Archive for October, 2011

October 26, 2011

Onomatopoeic Words

Onomatopoeia in action, pic: http://www.englishcafe.com

I know from my own experience as an ESL (English as Second Language) speaker that “onomatopoeic” is an extremely valuable word when it comes to impressing native speakers.  It is kind of hard to pronounce but that does not matter – since most people don’t know it it does not matter if one gets it slightly wrong or quickly rushes through the back part of the word with it’s difficult combination of vowels.

So what does onomatopoeic mean? An onomatopoeic word  imitates the sound it represents.  Huh?

The concept is easiest explained with a few examples:

Cuckoo – the name of the bird imitates the sound the animal makes

Sizzle – imitates the sound of something hot in a pan

Gurgle -imitates the sound of somebody – well, gurgling – water

A few more: rattle, roar, screech

A lot of words used in cartoons fall into the onomatopoeic category: plop, bang, honk, boom, zap, whack, vroom, wham, zoom –  my 7 year old son would probably know a lot more of these words.

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October 23, 2011

Baker’s Dozen

Modern version of the baker's Dozen - the glazed donut dozen, pic: memphisflyer.com

My husband asked me about this expression today and I knew the correct answer but had no idea where it comes from so I thought this might be a good blog post.  A Baker’s dozen is not – you guessed it – 12 but 13.   My original notion, namely that it was some clever marketing ploy to get people to buy at your bakery, not another by giving them 13 bagels for the price of 12 proved to be overly modern.

The expressions seems to be predating modern marketing ploys and date back to the 13th century.  An interesting but historically dubious explanation is that in the England of Henry III bakers who short-changed their customers where severely punished.  We are not talking stuff like jail time or a fine here, we are talking having your hand cut off by an axe.  To avoid such unpleasantness – so the story goes – bakers would bake a 13th of whatever with the dozen thereby reducing the risk of being one short.

Another explanation is that it is easier to bake 13 – as this makes an nice arrangement on a tray 3+2+3+2+3.  I find this unconvincing – baking 13 doesn’t mean you have to sell them all at once – but maybe I am thinking modern marketing again.

October 11, 2011

Anecdotal Evidence

I was looking for the German equivalent for anecdotal evidence and had to conclude – after consulting the internet and two more native speakers – that there isn’t such as thing as a translation of that expression, which – of course – makes it an interesting one.

That vaccination causes all sorts of mental health issues is based on anecdotale vidence - at best. pic: sfbaypeds.com

The expression “anecdotal evidence” is used when referring to evidence from anecdotes.  This implies a small sample – too small to be statistically relevant and therefore the data is unreliable.  That does not mean the fact for which one has anecdotal evidence is necessarily wrong – just that the available set of data isn’t strong enough to support the conclusion in a scientific sense.  Frequent problems are a biased sample or cherry-picked cases.

The expression does not necessarily have a negative connotation as it implies hat the person using it is aware of the potential issues and does not try to hid them.  If you say something like “What I am saying is based on anecdotal evidence” everybody will know that you aren’t making any scientific claims about the accuracy.

So, as long as one notices that what one is presenting is anecdotal evidence by nature and states this there is no issue.  The problem is people who mistake anecdotal evidence for real, scientific evidence and particularly those who are trying to sell us anecdotal evidence as the real thing – which is happening more often than we should like, especially by politicians to further their agenda.

October 9, 2011

Eye Candy

This word came up this morning in conversation and so I thought it might also make a good blog entry: eye candy.

Definitely eye candy, pic: theberry.com

To say it right away: an eye candy is nothing one eats, and is not made of sugar.  An eye candy is what the name implies: something that pleases the eye like a real candy might please the palate.  Sweet, unsubstantial and probably not all that good for you.   In short, an eye candy is a person considered highly attractive to look at.  The expression implies that these person may be lacking in intelligence or depth. The latter is not necessarily the case but it could well be.  However, it does not matter because you look at an eye candy – not engage them in intellectual conversation.

Both men and women can be eye candy, sometime the term is also used for objects.

Here is an usage example: “we had a great time at the beach – lot’s of eye candy there”.

October 3, 2011

More man-stuff

Man cave certainly is one of the more frequently used of the new “man terms” but there are others.  Here a a few more important ones:

Manscape – the process of removing unwanted and overabundant body hair from a male body.  The days where real men looked like our hairy cousins in the trees seems to be over – at least for now and so a minimum of “maintenance” is required even by males.  Which, I guess, is fair since most of them seem to expect women to undergo pricy and painful hair removal procedures frequently.  So the process of shaving, plucking, waxing a man’s cheat, back or other regions is refered to in popular culture as manscaping.

Then there is the manshower – it had to happen though I personally have never heard that any of my friends and acquaintances had done  such a thing.  The manshower is the male event equivalent  to the babyshower – an event for the dad-to-be.  Whereas the ladies are supposed to sit at home, eat dainty cupcakes and drink herbal teas the guys go out for a round on male fun, like golfing and then have a guy appropriate dinner – steak and beer at some sports bar.

October 1, 2011

Man cave

Man caves seem to be popping up all over the country – in basements and garages, dens, attics and unused bedrooms – at least if TV ads are accurately reflecting reality.  A man cave is a sanctuary for the modern man, mostly equipped with a large screen TV, video games, Wii, comfortable loungers that often lack severely in the design department and – of course – a fridge for a few cool ones.

A perfect man cave, pic: mancavemarket.com

This is were the modern man and his buddies hang out, watch sports, complain about their wives, play games, use the f-word in over-abundance  and probably visit a few sites on their computer that nether their wives, nor their mothers or priests would approve of.

The fact that the man caves defy all good taste and design sense seems part of the allure – this is where big fish and deer heads get mounted on walls, pages from the Sports Illustrated swim suit calendar adorn walls and brown pleather is all the rage.

I guess it is called man cave for a reason.   The term man space apparently exists but I have never heard anybody use it.