The Week: Most Recent from James Harbeckhttp://theweek.com/editor/articles/james-harbeckMost recent posts.en-usThu, 13 Nov 2014 10:05:00 -0500http://theweek.comhttp://theweek.com/images/logo_theweek.pngMost Recent from James Harbeck from THE WEEKThu, 13 Nov 2014 10:05:00 -0500Why so strangely Yoda speakshttp://theweek.com/article/index/271817/why-so-strangely-yoda-speakshttp://theweek.com/article/index/271817/why-so-strangely-yoda-speaks<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0128/64210_article_main/w/240/h/300/a-different-way-of-talking-he-has.jpg?209" /></P><p>Let's examine one of the great classic problems in linguistics: Yoda. And how he talks.</p><p>Yoda? Know him you do, surely. The great Jedi master he is! The little green Jedi master he also is. And speak in backwards sentences he does.</p><p>OK, that last statement isn't really true. The sentences aren't completely backwards. He doesn't say "Him to you take will I"; he says "Take you to him I will." What's more, not all his sentences are like this. Actually only about half are, depending on the movie; the rest are in normal English word order.</p><p>What language does Yoda speak? The answer to this is surprisingly...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/271817/why-so-strangely-yoda-speaks">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 13 Nov 2014 10:05:00 -0500How languages are like foodhttp://theweek.com/article/index/270851/how-languages-are-like-foodhttp://theweek.com/article/index/270851/how-languages-are-like-food<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0127/63832_article_main/w/240/h/300/language-is-served.jpg?209" /></P><p>Do you like fusion cuisine? Maybe a bit of Caribbean barbecue with couscous and ratatouille? Or perhaps a dish like bobotie, the South African version of meatloaf-in-a-pie-dish with chutney, fruit, and other south Asian and Malay influences?</p><p>Well, how about some fusion languages?</p><p>You don't need to go to a special linguistic caf&eacute; to get some fusion language whipped up. There are quite a few languages in the world that are the product of two or more unrelated languages coming together &mdash; sometimes one language provides most of the grammar and the other one provides most of the words...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/270851/how-languages-are-like-food">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 31 Oct 2014 08:51:00 -0400In defense of 'anyways'http://theweek.com/article/index/269974/in-defense-of-anywayshttp://theweek.com/article/index/269974/in-defense-of-anyways<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0126/63462_article_main/w/240/h/300/its-okay-you-can-say-it.jpg?209" /></P><p>"Sounds illiterate."</p><p>"Used by people who don't know the difference between <em>there, their,</em> and <em>they're</em>."</p><p>"Obviously incorrect."</p><p>"Just an affectation."</p><p>What are these people going on about, anyways?</p><p>What they're going on about is <em>anyways &mdash;</em> with an <em>s</em>. Indeed, few words draw more fire from the sort of people who like to condemn other people's English.</p><p>Why? Well, as Minnesota Public Radio helpfully points out, you wouldn't say <em>anyhows</em>, so you don't say <em>anyways</em>. But more to the point, <em>any</em> takes only one: any <em>thing</em>, any <em>idea</em>, and so on. So <em>anyway</em>.</p><p>The only problem is that that's not where...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/269974/in-defense-of-anyways">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 20 Oct 2014 06:04:00 -0400It's all right to spell it 'alright'http://theweek.com/article/index/269405/its-all-right-to-spell-it-alrighthttp://theweek.com/article/index/269405/its-all-right-to-spell-it-alright<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0126/63233_article_main/w/240/h/300/alright-alright-alright.jpg?209" /></P><p><em>Already</em> does not mean <em>all ready</em>. <em>Always</em> does not mean <em>all ways</em>. <em>Also</em> does not mean <em>all so</em>. <em>Although</em> does not mean <em>all though</em>. <em>Almost</em> certainly does not mean <em>all most</em>. And <em>alright</em>? Well, it doesn't <em>always</em> mean <em>all right.</em></p><p>Some people think it's bad to use <em>alright. </em>They demean it as an "illiteratism," a sign of poor education, "not a word," and so on. Why, when we can make a nice and tidy distinction between "Your responses were alright" and "Your responses were all right," do nearly all the people who dispense grammar advice wave you away from this one lest mobs bearing torches and pitchforks appear...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/269405/its-all-right-to-spell-it-alright">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 09 Oct 2014 06:09:00 -0400Why it's difficult to tell a Californian accent from a Canadian onehttp://theweek.com/article/index/269333/why-its-difficult-to-tell-a-californian-accent-from-a-canadian-onehttp://theweek.com/article/index/269333/why-its-difficult-to-tell-a-californian-accent-from-a-canadian-one<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0112/56011_article_main/w/240/h/300/the-two-are-not-as-incongruous-as-you-think.jpg?209" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/170936861%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-S2he2&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p><strong>Listen to more of</strong> <strong><em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts</strong>:</p><ul><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>Enemy</em></li><li>This week I learned why some people actually like to be scared, and more</li><li>Give your wardrobe a high-tech upgrade with these 3 wearable innovations</li></ul><p> </p><p><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, and TuneIn.*</strong></p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/269333/why-its-difficult-to-tell-a-californian-accent-from-a-canadian-one">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 06 Oct 2014 17:45:00 -0400Don't buy into nonsensical etymologies of the F-wordhttp://theweek.com/article/index/268783/dont-buy-into-nonsensical-etymologies-of-the-f-wordhttp://theweek.com/article/index/268783/dont-buy-into-nonsensical-etymologies-of-the-f-word<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0125/62986_article_main/w/240/h/300/its-not-an-acronym.jpg?209" /></P><p>When I was young, other kids &mdash; and sometimes certain adults &mdash; used to half-whisper secret, privileged information. Information about&hellip; <em>four-letter words</em>. Information that made me see things in a whole new way. Information that was sometimes conflicting. Information that polluted my mind with disreputable ideas.</p><p>I imagine this has happened to you, too.</p><p>An older gentleman, maybe, says quietly to you &mdash; as one did to me &mdash; that "golf" is derived from the saying "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden." Another, an aesthete, might raise an eyebrow and haughtily declare, "Port...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/268783/dont-buy-into-nonsensical-etymologies-of-the-f-word">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:09:00 -0400How did 'expletive,' 'explicit,' and 'exploit' become such sleazy words?http://theweek.com/article/index/268279/how-did-expletive-explicit-and-exploit-become-such-sleazy-wordshttp://theweek.com/article/index/268279/how-did-expletive-explicit-and-exploit-become-such-sleazy-words<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0125/62755_article_main/w/240/h/300/expletive-comes-from-a-latin-source-that-means-to-fill-out-or-pad-out.jpg?209" /></P><p>If you want to search out the best way to make the most of a relationship, you will want to use plain language, perhaps with some padding out.</p><p>If you want to explore the best way to exploit a relationship, you will want to use explicit language, perhaps with some expletives.</p><p>Somehow the second sentence has a very different tone from the first. And yet they can mean the same thing. It's just that somehow the <em>expl</em> words have acquired a &mdash; shall we say &mdash; shady tone to them. How? Allow me to explain.</p><p>There are just seven basic words in common use in English (plus words derived from them...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/268279/how-did-expletive-explicit-and-exploit-become-such-sleazy-words">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 18 Sep 2014 09:01:00 -0400Everything you wanted to know about danglers but were too afraid to askhttp://theweek.com/article/index/267531/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-danglers-but-were-too-afraid-to-askhttp://theweek.com/article/index/267531/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-danglers-but-were-too-afraid-to-ask<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0124/62411_article_main/w/240/h/300/those-danglers-are-so-ambiguous.jpg?209" /></P><p>There's been a little kerfuffle lately over danglers. Steven Pinker, who is a noted linguist, said in an article in <em>The Guardian</em> that some dangling modifiers are OK to use &mdash; in fact, according to him, they're not even ungrammatical.</p><p>What <em>are</em> dangling modifiers, or "danglers" for short, you ask? In a nutshell, a dangler is a little phrase &mdash; not a complete sentence &mdash; that is used at the start of a sentence to describe something, but that something is not the subject doing the main action of the sentence. Since dangling modifiers don't attach to what comes right after them, they...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/267531/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-danglers-but-were-too-afraid-to-ask">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 05 Sep 2014 09:32:00 -0400Four annoying sounds you need to stop makinghttp://theweek.com/article/index/266339/four-annoying-sounds-you-need-to-stop-makinghttp://theweek.com/article/index/266339/four-annoying-sounds-you-need-to-stop-making<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0101/50550_article_main/w/240/h/300/stop-that-fortis-voiceless-alveopalatal-fricative.jpg?209" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/163019152%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-TpAdY&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p><strong>Listen to more of</strong> <strong><em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts</strong>:</p><ul><li>Robin Williams: A remembrance<br /></li><li>The secret behind our fascination with spy movies<br /></li><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>Escape From Tomorrow</em></li></ul><p> </p><p ><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, and TuneIn.*</strong></p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/266339/four-annoying-sounds-you-need-to-stop-making">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 13 Aug 2014 16:45:00 -0400Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?http://theweek.com/article/index/265283/grammar-quiz-do-you-know-the-passive-voicehttp://theweek.com/article/index/265283/grammar-quiz-do-you-know-the-passive-voice<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0122/61407_article_main/w/240/h/300/oh-god-notthe-passive-voice.jpg?209" /></P><p>One "rule" that many self-appointed experts on writing return to again and again is: "Don't use the passive!" Or, as some puckishly put it, "The passive voice should be avoided."</p><p>The passive voice is often disliked because it can be used to evade responsibility: "Mistakes were made." However, not every construction that avoids pinning blame uses the passive voice, and not every use of the passive voice avoids pinning blame. Sometimes the passive is the better choice because you want to put the focus on the receiver of the action.</p><p>And sometimes people criticize sentences for being in the passive...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/265283/grammar-quiz-do-you-know-the-passive-voice">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:11:00 -0400Hey, grammar nerds! Stop freaking out about 'alot.'http://theweek.com/article/index/264887/hey-grammar-nerds-stop-freaking-out-about-alothttp://theweek.com/article/index/264887/hey-grammar-nerds-stop-freaking-out-about-alot<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0122/61226_article_main/w/240/h/300/simmer-down-teach.jpg?209" /></P><p>There's one word that upsets alot of people. And I mean <em>alot</em>. It's been around for awhile, but don't let anyone who's particular about grammar get ahold of it! "It's not a word!" they'll tell you. "It's <em>two words</em>!"</p><p>I'll be honest: writing that paragraph practically made my teeth hurt. I'm about as allergic to <em>alot</em> as most of you probably are. But I'm here to tell you to get used to it. It will be around for quite awhile.</p><p>Should that be "for quite a while"? And what about "get a hold" instead of "get ahold"? Many people will tell you so. But, ah, there's the key to why <em>alot</em> is not going away....</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/264887/hey-grammar-nerds-stop-freaking-out-about-alot">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:29:00 -0400'I know, right?': The anatomy of a wonderfully nonsensical phrasehttp://theweek.com/article/index/264674/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrasehttp://theweek.com/article/index/264674/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrase<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0122/61029_article_main/w/240/h/300/right-we-know.jpg?209" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158706542%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-k4UNQ&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p>Listen to more of <strong>The Week's mini podcasts</strong>:</p><ul><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>Headhunters</em></li><li>This week I learned plants can hear themselves being eaten, and more</li><li>It's time to kill the word 'troll'</li></ul><p> </p><p ><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, Swell, and TuneIn.*</strong></p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/264674/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrase">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:20:00 -0400'I know, right?': The anatomy of a wonderfully nonsensical phrasehttp://theweek.com/article/index/264490/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrasehttp://theweek.com/article/index/264490/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrase<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0122/61029_article_main/w/240/h/300/right-we-know.jpg?209" /></P><p>Sometimes people say something that you understand perfectly well, but if you stop and think about it, it doesn't make literal sense. I know, right?</p><p>There are those who argue that "I know, right?" is stupid and meaningless, and that we should stop using it. After all, when you say it you're not really asking whether or not you know.</p><p>But "I know, right?" is a great example of how language actually works. Language is not just a means of passing literal information. Welcome to the world of pragmatics: the study of speech as behavior intended to produce effects on an audience.</p><p>Language carries a...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/264490/i-know-right-the-anatomy-of-a-wonderfully-nonsensical-phrase">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 11 Jul 2014 06:14:00 -04005 words that are badly brokenhttp://theweek.com/article/index/264020/5-words-that-are-badly-brokenhttp://theweek.com/article/index/264020/5-words-that-are-badly-broken<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0120/60497_article_main/w/240/h/300/technically-a-copter-makes-no-sense.jpg?209" /></P><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/156738612%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-TIMah&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p><p>Read more on this story.</p><p><strong>Listen to more of <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts:</strong></p><ul><li>Your weekly streaming recommendation: <em>The War Room</em></li></ul><ul><li>This week I learned why we all look hotter in sunglasses, and more</li></ul><ul><li>The cult of natural childbirth has gone too far</li></ul><p> </p><p ><em><strong>*You can also find <em>The Week</em>'s mini podcasts on iTunes, SoundCloud, Swell, and TuneIn.*</strong></em></p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/264020/5-words-that-are-badly-broken">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 30 Jun 2014 17:25:00 -0400The curious linguistic history of pineapples and butterflieshttp://theweek.com/article/index/263820/the-curious-linguistic-history-of-pineapples-and-butterflieshttp://theweek.com/article/index/263820/the-curious-linguistic-history-of-pineapples-and-butterflies<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0121/60688_article_main/w/240/h/300/pineapple-in-most-any-other-language-is-ananas-butterfly-on-the-other-hand-is-anyones-guess.jpg?209" /></P><p dir="ltr">Pineapples and butterflies: two nice things, two odd words. Pineapples are neither pines nor apples. Butterflies are neither flies nor butter. But never mind that. Look at this:</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pineapple:<br /></strong>French: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Italian: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Spanish: pi&ntilde;a/anan&aacute;</p><p dir="ltr">Portuguese (European): anan&aacute;s</p><p dir="ltr">German: Ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Dutch: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Swedish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Danish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Russian: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Polish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Finnish: ananas</p><p dir="ltr">Estonian: ananass</p><p dir="ltr">Hungarian: anan&aacute;sz</p><p dir="ltr">Greek: anan&aacute;s</p><p> </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Butterfly:<br /></strong>French: papillon</p><p dir="ltr">Italian: farfalla</p><p dir="ltr">Spanish: mariposa</p><p dir="ltr">Portuguese: borboleta</p><p dir="ltr">German: Schmetterling</p><p dir="ltr">Dutch: vlinder...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/263820/the-curious-linguistic-history-of-pineapples-and-butterflies">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 27 Jun 2014 06:33:00 -040010 words that are badly brokenhttp://theweek.com/article/index/263404/10-words-that-are-badly-brokenhttp://theweek.com/article/index/263404/10-words-that-are-badly-broken<img src="https://7e8c.https.cdn.softlayer.net/807E8C/origin.theweek.com/img/dir_0120/60497_article_main/w/240/h/300/technically-a-copter-makes-no-sense.jpg?209" /></P><p>Think about when you were a kid discovering the wonder of glue. Hey, why not glue Barbie to this teacup? Let's glue Daddy's fancy pen to Mommy's ceramic figurine! But when you try to <em>unglue</em> them, you discover that glue can be strong &mdash; sometimes stronger than the things you were gluing. Now Barbie is permanently holding a teacup handle and Daddy's pen has a ceramic arm on it.</p><p>Words can be like that. They can be made of bits glued together, and then sometimes they break apart at places they weren't meant to break at. Here are 10 examples of English words that you may not have known are broken...</p> <a href="http://theweek.com/article/index/263404/10-words-that-are-badly-broken">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 20 Jun 2014 09:46:00 -0400