, and yet it uses simple sounds that are familiar to a multitude of languages.

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Experts Determine The Age of A Book That ‘Nobody Can Read’ — The Voynich Manuscript

Voynich ManuscriptReally fascinating. I think the conventional wisdom is the book is a prank, but a truly elaborate one. Daniel Stolte writes on PhysORG:

While enthusiasts across the world pored over the Voynich manuscript, one of the most mysterious writings ever found — penned by an unknown author in a language no one understands — a research team at the UA solved one of its biggest mysteries: When was the book made?

University of Arizona researchers have cracked one of the puzzles surrounding what has been called “the world’s most mysterious manuscript” — the Voynich manuscript, a book filled with drawings and writings nobody has been able to make sense of to this day.

Using radiocarbon dating, a team led by Greg Hodgins in the UA’s department of physics has found the manuscript’s parchment pages date back to the early 15th century, making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought.

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Hidden Messages Woven Into Birds’ Nests

kitenestJust more evidence that non-human animal species have deeper intelligence than we give them credit for, and communicate in ways to which we are oblivious. Wired Science discusses a secret form of bird-language, which we should probably learn if we hope to foil the coming avian takeover:

The discovery of messages in raptors’ nests has raised the possibility that many bird species encode signals into these structures, with seemingly decorative flourishes actually full of meaning.

Among black kites, scraps of white plastic are used to signal territorial dominance. To other kites, the scraps are a warning sign. To humans, they hint at an unappreciated world of animal communication.

“It’s probably very common that other bird species decorate their nests in ways compatible with what we found,” said Fabrizio Sergio, a biologist at the Doñana Biological Station in Spain. “And not only birds, but fish and mammals.”

A few species, such black wheateaters and bowerbirds, are already known to use nest design in courtship displays.

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The Personal Is Not Political

Personal is PoliticalVia The First Church of Mutterhals:

The phrase ‘the personal is political’ always bugged me, but I could never articulate why. There’s just something off about it, like conflating religious belief and science, or the mixture of church and state. I was recently reading the Christopher Hitchens autobiography and I came by this quote regarding the inception of the phrase:

“At the instant I first heard this deadly expression, I knew as one does from the utterance of any sinister bullshit that it was — cliché is arguably forgivable here — very bad news.”

He goes on to say that now you only needed to flout your attachment to whatever arbitrary delineation (as he brilliantly puts it, “a member of a sex, or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic “preference,”) to be considered a revolutionary. This is coming from a person who wears his arrest record proudly, having been done in for numerous protests and rallies and the kind of rabble rousing people my age and younger can’t even imagine.… Read the rest

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Six Easy Theses – Tools for Cosmological Discussion

sacred_scienceEnjoy as I have the recent posts concerning God and the New Atheists (great band name btw), and there is nothing as comical to me as reading atheists argue for the futility of engaging in these arguments, I do think that the ground needs a little clarifying so that these discussions, that I believe have value in the platonic sense, can gain some traction given a few tools to help the language.

The dichotomy between theism and atheism is perhaps a step of generality too far, and leads one to engage in those kinds of circular arguments that both sides find frustrating.  So I propose the following terms, in order to help us identify our beliefs, or non-beliefs, in a way that fosters informed discussion.

1. There are at least 2 types of atheists. One I will call the Micro-Atheist, that type of person who approaches the cosmos without the need to ascribe consciousness to things he/she has no evidence to support.  The Micro-Atheist is the quietest type since he/she admits that his/her non-belief is simply grounded in not having any first hand experience of such evidence.  The second type I will call the Macro-Atheist.  This latter type approaches the cosmos with scientific rationality, and supposes that such scientific principles are universal, and given the inability of theists to prove their claims, these atheists propose that there is no divine consciousness directly influencing human affairs.  And this is a reasonable assertion, however, it is still an assertion.… Read the rest

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The Most Annoying Word (What)Ever

Personally I would have voted for “like,” as more people than I care to think of are incapable of voicing a thought without using that once useful but now despicable word. “Whatever” is also fairly heinous, though! From Reuters:

Whatever you think about using grating words, at the end of the day it’s actually better not to say whatever, if you know what I mean.

WHATEVER

For the second consecutive year “whatever’ topped a Marist poll as the most annoying word or phrase in the English language.

Nearly 39 percent of 1,020 Americans questioned in the survey deemed it the most irritating word, followed by “like” with 28 percent and the phrase “you know what I mean’ at 15 percent…

[continues at Reuters]

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Top New Words For 2011: Palinism, Obama-mess

2011‘Palinism and ‘Obama-mess’ are funny, but what has me worried is the prediction that we’ll all be talking about the Great Recession in 2011. The Global Language Monitor has released their top 10 words to be in vogue in 2011:

  1. Twenty-Eleven – The English-speaking world has finally agreed on a common designation for the year: Twenty-eleven far outstrips ‘two thousand eleven’ in the spoken language. This is welcome relief from the decade-long confusion over how to pronounce 2001, 2001, 2003, etc.
  2. Obama-mess – David Letterman’s neologism for 2010 also works for 2011. This word is neutral. If Obama regain his magic, he escaped his Obama-mess; if his rating sinks further he continues to be engulfed by it.
  3. Great Recession – Even the best case scenario has the economy digging out of this hole for the foreseeable future.
  4. Palinism – Because the media needs an heir to Bushisms and Sarah Palin is the candidate of choice here.
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