The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by tony h » Sun Apr 08, 2012 11:55 am

dante wrote:Not that I know much about different kinds of pasta WoZ ...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pasta
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I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Sun Apr 08, 2012 12:15 pm

The neighbours obviously didn't assume much with their pastas :) Thank you for the link Tony.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Mon Apr 09, 2012 10:20 pm

The people once known as Eskimos have over 100 words for Professor Pullum.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Tue Apr 10, 2012 12:13 pm

I've come across the following citation from Bill Bryson's "Notes From A Small Island" :
“… As I sat eating my breakfast in the dining room of The Old England Hotel in Bowness - on -Windemere, two days after leaving Morecambe, I was reading an article in The Times about an unseasonable snowstorm - a “blizzard”, The Times called it-that had gripped parts of East Anglia. According to The Times report, the storm had covered parts of the region with “more than two inches of snow” and created “drifts of up to six inches high. In response to this, I did something I had never done before: I pulled out my notebook and drafted a letter to the editor in which I pointed out, in a kindly helpful way, that two inches of snow cannot possibly constitute a blizzard and that six inches of snow is not a drift. A blizzard I explained, is when you can’t get your door open. Drifts are things that make you lose your car ‘til spring.”


I wonder how many inches of snow constitute a blizzard then. It seems that Bryson too thinks of a blizzard as "a stuff"- a deep snow, which can obviously be measured in inches, or any other unit of length. In the Wikipedia article describing "blizzard" they applied different units in defining what constitutes a blizzard:
A blizzard is a severe snowstorm characterized by strong winds and low temperature. By definition, the difference between blizzard and a snowstorm is the strength of the wind. To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts that are greater than or equal to 56 km/h (35 mph) with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 400 meters or a quarter mile or less and must last for a prolonged period of time — typically three hours or more.[1] Snowfall amounts do not have to be significant. In Australia a blizzard, by definition, necessarily contains at least some snow that has been raised from the ground.[2]

A severe blizzard has winds over 72 km/h (45 mph), near zero visibility, and temperatures of −12 °C (10 °F) or lower. A ground blizzard has snowdrifts and blowing snow near the ground, but no falling snow.[3]

Blizzards can bring near-whiteout conditions, and can paralyze regions for days at a time, particularly where snowfall is unusual or rare. The 1972 Iran blizzard, which caused approximately 4,000 deaths, was the deadliest in recorded history.
think of snow, slush, sleet, blizzard, drift, white-out, flurry, powder, dusting, and so on
As instructed, I've thought of those words but I still can't interpret all of them as words for snow, and they still sound to be a diverse group of words no matter how many times I read them. I think that this list of noun phrases and compounds loosely related to snow as atmospheric precipitation could logically be expanded by words that do not indicate precipitation but relate to the snow in the same manner: skis, sleigh, snowmobile etc. That would give information of how much Eskimo people assume and which snow-related concepts they lexicalize. Taking a look into the verbs describing the actions related, caused or necessitated by the snow, would give even better idea of the Eskimo snow lexicon than the analysis of noun phrases does.

Anyway, here's an anti-intellectual attempt at classification of the professor's words for snow:

1.Snow, slush and sleet is related "stuff", where the latter two can be subsumed under the generic concept of snow.
2.Blizzard is related to snow as chicken pate is related to chicken. One could say that chicken and chicken pate are basically the same thing only the form is different and the latter is a kind of a dish, and not kind of a chicken. Blizzard, white-out and flurry are related concepts - kinds of weather conditions.
3.Drift can be subsumed under the more generic meanings as a pile, heap, a large mass of something, and could be grouped together with avalanche for example.
4.I guess that powder is synonymous to snow, and I'm not sure about dusting.

The basic meaning of the words under 2 and 3 is best understood in their metaphorical uses, deriving from the primary meanings of these words: an avalanche of ideas, a flurry of ideas, (or even "a blizzard of ideas) , where the words "avalanche" and "flurry" or "blizzard" do not relate the word idea to the concept of snow, but to the notions of a large quantity and a strong surge respectively, that is, the phrases can be glossed as : large mass of ideas, a rush of ideas etc.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:25 pm

The person who wrote this:
Ground blizzard refers to a weather condition where loose snow or ice on the ground is lifted and blown by strong winds. The primary difference between a ground blizzard as opposed to a regular blizzard is that in a ground blizzard no precipitation is produced at the time, but rather all the precipitation is already present in the form of snow or ice at the surface.
would probably make Mr.Bryson do something that he had done only once before: pull out a notebook and draft a paper to the editor in a kindly helpful way and tell him that it's blizzard when you can't open your door, and that it is ridiculous to call it a blizzard if it isn't snowing at all..and you have no trouble whatsoever opening your door :)
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:28 pm

ie when it hasn't iglooed your door shut.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:41 pm

You are right Edwin, this litmus test for a blizzard, named Bryson's law in linguistic science, has one exception which is called Mark Miller's Exception to Bryson's Law : It may be a faulty door lock.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:12 pm

Perhaps we can say that the Eskimos (apparently this descriptor is PC) have over 100 classmates (eg ice, water, blizzard, skis, . . . hexagonal, anorak . . . in the relevant language) for their word for snow.

More worrying is the fact that polysemy-with-hypernymy is present for blizzard:

(a) fairly rigorous definition from Wikipedia:

To be a blizzard, a snow storm must have sustained winds or frequent gusts that are greater than or equal to 56 km/h (35 mph) with blowing or drifting snow which reduces visibility to 400 meters or a quarter mile or less and must last for a prolonged period of time — typically three hours or more

(b) not-so-rigorous definition from Farlex:

a storm with widespread snowfall accompanied by strong winds

So some (b) blizzards will arguably not be (a) blizzards, and conceivably vice-versa.

The terms storm and hurricane are similarly confusingly register-affected.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Apr 11, 2012 7:58 am

.. no Aboriginal language in Australia has a word for blizzard ..

WoZ blowing his didg
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Wed Apr 11, 2012 8:49 am

.. No BoZ then ..
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:10 pm

.. no Aboriginal language in Australia has a word for blizzard ..
Hm.. I would guess that Aborigines don't have much snow there and therefore they cannot assume it, and if it is not an assumed background for them, what may be the reason they don't have a word for a blizzard? :)

This "assumed background" theory is abandoned in the part Erik cited, and now the opposite is claimed. The Eskimos might have many different words for snow but they have this astonishing propensity of their language to lexicalize the other concepts just as same:

The point is that we want to count one for each family of derived words like snow, snowy, snowing, snowlike, snowstorm, etc.; if you don't do that, then Eskimoan languages not only have millions of words for snow, they have millions of words for fish, millions of words for coffee, millions of words for absolutely anything, which makes the whole discussion irrelevant to anything about snow."
So where English uses separate words to make up descriptive phrases like "early snow falling in autumn" or "snow with a herring-scale pattern etched into it by rainfall", Eskimo languages have an astonishing propensity for being able to express such concepts (about anything, not just snow) with a single derived word.

Now this made me think. The propensity for lexicalization in English is maybe not as astonishing but the Oxford English Dictionary is still a huge multi-volume set, containing hundreds of thousands of entries arranged in an alphabetical order, derived or non-derived, which brings me to the question..how big exactly is C.W Schultz-Lorentzen's Dictionary of the West Greenlandic Eskimo Language (1927) if the Eskimo language has millions of words for fish, coffee and absolutely anything? I guess that printing it seriously depleted world's forests :) Seriously, this C.W Schultz dictionary must take up one very very big shelf in a library.


This paper discusses different definitions of a blizzard: http://www.drrichardwild.co.uk/pdf/What ... izzard.pdf

Speakers of English obviously do not interpret the word blizzard the same. But, isn't it so with many other words. It amuses me when someone puts himself in a position of an ultimate language authority as Mr.Bryson did, in his effort to kindly help the editor of some newspaper to understand the true meaning of the word blizzard. The paper I linked to shows that even technical/meteorological definitions of the word have changed over the time, and the "right" meaning of blizzard is hardly that rigid notion and can only be thought of in terms of what is a prevalent usage among the native speakers of English. The "door" test may be useful and everything, but putting together a questionnaire for a panel of English speakers would give more reliable results as to this specific question.
The procedure wouldn't be much complicated; if most native speakers would intuitively say: A blizzard started .. when the situation is that there's little or no snow on the ground, and it only just started to snow heavily, with strong gusts of wind (you can't open your door),the visibility is reduced and everything, then, in my opinion, it is the "right" definition of the word blizzard. Or the other way around, if people feel that only if heavy snowing with strong wind continues for hours, resulting in certain number of inches of snow on the ground it can be named a blizzard, in that case it is not a blizzard at the moment this weather condition arose.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Wed Apr 11, 2012 9:12 pm

In Dante's quote above, we have:

LITERATURE DEFINITIONS OF THE WORD 'BLIZZARD'

As is the case with any scientific term which has a definite meaning, the word blizzard should not be used indiscriminately to describe any particularly heavy snowstorm accompanied by high winds.


So, apparently, people writing literature should not use terms like 'magnetic flux', 'entropy' or 'viscosity' indiscriminately to describe any particularly heavy snowstorm accompanied by high winds.

Leaving aside Richard Wild's poor grammar - the addition of a single dash between indiscriminately and to would be a great improvement - there is a serious problem to consider here.

If he were addressing, in this paper, a purely scientific (or perhaps even just meteorological) audience, he would have a very valid point. I'm always arguing for agreed and unambiguous terminology myself. However, he is recommending that all people outside the scientific community also cease to use blizzard in any but the rigidly defined way. This despite the facts that 'in general parlance in the UK it is "loosely used" ' ["used in the more general sense" would be less biased] - and has been for 100 years - and that, though the etymology of the word is admitted to be obscure, there seems to be general agreement that the 'meteorological usage' of the term came after the non-rigid usage.
In maths, we get away with a more rigid sense for the word 'similar' than is in common usage, but we don't insist that everyone should drop the broader everyday meaning. One acknowledges that the problem with 'blizzard' is less easy to address - maths-similar is not often encountered outside the classroom or designer's office, while blizzards are everyone's domain. That does not mean that the register-police can assume that they can confine definitions to their own favoured senses.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Wizard of Oz » Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:22 am

.. do the Bedouins have a million words for sand ?? ..

WoZ at the sandy beach
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:15 am

With a few barcans, no doubt.
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Re: The Great Eskimo Hoax & Style, lessons in clarity and grace

Post by dante » Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:19 am

I'm in a bit of an awkward situation here, as I don't know a word of Bedouin languages either. I said before that I don't speak the Aboriginal languages, and don't know a word of any of the eight Eskimo languages. But, as I much enjoy this kind of gee-whiz mode of discourse and I'm getting more scientifically and otherwise ignorant by the day, I'll give more thought to this.

Sand is not a changing environment for people, which means that it doesn't affect Bedouins' living the same way the snow affects Eskimos living.
Snow can fall more or less heavily, it can more or less cover the ground, snow comes in different varieties, different transportation is used on snow, people dig holes in snow to catch fish, build houses etc.

As far as I know the shape of the sand can be changed only by sandstorms, sand doesn't fall from the sky and my guess is that one can't possibly differentiate between the sand particles that cling to your clothes and those that doesn't, sand doesn't melt, it is always there, people can't build houses of sand (children can, on a beach, but only as a temporary shelter), etc. That is not to say that the sand doesn't affect Bedouins language, it does, as sand is a part of the environment that significantly affects their lives, and then it affects their vocabulary.

even beach bums have only one word for sand. But there you are, the more you think about the Eskimo vocabulary hoax, the more stupid it gets.
I must say too that this comparison of Eskimos and snow with beach bums and sand is not the smartest thing I've read recently.


So, it is all about this astonishing propensity of Eskimo languages to create a word where English would have a descriptive phrase WoZ. :) It allows them to have a word for "early snow falling in autumn" or even "snow with a herring-scale pattern etched into it by rainfall", as the professor suggests, but not only for snow, the same goes for coffee, ...and the sand of course. That means that one can as well find words for the sand stuck to my bum, or hot grating sand that I can't step on barefoot or similar words in C.W Shultz and the rest ( I'm hypothesizing, not that I'm a coward or something, it's only that I don't have C.W Shultz..so I can't be hundred percent sure that these words are really included in this monumental work) . And the whole explanation the Aborigine languages don't have a word for a blizzard is that they are obviously not polysynthetic, or if they are, then less polysynthetic than English which polysynthesized "a severe snowstorm characterized by strong winds and low temperature." into only one word. Eskimos, as previously explained, have this propensity to the highest possible, and that also explains that they, among millions words for anything, have a word for haboob too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haboob. Or, so I've heard.
Last edited by dante on Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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