Category Archives: Odd Language

Some uses of language can be very peculiar-sounding or can be ambiguous in unexpected ways.

Odd Language #225: It’s Sorted?

“It’s sorted.”

The issue: I thought this about a confusion at work that I had worked out. My boss’s assistant might have asked, and that is how I could have replied. However, my job involving preparing rock and soil samples for processing; this is called sorting. This means that when I had the confusion sorted, I did not have the work (sorting) done. I would have created another confusion. Context counts!

Odd Language #224: [Not] A Laughing Matter

There is a joke about a foreign-language student in a home-stay program having trouble with a newspaper article. The student could not understand why the person was charged with what seemed to not be a crime at all.

The issue: The student was reading the crime’s name as “man’s laughter” instead of “manslaughter”. When corrected by her host, the student was quite abashed.

Playing on this same pronunciation difference, the game Smallworld by Days of Wonder has a slogan of “It’s a world of *s*laughter, AFTER ALL!”

Odd Language #223: Shooting at What?

“You have to spot the nerve case and get it . . . whereupon he will trot right on past you, shooting at nothing, until he crashes into a wall or something.” – Starship Troopers, p. 135

The issue: If one is shooting, one is shooting at something. Maybe, one is shooting at nothing in particular, but that is not nothing.

Think gun safety!

Odd Language #222: Taking Advantage Of X

There it is: “taking advantage of X”. It looks so innocent. Maybe, it is, but maybe it is heinous, evil, .

The issue: Context, context, context. Use this handy scoring guide:

“take advantage of a opportunity”: good.
“take advantage of a person”: bad.
“take advantage of a woman”: really bad.

Hey, manager! If you take advantage of Ms. Smith’s availability to work late a couple hours on Wednesday on the Gregg proposal, well and good. If you take advantage of Ms. Smith to get a couple more hours of work done on the Gregg proposal – the same work as in the first example – you are vile and evil. Go figure.

Odd Language #220: Odd Insults

When one does not know the rules of politeness, one is walking in a minefield.

In Japanese, the word “kisama” can be a nasty insult.

What does it mean? A rough translation is “honourable you”.

From a Western perspective, it is odd that this is an insult. Why is it an insult?

As I understand it, pronouns are not used much in Japanese to refer to a person in second person. One should use the person’s name and the appropriate honorific. The insult is that one did not bother to use the person’s name. Not knowing the person’s name is not a defence; one should find out.

Clear now? Well, no. According to the sci.lang.japan FAQ, “However, naval officers in the Imperial navy referred to each other as kisama.”

Does this mean that Japanese does not have many pronouns? No. It has scads of them. Some of them are on the above link’s page.

Odd Language #219: Shoot [insert direction here]

Consider the sentence: “The gunner managed to shoot up the plane, and this led to it being shot down.”

The issue: Shoot up to shoot down? It is not even that the gunner shot up; he might have been in another plane and shot down to shoot up the first plane.

English verb-preposition combinations can be downright weird. There are other cases. Do you log on or log in to a computer system? And when you are done, do you log off or log out?

Odd Language #218: Restriction Blinders

I was recently going to write “Blinders restrict vision to the side.”

The issue: It occurred to me that, depending on context, “restrict” means to not allow or to allow only. The example sentence is using the second meaning. “Security systems restrict access to bank vaults.” is with the second meaning. So which meaning is “Distims restrict access to gorlaks.” using?

Odd Language #217: URLs as Language

What is wrong with this URL: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/euthanasia-45-percent-deaths-netherlands-49006809?

The issue: While a URL is not ordinary language, it often has meaning. This URL is misleading, because the euthanasia rate in the Netherlands is not 45% as the URL seems to state but rather is 4.5%. However, periods are typically not in the middle of a URL. (They are in the site name and the suffix (such as “.html”)).