Posts tagged media

Le Petit Robert: covid is masculine

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Image of Petit RobertFrancoinfo reports that Le Petit Robert, a popular single-volume French dictionary, reckons that “usage is law” and considers that the word “covid” is used as a masculine noun in the majority of French-speaking countries.

In its 2022 edition, Le Petit Robert, one of the two major commercial dictionaries in France (the other being Larousse. Ed.), reckons the word “covid” is written with a lower case first letter and is also masculine.

To designate the viral disease which has spread throughout the world, Robert distinguishes the generic term “covid“, as in the example “suspected covid“, and the specific one of “Covid-19” with a capital letter. Robert’s definition of “covid” is: “Infectious and contagious disease caused by a coronavirus”.

Its competitor Larousse consistently uses a capital first letter, i.e. “COVID-19” or “Covid-19“.

Doubts about gender

Covid-19 is an acronym created in English by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) and adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February 2020. It means 2019 coronavirus disease.

Its gender has been the subject of doubts in French. For Le Petit Robert, it is “masculine or feminine“, but more often masculine, whereas for Larousse, it is “feminine or masculine“: more correct as feminine, but masculine for many speakers.

When introducing its 2022 edition of the dictionary, Le Petit Robert reckons that “it is usage that dictates the law. If the feminine is adopted in French-speaking Canada, the masculine is currently used by the majority in France where the opinion of the Académie Française (the principal French council for matters pertaining to the French language. Ed.) has been late in coming, whilst the masculine was already well established”.

Rush of words linked to the pandemic

Le Petit Robert has added several words linked to the pandemic, some of which are very current in today’s language, such as “déconfinement” (end(ing) or lifting of lockdown), and rarer ones such as “aérosolisation” (“airborne diffusion of fine particles by aerosol”).

French is not the only language to have experienced a surge of neologisms linked to the pandemic. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that 1,200 new German terms have been inspired by this global health crisis.

Twitter: a correction

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The media and social media today are awash with the result of yesterday’s Hartlepool by-election which was surprisingly won from Labour by the Tories*.

However, some of the language being used to describe the victory is prone to error, such as the example below from Twitter’s trending topics.

Screenshot from Twitter trends showing the Conservative MP described as an MP instead of a candidate

As the winning Tory was not the sitting MP, the correct way to describe her is as a candidate, not an MP. She only becomes an MP upon winning a parliamentary (by-)election.

In times past such a basic error would have been picked by a sub-editor or similar, but they were all dispensed with some years ago. 🙁

*= Hartlepool hasn’t had A Tory Member of Parliament since it was represented in Westminster by Peter Mandelson. 😉

Proofreading failure dumps elderly in river

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Courtesy of my old college friend Paddy, I’ve been sent the following clipping from the dead tree edition of the Evesham Journal via social media.

It relates to problems on the River Isbourne, a tributary of the Warwickshire Avon.

Text reads: Mrs Payne says. fellow landowners nearby have had similar problems with vandalism and having items being thrown in the river, including the elderly.

Even though the elderly have had a bath thanks to ambiguity and poor proofreading in the Evesham Journal’s dead tree version, this age discrimination has thankfully been eliminated from the paper’s online version of the report.

No pensioners were harmed – or dunked – in the drafting of this blog post.

NASA’s next lunar rover to use free software

Being born in the mid-50s, some of my main childhood memories include the Cold War rivalry of the “Space Race” between the then USSR and the USA, all reinforced by such TV fare as Jerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Fireball XL5.

These have stayed with me throughout life and I still follow human achievements in space closely.

Coming hard on the heels of the Ubiquity helicopter’s first flight on Mars (posts passim), German IT news website heise reports that NASA’s next lunar rover will also be powered by free and open source software.

In 2023 NASA will launch its Viper (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) rover which will be searching for and mapping water ice (which could one day be used to make rocket fuel) on the Moon’s surface. The rover will be equipped with high-tech instruments and tools: wheels which can revolve well on the dusty lunar surface; a drill which can dig into the lunar soil and hardware which can survive the lunar night which lasts 14 days and during which temperatures can drop to -173 degrees Celsius.

Viper Lunar rover

Image courtesy of NASA

Whereas Viper’s equipment is largely bespoke, the rover will run mostly on open source software which can be freely used and adapted. If the mission is successful, it will not only lay the foundations for a future Moon colony, but also enable the aerospace industry to develop and operate its robots in a different manner.

Open source technology has been little thought of to date in respect of space missions. It costs vast sums to build something space-worthy which can find its way to a target hundreds of thousands of kilometres away and carry out its specific tasks there. The natural impulse is usually to conceal the necessary know-how. On the other hand, open source software is often associated with cobbled-together programming for small projects such as hackathons or student demonstrations. The programming code that fills online repositories like GitHub is often a cheap alternative for groups with little money and few resources.

Into space with open source

The aerospace industry is being propelled forward by many factors, not least the increasing drive into space. This also entails a demand for cheap and accessible technologies, including software. Even for major organisations like NASA, for whom funds are less of a problem, the open source approach can result in better software. With open source, scientists can access additional expertise and feedback from a wider community when problems arise, just as amateur developers do.

If open source software is good enough for the likes of NASA, it should probably also be good enough for everyone else trying to control a robot remotely from Earth. As ever more new companies and new national agencies throughout the world are trying to send their own hardware into space and at the same time keep costs down, cheaper robotics software able to cope with risky missions could be a major benefit.

2 Robonauts robotsNASA has already been using open source software for 10-15 years in several research and development projects. It manages a very comprehensive range of open source program code. However, its use for space robots is still in the initial stages. One of the systems the agency has tested is the Robot Operating System (ROS), a collection of open source software frameworks which is maintained by Open Robotics, a non-profit which is based in Mountain View, California. ROS is already used in the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, which has assisted in the International Space Station’s research, and in the autonomous Astrobee robots, which float around the ISS supporting astronauts in their routine tasks.

The ROS will carry out ground flight control tasks. NASA staff will control the Viper rover from Earth. Ground flight control will then use the data collected by Viper for a real-time map and rendering of the lunar environment, with which the rover’s drivers will then be able to navigate more safely. Other parts of the rover’s software also have open source roots: the “Core Flight System” (cFS) program, which NASA developed itself and made available free of charge on GitHub, is responsible for basic functions like telemetry and on-board file management. Viper’s mission operations beyond the rover will be carried out by Open MCT, another NASA development.

Viper will be controlled in real time – almost

In addition, the Viper mission is suitable for open source software. Because the Moon is so close, the rover will be able to be controlled almost in real time, meaning that part of the software does not need to be on the rover, but can be run on Earth instead.

However, Viper doesn’t run fully on open source software. For example, its onboard flight system uses reliable proprietary software. Nevertheless it can be assumed that future missions will both use and extend the open source software used for the Viper mission.

A Scots terminology question

One Twitter account I follow is Miss PunnyMany for her insights into Scots English. She’s just asked a very important question of manners and terminology in this tweet, as shown below.

Tweet reads Is hen rude?

Well, is “hen” rude?

Let us see.

An accurate definition would be a good place to start.

A general glossary of Scots vocabulary posted on Stirling University’s website provides the following definition:

hen: vocative term for a woman (e.g. ‘It’s aw richt, hen’), or a general term of endearment for anyone.

Note the phrase “general term of endearment“. That’s a big clue, indicating that its use is confined to close friends and acquaintances.

This view is largely borne out by the tone of the responses to Miss PunnyMany’s tweet.

Furthermore, a few respondents rightly point out that, like “pal” south of the Border, “hen” may be used in a pejorative or threatening manner to people outside one’s immediate social circle.

Mhairi Black MP

You don’t talk shite, hen!

An example of this can be found in a place a fair way from Scotland, namely the chamber of the House of Commons in Westminster.

Back in March 2017, SNP Member of Parliament Mhairi Black gave rise to comment in the media and on social media when appearing to mouth the words “You talk shite, hen” to a response by Tory minister Caroline Nokes, then the Under Secretary of State in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ms Black had just made an impassioned speech that criticised a Government proposal to withdraw housing benefits for 18-21-year-olds. Her silent, but lip-read comment denoting her clear displeasure came during Ms Nokes’ reply which naturally defended the government’s cruel proposal.

So there you have it, use “hen” sensibly and restrict it to family, close friends and acquaintances, you shouldn’t go too wrong.

Shabby? Not me, says PM

Worzel Gummidge, the British Prime Minister, has responded to criticism in the press regarding his “shabby” and “disrespectful” appearance, and that he “couldn’t even do his hair” when making a statement in Downing Street about the death on Friday of Philip Mountbatten-Windsor, aged 99.

Lookalikes - Boris Johnson and Worzel Gummidge

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the scruffiest of them all?

Speaking from Chequers, a visibly shocked an astounded Worzel Gummidge apologised to those who had expressed their anger on social media and added: “Anyone would think I always looked as if I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, like former London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson!”

Abroad thoughts from home

One fascinating aspect of the country’s foolhardy departure from the European Union is the fate of Britons in the 27 member states of the European Union; and more particularly how they are depicted here now that the “free and independent coastal state” of Brexitannia has “taken back control“.

Keen observers of the British media will note all foreigners seeking to come to the English Empire (which some refer to as the United Kingdom. Ed.) to settle are referred to as “migrants“. When used by the right-wing press or politicians, “migrants” has a clear pejorative tone to the effect that these people are not as good as us.

However, in line with British exceptionalism as Brits seeking to or having taken up residence abroad are termed “expats” by the fourth estate, as per this typical specimen from yesterday’s Daily Brexit, which some still call Daily Express.

Headline reads Brexit BACKLASH: British expats could abandon Canary Islands for Greece and Cyprus

Expats? Emigrés? Immigrants?

 

Of course, what the Daily Brexit forgets is that even in Greece and Cyprus, holders of those nice, new and allegedly blue British passports will still be classed as third country citizens by the Greek and Cypriot authorities; and if they try staying there for longer than the maximum period without applying for a residence permit, they’ll be regarded as illegal immigrants, just as they are now finding out on the Costa del Sol.

Expat” is of course a truncation of the term “expatriate“, with the shorter form’s first recorded use in the first half of the 1960s.

When people move for work, settlement or other reasons, the language used about them is always full of meaning. In earlier, less judgemental times those who left British shores to settle abroad might have been referred to as “émigrés” or “emigrants“, whilst those coming here for permanent settlement were “immigrants“, which had more than its fair share of negative connotations in times past.

Nowadays all those negative connotations are to a certain effect by “migrant“, which, unlike “immigrant” or “emigrant” is not specific about the person’s direction of travel.

Nevertheless, I can see the exceptionalism continuing and am not expecting the Daily Brexit to refer to Brits resident abroad as “British immigrants” at any time soon. 😉

PS: Apologies to Robert Browning for this post’s title.

Another classic headline

Bristol Live (formerly the Bristol (Evening) Post. Ed.) really has form when it comes to writing ambiguous headlines (posts passim).

Attempting to drive whilst giving birth is extremely dangerous! Do not try it on the roads! 😀

Headline reads 'Dangerous driver had baby in car before crash'

Theft, consent and tautology

Another day and every regional newspaper in the country is replete with examples of one of its mainstays – reports of criminal cases being processed through the local courts of justice.

The details of one case in particular on the Bristol Live (formerly the Bristol Post. Ed.) website caught my eye for one single sentence.

In the relevant sentence we are told that the defendant*

stole his dad’s car keys without consent last October.

I have never before heard of an item being stolen with its owner’s consent, so let’s examine that sentence in detail.

We are told the defendant “stole his dad’s car keys“.

The dictionary definition of the verb to steal is “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force“. That definition includes the words without permission, i.e. without consent.

The lack of consent is implicit in verb’s definition, hence the qualification without permission is superfluous.

This brings us to another concept with which the author of the piece in question will be unfamiliar: tautology, i.e. “needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness“.

To some it may seem that I’m being overly pedantic, but as a linguist I’m all too aware that words matter as they are the only tools we have to convey meaning and in being the main source of information the press has a duty to use them properly.

* = Name omitted as having his name pop up once for a youthful misdemeanour in search engine results is enough without my adding to his woes.

Planning for clichés

The inspiration to write this post was what an old friend referred to on social media as the Town Planners’ Little Book of Tired Clichés.

We were discussing a press report on long-term plans for Bristol Temple Meads, the city’s main railway station and its environs.

The report itself was written up from a press release issued by the literary geniuses employed in the Bristol City Council Newsroom down the Counts Louse (which some people now call City Hall. Ed.).

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Bristol Temple Meads. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whilst avoiding clichés has long been a given as advice for good creative writing, the various actors quoted in the Temple Meads piece seem to relish in their use.

Thus the surrounding area “will be rejuvenated with housing, shops and hospitality outlets creating a new area of the city where people can live, shop, visit and socialise”.

Note the exemplary use of rejuvenated.

In addition, how a new area of the city can be created by covering an existing but derelict city area in architecturally contrived arrangements of building materials is beyond me. If you have any clues, dear reader, please enlighten me via the comments.

Then there’s that essential element for anything involving urban planning – the vision thing. This is ably provided in this case in a quotation by Network Rail’s spokesperson: “We are delighted to be working with our partners on this significant regeneration project and Bristol Temple Meads station is at the heart of this vision.”

Helmut Schmidt, who served as the West German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, had a thing to say about visions: “Wer Visionen hat, sollte zum Arzt gehen“. In English: People who have visions should go to the doctor. Genau! Sie haben Recht, Herr Schmidt.

Needless to the whole glossary of hackneyed phraseology seems to have been upended into the phraseology mixing bowl to create something not only unappetising, but indigestible: ambitious; innovative; rejuvenate/rejuvenation; regeneration; gateway; transformation/transformative; integrate; blueprint; showcase.

And on the clichés go, marching tediously across and down the page.

There are nevertheless a couple of absolute gems in the piece to compensate for all this guff.

Firstly,there’s the timescale for the plans. We are are informed that “work is not expected to start for another decade with the expected completion not until 2041 at the earliest“. Thus all that hot air is being expended on something whose actual implementation is two decades in the future; if not more.

A well-known adage springs to mind: pigs might fly.

Secondly, there’s the promise of an integrated transport hub. Basically this means creating a major public transport interchange (as seen in sensible city’s where the local bus/tram serve the railway station). To my knowledge, there’s been talk of a transport hub/interchange at Temple Meads for at least 3 decades already, so for it actually to become a reality within 5 decades would entail the city’s infrastructure planning process moving at more than their usual slower than tectonic plates speed.

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