Posts

Where does the word robot come from?

Image
A rare example of a Czech word ('robota') entering English: robot was introduced to the public by the Czech interwar writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, though they are closer to the modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of their treatment. source Kathleen Richardson points out in this BBC broadcast that our notions about robots are fanciful - they are generally clumsy, ineffective machines. Audio: Where does the word robot come from?’  So robots are not going to rule the world any time soon. But are they going to challenging for the Marathon Gold Medal at the next Olympics? On this evidence, perhaps not: A version of this post is included in the  English FAQ Te

What is mission creep? Where does the phrase come from?

Image
Mission creep is when an original plan or objective is progressively widened by events on the ground. Significantly the phrase has military origin Originating in Somalia in 1993, the modern term “mission creep” became part of official U.S. Army vocabulary a decade late r. Field Manual 3-07,  Stability Operations and Support Operations  (February 2003) acknowledges two types of mission creep. The first occurs when “the unit receives shifting guidance or a change in mission for which the unit is not properly configured or resourced.”  Lewis and Clark In other words limited objective you start with expands to the point where it is no longer clear.  Mission creep has also been used to describe non-military matters - financial regulation  for example . The Dictionary of Military Terms English Language 100 FAQ Teaching Pack     -  only £1.99 using discount code  CQDWKF0

What is the origin of the word feminist?

Image
The feminists (excuse this neologism) say .... all the evil rises from the fact that we will not allow that woman is the equal of man.   Alexandre Dumas (fils) 1873 The author of The Three Musketeers  is credited with coining the word in French, with a translation of his work by G Vandenhoff introducing the English version. Interestingly, Dumas was not a sympathiser with the emerging campaign for women's rights. Even by the standards of his time he had a particularly patrician view of life "as a battle between the woman and the man."   He was very censorius about prostitution, for example, blaming the prevalence of prostitutes in Paris for the fall of the city to the Prussians in 1870. This did not prevent him from calling on their services from time to time - presumably in the interests of research

What will the English of the future look like??

Image
English is currently the world's dominant language - the lingua franca of science, medicine, technology and many other areas. A present there are here is no obvious threat to English on the near horizon.  But a recent article in The Economist suggests that while English may remain dominant, it is likely to evolve along Globish lines to suit the majority of non-native (L2) speakers Interestingly, about two-thirds of English-speakers are not first-language speakers of English .... Shaped by the mouths of billions of non-native speakers, what will the English of the future look like? A look into the past can give us an idea. English is of course not the first language learned by lots of non-natives. When languages spread, they also change. And it turns out, they do so in specific directions. For example, a 2010  study  by Gary Lupyan and Rick Dale found that bigger languages are simpler. In more precise terms, languages with many speakers and many neighbours have simpler sy

Do the languages we speak shape the way we think?

Image
The Tower of Babel' by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563 Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express? Stanford psychology professor  Lera Boroditsky makes has some surprising observations about the relationship between language and thought. How do we come to be the way we are? Why do we think the way we do? An important part of the answer, it turns out, is in the languages we speak.  Full text here Language & Thought: Chicken & Egg English Language 100 FAQ Teaching Pack     -  only £1.99 using discount code  CQDWKF0

Why are we “the giraffes of altruism.”?

Image
According to the neuro-scientist, Jonathan Haidt, humans are instinctively unselfish in some key respects. He sees altruism - acting for others rather than out of self-interest - as an evolutionary development.  What's the evidence, Mr Haidt? There are signs that some forms of altruism are instinctive rather than learned. Even a very young child will come to you aid if you are struggling to open a door, for example.  This suggests that an inclination to help others - is at least partially heritable.  But isn't evolutionary theory based on the idea of the 'survival of the fittest'? Co-operation gives humans a competitive advantage over other species But what's with the giraffe reference? The giraffe's long neck gives it an advantage over other species. Being nice - some of the time, anyway - is our equivalent of having a neck that gives you that extra bit of stretch when it comes to nabbing that fruit!  BTW: giraffes & humans share the