Karl Hagen's blog

2 Jul 2006

For Bibliophiles

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I recently discovered the site LibraryThing, which lets you catalog your books online and see how your collection matches with other people's. The social networking part of the experience is particularly nice. Right now, I'm busily engaged in entering all my books. I've been wanting to catalog them for a long time now, but I haven't had the energy. One nice feature is that you can type in the ISBN, and it will look up all the relevant information for you. It's a big time saver, although it's not always perfect. For example, there is a field for "Original Language" for the case of translations, but this is almost always blank.
15 Jun 2006

Either Literal or Actual

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Before I got sidetracked by vagueries, I was actually checking out a variation on the ongoing reanalysis of literal(ly) to mean "figurative(ly)" (i.e., the opposite of literal in its traditional sense).

The usage I mean is most familiar in contexts such as

"I skipped breakfast and lunch, so by dinner I was literally starving to death."

Usage books object to this construction on the grounds that the speaker here is certainly not actually starving. But it's easy to see such constructions as simple hyperbole, which of course speakers deploy all the time.

The question is whether the speaker intends the expression as exaggeration or has actually reanalyzed the word's meaning, thinking that literal means figurative. In sentences such as the one above, it's not really possible to tell, since either reanalysis or exaggeration could explain the sentence. Indeed, a simple substitution of "virtually" or "metaphorically" in the sentence above actually weakens the intended emphasis, so even if reanalysis has occurred, a sense of exaggeration remains.

20 May 2006


Submitted by Karl Hagen
Home from Cozumel (the trip was my wife's birthday/anniversary present to me) where we went diving and snorkling. It's a great place, although still quite battered from Hurricane Wilma. Most of the trees are still largely denuded of their leaves, and the reefs, especially the shallow ones, have really suffered. They're covered with sand. I came home with a ruptured eardrum. I was diving on the last day--we went down to about 65 feet on the second dive. On the way up, though, I couldn't get the air to clear from my right ear. The pressure just kept building up. If you have trouble equalizing on the way down, you just scrub the dive, but there's not much you can do when you're already at depth. You have to come up, after all. So I ascended, and eventually I felt the pressure release, and the pain went away. I thought no more of it until the plane ride home. Then my ear really started to hurt. It too, eventually cleared, but this time I had some blood coming out of my ear. (Usually a sign that the eardrum has been ruptured.)
10 May 2006

'Many' vs. 'Virtually Every'

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I recently ran into a claim that seems to have risen to the level of folk linguistics. In this version, the claim runs either "in the vast majority of languages" or "in virtually every language" the word for mother begins with m. Google {"word for mother" begin m} and you'll see what I mean.


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