American books are getting swearier

Psych scholars from San Diego State and U Georgia used Google Books to systematically explore the growth of swear-words in published American literature: they conclude that books are getting swearier and that this is a bellwether for a growth in the value of individualism: "Due to the greater valuation of the rights of the individual self, individualistic cultures favor more self-expression in general (Kim & Sherman, 2007) and allow more expression of personal anger in particular (Safdar et al., 2009). Thus, a more individualistic culture should be one with a higher frequency of swear word use." Read the rest

Man, cops sure do love calling their surveillance programs "Skynet"

The Solano County Sheriff's Office wants to spend $2M on a network of vehicle surveillance cameras, a program it calls "Project Skynet." Read the rest

This guy is the world's first emoji translator

After seeing a news article, emoji expert Keith Broni of Dublin, Ireland answered a job posting by London-based language firm Today Translations searching for the world's first emoji translator. After a lengthy process, the firm choose Broni out of a pool of over 500 candidates last month.

Broni writes,

"I sent in my application pretty much immediately... There is no doubt that emoji are powerful communicative tools, enabling emotional expression and understanding particularly where there might be traditional language barriers. However, we know that not every culture interprets the same emoji in the same way. By helping companies and organisations understand those differences, I plan to make a real difference in the world of global communication.”

Part of his duties will include writing an "Emoji Etiquette Guide," consulting on the use of emojis in marketing, and analyzing emojis in a legal context.

Previously: Emojis are like modern-day gargoyles to this Dutch architect Read the rest

Beautiful chart displays native speakers of world's languages

Spanish designer Alberto Lucas López created this gorgeous infographic that shows the proportion of native speakers of each major language. Read the rest

Nominative Determinism

Nominative determinism: "the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names."

Exhibit A.

Police are confident that 59-year-old John Burns has a connection to at least 19 arsons on Sharon’s west side. All of those fires have happened since the beginning of this year.

At this point, he is only charged with one count of attempted arson and one count of causing or risking catastrophe. ... Over the past two years, the total number of fires in Sharon is estimated to be near 30.

Exhibit B. Read the rest

America is starting to realize that "liberal/conservative" labels exclude the left

On my first day at Michigan State University in 1992, a fellow student called me a "liberal" and I was shocked: as a Canadian who was often to the left of the social-democratic New Democratic Party, I identified "liberal" with the Liberal Party, a centre-right political party that had once imposed martial law in Canada. Read the rest

AT&T: it's not "forced arbitration" because no one forced you to have broadband

AT&T, which has successfully lobbied state governments and the FCC to ban any broadband competition in the markets where it operates, says that its forced arbitration "agreements" aren't really forced, because people in the markets it serves could just not use the internet. Read the rest

Leaked Facebook docs: weird censorship standards that protect "white men but not black children"

Facebook is not responsible for bad speech by its users -- section 230 of the US Telecommunications Act says that libel and other forms of prohibited speech are the responsibility of users, not those who provide forums for users to communicate in -- but it takes voluntary steps to try to keep its service from being a hostile environment for its users, paying 4,500 moderators to delete material the company deems unacceptable. Read the rest

Desperate Toronto hotelier pays millions to take Trump name off its business

The owners of Toronto's "Trump Hotel" just spent a reported $6M to get out of its deal with Trump and cleanse their property of his hated name; they will probably rebrand it as a "St Regis" hotel instead. Read the rest

Quantifying the influence of 4chan's alt-right trolls on normies' discourse

In a proceedings paper presented at a Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence social media conference, a team of British, Italian, and Cypriot academics who worked with a Telefonica researcher presented their work analyzing 8,000,000 comments from 4chan's "politically incorrect" (AKA /pol/) boards, a hive of alt-right racism and hate. Read the rest

Robot wisdom from a deep learning system trained on ancient proverbs

Janelle Shane trained a recurrent neural network with a data-set of more than 2000 ancient proverbs and asked it to think up its own: "A fox smells it better than a fool’s for a day." Read the rest

What colors do you get when you spell words in hex?

The hexidecimal color #C0FFEE (192 Red, 255 Green, 238 Blue, on a scale of 0-255) is a pleasing greenish color, while #BEADED is a kind of mauve. Read the rest

English isn't uniquely expressive or fluid, but it is uniquely, dysfunctionally weird

Lots of languages are hybridized from multiple, overlapping waves of conquerers, "but English’s hybridity is high on the scale compared with most European languages," which gives us a realm of weird pronunciations, weirder spellings, inconsistent grammar, and a near-unique situation whereby speakers of languages that are close cousins to English can more-or-less understand English, too.

The amalgam of inconsistently blended Celtic, Norse, French and Latin make English a nightmare to learn, speak and spell -- which makes the language's success in the world something of a miracle.

As long as the invaders got their meaning across, that was fine. But you can do that with a highly approximate rendition of a language – the legibility of the Frisian sentence you just read proves as much. So the Scandinavians did pretty much what we would expect: they spoke bad Old English. Their kids heard as much of that as they did real Old English. Life went on, and pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier.

I should make a qualification here. In linguistics circles it’s risky to call one language ‘easier’ than another one, for there is no single metric by which we can determine objective rankings. But even if there is no bright line between day and night, we’d never pretend there’s no difference between life at 10am and life at 10pm. Likewise, some languages plainly jangle with more bells and whistles than others. If someone were told he had a year to get as good at either Russian or Hebrew as possible, and would lose a fingernail for every mistake he made during a three-minute test of his competence, only the masochist would choose Russian – unless he already happened to speak a language related to it.

Read the rest

Anthony Burgess's lost, incomplete slang dictionary re-discovered

Burgess's fascination with slang extended well past Nadsat, the synthetic Russo-English dialect he invented for A Clockwork Orange; his autobiography mentions in passing that he'd begun work on a dictionary of slang but gave it up: "I’ve done A and B and find that a good deal of A and B is out of date or has to be added to, and I could envisage the future as being totally tied up with such a dictionary." Read the rest

Ninth Circuit creates groundbreaking jurisprudence for "sexy cops"

The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Santopietro v. Howell marks an important turning point in US jurisprudence, marking the first-ever time that a federal judge has used the phrase "sexy cop" in a decision. Read the rest

America's leading nickname for crystal meth is "Donald Trump"

Looking to score some rock? Be sure to ask for "Trump" (also acceptable: "Agent Orange," "Cheeto-in-Chief," "Mango Mussolini," or "Putin's Puppet").

Read the rest

Translate between Charles Babbage's computing jargon and modern terminology

If you're intending to build an analytical engine with a six-sided prism to run Charles Babbage's weird cardboard vaporware program, you will need some help with Babbage's notes, as old Charles was inventing a whole technical vocab from scratch. Read the rest

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