12 July 2006

Pretentious, Moi?

I went down to a meeting at the contractor's today, don't worry I won't bore you with the details as it is of no interest to anybody cept those who were there, I have those sort of meetings, not smoke filled rooms where decisions that will change the world as we know it happen, but the humdrum boring ones that most people have to suffer.

The buffet lunch was excellent though, which was nice.

On the way back as I wasn't driving, I don't do driving I learnt 20 years ago, passed my test and have only driven a handful of times since. I don't enjoy it and can't afford to run a car. Anyhoo as I was saying on the way back I started to think about the construction of language, really it is absolutely a bit of genius that switching the order of a few words can change something from a statement.

I can have an ice cream

Ich kann ein Eis haben (school girl German w00t!)

to a question

Can I have an ice cream?

Kann ich ein Eis haben? ('O' level Grade C not bad eh? - I'm dyslexic remember and took this exam 20 years ago)

That is bloody genius it really is, maths doesn't have that level of subtlety well not at the level everyone can understand. I am quietly gobsmacked at the cleverness of it. Now you may all be saying "Get over it Jane it's nothing" but I'm a scientist by training and not versed in the ways of linguistics so I'm easily impressed by this.

That's all I wanted to say really.


  1. Ah, but maths has even more elegant subtleties...

    (4 x 3) + 2 = 14

    4 x (3 + 2) = 20

  2. Siobhan's maths example is brilliant!

    Linguistically, the thing I always like is where bits of words don't mean what you think they mean. For example, the -wife in midwife doesn't mean wife in the usual sense.

  3. I love math. Math has no slang, no accents and no misinterpretation. Damn, it sounds boring - but I still love it.

  4. "What now, Jane?"
    "What, now Jane?"
    That's better when spoken and an emphasis can be intoned.

    "To cure aibohphobia, you should recite that word backwards."
    Is there irony or humour in the expression of mathematics?

  5. Maths (the s is correct) does have accents and misinterpretation.

    If I ask the question what is half of two plus two some of you will give the incorrect answer of two.

    The more intelligent will answer three.

  6. ...because division takes precedence over addition (and is also why I didn't need the parentheses in my first equation ;-)

  7. Wow I've never had so many comments so quickly! :D

    And you've given me a whole new blog post to write!

  8. Thats all I wanted to say really.

    I wanted to say, "Really? Thats all?"

    But after the last discusion it doesn't sound so clever anymore........

  9. Try saying:

    "What do you really want?"

    and put the inflection on a different word each time... can subtly change the question.

    And after all that - did you eventually get the ice cream?

  10. You know, now that you mention it I think I want some ice cream!

  11. MAths is far more elegant than _natural_ language. I mean, the moment you stumble through and get the point of second quantization, and its implication on wave/particle duality is sublime. Or grinding through MAxwell's equations and ending up with the speed of light in terms of fundemental physical constants. Or the quirks. e to the i pi, anyone? Or the fact that .999 recurring (I don't know how to put a wee dot above the nine there) is equal to one?

    Give me the beauty of the language of the universe over the gruntings of jumped-up apes in suits with digital watches (which are a neat idea.)

  12. My two favourite maths quotes evah are:

    "Two plus two equals five, for very small values of five and very large values of two"


    "There are 10 types of people in this world. Those that get binary, and those that don't"