Geoff Nunberg http://wvasfm.org en Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn't Mean Much http://wvasfm.org/post/do-feelings-compute-if-not-turing-test-doesnt-mean-much To judge from some of the <a href="http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/national/news/11264062._Super_computer__passes_Turing_Test/">headlines,</a> it was a very big deal. At an event held at the Royal Society in London, for the first time ever, a computer passed the Turing Test, which is widely taken as the benchmark for saying a machine is engaging in intelligent thought. But like the other much-hyped triumphs of artificial intelligence, this one wasn't quite what it appeared. Computers can do things that seem quintessentially human, but they usually take a different path to get there. Tue, 01 Jul 2014 19:46:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 50699 at http://wvasfm.org Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn't Mean Much Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year http://wvasfm.org/post/narcissistic-or-not-selfie-nunbergs-word-year I feel a little defensive about choosing "selfie" as my Word of the Year for 2013. I've usually been partial to words that encapsulate one of the year's major stories, such as "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/12/07/143265669/occupy-geoff-nunbergs-2011-word-of-the-year">occupy</a>" or "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/12/20/167702665/geoff-nunbergs-word-of-the-year-big-data">big data</a>." Or "privacy," which is the word Dictionary.com chose this year. Thu, 19 Dec 2013 16:26:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 39964 at http://wvasfm.org Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year Was Rand Paul's Plagiarism Dishonest Or A Breach Of Good Form? http://wvasfm.org/post/did-rand-paul-commit-plagiarism-or-just-faux-pas Even taken together, the charges didn't seem to amount to that big a deal — just a matter of quoting a few factual statements and a Wikipedia passage without attributing them. But as Rand Paul discovered, the word "plagiarism" can still rouse people to steaming indignation. Samuel Johnson called plagiarism the most reproachful of literary crimes, and the word itself began as the name of a real crime. In Roman law, a plagiarius was someone who abducted a child or a slave — it's from "plaga," the Latin word for a net or a snare. Tue, 12 Nov 2013 18:11:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 37956 at http://wvasfm.org Was Rand Paul's Plagiarism Dishonest Or A Breach Of Good Form? 'Horrific' And 'Surreal': The Words We Use To Bear Witness http://wvasfm.org/post/horrific-and-surreal-words-we-use-bear-witness Mass shootings, bus crashes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks — we've gotten adept at talking about these things. Act of God or act of man, they're all horrific. At least that was the word you kept hearing from politicians and newscasters describing the Boston bombings and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas.<p>That may not strike you as surprising — the events were horrific, weren't they? But it's actually a new way of describing things. "Horrific" is an old word; it turns up in Thackeray and Melville. But until recent times it was rare and literary. Fri, 26 Apr 2013 19:33:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 26910 at http://wvasfm.org 'Horrific' And 'Surreal': The Words We Use To Bear Witness Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter? http://wvasfm.org/post/historical-vocab-when-we-get-it-wrong-does-it-matter Has there ever been an age that was so grudging about suspending its disbelief? The groundlings at the Globe Theatre didn't giggle when Shakespeare had a clock chime in <a href="http://goo.gl/07bvN">Julius Caesar</a>. The Victorians didn't take Dickens to task for having the characters in <em>A</em> <em>Tale of Two Cities </em>ride the Dover mail coach 10 years before it was established. But Shakespeare and Dickens weren't writing in the age of the Internet, when every historical detail is scrutinized for chronological correctness, and when no "Gotcha!" remains unposted for long. Tue, 26 Feb 2013 20:05:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 23583 at http://wvasfm.org Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter? 'The Whole Nine Yards' Of What? http://wvasfm.org/post/whole-nine-yards-what Where does the phrase "the whole nine yards" come from? In 1982, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/03/magazine/on-language.html?n=Top%2fFeatures%2fMagazine%2fColumns%2fOn%20Language">William Safire</a> called that "one of the great etymological mysteries of our time."<p>He thought the phrase originally referred to the capacity of a cement truck in cubic yards. Mon, 14 Jan 2013 19:25:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 21263 at http://wvasfm.org 'The Whole Nine Yards' Of What? Even Americans Find Some Britishisms 'Spot On' http://wvasfm.org/post/even-americans-find-some-britishisms-spot Mitt Romney was on CNN not long ago defending the claims in his campaign ads — "We've been absolutely spot on," he said. Politics aside, the expression had me doing an audible roll of my eyes. I've always associated "spot on" with the type of Englishman who's played by Terry-Thomas or John Cleese, someone who pronounces "yes" and "ears" in the same way — "eeahzz." It shows up when people do send-ups of plummy British speech. "I say — spot on, old chap!"<p>But that wasn't really fair to Romney. Thu, 01 Nov 2012 17:30:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 17664 at http://wvasfm.org Even Americans Find Some Britishisms 'Spot On' One Debate, Two Very Different Conversations http://wvasfm.org/post/one-debate-two-very-different-conversations When you consider how carefully staged and planned the debates are and how long they've been around, it's remarkable how often candidates manage to screw them up. Sometimes they're undone by a simple gaffe or an ill-conceived bit of stagecraft, like Gerald Ford's slip-up about Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1976, or Al Gore's histrionic sighing in 2000. Sometimes it's just a sign of a candidate having a bad day, like Ronald Reagan's woolly ramblings in the first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984.<p>But President Obama's flop was more puzzling. Tue, 09 Oct 2012 16:32:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 16370 at http://wvasfm.org One Debate, Two Very Different Conversations When Words Were Worth Fighting Over http://wvasfm.org/post/when-words-were-worth-fighting-over I have a quibble with the title of David Skinner's new book, <em>The Story of Ain't</em>. In fact, that pariah contraction plays only a supporting role in the story. The book is really an account of one of the oddest episodes in American cultural history, the brouhaha over the appearance of Merriam-Webster's <em>Third International Dictionary</em> in 1961.<p>At 2,700 pages, Webster's <em>Third</em> was literally a monumental work of scholarship. It was the first American unabridged dictionary in 25 years, and the first to make use of the findings of modern linguistics. Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:28:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 16094 at http://wvasfm.org When Words Were Worth Fighting Over With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement' http://wvasfm.org/post/ryans-ascent-few-thoughts-entitlement People are saying that Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate creates an opportunity to hold what Ryan likes to call an "adult conversation" about entitlement spending. In the present political climate, it would be heartening to have an adult conversation about anything. But bear in mind that "entitlement" doesn't put all its cards on the table. Tue, 14 Aug 2012 15:30:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 13404 at http://wvasfm.org With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement'