Tag: reading practice

Future-Proof Jobs

Future-Proof Jobs

US Navy photo by John F. Williams

Over recent weeks I’ve seen a couple of[1] articles about the jobs that it will be most difficult to automate[2] and therefore destroy. I’m a little bit sceptical about these lists. One had primary-school teacher high up[3] the list while, at the same time, we are told that 25% of university classes will be online in just[4] three years’ time. My (thankfully limited) experience of small children suggests that handing[5] them an iPad is the best way to get them to quietly concentrate on something. A soft robot with an imbedded[6] screen[7] that could stop them climbing out of the windows would seem to have many advantages over a primary-school teacher. Yes, I am suggesting that a Teletubby will replace Miss Pritchett in the foreseeable[8] future.

Another list had lawyers and doctors at the top. But surely all medical knowledge and all legal knowledge could be available in an app if not now then very soon. Medicine is just[9] matching[10] symptoms to diseases[11]; the legal profession is just remembering precedents that could be relevant to a specific case. OK, I’m exaggerating a little but both diagnostic medicine[12] and law are memory-based professions and those are precisely the ones most threatened by[13] modern technology.

Really future-proof professions are those that require a bit of creativity, a bit of social skills[14] and a lot of precision motor coordination manipulating non-standardized objects. Over the last fortnight[15] I have seen a state-of-the-art[16] robotic chef (in Korea) and a cutting-edge[17] robotic bartender[18] (at the Google conference[19] in San Francisco). They were both crap[20]. The incredibly slow automaton cook[21] got more food on the floor than in the salad bowl, while the android barman took three minutes to pour[22] a pint of beer. Whatever the experts say, for my money[23] the best future-proof jobs right now are those preparing food and drinks.

One final – more serious – comment about the future of work: the complaisant[24] often say that new jobs always emerge when technology replaces obsolete ones (e.g. when farm machinery replaced agricultural labour). However, this is the same fallacy as dismissing[25] anthropomorphic climate change because the earth’s climate has always changed. The problem isn’t evolution; it’s the speed of the change. If species don’t have time to adapt, then there’s mass extinction. If the labour market doesn’t have time to adapt, there’s mass unemployment. We read that, “65 per cent of primary-school kids[26] will have job types that don’t yet exist.” That’s putting a very positive spin[27] on the fact that two-thirds of today’s jobs won’t exist in 15 years’ time; it may just9 mean that over half the workforce will be out of work[28].

[1] a couple ofseveral

[2] to automate – replace with a machine

[3] high upnear the top of

[4] just – (in this case) only

[5] to hand – give

[6] imbedded – that is an integral part of sth.

[7] screen – the part of a computer or a TV where the images appear

[8] foreseeable – predictable, near

[9] just – (in this case) only, simply

[10] to match A to Bmarry A with B, pair up A with B

[11] diseaseillness, sickness

[12] I’m not referring to surgeons and dentists, whose jobs are very safe

[13] threatened by – in danger from

[14] skillstalent, ability

[15] fortnight – two weeks

[16] state-of-the-artultra-modern, cutting-edge

[17] cutting-edgeultra-modern, state-of-the-art

[18] bartenderbarman or barmaid, sb. who serves drinks

[19] conference – (false friend) convention

[20] crap – (informal) useless, very inefficient

[21] cook – chef

[22] to pour – (in this case) serve

[23] for my money – in my opinion

[24] the complaisantpeople who accept what they are told without protest

[25] to dismiss – ignore

[26] kidschildren

[27] spin – interpretation

[28] out of work – unemployed

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An Atlas of the Imagination

An Atlas of the Imagination

Utopia drawing coloured by Przykuta

Where do we get the names of famous places that don’t exist – like Hell, Narnia and Utopia?

The English word ‘hell[1] originally meant a hidden[2] place. The word is related to Norse[3] Hel, one of the underworlds. The distinct[4] advantage of Hel over Valhalla is that there were women in Hel but only men in “the Hall of the Slain[5]. Evil[6] Norsemen[7] – what did you have to do to be considered an evil Viking?! – went to Niflheim when they died, not Hel.

On arriving in England, Christians took the Germanic word for the land[8] of the unisex dead and applied it to[9] their concept of the Inferno. Interestingly, the Latin cognate[10] of ‘hell’ is celo, which gives us Spanish cielo (= heaven) and English words like ‘celestial’. So, etymologically heaven and hell are the same place! In fact, Hades (Aides in Ancient Greek) meant ‘unseen’, so it originally just[11] referred to a hidden place, too.

Norse mythology also gives us ‘Middle Earth’, which Tolkien recycled for his Hobbits. Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis seems to have taken the name of his imaginary world, Narnia, from that of the Roman city of that name in Umbria (modern-day Narni). Barrie’s Neverland seems to combine a childish pronunciation of ‘Netherlands’ with the idea of ‘never’. The name of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is self-explanatory[12] – like El Dorado – but that of the almost contemporary Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler requires a little more effort. It is, in fact, ‘nowhere’ backwards[13] – but treating the digraph -wh- as a single letter. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) may have a similar meaning; it means either ‘no place’ (ou topia) or ‘good place’ (eu topia) in Greek. Further back[14] in the Middle Ages the land of plenty[15] was Cockaigne, a place where it rained cheese! This name may or may not be related to Cloud Cuckoo Land, a calque translation[16] of the aerial realm[17] (Nubicuculia) in Aristophanes’ play The Birds (414BCE[18]).

Shangri-La from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933) seems to mean something like “mountain pass beyond[19] the sun”. It contains the Tibetan word la (= a mountain pass), combined with the Mandarin sháng (= above) or shán (= mountain) and (= sun).

[1] hell – inferno

[2] hidden – concealed, out-of-sight, unseen

[3] Norse (adj.) – Viking

[4] distinct – (in this case) clear, big

[5] the slain – (in this case) men killed in battle

[6] evil – malignant, malicious, wicked

[7] NorsemenVikings

[8] land – domain, realm

[9] to apply sth. touse sth. for

[10] cognate – etymologically related word (in another language)

[11] just – (in this case) simply

[12] Oh, OK, it means ‘land of wonders’ (= marvels)

[13] backwards – reversed

[14] further backgoing deeper into the past

[15] plenty – abundance

[16] calque translationword-for-word translation, verbatim rendering

[17] aerial realmkingdom in the sky

[18] BCE – before Common Era, BC (= before Christ)

[19] beyond – past, further than, above

Long Words Bother Me

Long Words Bother Me

Illustration by E.H. Shepard

Winnie the Pooh[1] once famously said, “Long words bother me”. I share[2] that sentiment, at least as regards[3] solid words made up of[4] three existing words. Why do we write “nevertheless[5] and never “never the less” or “never-the-less”? Running three (or more) words together[6] is not common in English and generally speaking it is something that we would associate with the excesses of the German language. Nevertheless5, there are at least 10 examples from Standard English and some, like “nevertheless” date back to the 13th Century. Another 13th-century three-in-one compound word is “whatsoever[7]. 14th-century three-in-one compounds include “inasmuch (as)”[8], “insomuch (that)[9]” and “insofar (as)[10]”. Interestingly, these were calque translations[11] of the Old French en tant (que) and the Latin in tantum (ut). They are thus[12] related to en tanto (que) in Spanish. Still in the 1500s, when “al(though this) be it[13] became “albeit[14], it lost most of its letters! However, “Nevertheless” has a much younger brother: “nonetheless”, which was contracted into a single word (in imitation of “nevertheless”), around 1930.

All the words above are bookish[15] and all other three-in-one compounds pertain to[16] legalese[17]. Nevertheless5, solid words made from more than three words tend to be informal. “Whatchamacallit” – a car crash of a word from “what you may call it” – dates from 1928, while “wayagonnado” (from “what are you going to do?”) is even more recent. Curiously, “nonetheless[18] – an alternative form of “nevertheless” dates from almost exactly the same year as whatchamacallit”.

When people discuss[19] these three-in-one words on the internet they tend to include the (impressively long) “notwithstanding[20]. Unfortunately, notwithstanding its length, this word is not a three-in-one compound. It comes from not + withstanding[21]. Nevertheless5, “notwithstanding” is worth mentioning[22] in this whimsical[23] article on etymology because it is a calque translation11 of the Old French term nonobstant (whose cognate[24] in Spanish is no obstante). There is even a English legalese17 term “non-obstante”. The Old French, Spanish and legalese terms mean “that does not stand in the way of[25] or if you prefer “that does not withstand21. Now long words bother you, too!

[1] a teddy bear in a series of children’s books by A.A. Milne

[2] to share – (in this case) agree with

[3] as regards – in relation to

[4] to be made up of – be composed from

[5] nevertheless – however, notwithstanding, in spite of that

[6] to run together (run-ran-run) – join, fuse

[7] whatsoever – (used to emphasis a negative) at all

[8] inasmuch as – to the extent that, considering that

[9] insomuch that – considering that, inasmuch as

[10] insofar as – to the extent that

[11] calque translationword-for-word translation

[12] thus – in this way

[13] although this be iteven if it is true that

[14] albeiteven though

[15] bookishliterary, erudite

[16] to pertain to – belong to, come from

[17] legalese – the language of law, legal jargon

[18] nonethelessnevertheless, however

[19] to discuss – (false friend) debate, talk about

[20] notwithstanding – in spite of, despite; nevertheless

[21] to withstand (-stand/-stood/-stood) – (literally) resist

[22] is worth mentioning – should be mentioned, merits a mention

[23] whimsicalplayful, capricious

[24] its cognate – a word that is etymologically related to it (typically in another language)

[25] to stand in the way of (stand-stood-stood) – impede, prevent, resist

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)

An Open Letter to Spanish Universities

An Open Letter to Spanish Universities

Photo credit: PhET Interactive Simulations

I have spent the last month or so visiting the websites of Spanish universities and identifying mistakes in the English they use. I have then, in each case, written to the institution in question pointing out[1] the most salient[2] mistakes and how to correct them. The fact that none of the two dozen universities I have written to in this way has replied[3] is of no importance; a lack of[4] common courtesy to me, nothing more.

What is startling[5] is that none of them has bothered[6] to improve[7] the mistakes identified. Many of these institutions claim to[8] want to attract foreign students and their website in English is their primary store-window[9] to the world. Some have entire courses taught in English. Having a website written in broken English[10] is likely to[11] put off[12] any prospective[13] students with a high level of English. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of perfect written English if you want to communicate values like ‘quality’ and ‘excellence’ to Anglos.

I should point out1 that I contacted both private and public universities. I commented on this – for me – bizarre experience to my own university students and one suggested that the English on the webpages was probably primarily there to impress the universities’ Spanish students and their parents, not foreign[14] students. It sounds like a ludicrous[15] idea but then I remembered that one institution in Madrid had the term “Business School” in its name, despite the fact that there was no other English on their webpage and, apparently, no classes were taught in English!

Of course, there are exceptions. I failed to[16] find a single mistake in the English contents[17] of the webpage of the Camino José Cela University; I know nothing else[18] about this university (honestly – I have no interest in promoting them!) but if I were an Anglo considering the possibility of studying in Spain, it would be one of the very few I wouldn’t disqualify as an option simply on linguistic grounds[19].

[1] to point outindicate

[2] salient – conspicuous, prominent

[3] to reply – respond, answer

[4] a lack of – an absence of

[5] startlingshocking, surprising

[6] to bothermake the effort

[7] to improve – (in this case) correct

[8] claim to – (in this case) say that they

[9] storewindowshop window, showcase, place where one’s products are visible

[10] broken English – sub-standard English as used by some nonnatives

[11] is likely to – will probably

[12] to put sb. off (put-put-put) – discourage, disincline

[13] prospective – potential, possible

[14] foreign – from abroad, from overseas

[15] ludicrous – ridiculous

[16] failed to – could not

[17] contents – texts

[18] else – more

[19] on linguistic grounds – for linguistic reasons