Phonotronic Energy Reserves and the Tiny Phoneme Hypothesis—Dr. Equus Q. Quagga SpecGram Vol CLXII, No 2 Contents More Sprachgeist Guides for the Linguist on the Go!—Book Announcement from Panini Press

Verity Stob and the Super Subjunction

Excuse me, Miss, but your pronouns need upgrading

by Verity Stob

[SpecGram editors’ note: We are pleased to reprint, with permission of the author, Verity Stob’s excellent review of English V3.31, originally published in The Register, on June 1st, 2011. —Eds.]

Just downloaded the beta version of English V3.31, and I have to say I am very excited about it. This is definitely going to be a feather in the cap of Anglophones everywhere, and way better than the notorious V2.99 release of French (or the ‘deux point neufty-neuf’ as it has become known). There’s a ton of new features to talk about, so let me dive in right away with some toothsome details.

The parameterised cliché

Known as the ‘snowclone’ in some commercial implementations, this feature is an old friend to any journalists among you. Initially devised as an effortless method of generating magazine headlines and blog article titles, it has now been generally adopted as a way of churning out a thixotropic literary substance that partially-deaf listeners may mishear as ‘wit’.

The form is quite simple. Take a familiar phrasefor preference a metaphor whose metaphorical qualities have dropped below long term viability, or a catchphrase whose time has been and goneand substitute one or more parameterised parts. The canonical example (‘canonical’, by the way, having changed its meaning in 3.31 to ‘the one used in Wikipedia’) is

x is the new black

which can be easily varied as required: ‘pink is the new black’, ‘iPhone is the new black’ &c. But note this is in fact an example of a curried1 parameterised cliché: the base phrase

x is the new y

can be parameterised with y set to a different value: ‘sex is the new golf’.

The maximum arity2 currently supported by the 3.31 implementation of parameterised clichés is four (trivial pronoun and article variations don’t count), for example Peter Greenaway’s

The w, the x, his y & her z 3

which can be instantiated to make headlines such as ‘The Footballer, the Housemate, The Sun & his Super Injunction’. Attempts to construct a 5-arity example based Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich or a 6-arity from Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb have so far not proven stable, generally falling foul of the ‘who that, Grandma?’ problem.

The emphatic period

English V2.72 introduced the multiple shriek stop, intended to allow subtle distinction in emphasis. In practice this facility has been abused, and has lost its force. In the following dialogue, it is not clear whose presence is more surprising, Julie’s or Wayne’s:

Who did you see on the High Road???

It was Julie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who was she with?????

She was with Wayne!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Long term users will recall English V2.96 attempted to persuade heavy emphasisers to group their emphatic punctuation in bunches of five for easy counting

It was Julie !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!!! !!!

and a V3.03 offered system using a suffix convention to denote the intended repetition

It was Julie !33

but neither has ever been much taken up by the big public.

Now, top punctuation boffins have come up with a solution that reintroduces the power of exclamation but has a built-in mechanism that defeats attempts at repeated-stop hyperbole. Here is the emphatic period in action:

It. Was. Julie.

Ooof. Pretty emphatic stuff, eh? Now watch what happens when the user attempts to introduce more emphasis by tripling the number of full stops used:

It... Was... Julie...

Instead of increasing the impact, the repetition activates the safety feature and introduces an effect of hesitancynot what the writer intended at all.

However, I have to warn you that this feature may not make the final release of V3.31. There has been a legal challenge from the telcos, who stand to lose many £millions per annum if it goes through. Apparently a significant proportion of text traffic comprises teenagers sending !!!s to each other.

Spelling changes

Here is a feature introduced after years of lobbying from the likes of the Campain for Basicer Inglish and Middle-class Mums of Much Misunderstood Dyslexic Kids Group, and in recognition of the ever greater part played by the computer and its keyboard in so-called ‘written’ English.

It has been found that it is nearly physically impossible to type the characters in certain words correctly at first attemptone is always doomed to halt, back up and try again, driven by the WRUOF (Wriggly, Red Underline Of Failure of course, please make some effort to keep up).

V3.31 allows and endorses certain new alternative spellings that realistically reflect the keystrokes typed to spell them.

Some examples:




There is much interest in how these new spellings will be recie⇐⇐eived.

By the way, an alternative spelling proposal, which aimed to differentiate better between so-called ‘British’ English and its assorted inferior knock-offs, has been resoundingly rejected to the disappointment of many. The idea, backed by the Tourist Board among others, was to boost the general kookynicity of British spellings in general and word endings in particular. In short, to take the ball introduced by such pairings as analogue/analog, colour/color and programme/program and run it out of the gridiron and over the try line.

For example, the noun ‘dog’ was to be respelled ‘dogue’, giving it a 66% boost in angliosity, and the days of the weeke were to be reworked with an ‘arts and crafts’ feel with carefully-designed, synthetically yet sympathetically retro-blended syllables: Thursnobdaye.

Notoriously, some ‘laboratoree’ experiments to improve the Brit factor have escaped into the wild. For example, the scheme to improve the verb ‘lose’ by (confusingly) spelling it ‘loose’, and also the bright idea to decorate the possessive form of the pronoun ‘it’ with a worthless-but-attractive apostrophe. These have become pests like American mink in Devon or coypu in East Anglia, and may be freely hunted in the wild.

To demonstrate the practicality of their idea, the proposers of Brittee Inglespeak even translated a long term weather forecast using the so-called ‘heritage’ vocabulary to demonstrate its versatility:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote the droghte of March hath perced to the roote and bathed every veyne in swich licour, of which vertu engendred is the flour...

Frankly, I can’t see anybody wading through much of that stuff. A very quaint idea.

Dynamic typing

In V3.31 the ongoing reengineering of English from a stodgy, safe statically-typed language to a modern, dependency-subcutaneously-injected dynamically-typed language continues apace. Nouns can be freely and implicitly cast to verbs; adjectives take on the labour of adverbs at the drop of a -ly. Who, in 2011, is so ridiculous (sic) fuddy-duddy as to think differently? We all know to think different now.

However, it has been noticed that there has not been much traffic in the opposite direction recently, and the proponents of V3.31are very keen that upgraders should remember to make the most of the long-standing adjective-to-adverb facilitiesor, as I suppose they would have me say, mostly to make use of the existing facilities. Hmm, that didn’t go well. Anyway, next time you need to loose some abuse (sic, not Inglespeak), please consider it as an opportunity to speak bluely.

Next time

Next time: how it is that, despite decades of hostility from hordes of peevish academics and contrary grammarians, to carelessly split an infinitive in English V3.31 remains the sure-fire mark of an ignorant peasant. Plus I will have the complete list of newly-endorsed emoticons, including the one that, with two tildes, a semicolon and a caret, brilliantly summarised the great Du Maurier Punch cartoon, the one captioned Now, then, Mossoo, your Form is of the Manliest Beauty, and you are altogether a most attractive Object; but you’ve stood there long enough. So jump in and have done with it! (Yes it does too.4)

Happy Englishingly!®

1 ‘Currying’ is a real computer science term, and you can put your eyebrow back over your eye socket: I am using it quite correctly. Go ahead and look it up in Wiki if you don’t believe me. There.

2 ‘Arity’same deal. I seem to hear the satisfying click of an appropriate, tight-fitting analogy. And it’s also a good rhyme for ‘clarity’. Never say I don’t spoil you.

3 i.e., The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

4 Here it is:

Phonotronic Energy Reserves and the Tiny Phoneme HypothesisDr. Equus Q. Quagga
More Sprachgeist Guides for the Linguist on the Go!Book Announcement from Panini Press
SpecGram Vol CLXII, No 2 Contents