Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Who am I, the word allah?

Yesterday I read an article about Sarah Palin believing that her selection as VP candidate was part of God's plan. What caught my eye was the claim, by chief McCain strategist Steve Schmidt, that she was "very calm -- nonplussed". I find 'nonplussed' an odd clarification of 'very calm', given the meaning of 'nonplus' as "to cause to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do : perplex". I suspect that he was making the not uncommon error of using 'nonplussed' to mean 'unrattled' or 'unfazed', but I'd expect a bit better from a chief strategist of a presidential candidate for the GOP.

I also read a post about the word 'Allah' in the NYT blog section yesterday. It was interesting and informative, but what I found puzzling was its failure to distinguish between use and mention. In a couple of instances the author used the expression 'word Allah' without indicating clearly he was talking about the actual string of characters, with quotes or italicization, as opposed to the concept 'Allah' denotes. Stated thusly, without single quotes or italics, a reasonable interepretation is to think 'word Allah' refers to a god of words, or something, e.g., Who are you to tell me how to use this word, the word Allah? Again, people often fail to make the distinction clear, but in an article/blog about word usage in the NYT written by a Pulitzer Prize winner, I'd expect a higher standard. And the errors are still there today, maybe I'm missing something?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Another NPR WTF moment

On the way in to work this morning I heard a discussion on the radio of some similarities between the movie Avatar and the popular song Tik Tok by Kesha. It was an interesting discussion of the two works as consisting mostly of a "mashup" of various pop cultural references and genres, etc. I don't know whether that's true, but what did strike me was a comment about the song. The reporter says "This is not a good song in my opinion but it sounds enough like a good pop song so that you can't quite tell the difference".

It reminds me of an illustration Raymond Smullyan once used to illustrate the verification principle. He writes about a concert pianist who used to note that the difference between European and American critics was that European critics would write things like "he played too slowly during this part of the piece", etc., while American critics would write things like, "he didn't play with enough moonshine". (Sorry, don't have a reference handy.) What in the world could it be for a song to sound like a good song but fail to be a good song for reasons that one cannot perceive?