Tag Archives: NBA

Bolt, Crook and Payne: What’s in A Name?

Usain Bolt bolts, Anna Smashnova was a tennis pro, Bob Flowerdew is a gardening expert. Coincidence?

In this episode of the pod, criminal defense lawyer Frances Crook and vicar Michael Vickers discuss their own names and vocations with John Hoyland of New Scientist. Hoyland first became interested in nominative determinism—a term he coined—after being told about a study of incontinence authored by JW Splatt and D Weedon. On the same day he came across a book on the Polar regions by Daniel Snowman.

Among the questions discussed: why do some people feel drawn to professions predicted by their names? Why do others enter professions that their names suggest might be inappropriate (Dr De’ath or airline planner Rod Muddle)?

Of course in the old days, people were often named after the family profession—Smith, Baker, Potter, Cooper. But that doesn’t happen any more.

Hoyland hasn’t come upon conclusive research on any of this. All he has is a hunch. A slight one. As he puts it, “there’s something going on here, or maybe there isn’t.”

Also in the pod:

    • Clemson Smith Muñiz has been the play-by-play voice of Los Knicks en español. He talks about how basketball terminology in Spanish has many regional variations. The word dunk for example, translates as donquear in Puerto Rico, mate in Spain, volcada in Argentina, and clavado in Mexico and central America. You’d have thought Smith Muñiz was spoiled for choice. But no, he’s come up with his own expression: martillazo, which means a hammer blow.
    • In the wake of the death of Kim Jong Il, it’s a good time to check in on freedom of expression south of the DMZ. While it’s in as short supply in the North as food and electricity, that’s not the case in South Korea. But there are limits. We have a report on a podcast that’s hugely popular there. It’s a part satirical, part serious indictment of  South Korea’s president Lee Myung Bak. It’s called (in translation) I’m a Petty-minded Creep. On December 22, 2011, one of the podcast’s hosts was sentenced to a year in prison for spreading false rumors. The host, who was once an opposition politician, is also barred from running for office for ten years.  So now we know a little more about the limits of free speech in South Korea. More Korean language coverage here and here.
    • And, the late Christopher Hitchens discusses the power of debate with his brother Peter Hitchens. The two disagreed on just about everything—except for the value of argument as a means to arrive at principled positions.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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Spy accents, sign language, and not my bad.

Our top five language stories this month:

5. Making Tamil even more official. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is an official language. It’s widely spoken there. Indeed it was the very first of India’s languages to be recognized as a classical language. But proponents of the language, and of the Tamil people, don’t think that Tamil gets the respect it deserves. So they have enlisted Tamil politicians to  issue an order requiring that commercial signs prominently display the language. Most signs are in English.  Opponents worry that Tamil Nadu is needlessly cutting itself from the rest of the world, and from possible trade opportunities.

4. The expression that Manute Bol didn’t invent. After Sudanese basketball great Manute Bol died, many eulogies praised him for, among other things, coining the term my bad. Speaking on the Senate floor U.S. Senator Sam Brownback lauded Manute Bol for that (as well as for his basketball skills, and for killing a lion with a spear while working as a cow-herder). The source for the my bad coinage claim was a five-year-old post in the blog Language Log. The belief apparently was that as a non-native English speaker, he thought he was saying my fault. As posters on Language Log have recently pointed out, my bad was almost definitely around before Manute Bol first arrived in the United States in about 1980. So Manute:  sorry. Our bad.

3.  A translator recalls the Nuremberg Trials. Ingeborg Laurensen, 96, recalls her work as one of 24 interpreters at the international military tribunal after World War Two.

2.Those (alleged) Russian spies and their faux Euro/Canadian accents. One of them claimed a she was Belgian; another that she was Canadian; yet another had “the faintest hint” of “an accent”.   OK, so their covers were blown, but it wasn’t because their accents didn’t match (what’s a Belgian accent anyway? ).  Let’s face it, most of us are pretty inept when it comes to pinpointing an accent. In the pod, we get a crash course on the difference between the French spoken in France and the French of Quebec.

1. A sign language that doesn’t have signs for some Islamic words. American Sign Language doesn’t have signs for Mecca, Mohammed and other words common to Muslims. In Toronto, an ASL teacher is working with group of students from a diversity of linguistic backgrounds (Pakistani Sign Language, Arabic Sign Language and Turkish Sign Language)  to try to come up with signs for a few religious words.  In the pod, we also discuss new research into Nicaraguan Sign Language that shows that language may affect how we solve spatial problems.

Listen in iTunes or here.

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