Translate "Suboptimal Productivity Drivers" and Win a Dictionary

Stan Carey of Sentence First and Macmillan Dictionary Blog fame has set up a challenge at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog. He has written a letter in “business-speak” and tasked readers to translate it. One winner will receive a Macmillan Dictionary of their choice. Below is the opening of the letter. Follow this link to read the rest and participate.

Dear employee,

It has come to our attention that productivity drivers are suboptimal, which clearly impacts performance deliverables. We have touched base with HQ and undergone a period of extensive consultation. Actioning this decision-making process requires frontminding streamlined competencies. We anticipate a needs-based harmonisation gap in employee feelings vis-à-vis these necessary outcomes, but we are tasked with maximising the ball-parking of our projected equity outcomes.

My translation of that paragraph is:

Underling,

You have failed yet again, which means the company is failing because of you. The powers that be know of your failings. They have given us the authority to act swiftly and brutally. For the good of the company, you will be granted no mercy.

Go here to see the rest of my translation.

Good luck and happy translating!

Image courtesy of the Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

Robert Burchfield. Teacher. Lexicographer. Original Gangster.

Before Tupac and Biggie. Before Dre and Snoop. Shit, before even Schoolly D and Ice-T, there was Robert Burchfield.

Robert Burchfield was straight gangstar. Robert Burchfield was the Suge Knight of lexicography. No, fuck that, Suge Knight is the Robert Burchfield of rapping. Respect.

Peep this: In 1957, the Oxford English Dictionary was mad out of date. The Oxford University Press needed to update that shit and they needed to do it quick. How could they call themselves a bastion of the English language when their dictionary was so old-school? Shit was whack.

The OUP knew they had to get the freshest gangsta around to edit their OED – the OG Robert Burchfield. They knew players would be hatin’ on him and his editing skillz, but they knew it had to be done. Shit would have been even more whack if they didn’t get RWB, yo.

Pictured: R to the Obert, B to the Urchfield.

Shit, you don’t think RWB knew peeps would be hating on his OED Supplement? Robert Burchfield was realer than real deal Holyfield. You think he didn’t know that shit? He knew – homeboy just didn’t care. He published that shit anywayz. It was his job to tell the world about the English language, not their job to tell him about it. Robert Burchfield took the English language and said, “It’s like and like this and like that and uh.” If punk ass bitches didn’t like it, they could come and get theirs.

And they tried to front too, writing him letters saying they would cap his ass for his edits to the OED. But all them letters were anonymous, surprise surprise, because cowards were scared of the OG Burchfield. Bitch ass death threats from fakers didn’t faze RWB, ya heard. Robert Burchfield kept rolling, slinging his dictionary papers and pimping knowledge like nobody’s bizness.

RWB went to that great editing room in the sky in 2004. But now that y’all know who the original gangsta is, you best show respect.

RIP OG RWB.

Gorey Fonts Galore!

OK, not really “galore,” but I did find two fonts based on the artwork and handwriting of the late, great Edward Gorey, author of The Curious Sofa, The Doubtful Guest, and probably most famously, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs…”

The first is called simply Gorey font (follow the link to download). It “was built over the course of an afternoon in 2001 by Dame Hex.” Daniel Steinberg made it play nice with OSX. You can see a sample of it in that fancy new title banner above. Ooh la la, n’est pas?

You’ll have to Googlize the second font, since its creator’s download site seems to be down. It’s called OgdredWeary (an anagram of “Edward Gorey”) and there are many sites offering it for download. You can check out a sample of it below.

Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought and the Need for a Linguistics PR Team

I could spend this article picking apart or promoting Pinker’s Conceptual Semantics, but what’s the point? There’s not enough room in a blog post to do either. So instead I’d like to devote this post to how much the field of linguistics needs a PR team.

The gap between linguists and the public is no more evident than in the crap people believe about language despite the truth linguistics has to offer them. More often than not, the public’s belief and the linguistic fact are polar opposites. They are so far apart that it inspired me to invent McVeigh’s Law, which states that the probability of an answer or explanation being true is directly proportional to how boring it is. This means that the most boring answer or explanation is usually the correct one (compare the etymology of fuck to what you probably heard about the king and his consent).

Fortunately, other more capable and respected people in the linguistics field have also noticed the need for a Linguistics PR team. Language Log has been fighting the good fight for a while now, as have Language Hat and Stan Carey. But last week saw the introduction of Popular Linguistics Magazine, which aims to do for linguistics what Scientific American has done for physics. Here’s hoping.

There is, of course, danger in getting the public very much involved with an academic field. It’s not that the public is dangerous to academia, it’s just that their general knowledge tends to muddy the scientific waters. For all the zeal and interest people may have in a particular academic field, there’s a point where they go from member of the public to professional in the field. The crossover usually requires a degree, which is all fine and good, but the Internet poses and interesting dilemma. With the ability of anyone to write anything about anything, professionals that attempt to educate the public in their field may find themselves with a new-found appreciation for Dr. Frankenstein (autism, anyone?).

I bring this up because there are competing theories in linguistics, theories that aim to explain the most basic principles of language. Scientific American may have been able to bring physics to the people, but physics come pre-packaged with an organized set of basic equations and principles. There may be debate on topics such as astrophysics, but no one is calling into question the equation that explains gravity. Linguists, on the other hand, can’t even agree on the purpose of language, let alone how or why it developed. <

Before I get too far down the rabbit hole of science I don’t understand, I'll bring it back to Pinker because The Stuff of Thought is his attempt to explain the very nature of language and how it offers us a window into the human mind. It’s a noble goal and it places Pinker in the class of hip authors, who are trying to bring science to the masses. Fortunately, he isn’t a journalist tying a bunch of common sense ideas together and calling it revelatory. No, Pinker at least knows his stuff (even if his writing style is poor).

And if there is one thing that is good about Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought, it’s that it pulls linguistics away from philosophy and toward science. Linguistics has only recently undergone the change from armchair philosophic theories to actual, provable, and evidence based theories. The debate among linguists about the basic nature of language may always be a very philosophical debate, but Pinker aims to back up his theory with scientific research, unlike some linguists who develop explanations for language that by their very nature can never be proved and therefore allow the linguists to never be backed in a corner. They can just deny, deny, deny.

I enjoy the shift linguistics is making away from philosophy and abstractions. I imagine that if this trend continues, Pinker’s book will be viewed positively, even if his theories are later proven wrong because it was a step in the right direction. I think the first step for the Linguistics PR team should be to explain the basic debates surrounding the major theoretic fields, as well as to squash the old wives etymology tales (Best way to do that? Make everyone aware of McVeigh’s Law). Keep it simple, people. If the PR team is able to do that, I think they really can bring linguistics to the people in the way that Scientific American brought physics to the masses. Here’s hoping.

Up next: City of Thieves by David Benioff