The linguistic backflips used by Deliveroo to pretend its employees are independent contractors

Deliveroo is a "gig economy" company that hires people to cycle around big cities, delivering meals, while pretending that all their riders are actually "independent contractors" running their own businesses through which they subcontract to Deliveroo, thus dodging any need to pay benefits or comply with basic labor, health and safety rules. Read the rest

Your word of the day

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AP stylebook now allows the "singular they" in some instances

The use of "them" as a gender-neutral pronoun goes back hundreds of years, but the weaponizing of grammar as a way to tell people how to talk (rather than a way to understand what speakers are saying) made the practice anathema, creating strong headwinds for people looking to adapt usage to accommodate a spectrum of gender identities. Read the rest

Deflationary Intelligence: in 2017, everything is "AI"

Ian Bogost (previously) describes the "deflationary" use of "artificial intelligence" to describe the most trivial computer science innovations and software-enabled products, from Facebook's suicide detection "AI" (a trivial word-search program that alerts humans) to the chatbots that are billed as steps away from passing a Turing test, but which are little more than glorified phone trees, and on whom 40% of humans give up after a single conversational volley. Read the rest

A Gmail plugin to do "emotional labor"

Install the Emotional Labor extension and it will automatically add social niceties to your outbound mail -- phrases like "Hey, Lovely! I've been thinking of you." (via 4 Short Links) Read the rest

How to talk about shitgibbons with your high school English class

The introduction of "shitgibbon" into America's political discourse is a teachable moment for English classes studying the evolution of language. Read the rest

How to talk about Trump using trumpspeak (and why you should)

"Impeach the guy. He’s an unstable person. Yemen? Disaster. Everyone knows it’s true. Even he knows it. Awful. Everyone agrees." Read the rest

How "futureless" languages impact political thought

There are certain languages that don't differentiate between the present and the future. Estonian is the classic example of a "futureless tongue." According to new research by Efrén O. Pérez, co-director of Vanderbilt University's Research on Individuals, Politics & Society Lab and Margit Tavits, professor of political science at Washington University, language has a sizable impact on how we think about future-oriented policies. As William S. Burroughs said, language is a virus. From their scientific paper in the American Journal of Political Science:

Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and think about politics? Languages vary by how much they require speakers to grammatically encode temporal differences. Futureless tongues (e.g., Estonian) do not oblige speakers to distinguish between the present and future tense, whereas futured tongues do (e.g., Russian). By grammatically conflating “today” and “tomorrow,” we hypothesize that speakers of futureless tongues will view the future as temporally closer to the present, causing them to discount the future less and support future-oriented policies more. Using an original survey experiment that randomly assigned the interview language to Estonian/Russian bilinguals, we find support for this proposition and document the absence of this language effect when a policy has no obvious time referent. We then replicate and extend our principal result through a cross-national analysis of survey data. Our results imply that language may have significant consequences for mass opinion.

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"Claque": how Trump revived the ancient practice of paid applauders

Trump launched his campaign in front of an "audience" of actors paid $50/each to wear campaign shirts and cheer wildly, and he's brought his paid cheering section with him into the presidency, bringing along staffers to applaud at key moments during his press conferences and other appearances. Read the rest

How Louis CK tells a joke

The Nerdwriter presents a fascinating analysis of why Louis CK's jokes are funny.

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The amazing whistling language of Greek shepherds

In the village of Antia on Greece's Evia island, shepherds use whistling to communicate over long distances. This isn't a code but rather a real language.

"Whistles let shepherds communicate between distant hillsides because a whistled sound wave travels farther than spoken words."

(Scientific American)

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This joyful Xhosa song demonstrates click consonants

Qongqothwane is a cover of a famous Xhosa click song performed at weddings. In it, you can hear click consonants found in two language groups in southern Africa. Here's a nice overview. Read the rest

Synthetic linguists file a new brief (with Klingon passages!) about Paramount's fan-film crackdown

2016's lawsuit between Paramount and the Trekkers who crowdfunded Axanar, a big-budged fan film set in the Trekverse, continues its slog through the courts, and continues to be enlivened by the interventions of the Language Creation Society, an organization of synthetic language enthusiasts, whose amicus briefs ask the court to reject Paramount's claim of a copyright in the synthetic language of Klingon, which has many speakers, including some who learned it as their first language. Read the rest

Australia names "Democracy Sausage" as the 2016 Word (sic) of the Year

The Australian National Dictionary Centre has declared the two-word compound phrase "democracy sausage" to be its 2016 Word of the Year, defining it as "A barbecued sausage served on a slice of bread, bought at a polling booth sausage sizzle on election day." Read the rest

Stop calling it "Puppy-Burning" -- it's the "Alt-Warmth Movement"

"And I’m proud to say that when we get there, it will be as the Alt-Warmth. Just think: under the old name, we couldn’t even get anybody elected dogcatcher." Read the rest

Apple's ebook store bans books that use Apple trademarks in unapproved (but legal and accurate) ways

Aaron Perzanowski and Jason Schultz's must-read new book The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy (read an excerpt) is not for sale in the Apple ebook store, and won't be until they agree to change their text to refer to Apple's ebooks as "iBooks" rather than "iBook." Read the rest

Whaling: phishing for executives and celebrities

A fraudster's term of art, "whaling" refers to phishing attempts targeted at "C-level corporate executives, politicians and celebrities" -- it's a play on "phishing" (attacks that trick users into downloading dangerous files or visiting attack sites by impersonating known sources) and "whales" (a term of art from casinos, referring to high-stakes gamblers). Read the rest

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