Pronouns are cool

I was teaching this morning — a small course in grammar — when I was struck with how cool pronouns are because of how much they tell us about the mind. This is one of those things, like the double-slit experiment where the phenomenon can be easily observed, but the underlying mechanisms are actually pretty complex.

So let’s start off with a question, and some observations.

Basic question: why do we we use pronouns in general?
Follow-up question: what happens when we don’t?

Let’s take a small invented passage, where, instead of using pronouns, we use the full form of the nouns. (Not actually a quote, but I’m going to set this off in a block-quote.)

Zoe went to the store. And then Zoe tried on some shirts. But Zoe thought Zoe didn’t look that great in the shirts. Zoe thought the shirts were not Zoe’s color. So Zoe got Zoe a cupcake, which was Zoe’s favorite color. Then Zoe sat down and fed Zoe’s self the cupcake. Zoe thought the cupcake was delicious, but Zoe was sad Zoe ate the cupcake in just two bites.

Wow, annoying, isn’t it?

So what’s going on? Why are we so annoyed by this?

Continue reading “Pronouns are cool”

Monolingual Neanderthals

This post, is, of course, not particularly serious, even though the premise might be an interesting one to see better stats on. It all centers on this article out of the Telegraph last month. Go ahead — read it. It’s short. But if you don’t want to, the basic gist is that the UK made language classes optional, and British school children don’t seem to really be all that interested in taking foreign language classes if they’re not required. Enrollments have dropped almost by half in the past 10 years to the point where the average number of languages spoken by Brits today is: 1.0. Since I assume few Brits speak fewer than one languages, this means the entire country is almost exactingly monolingual.  What’s doubly interesting to me is that most of Europe isn’t much better. The continental average: 1.4. Now, I’m going to take a wild, wild leap here, and wonder about the possible connection to other phenomena.

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Cooking with Aspirin

Sure, there’s the chance of gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach bleeding, but part of me wonders why aspirin doesn’t appear to be used in any foods. In fact a search for cooking with aspirin reveals no recipes whatsoever. This is fairly surprising to me. After all, acetylsalicilyc acid has a light sour taste that is not unpleasant, and would go nicely in certain types of sweet foods, particularly in something like these.

Now, I should reiterate — I’m not a physician, so please keep that in mind; but think of the application of pain reliever as an ingredient! Continue reading “Cooking with Aspirin”

Phantom Lunch

Heinlein - The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
Waffles. At every turn.

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Robert A. Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. In my opinion, it’s a somewhat overrated book, but I’ll admit that it makes for adequate bus reading. The plot of the book I won’t give away, but I will mention that the main characters of the book are frequently eating waffles. Now, I maintain that the waffle is a fine food — Continue reading “Phantom Lunch”

The Science of Sleep?

I’m currently on a little jaunt to visit friends and family in the days surrounding the wedding of my college roommate.  Yesterday I drove from New York to Chicago — a 13 hour drive, once you account for the rain, the construction, and the Chicago rush hour traffic.  The drive was fairly gruelling, but what I find amusing, however, is that while dreaming yesterday night and into this morning (probably mostly the latter, since those are the dreams we’re most likely to remember), I dreamed about — guess what… — driving from New York to Chicago.  The reason I find this amusing is that Continue reading “The Science of Sleep?”