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weeklyrob | Stuff I'm thinking. On a more or less weekly basis. Don't expect much.

Hidden Meanings in Language

Language is funny.

This post doesn’t give any helpful tips about using language, or about writing.

But I recently thought of one of many examples of how native speakers use language in a way that might seem inscrutable to new speakers.

Think of the difference between asking:

Are you cold?


Aren’t you cold?

Strangely, if the person being asked is cold, then he’ll answer “yes” to both questions.

By the way, and as I’ve mentioned before in weeklyrob, this isn’t true in some other languages. For example, in French, the person would answer “oui” to the first question and “si” to the second. Both would mean, “yes, I’m cold.”

But my point today goes a little deeper than the weird way that we say “yes” to both questions. My point today is about the underlying meaning of those questions.

Underlying blah blah blah?

Yeah. In both cases, the person asking wants to know whether you’re cold, but there’s a difference.

“Aren’t you cold” implies one major thing: The person asking thinks there’s a reason that you should be cold. (It’s 20 below 0 and you’re not wearing a shirt.)

But it doesn’t imply that I can actually help you. I’m just asking.

But “are you cold” does imply that I have some way to help you. It implies that maybe I have an extra pair of gloves, or a hat.

That’s an underlying meaning.

One more example:

“Aren’t you hungry?”

Someone would only ask this if there’s a reason to expect that you are hungry. Maybe it’s late in the day and you’ve skipped lunch.

Now look at the positive version:

“Are you hungry?”

“Are you hungry” doesn’t imply that there’s any special reason for you to be hungry. But it does imply that I have food to give you if you are.

Question: “Are you hungry?”

Answer: “Hmm, maybe, what do you have?”

Underlying meaning.

No one taught me this stuff, and I don’t know whether it can be found in a textbook somewhere. But somehow, it’s made it into the collective minds of people who speak English as a first language. And of course, this is just one example.

Learning a language is hard, but learning the nuances of a language is much much harder.

What other examples are there of this kind of unspoken meaning?

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Google Plus as a Blog?

I’ve been using Google Plus a lot lately. If you want an invitation, let me know.

I hope it really takes off, because I think it may be the best all-round solution out there.

Google Plus can already be (or soon will be able to be) your Twitter, Chat (voice, video, and text), blog, facebook, newsreader, email, and practically everything else you do online.

But here, we only care about the blog.

Clearly, I haven’t been posting here very often. Most of the people who read me here can already find me elsewhere (twitter or facebook) and now you can find me on Google Plus, even if you don’t have a Google Plus account: Here I am.

For a little while, I’ll post weeklyrob-worthly posts both here and there. And then… if things work out the way I think they will… I’ll end up  just posting there. Maybe I’ll link to my posts here, so they’re easy to find.

You’ll still be able to read me there. Soon (I hope) you’ll be able to subscribe to me there. If you create a free Google Plus account, you’ll be able to comment there. Let’s see how it goes!

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Twitter is OK

I recently heard a news story about a teacher using Twitter in her 8th grade classroom. She teaches and the kids tweet questions, answers, thoughts, and general feedback.

Apparently, the teacher finds that students are more willing to respond (even the shy ones), and they respond more quickly.

The response to this idea has been typically knee-jerk.

Some people are worried that this method will exacerbate the already huge problem of people losing face-to-face contact skills. Kids are all stuck in their mobile phones, rather than talking in person to each other.

Others feel that this is a slap in the face to those parents who don’t want their children using social media.

Both of these objections are silly.

For all I hear about the loss of social abilities, I’ve never actually seen, or read about, a single case of a true degradation of important skills.

Yes, people are more likely to listen to music or podcasts while on the bus. In the old days, they’d just sit there and ignore other people. I remember.

Also, although shy kids can now avoid talking in class (which may be a bad thing), it’s also the case that they ALWAYS avoided talking in class. Maybe the teacher would force them to answer a question once or twice a week. Using Twitter in class isn’t going to change that. They’ll still have to give presentations and such.

And yes, kids can now communicate with each other through texting on the phone. Does this mean that they’re less likely to meet in person? I’ve never seen, heard, or read about any evidence of that.

In short, there IS NO LOSS of social skills. There’s a gain of new social skills, like texting, or communicating through Facebook. But no one ever says, “no, let’s not go to a movie together. Instead, you go, and text me what’s happening on-screen.

For the parents who don’t want their children on social media, I have two things to say:

1. This is a school environment. Maybe you don’t want your kids hanging out with a bad element, but that doesn’t mean you’ll pull them from Geometry class because there’s a ruffian in the back row.

The teacher is using Twitter in a controlled way. This has nothing to do with “social media,” except that the tool happens to be Twitter. There are other methods of doing the same thing (I’m thinking of handheld devices used in corporate or training situations), but they’re expensive, whereas Twitter is free.

2. Kids don’t use Twitter. They’ll probably never use it outside of the classroom, until they’re all grown up.

In short, give me a break. Here we have a teacher trying to get kids involved and responding. Let’s see how it goes.


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Bin Laden’s Death Brings Reprisals!

I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying that now there’ll be attacks because of bin Laden’s death.

I don’t get it.

The terrorists spend 24 hours a day (minus time to brush and floss) plotting ways to kill people.

So what’s going to happen? Now, they’re going to spend 25 hours a day doing it? ‘Cause now they’re really pissed off?

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my reasoned opinion that there will be exactly ZERO reprisals.

There may be a few dates shifted around. (“Let’s do it now instead of next week.” “Let’s do it on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death.”) But there will be ZERO acts of terrorism that weren’t already going to happen.

You heard it here first. Unless you heard it somewhere else first.

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Catch Your Breath

“We were both running, then we had to stop to catch our breath.”

It’s not “catch our breaths,” even though each person has his own breath.

Go figure.

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Invent This

I herby give away all rights to this idea:

I like a wireless mouse. Not because it reduces the number of wires around my computer, but because I don’t have to deal with a wire when moving my mouse around.

(Actually, I mainly use a wireless Magic Trackpad, but that’s beside the point.)

You know those pads that you can throw your iPhone on in order to charge it?

Someone should invent a mouse pad like that. Your bluetooth mouse would never run out of power, and would never have to be plugged in.

It’d be heavier, and the PAD would have to be plugged in, but I’m ok with that.

Go invent it.

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Australian Visa Granted

Just a quick post to update subscribers:

My visa to work in Australia has been granted!

So the family and I are planning to pack up and head out in January. We still have a lot to do before finally leaving, so we don’t know the exact date yet, but it’s coming soon!

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Don’t Try

Ok, I’ve been asked for more thoughts. Here’s a bit more.

Writing advice from Charles Bukowski: Don’t try.

In a letter, linked below, he points out that writing comes naturally to writers. In fact, writers can’t stop it, even if they want to.

I agree with all of that, though I think that it does take work to make the writing really good. That is, I’ve felt the need to write, but that doesn’t mean that what I’ve produced is something that others would want to read.

Part of that need to write caused me to start this blog almost five years ago. I wonder whether lots of blogs have eased the tension of writers needing to write. I wonder that means fewer people writing books.

But lately I’ve been able to link to interesting sites, and say small things, on Facebook or twitter, or on my other site. And I’ve found myself trying to write something here on weeklyrob. Beyond inertia, I’m just not sure I feel the need to write here anymore.

So. I think I might stop. For a while, at least. Maybe once I’m more settled (in Australia, in a new job, in a new house), I’ll pick it up again, but who knows? For now, I’m going on hiatus.

Thanks for reading!



Charles Bukowski: Don’t Try

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Weeklyrob is taking a break. Or going away and never coming back. I’m not sure.

Sigh. I’m just too busy and lazy to bother.

Between moving continents and switching jobs and keeping up my other web site, I just don’t have the interest any more. I probably will again someday.

If you’re subscribed, and if I bother to write again, then you’ll get a notice. If not, I wouldn’t bother checking this space for a while.


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Is it Manly to Cry?

Ok, men are allowed to cry. Most enlightened men know this. It’s ok.

Some men, in some cultures, cry as a matter of routine.

When Odysseus was reunited after 20 years with his son Telemachus, they held each other and cried. And their cries sounded like the cries of birds of prey when their babies, too young to fly, are taken from the nest.

Holy cow. Homer knew his similes, man.

And these are warriors, by the way. They kick ass. Not long after this scene, the two of them take on about a hundred men and slaughter them all in battle.

I’m going to bring this up the next time I’m made fun of for bawling at a toilet-paper commercial.

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