Tag: humour

The Singularity

The Singularity

More and more these days you hear about the coming singularity (expected 2040?) when machines will surpass us in intelligence. Shortly afterwards, we are told, the machines will enslave[1] us. Well, I don’t know about you, but I already feel enslaved. I come home from shopping and begin to carefully load[2] my perishables[3] into the fridge, after what seems like 20 seconds an alarm goes off; the only way to stop it is if I shut the fridge and wait until it decides that sufficient time has passed for me to gain access to it again. So I shut the fridge and open the freezer for my frozen goods[4]. But just then the washing machine finishes and starts to bleat[5]; either I go and turn it off or every 15 seconds it will complain[6] with an ear-piercing[7] “bleep, bleep, bleep”. So, I shut the freezer – thus[8] denying me access to[9] that appliance[10] for a couple of minutes, and turn of the washing machine. Just as well that by the time I come back the fridge has condescended to open again! I don’t drive but I understand that the same sort of stressful experience takes place[11] inside a vehicle if you don’t do what it wants.

My wife has a theory: she says it all started with tamagotchis. 20 years ago the New World Order (or whoever) started to train us to be subservient[12] to machines. The message of the “egg-watches” was simple: this creature will die if you don’t answer to its demands. As machines get cleverer expect more alarms, more mechanical admonitions[13], more stress. I caught myself apologizing to the freezer the other day! They say a war between humans and machines is coming; I say we’ve already lost.

[1] to enslavemake slaves of, condemn sb. to servitude

[2] to load – fill

[3] perishablesfood that can decompose quickly

[4] goodsproducts, (in this case) food

[5] to bleat – protest (like a sheep)

[6] to complain – protest

[7] earpiercing – loud, cacophonic

[8] thus – as a result

[9] to deny sb. access tonot let sb. into

[10] appliance – device, gadget

[11] to take place (take-took-taken) – occur

[12] to be subservient – be submissive, be obedient

[13] admonitionreprimand

Visual Dissonance

Visual Dissonance

René Magritte is remembered today above all for his visual dissonance[1]: writing “This is not a pipe” (in French) under a painting of a pipe. I experienced something similar the other night when I saw that a TV programme about a top Spanish chef opening a restaurant in London was sponsored by Burger King. I don’t know if this was a supreme statement[2] of irony: Burger King is exported from Britain to Spain so that the masses there can eat imitation American food while watching the trials and tribulations[3] of the creating of a restaurant in London in which they will never be able to afford to eat[4]!

Today I opened Yahoo ‘News’ to see that one of the stories was about the 25 best-paid jobs. “I wonder[5] where translator, interpreter, proof-reader, copy editor are in the list?” I didn’t ask to myself. Of course, mere wordsmiths[6] are nowhere to be found in such lists (and no doubt wouldn’t make[7] the top 200 best-paid jobs. But like the Pict in Rudyard Kipling’s poem[8] we can “dance on the graves” of rich and powerful professionals. At number one in the list is físico (= physicist) next to a photo of a pregnant woman and her doctor. Visual dissonance? No, deficient language skills[9]. Before you rush off[10] to do a physics degree, be aware[11] that ‘physician’ is a relatively common way of saying ‘medical doctor’ and does not mean ‘physicist’.

[1] visual dissonance – the psychological tension caused by the difference between what you expect to see and what you in fact see

[2] statement – assertion, declaration

[3] trials and tribulationsproblems

[4] they will never be able to afford to eat – they will never be able to eat because of the prices

[5] to wonderask oneself

[6] wordsmith – linguistic expert

[7] to make (make-made-made) – be included in

[8] A Pict’s Song: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46784

[9] skillstalent, prowess

[10] to rush offgo precipitously

[11] be aware – I should tell/remind you

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

In many written languages there is a direct correspondence between combinations of letters and combinations of sounds. No doubt you have already realized[1] that English is not such a[2] language. Just[3] think of the dozens of homophonic pairs and groups in English – such as lain[4]/lane[5], raise[6]/rays/raze[7], phase/faze[8] and isle/aisle[9]/I’ll.

One concept that can be hard[10] for non-natives to internalize is that we produce the sound /ɜ:/ in a number of different ways including: -ear- before a consonant (e.g. ‘pearl’), -er- before a consonant (e.g. ‘herd[11]), -ir- before a consonant (e.g. shirt), -ur- before a consonant (e.g. burst[12]) and -or- after w- and before a consonant (e.g. word). A useful phrase for fixing this idea in one’s memory is “the early bird catches the worm[13]”, in which the vowel sound in ‘ear(ly)’, ‘bird’ and ‘worm’ is the same (not similar, exactly the same). The phrase refers to the fact that the person who takes the first opportunity to act will have an advantage over others.

[1] have realized – (false friend) are conscious

[2] such athis type of

[3] just – (in this case) simply

[4] to lie (lie-lay-lain) – be horizontal, recline

[5] lane – track, path

[6] to raiseelevate

[7] to raze – burn down, destroy

[8] to faze – disturb, disconcert

[9] aislepassageway in a church or supermarket

[10] hard – (in this case) difficult

[11] herdgroup (of horses or cows)

[12] to burst (burst-burst-burst) – inflate and explode

[13] (earth)worm – (Lumbricidae) terrestrial invertebrate

Future Shock

Future Shock

Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv

I came, I saw, I conquered[1],

iPad, iPod, I squandered[2];

Little is left[3] of meaningful[4] life

To lift[5] the weight of the world[6] and his wife[7].

 When the first ‘moving stairs’ (i.e.[8] escalator[9]) was installed in Harrods[10] in 1898, a liveried[11] member of staff[12] waited at the top with a glass of restorative alcohol for any gentleman who found the experience too exhilarating[13]. For the ladies the servant had smelling salts[14].

Surely the effect of new technologies on us – effectively marginalizing us to the point of irrelevance[15] – is much more traumatic. So, where’s my liveried11 member of staff12 with my glass of brandy?

[1] I came, I saw, I conquered – (veni, vidi, vici) Julius Caesar’s supposed words on invading Britain

[2] to squander /’skwondə/ – waste, misuse, dissipate

[3] to be left – remain

[4] meaningful – consequential, worthwhile

[5] to lift – (in this case) ease, alleviate

[6] the weight of the worldall the problems and responsibilities one encounters

[7] the world and his wifeeverybody

[8] i.e. – (id est) that is

[9] escalator – a mechanical means of ascending or descending

[10] an exclusive department store in London

[11] liveriedwearing a special uniform (like that of an aristocrat’s servant)

[12] member of staff – employee

[13] exhilaratingthrilling, exciting

[14] smelling salts – a pungent restorative substance for sb. who has lost consciousness

[15] to the point of irrelevance – (in this case) until we are irrelevant

Family Values

Family Values

With gay marriage and ‘reconstituted families[1] people often assume[2] that family life in the past was more straightforward[3]. The evidence does not support[4] this assumption. Take the case of King Ethelbald of England (died 860); he married his 16-year-old stepmother[5], Judith in 858. Don’t ask…

Of course, there were more legal restrictions on who you could marry – unless you were royalty – in the past. In the late 17th Century a tailor[6] in Currie[7] was condemned to be beheaded[8] for marrying his first wife’s half-brother’s daughter.

However, the last word in dysfunctional families has to go to poor old Edwin Wakeman, who killed himself in Manchester in 1927, leaving the following suicide note:

“I married a widow[9] with a grown[10] daughter. My father fell in love with my stepdaughter[11] and married her – thus[12] becoming my son-in-law[13]. My stepdaughter became my stepmother5 because she was my father’s wife. My wife gave birth to a son, who was, of course, my father’s brother-in-law[14], and also my uncle, for[15] he was the brother of my stepmother. My father’s wife became the mother of a son, who was, of course, my brother, and also my grandchild[16], for15 he was the son of my stepdaughter11. Accordingly, my wife was my grandmother, because she was my stepmother’s mother. I was my wife’s husband and grandchild16 at the same time. And, as the husband of a person’s grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather.”

[1] reconstituted familyblended family, family composed of two adults plus their children from previous relationships

[2] to assume – (false friend) suppose

[3] straightforwardsimple, uncomplicated

[4] to support – (in this case) confirm

[5] stepmother – a woman who is married to your father but is not your biological mother

[6] tailor – sb. who adapts clothes

[7] a suburb of Edinburgh in Scotland

[8] to behead – decapitate

[9] widowwoman whose husband has died

[10] grown (adj.) – (in this case) adult

[11] stepdaughter – the daughter of your spouse who is not your biological daughter

[12] thus – in this way

[13] son-in-law – the husband of your daughter

[14] brother-in-law – the brother of your spouse or the spouse of your sister or sister-in-law

[15] for – (in this case) because, given that

[16] grandchildgrandson (or granddaughter)