News roundup

I’m going to try to post groupings of short news pieces on a weekly or biweekly basis.     You may have already seen some of these if you follow me on Twitter.

Serendipitously, shortly after I posted about numerical copyediting and told my story about Indian English numerals, Toyota  announced that it is abandoning its longstanding practice of using Japanese English numerals in favour of international (read: American) ‘million’ and ‘billion’.   Japanese-influenced English uses multiples of 10,000 and 10 million, like the Japanese language, so that what Americans write as one million is “100 ten-thousands” instead.

From the Independent: a collection of some of the most highbrow jokes in the world.  #8 and #19 are my favourites, for reasons that will be evident, but there are lots of language-related ones.    Although, to be semantically particular, I think that many of these jokes are ‘nerdish’ rather than ‘highbrow’, strictly speaking.

The Globe and Mail has a great interview with Christine Schreyer who is a linguistic anthropologist at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, and who was recently employed as a consultant to the film Man of Steel to develop a constructed language for Kryptonian.  I haven’t seen the movie but I wonder whether the writing system the producers employed was this one:


Over at the Doing Good Science blog at Scientific American, there’s a very interesting post on disrespect and sexism in science journalism.  Here’s a tip: when writing about a conference, it’s not cool to refer to women (but not men) by first-name only, and don’t go out of your way to mention the physical appearance of women (but not men).    Has useful tips for how to respond to such incidents when they happen.

Although I object to describing it as ‘tuition free’, it’s very interesting that the Oregon legislature has unanimously passed a law to allow students to initially attend state institutions without paying tuition, and then pay 3% of their earnings for the next 24 years after graduation.  This has lots of potential problems but has worked well in Australia and elsewhere.  Perhaps the most surprising is that Democrats and Republicans in the legislature could unanimously agree on anything!

Ronald Kephart, who also blogs at The Cranky Linguist, has a nice pedagogical essay at Anthropology News on Illustrating science through language.    Linguistic anthropology sometimes gets a bum rap as being all mushy, and Kephart shows how to add rigour and critical analysis to students’ toolkits when thinking about language and culture.

There’s an interesting piece on so-called ‘helicopter parents’ over at, whose over-attentiveness to their adult children in academia or in employment causes negative repercussions. I have to say – and maybe this is a function of where I work – that while I have had one or two parents call or come for a meeting regarding their child’s graduate education, I have not found this to be a big problem at Wayne State.

Over at Tenth Letter of the Alphabet, there’s a very interesting post for typography geeks and SF geeks (highly overlapping sets, to be sure) on the history of the STAR WARS logo.  Over the past week, I’ve been watching Episodes IV and V with my son, who is eight and hasn’t seen them before (we’re watching them in Machete Order), so it’s been on my mind.

Finally, there’s a thoughtful (if somewhat gloomy) essay at the Chronicle of Higher Education on attrition in PhD programs.  As the graduate director of a mid-sized social sciences program, I often have reason to think about this.    Just about the only thing everyone agrees on is that 0% attrition is too low and 100% is too high – but what is appropriate?   The essay led me to the PhD Completion Project, which has a ton of interesting quantitative information on PhD completion and attrition rates across multiple institutions, along with policy recommendations.

Author: schrisomalis

Anthropologist, Wayne State University. Professional numbers guy. Rare Words: Blog:

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