Friday Funnies

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Aug 10 21:04:37 UTC 2001

Yes, it's annoying, but we must accept some of the blame for
advertising ourselves so poorly, although I think we qare imnproving.
In the past, at any rate, linguists were "unknown" as scientists
(and, in fact, language was not a worthy object for scientific

While I was a Fulbright lecturer in Brazil in the early 80's a team
of scholars repreesenting the NSF came through to tout international
research cooperation. When I took a small faculty group to diuscuss
some plans, we were told (by the smart-ass chemist who led the group)
that NSF did not fund research on lanaguge. When I told I was certain
it did (based in part on the fact that I had had NSF research grantrs
in linguistics), he told me I must have been mistajken. (Go figger!)

In the example given by Evan, I bet a folk-instrument historian would
shudder at categorizing that same toaster incorrectly but is
apparently happy to make up any bull about its etymology (or other
words or phrases supposedly generated by it).

When I toured Chichen Itza once, our guide, who was really very
well-versed in the history and archaeology of the place, told us
(with no leg-pulling) that Mayan had to be related to Japanese (for
he once led a tour group of Japanese there who had jumped off the bus
and immediately strarted talking, with no difficulty, to a group of
Mayan women gatherred there).

What to do! (If you "correct" the crap people believe about langauge,
you will get the same cold even belligerant treatment Bloomfield
talks about in his still worth reading "Tertiary responses" article
from so many years ago.)


>>From a reader's query:
>....periodically, I see some explanation for the origin of a phrase that I
>find to be totally absurd, or at least highly unlikely....  I recall being
>at George Washington's
>birthplace several years ago, where there are folks about demonstrating the
>lifestyle of the times.  A woman in colonial garb was demonstrating some
>kitchen equipment.  She showed us this device that sat on the floor into
>which slices of bread were placed, and the device was placed in front of the
>fire.  When the bread was done on one side, one allegedly pushed it with
>one's toe, causing it to flip over.  She claimed that this is where we got
>the word "toaster"......
>Evan Morris
>words1 at

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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