Wednesday, 21 October 2015

saying the same thing twice

Most of us, when speaking or writing, use more words than are necessary to convey our intended meaning. Sometimes this is done deliberately, for emphasis or dramatic effect, but far more often it is simply a blunder, the kind of repetition that suggests the writer or speaker hasn’t thought carefully about their choice of words. The technical term for such repetition is pleonasm, and there are several types.

Perhaps the most common form of pleonasm involves abbreviations and acronyms, and the mistake lies in tacking on the word represented by the last letter of the abbreviation to the end of that abbreviation. The following are examples of the most commonly heard constructions of this kind (in boldface type; the meaning of each abbreviation is spelled out to emphasize the repetition):
ABS (anti-lock braking system) system.
ATM (automatic teller machine) machine.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) virus.
LCD (liquid crystal display) display.
PIN (personal identification number) number.
SAM (surface-to-air missile) missile.
SAT (standard attainment test) test.
Perhaps because it has been pointed out so frequently, I find that nowadays I’m more likely to be asked to key in my PIN rather than my PIN number, but overall the errors I’ve listed here remain depressingly common.

Another technical term, closely related to pleonasm, is tautology. The difference is that instead of being the exact repetition of a word or phrase, tautology involves saying the same thing in a different way. Once again, there are examples that are so common as to have become part of the language, to be used unthinkingly by most people:
end result a result can only come at the end!
free gift if it isn’t free, then it’s not a gift, so ‘free’ is redundant in this expression.
join together ‘together’ is redundant in this expression.
safe haven a haven is a place of safety, so ‘safe’ shouldn’t be repeated.
sum total two synonyms that are often found together.
There are many similar phrases, including ‘surrounded on all sides’ and ‘veering off course’, but the next type of pleonasm involves words or short phrases that have been imported into English from other languages with their original meaning obscured or forgotten. Here are three of the most common:
head honcho this phrase is derived from the Japanese hancho, meaning group leader. It was picked up in conversation by the GIs who occupied Japan after the Second World War. They clearly failed to grasp its actual meaning.

the hoi polloi I have a friend who takes great delight in picking up on my mistakes, and I have to confess that this was one of them. Hoi polloi means ‘the many’ in ancient Greek, and its most famous recorded use is in a funeral oration by Pericles, in which he talked approvingly of hoi polloi, as opposed to hoi oligoi (‘the few’), from which we derive our modern word ‘oligarchy’.

tomato ketchupketchup comes from the Cantonese kei tsup, meaning ‘tomato sauce’. Say no more.
The most intriguing pleonasms that involve overlapping languages are place names. Here are some well-known examples:
Lake ChadChad comes from the Bornu word tsade, which means ‘lake’.
Mississippi RiverMississippi comes from the French rendition of the Algonquin word for ‘Great River’.
River AvonAvon comes from the Welsh word afon, which means ‘river’.
River OuseOuse derives from a Brythonic word that means ‘river’.
Sahara DesertSahara is Arabic for ‘desert’.
Wastwater This is a combination of Old Norse vatns dalr, Wasdale or ‘water valley’, and Old English w√¶ter, ‘water’.
The reductio ad absurdum of place-name pleonasms is a village in my home county of Cumbria: Torpenhow. Tor is Old English for ‘hill’; pen is Cumbric for ‘hill’; and how is Old Norse for ‘hill’. All three languages were once spoken in the county. There is, allegedly, a hill outside the village that has been named Torpenhow Hill.

This is now getting rather silly, so I will conclude with a few expressions that derive from mediaeval times in England, when the general population spoke Old English and members of the court spoke French. When legal edicts were being issued, no one could be sure who would be reading them, which led to a series of expressions, in use to this day, that combined the same word in each of the languages.

Some of these doublets remain the legal jargon to describe criminal offences: aid and abet; breaking and entering; (driving without due) care and attention. Other legal phrases that most readers will recognize include null and void; terms and conditions; and (last) will and testament. And we shouldn’t overlook the generic phrase ‘law and order’ when compiling our list.

Other such doublets have escaped their original legal environment and are now part and parcel of everyday speech. They can be said to be performing functions over and above their original purpose. Obviously, this post isn’t meant to be taken seriously, so it can be read for amusement by all and sundry without fear or favour.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

out of order #2

When I posted the original Out of Order in October 2013, I provided an unintentional clue. My son Tristan told me that he approached that problem by identifying how many different lists there were that contained precisely seven items. There aren’t many (days of the week; colours of the rainbow; deadly sins; cardinal virtues—and only the first two have a recognized order).

Consequently, in devising this new puzzle, I looked for a list of seven items, the identity of which would not spring immediately to mind, although this is a list that everyone will recognize once its origins have been pointed out to them. This is what I came up with:
Rearrange the following seven clues into the correct order, bearing in mind that each of the seven is currently in the wrong position:
• A UK #1 hit by pop group Abba.
• The title character of a Mozart opera.
• The beginning of all but one chapter of the Qur’an.
• A famous scientist.
• A lively Spanish dance.
• A god worshipped by the Philistines.
• A character in the Commedia dell’arte.
Abba had nine #1 hits in the UK, so it will be necessary to work out which of the nine is being referenced here. As for famous scientists, many more than nine would meet this description, so it makes sense to start with a clue that has fewer solutions.

I will be offline for a couple of days as I make my way back to Hong Kong, by which time I expect someone to have solved this problem. It may sound obscure and esoteric, but I do think it’s easy.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

down on the farm #2

The original Down on the Farm laid out the science behind organic farming, but this post is a much more frivolous endeavour documenting some of the exotic farm animals to be seen around my home town of Penrith.

I’ll start with what I consider to be by far the best photo I’ve taken this summer. I’d just returned from exploring the walk documented in Petteril Pathways and Bovine Boogie Woogie when I spotted the four longhorn cattle that I mentioned in Early One Morning in the distance, standing in the pond in the middle of the nature reserve. However, it took me several minutes to reach a position from where I could take a picture, and I expected them to have moved off before I got there. They didn’t. The ducks don’t seem to have minded the intrusion.

…you wouldn’t believe the strange-looking sheep I’ve seen in some of the fields.
If, after looking at the next photo, you remain unconvinced that the three animals really are sheep, check out the following one. They are clearly not a native breed, but they are sheep!

I’m not suggesting that horses are in any sense exotic, although they must have seemed so 5,000 years ago, especially when being ridden. However, there are a lot of horses in the fields near the nature reserve, and I often see an open-top carriage being pulled by four horses along the lane where the next photo was taken (by Paula). It is probably a carriage horse, and it clearly likes to have its muzzle stroked.

On the other side of town from the nature reserve, I came across another exotic breed of cattle. The next photo shows two calves, and the first thing to note is that they have much longer hair than most cows. The second photo also shows some adults—note the strange shape of the horns.

The next photo, taken by Paula, is a portrait of the bull in the previous picture. I for one would not like to be in the same field as this beast, even if I’d been told in advance that it was friendly. And in case you’re wondering, Paula was on the other side of a sturdy fence when she took the photo, although it probably wasn’t sturdy enough to deter a beast this powerful if it decided that it wanted to break through.

And now for something really exotic. The animals in the next photograph look like long-necked sheep. They are in a field almost completely enclosed by tangled and overgrown hedges, apart from one small gap through which the picture was taken. They are in fact South American alpacas.

Finally, every farm needs a cat to keep the resident rodent population under control, and here is the perfect candidate. I call it Puss-in-Boots.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

photographic abstraction #16

In the last instalment in this series, I stated that “there will be fewer photos of stained walls” in future. However, I couldn’t resist including Winter Wonderland in the present collection, partly because it isn’t a typical wall affected by rust, moss or lichen but is in fact an example of a physical process known as efflorescence. This occurs when moisture in the brickwork or stonework makes its way to the surface, where it evaporates, leaving behind salts that had been dissolved in the water.

winter wonderland

Also in this collection is a picture that exploits a new motif: Blood, Sweat and Tears. Although I’ve written this before and been proved wrong, I defy anyone to identify what this is actually a photograph of.

blood, sweat and tears

Given the huge number of photos of oil/petrol stains that I’ve taken this summer, and the fact that I’ve devoted two posts exclusively to such pictures, you might think that I’d not be including any more in this series. However, Stained Glass is slightly different. First, it was taken in Hong Kong earlier this year; and, second, it includes other material (dead acacia leaves), which give a different feel to the image, whereas my usual oil-stain photographs contain no such extraneous material, apart from the occasional intrusion of a kerb or gutter, which I crop out wherever possible.

stained glass

All Fall Down also makes use of a new motif, albeit one that shouldn’t be difficult to identify. To me, the image suggests that everything is collapsing, so I had no hesitation in using the final line of the plague song that begins ‘ring a ring of roses’ as its title.

all fall down

As you have probably already noticed, I like to use recognizable phrases as picture titles. Blue Remembered Hills looks to me like a landscape picture, so I appropriated the title from a 1979 television play by the late dramatist Dennis Potter.

blue remembered hills

Finally, I don’t think I need to explain why I gave The Voice the title I did.

the voice

One change in this chapter that you might not have noticed is my decision to increase the number of images per post from five to six. This decision reflects the sheer number of abstract images that I’ve produced in the last few months—I’ve already finalized the lineup for the next two chapters.

previous posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction #13
Photographic Abstraction #14
Photographic Abstraction #15