linguistics

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Google Ngram "railway station" all English: click to embiggenI cringe when people talk about the “train station”. “It’s ‘railway station’, you morons,” screams my brain. Well as it turns out, they’re actually not stupid — at least not for that reason. It’s just another relatively modern shift in language.

The chart at the top of the post is a Google Ngram search of their entire English corpus since 1820 — the first public steam railway in the world was the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which opened in 1825 — comparing the usage of “railway station” (blue) versus “railroad station” (red) and “train station” (orange).

You can click through to the full-size chart, or run the search yourself.

As you can see, the most common usage has almost always been “railway station”, with “railroad station” distinctly second-place. A “train station” wasn’t even a thing until the 1950s, but it rose in popularity quite quickly. “Train station” has been the most common usage since the mid-1990s, although it has been declining again since around 2000. I wonder why.

My understanding is that many railway terms derived from the military, because until the railways came along nothing else had been organised on that sort of trans-national and even trans-continental scale except armies. Hence trains have “guards” for their safe operation, and “stations” along the line where staff are stationed to maintain the entire railway system — including fuel, water, trackwork and signalling.

Railway stations are therefore part of a railway’s entire operation, not merely “train stations” for trains to stop at. For me, someone talking about “train stations” is showing their ignorance of how railways work: it’s more than just the trains.

Since I had the Google open in front of me, I thought I’d look at the variations in US versus UK English. It seems that “railroad station” isn’t the dominant American usage that I’d imagined.

Read the rest of this entry »

[Preface: The idea for this post was originally pitched as an op-ed for ABC The Drum, and the story was commissioned by editor Jonathan Green. But once the final piece was delivered, although there were elements that he liked he wasn't sure that it said enough. It was a line ball call, he said, but in the end he passed. Fair enough. He's the editor, it's his call. Gentleman that he is, he acknowledged his initial enthusiasm and will pay for the story anyway. I'm publishing it here almost exactly as it was submitted -- apart from adding links to the media releases in question. Unlike the ABC, my house style is not to despoil the expletives with asterisks. I would very much like to hear your comments.]

A funny thing happened on Twitter the other night. Someone unfollowed me for being offensive. That’s not so unusual. The unusual bit is who unfollowed and what offended them.

Around 10pm I received two emails.

“The two government media releases I just received, when combined, indicate a rather distasteful piece of opportunism behind the scenes,” I tweeted.

“1. HMAS Maryborough intercepts a SIEV off Ashmore Reef, 34 passengers and 3 crew aboard. 2. ‘Another boat as Coalition “turn back” policy continues to unravel’, timestamped minutes apart,” I said — and I’ll run the tweets into continuous prose to make your reading easier. I am nothing if not considerate, dear readers.

The first media release was from home affairs minister Jason Clare, the second jointly from him and minister for immigration and citizenship Chris Bowen.

I was outraged by the combination.

“Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, YOU are the government, so YOU set policy. And the boats’ arrival is determined by the passengers’ need. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, any fool who can read a chart of numbers properly knows policy our end is irrelevant. Fuckwits. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, we’re the richest fucking country in the world. Show a bit of fucking compassion.”

Having vented my spleen, I moved on to congratulate Russia for trolling Eurovision 2012 and ponder whether, hypothetically speaking, Vaseline conducts electricity. Don’t ask.

A short time later, someone with the handle @ashmidalia tweeted, “@stilgherrian And this is where I click ‘unfollow’. For the offensiveness more than the inaccuracy. But there’s plenty of each.”

“Bye,” I replied and then, to no-one in particular, “I wasn’t aware I was obliged to provide ‘suitable entertainment’ for random arsehats who hadn’t even bothered to say hello.”

And then I noticed that @ashmidalia was Ashley Midalia. The name rang a bell.

LinkedIn soon told me that Midalia is Chris Bowen’s deputy chief of staff. A staffer from one of the offices responsible for my anger! Maybe he was even the strategist in question.

Fuck me dead! This cunt of a political staffer — an ALP staffer no less! — was offended by my language! The poor delicate little petal!

“Well if I’m wrong I’m happy to be corrected,” I tweeted to the world.

“But I still think it’s disgusting that the richest nation in the world continues with this outrageous treatment of desperate people. And I still think it’s disgusting that politicians use their arrival as a trigger to attempt to score party political points. I reserve the right as an Australian to express the true strength of the emotions behind that by using equally strong language,” I said.

“Besides, over my three decades in media Ministers and their staffers have used that sort of language and worse about me so it’s hypocrisy [to complain about my language].”

“My genuine understanding is that the level of boat arrivals tracks the level of refugee movements globally. Happy to see counter evidence.”

Having exhausted my combination of anger and bemusement, I calmed my shattered nerves with a gentle episode of “The Thick of It”.

Now I won’t get into the whole boat people thing today, but this whole “offended by swearing” arsehattery got me thinking.

Australians swear.

Swearing what we do. It’s as normal as breathing.

Our reputation for swearing is recognised around the world.

When I called American internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis a “prick” back in 2008, it caused a minor outrage in the blogosphere. But Calacanis himself understood.

Coming from anyone else but an Australian, he told me, he would’ve been offended. But he knew that being called a prick by an Australian was just foreplay.

Indeed, only a few weeks ago no less a personage than a Minister of the Crown (do we still say that?) told me, “Mate, you need to get a fucking life!”

As a conversation-starter, after offering coffee and a comfortable chair.

Sometimes a few f-bombs and c-bombs are precisely the precision munitions needed to deliver a powerful message.

When I headlined my expletive-laden rant about the Google+ social network Right, Google, you stupid cunts, this is simply not on! that blog post ended up being read by more than 100,000 people, triggering plenty of thoughtful discussion and even an anonymous message of support from deep within Google’s bowels.

I was criticised for it, but the reality is that without those expletives the article would have been just another ho-hum whinging blog post read by a couple hundred people, if that.

A cunt or two cuts through.

And sometimes well-crafted profanity can be sheer poetry.

Besides, Mr Science tells us that swearing is good for you.

No-one has the right not to be offended. And it takes two people anyway, one to give offence and one to choose to take it.

Swearing is honest, healthy and thoroughly Australian.

Offended by swearing? Fuck off!

[Image: Twitter bird drawing by Hugh McLeod.]

The 9pm EdictWorld’s most impatient meth cook found in Oklahoma. She couldn’t even wait to get home. Australians are self-obsessed entitled wankers. And won’t someone think of the children? Senator Conroy dropped the f-bomb on national television!

I think he did it deliberately. Watch the video and see for yourself.

Also, Australians are a bunch of wankers with an inflated sense of entitlement.

We are the richest people in the world. And, as Possum of Possum’s Pollytics explained in Crikey last Thursday, we lead the world in everything from decent minimum wages to economic growth over the past decade. Read that article. Please. And while you’re at it, see where you sit on the Global Rich List.

We also hear about the world’s most impatient meth dealer.

You can listen below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or even subscribe automatically in iTunes.

[Update 16 December 2011: My comments about Senator Conroy's f-bomb have sparked some interest. If you're after that bit, it starts exactly 11 minutes into the program.]

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If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

[Credits: The 9pm Edict theme by mansardian, Edict fanfare by neonaeon, all from The Freesound Project. Photograph of Stilgherrian taken 29 March 2009 by misswired, used by permission.]

Stilgherrian’s links for 22 September 2009 through 26 September 2009, gathered intermittently and posted with a lack of attention to detail:

Stilgherrian’s links for 16 August 2009 through 26 August 2009:

  • Academic Earth: “Video lectures from the world’s top scholars”, it says. Provided they’re American. The universities included so far are Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA and Yale.
  • [Air-L] Trivial tweeting: Another viewpoint on the “Twitter is pointless babble” rubbish, this time from Cornelius Puschmann, PhD, in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Düsseldorf.
  • Power of Information | UK Cabinet Office: The February 2009 report from the UK government’s taskforce on Government 2.0.
  • My #blogpostfriday post | Scripting News: Dave Winer is worried about the cloud. “We pour so much passion into dynamic web apps hosted by companies we know very little about. We do it without retaining a copy of our data. We have no idea how much it costs them to keep hosting what we create, so even if they’re public companies, it’s very hard to form an opinion of how likely they are to continue hosting our work.”
  • 8129.0 – Business Use of Information Technology, 2007-08 | Australian Bureau of Statistics: Detailed indicators on the incidence of use of information technology in Australian business, as collected by the 2007-08 Business Characteristics Survey (BCS).
  • The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction | Wikipedia: Someone — I forget who — told me to read this 1935 essay by German cultural critic Walter Benjamin. It’s been influential in the fields of cultural studies and media theory. It was produced, Benjamin wrote, in the effort to describe a theory of art that would be “useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art&”. “In the absence of any traditional, ritualistic value, art in the age of mechanical reproduction would inherently be based on the practice of politics. It is the most frequently cited of Benjamin’s essays”, says Wikipedia. Sounds like I should indeed read it.
  • How Tim O’Reilly Aims to Change Government | ReadWriteWeb: Tim O’Reilly posits “government as platform”, where the government would supply raw digital data and other forms of support for private sector innovators to build on top of. That’s the writer’s version. Does this fit with the Rudd government’s idea of the government as an enabler, as outlined in their Digital Economy Future Directions paper?
  • CHART OF THE DAY: Smartphone Sales To Beat PC Sales By 2011 | Silican Valley Insider: This is based on worldwide sales figures, and it makes sense. The Third World could really use a low-power, rugged smartphone at a sensible price, rather than a laptop or even a netbook to lug around.
  • News Corp pushing to create an online news consortium | latimes.com: By “consortium” they mean “cartel”, right? “Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Miller has positioned News Corp as a logical leader in the effort to start collecting fees from online readers because of its success with the Wall Street Journal Online, which boasts more than 1 million paying subscribers. He is believed to have met with major news publishers including New York Times Co, Washington Post Co, Hearst Corp and Tribune Co, publisher of the Los Angeles Times.”
  • Us Now : watch the film: “In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?” This entire film can be watched online.
  • Morons with mobiles sour the tweet life | theage.com.au: Jacqui Bunting writes some of the dumbest words about Twitter which have ever been written. Note to editors: Anyone who starts from the premise that Twitter is meant to be a “commentary on life” needs to be taken out the back and slapped around a bit. It’s 2009. Please catch up.
  • The Conversation | Now That I Have Your Attention: The creator of Father Ted and The IT Crowd, Graham Linehan, also has a few words on Pear Analytics’ cod research on Twitter. He makes the point that for the first time we’re truly having a global conversation.
  • Pointless babble | The New Adventures of Stephen Fry: The redoubtable Stephen Fry rips into that Pear Analytics research on Twitter, with more brevity and wit than I did the other day. Well said, Sir!
  • Top 100 Aussie Web Startups – August 09 | TechNation Australia: The latest league table of Australian web businesses, for those who like to have winners and losers in clearly-defined categories.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule | Flickr: Proof that you don’t need the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology to be boringly anal-retentive about your scheduling.
  • Bruce Schneier: Facebook should compete on privacy, not hide it away | The Guardian: Another thought-provoking essay by Bruce Schneier.
  • Hype Cycle Book | Gartner: Mastering the Hype Cycle is the book explaining Gartner’s regular Hype Cycle reports.
  • How It All Ends | YouTube: A follow-up to the video The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See, which presented a risk analysis showing that we cannot afford to ignore the potential risk of climate change, even if it all turns out to be wrong. This version skips over the main argument and addresses the potential objections.
  • Climate change cage match | Crikey: A delightful comment from a Crikey reader, Stephen Morris, who likens the tactics of climate change denialist Tamas Calderwood to the mating habits of the Satin Bowerbird, which is totally obsessed by the colour blue. “It will actively search through a wide variety of brightly coloured objects that might suitably decorate its bower, but the only colour that interests it and it wants to collect are those coloured blue. Tamas in his scientific objectivity (and unfortunately often his logic) is very Satin bowerbird like. It doesn’t matter what large amounts of available data says about global warming, the only titbits of data of interest to Tamas, are those that can be seen to indicate cooling. Once a data set loses its blueness (or coolness), it seems interest in it is lost and other blue data sets are sought.”
  • Senator Lundy describes her Public Sphere initiative | Net Traveller: A ten minute video in which Senator Kate Lundy describes her Public Sphere initiative, made for students at ANU studying Information Technology in Electronic Commerce COMP3410.
  • AP contradiction: Move forward but restore | Pursuing the Complete Community Connection: Steve Buttry points out the problem with Associated Press’ content protection plan: How can you “move forward” and “restore the past” at the same time?

Stilgherrian’s links for 03 March 2009 through 07 March 2009, containing traces of nuts:

Stilgherrian’s links for 18 October 2008 through 21 October 2008, slightly burnt at the edges: