a tomato is a vegetable

such a vegetable, in fact, that people frequently have to remind each other that it's 'actually' a fruit. these are often the same people who like to correct grammar mistakes in conversation:
Me and Bob are going to add some tomatoes and other vegetables to the pasta.

You know tomato is actually a fruit. And I think you mean 'Bob and I.'

Oh, then you must not have meant to start a sentence with a conjunction just now...

anyway. we can tell that the tomato IS a vegetable because that fact organizes things physically in the world. for example:
1. the produce aisle.
2. the garden patch.
3. the hamburger. ask a friend: "have you ever tried fruit on your hamburger? it's actually great..."
4. it tastes like a vegetable, whatever that means.
and so on.

that is, the 'technical' definitions of a fruit ('the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food') and a vegetable ('edible part of a plant cultivated for food', thank you dictionary.com) are useful in some speech communities: scientific, botanical; but are incomplete and unable to explain certain facts about the physical tomato (it goes in the vegetable section of the supermarket). nevermind for the moment that 'vegetable' seems to include 'fruit' under these definitions. i'm fairly sure that in most speech settings they're a binary. enough to make the point, at least.

Scott gets credit for the observation that 'fruit' is by far the privileged side of the 'fruit'/'vegetable' binary. consider calling a person a 'fruit;' this is either a derrogative term for a homosexual man (but not nearly as offensive as some other words) or just a goofy person. calling someone a 'vegetable,' on the other hand, is an offensive way of saying that they are literally comatose or brain-dead, or a very offensive way of saying that they are a 'couch potato.' consider the brave tomato, following its instincts in spite of confusion from humans and jeers from the other fruits.

the Essentialist school of philosophy (and philosophy of language), which claims that any specific type of entity can be defined as a class such that every member of that class must share some finite list of characteristics (thank you wikipedia), would have a hard time with the tomato. poor confused tomato. it seems trivial, but figures like the tomato, which straddle two or more categories, have major implications in certain fields: the weeks-old fetus - human or not? the transgendered person - male or female? meaning - inside or outside of language? the answers to these questions are essentially decided by the usage of the terms, which can never be completely controlled by dictionaries, laws or experimentation.

calling 'a tomato is a vegetable' a category error means several things. it means you rely on a certain scientific and physical definition to determine the 'actual' 'real' 'true' category of an object. it also means you believe much of the world is often making errors by not adhering to that standard definition. it might also mean you think that everything definitively fits in one category or the other, and that this category can be determined (a transsexual IS actually male or female, a fetus actually begins living at a particular instant) as long as you have enough physical evidence.

and, while that isn't necessarily bad, it does, like the questioning tomato, make me slightly uncomfortable.


viewn as viewn from above

Well, it turns out I'm not cloud nutzo after all. A quick scan of google hits for "viewn" revealed that there are other speakers/writers out there who ride the 'viewn' train.

Take this website for example. You'll see a lovely picture and a usage of "viewn". Now, what's interesting to note in this example is that the usage appears to be from a native german english speaker (note the ".de" extension on the URL).

Also, I'm no expert computer programmer, but you'll notice if you check out the search results that many of the URL extensions contain a "viewn" modifier such as the one in the URL above.


Maybe someone more adept at programming could enlighten us, but I suspect it's actually "viewn" and not, say, "view N".

The moderater on this board (which seems to have something to do with an internet radio station) demonstrates what I'd conjecture is the most common usage of "viewn".

Under no circumstances should this station be viewn as an opportunity to go off on a tangent and play only things you like.

"Viewn" amounts to basically a passive form of "view" and the two seem function as a pair much like "see/seen", "show/shown", "tear/torn" "grow/grown" or "shear/shorn". In an impromtu test of my roommates just now, I asked them to construct a sentence in the passive voice using to verb "to view" that functioned as a caption that explain what on was looking at in a picture of the Empire State Building from the top of the World Trade Center. One roommate didn't react at all, but the other said "you want me to say viewn, but I know that's not right."

Interesting! Here is one other potential candidates for the "viewn" treatment (unforunately the only one I can think of):

Shoon (Shoo) - "The rat was shoon from the house."

Can you think of any more?


some internet 'walla'

(Note made some slight alterations and additions since first posting -SK)

By which I mean background chatter, like the chatter Al Qaida is so fond of. To diverge for a minute and if you'll make this leap with me, the chatter is part of the world wide 'walla' or at the very least a large portion of the US's 'walla'. Background noise is so important especially in a culture fueled by the notion/infatuation with/realization of conspiracy (JFK / Da Vinci Code / Enron). There is certainly a feeling, which is hard to avoid, that the surface of things is only the record needle reacting to the minute shifts of the vinyl, the noise below it. In this metaphor, it appears there is something to be said about the distinctions drawn between speech and writing. Although, I'll save this (mostly) for another time, it's my belief that a conspiracy weary culture privileges writing and the text. Conspiracy makes us question the body and the words that come out of the body's mouth. The Smoking Gun demonstrates this. It has celebrity mug shots to reveal the falseness of the rich and famous' appearance in photographs, television and movies. Then it features documents to reveal the men and women behind the mask, in all the full figured infamy. Bill O'Rielly knows this well. We know how these public figures are to be viewed, but the website asks us to look at the 'walla' of their lives so that we might see the flaw in their design. In some ways, the entertianment provided by this unmasking supplants the entertainment that these people have dedicated their lives too. It's more interesting to read about O'Rielly's penchant for Loofahs then it is to watch him enter his chaotic No Spin Zone. I'll concede that the ins and outs of Lindsay Lohan's drug addictions and paternal strife are eminently more fun than "Herbie: Fully Loaded".

Now, I digress. In writing the above, I realized that I was being dogged by a phantom word. When I was writing:
We know how these public figures are to be viewed,

I kept wanting to write:
We know how these public figures are to be viewn

"Viewn" as is a modification of 'view' that rhymes (mostly) with "loon". Now maybe I'm going cloud nutzo over here, but do people actually say "vyoon", as in "The report on North Korean was vyoon by the President and his cabinet"? I really think they do and I believe I have and will. Someone should fax a memo to Hollywood to makes sure people are using this in their 'walla'. Without it the 'walla' in Hollywood restaurant scenes might seem as bogus as ray shields or GENERAL GREEEEVOUS in Revenge of the Sith. What do they use for 'walla' in those movies, by the way, just gibberish???

This brings me to my last and final point, the one I actually started this post for. I wanted to encourage you all to check out the blog for the Electronic Writing Course I finished only a month ago. The Prof has been so kind as to provide links to all of the final and midterm projects that people produced (minus a few that weren't internet friendly). Some are, no doubt, more successful than others. My personal favorites are:

"What We Want": A mash up of the NY Times and Craigslist.


"30 Poems": A poem with a very inventive and mysterious navigation method.

I've already pushed mine on you all, so I won't do so again. But... THEY'RE COOL! More later.


usage of the walla

getting a head-start on planning my fourth-of-july menu, i looked up 'deviled eggs' (or is it 'devilled'?) on Cooks.com today, and i found a recipe that ended with this gem of an invented usage:
Walla - deviled eggs!
recipes on cooks.com are submitted by individual cooks, and 'walla' is certainly an easy leap from the american pronunciation of the french-loaned 'voila' - a pretty good phonetic transcription. of course, the problem with this kind of linguistic research is that it's impossible to know whether the writer was using the utterance jokingly or believed there was a word spelled 'walla.' an email client known as 'walla!mail' may be playing on exactly this confusion.

the linguistic purists over at urban dictionary have added their fiddy cent as well, listing it as slang from Arabic, Australia, and as a word meaning a stupid person. they've also already hit on the cooks.com usage:
""Walla" is a word used by ignorant people (particularly Americans) who simply don't know any better."
and from a particularly intolerant poster:
"Being stupid Americans though, they can't pronounce anything which doesn't sound 100% English (not that they can pronounce English either) so in their incredibly lazy way, they don't even try to pronounce it correctly."
they don't mention anything about the creative (and phonetically accurate!) orthography except to note that it's the result of a 'lazy' pronunciation... because writing is necessarily parasitic on spoken language, and old language is best language, and france is better than america in every way, and people who change language without realizing it are clearly inferior, and.....

but you invented users know that almost everything IS already a word. a cooks.com search for 'walla' revealed that there is a type of onion known as 'Walla Walla' or 'Walla Walla Sweets,' (assumedly named for the town) but didn't yield any more instances of the emphatic 'Walla!' (this search may also only hit the ingredients list now that i think of it.)

a google of 'walla' produces 26.1 million hits, overwhelmingly in favor of Walla Walla, Washington (a great name to begin with) and associated universities, onions, vintners...

filmsound.org also tells us that 'walla' is a standard term in the sound effects industry for crowd chatter.
"The word walla was created in the old radio days when they needed the sound of a crowd in the background. They found if several people simply repeated "walla, walla, walla, walla" it sounded like people talking."
and of course, it's now an adjective too:
"Today the walla group use real words and real conversations. The walla actors come prepared. They ... have researched the local jargon and geography so that the background dialogue will be authentic. Group walla has to be cut very skillfully like sound effects so that it does not sound artificially placed."

if there's one thing i can't stand, it's improper walla.


sentence complexity

let me briefly and profusely apologize for our extended absence. the last month or so has been filled with vacations, moving, job hunts, comments on my last post, and so on. enough with this 'sorry' blather! on to language...

speaking of jobs, i'm spending the summer as a research assistant in a cog sci lab. i'm helping write/assess a government adult literacy and vocabulary test. that's right! i'm one of those people that makes standardized tests! i think there was a point in my life when i thought it would be an interesting career... i wasn't totally wrong.

so far i've written 20 questions. each focuses on one word with multiple meanings (usually including more than one part of speech). i write three fill-in-the-blank sentences that would make sense with the target word in the blank, and then i write three 'matching' sentences that would NOT make sense with the target word in the blank. but in all cases, the wrong sentences have to match in missing part of speech and all the sentences have to use the same form of the word (that is, no plurals or past-tense or suchwhat).

now i'm collecting a wide range of statistics on each possible answer sentence so that we can make sure, for example, that the wrong answers aren't systematically different from the right answers.

i'm running each sentence and all the sentences for each question together through a readability statistics website that gives me the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease, grade level, Gunning-Fog index, and average number of syllables per word.

i'm also taking a list of statistics about what i'm calling the 'syntactic complexity' of each sentence. these include number of prepositional phrases, number of strings of modifiers, number of non-main clauses and so on. it would be really interesting if any of these statistics ended up correlating with the response time we will empirically collect for the sentences.

interestingly, since the standard readability tests are partially based on the average number of syllables per word, lots of grammatical words (prepositions, quantifiers, conjunctions, etc) tend to yield low Flesch-Kincaid grade levels, but tend to make my 'syntactic complexity' score very high. this type of complexity also correlates better with sentence length than the readability stats do, since you can't have a syntactically complex sentence that's only four words.

no real conclusions to draw yet, except to say that a lot of these grammatical categories are tough to define, and sometimes come down to my research-assitant judgement.

if anyone out there in linguo-blog land knows of any official measure of syntactic complexity or any measure that's been used to predict reading times, send it on in!