Tuesday, March 20, 2007

McLanguage control

Apparently McDonald's aren't too happy with the OED's definition of McJob:

"An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the
expansion of the service sector."
Why do they take issue with that? Well, it's clear the definition is not exactly complimentary to a certain kind of career choice. But their main gripe? It's out of date.

The reason I'm drawing attention to it, other than being a linguistics nerd, is that McDonald's seem to have a very basic grasp of lexicography. Dictionaries are meant to represent the language that is spoken and used. They are constantly revised: new words are added regularly; meanings are adjusted; words become archaic and redundant. It's how we, you know, track and record language.

Trouble is, if I refer to a job as a McJob to you, you probably know what I'm trying to say as we both understand the connotations. McDonald's can't alter these just because it doesn't paint them in a good light. The definiton hasn't been chosen arbitrarily; it reflects the meaning that people intend and understand.

Mcdonald's have allegedly attempted to coin the optimistic term McProspects to reflect their understanding of the a career in the fastfood industry. Unfortunately, you cannot create a word, define it and then stick it in the dictionary. New words are coined daily, but they really have to catch on otherwise you'll just be talking to yourself.

A spokesperson for the Oxford English Dictionary says: "We monitor changes in the language and reflect these in our definitions, according to the evidence we find." Exactly.

On a different note, has anyone seen the Fast Food Nation film? It's due out here in a few weeks.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Boost your memory

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've not been sitting with my feet up eating ice cream, nor have I been meditating in the Himalayas, unfortunately. I've been looking for somewhere to live and after seeing 14 flats in two weeks, we think we've found the right spot... unless someone gets there before us.

In the meantime I leave you with this:

Now what was I going to write about... ah yes, improving your memory! According to the Guardian, it consists of 5 easy steps:

1) Use memory techniques
If you're introduced to someone called Kate, who looks a bit like a gate, put these ideas together in your mind and hey presto; no more embarrassingly tapping people on the shoulder because you can't remember their name.

2) Develop new mental skills
No, not telepathy or using the Force. Learn a language, play chess or practise saying everything backwards. ekil tahT.

3) Eat clever
The school dinner ladies were right. Eat fish and you'll be bright. (And maybe a poet too, if you eat as clever as me.)

4) Reduce stress
You know when you're stressed, you just can't find the toothpaste and the measuring tape? Me too. Just chill and they magically appear. Seriously.

5) Meditate
Something to do with 'cerebral', 'cortex' and 'thickening'. Exactly.

So, if you see me chilling on the sofa at work, speaking hcnerF, eating fish fingers and sitting in lotus position, I am NOT just skiving, ok?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

An ethical code for robots

This is the stuff of the future... or the not so distant future, it seems. South Korean experts are drawing up an ethical code for robots to ensure their - and our - welfare. Is it enough to prevent robots harming humans and humans harming robots? If robots ever achieve a similar intellectual state - would it be advisable to suggest, or even dictate, a moral code which covers actions, honesty, speech etc...

Should this kind of moral behaviour be preprogrammed, or should robots benefit from as much freedom, and the chance to learn from their own experiences, as us? (Although they undoubtedly will find a way to break their programming, as in all the good science fiction movies.) If not, should we not reprogram ourselves? I could indulge in a bit of hardcore hypnotherapy to ensure that I act perfectly morally and soundly - then I'd be some kind of super human that you could all emulate. Although I wouldn't have achieved any level of awareness or understanding, and perhaps that's the key.

Interestingly, the super team drawing up this ethical code include futurists (whatever they are) and a science fiction writer. Would it be useful to have a representative from each religion - then we could have moral, compassionate robots with an acceptance of all religions and none. Wow. Then they'd be better than us. This blog has some unique suggestions as to what the 'bot's code of conduct could be.

One of the robot team has fears of a robot on human action, 'Imagine if some people treat androids as if the machines were their wives.' Would this be wrong? How would it differ from sex toys, or cyber sex? Human beings have been unecessary companions for a while now. Most techno-with-it people communicate and hang out with other beings on the web, virtual friends are as popular as 3D ones. I suspect with the rapid advancement of technology, ethical dilemmas such as these will become more important. Until then, we can just laugh at the techno-nerds.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


This is great. It really is. I came across the new craze (?) via Wired magazine. Conservapedia is 'a conservative encyclopedia you can trust.' That's right, not only does it serve America's conservative majority (let's not worry about the readers in the rest of the world) but reassuringly it 'is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American.'

Really, how so? Well, Wiki commits the heinous crimes of using
'the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D."'. Anti-Christian, or just neutral? I think, but correct me if I'm wrong, that a huge percentage of the world's population are not actually Christian.

Oh and another terrible Wiki faux-pas is to use British English spellings, 'Look up "Division of labor" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts to the British spelling "Division of labour..."' I mean, we're using English as a world language here, I presume? Therefore it must be American English, dammit; the most original and pure!

I love the romantic tale they tell of the myth known as Buddhism:

Legend has it that Buddhism's foundations lie with an Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, who, after observing the suffering of his people, longed to discover the reason for suffering and pain. There are many romanticised accounts and theories as to the course of Gautama's life. One particularly simplified story proclaims that he went into meditation for a long time seated under a tree, and after finishing his period of meditation formed Buddhism.
(I admit, I anglicised the spelling here.)

On a serious note, I'm wondering what purpose such an encyclopedia has. It clearly serves a purpose for an archive of censured and biased information for a particular audience (and not just those poking fun). But as for claiming to be an unbiased, educational, clean and concise reference tool - I just don't get it. Self-delusion or pure propaganda?

For some good examples, check out the pages on homosexuality and evolution.


Alzheimer's sufferers are denied drugs costing a pittance while the NHS squanders millions on junkies and image consultants
The Daily Mail; you gotta love 'em. Talk about loaded language! For a bit of background - The National Institue for Clinical Excellence (NICE) gets together and decides which drugs should be available on the NHS, based on cost, need, effectiveness and priority.

The 'Alzheimer's sufferers' are clearly much more deserving of any drugs than the nasty 'junkies' who are obviously just having a bit of a laugh and don't really need any treatment - all they need to do is stop, right? And they probably can't be arsed. In fact it's nearly as much of a crime that the Daily Mail has wasted valuable ink referring to them in seven letters, as the NHS 'squandering' millions of pounds on them.

I suppose the reworded version wouldn't make the front page:

NICE have limited the amount of drugs available on the NHS for treating Alhzheimer's disease, however, treatment is available for drug addiction.