I’m Relearning French via Duolingo #language #French

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Or should I say, “Je réapprends le français avec Duolingo”?

I dunno. I’m not finished yet. Why French? Well, you may have guessed when I said I’m RElearning it. I studied French during three years of middle school, and then again for 3 years in high school. I figured it’d be a relatively easy language to learn. Moreover, I’m learning things I never learned before. So, perhaps Spanish is more practical, but I’m not a practical guy. I’m an intellectual (i.e., a nerd), so my concern is getting fluent in something. This seems like the shortest path to that goal.

Anecdote Time!

When I was in my junior year of high school, and thus my sixth year of French, I was hanging out at high school waiting for my 7 pm martial arts class to start. Yes, I had to hang out for hours after school so that my parents wouldn’t have to drive me to and from school later in the day. I didn’t mind. I didn’t want to be around them anyway. So, I struck up a conversation with the janitor who was from El Salvador. I had an aunt from El Salvador, so that started the conversation. The conversation went to French. I told him my history, and he asked, “Comment ça va?”

I had no idea what he was saying.

I could tell you my car was grey or that I broke my leg skiing, but I couldn’t ask, “How are you doing?” When he told me that’s what he asked, I didn’t know to say, “Ça va bien” (I’m doing well). It was rather embarrassing that I could write a doctoral thesis in French but couldn’t engage in casual chit chat. Shouldn’t that be the point? Duolingo stresses conversational French, so maybe I’m on the right path this time.

That said, I’m not sure Duolingo is the best way to learn a language. There are no lessons, just tests. The only reason I can type, “The car is grey,” is because I remember it from childhood. If I were learning Swedish, I couldn’t get a single word from that sentence.

Maybe I should just take an in-person class.

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English Spelling #language #pita

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If you know me personally, you know I’m a language freak. Before you assume that I, a lawyer, thinks that language is a crime (as many often inappropriately accuse language freaks of being), I can assure you my view is a bit more reasonable than that.

Reasonable, but still kind of a dick. It goes with the territory.

When I was in high school, I thought I was pretty clever. Of course, I was, but my successes aren’t important right now. I had heard about the word, “ghoti,” attributed inaccurately to George Bernard Shaw. To summarize, when you take the way “gh,” “o,” and “ti” are pronounced in other words, you can justify pronouncing ghoti the same as you would pronounce the word, “fish” (click through for an explanation). Here’s where my cleverness comes in. Whenever someone as smug as I told this story, I told them that Shaw and they weren’t thorough in their spelling. The correct spelling of “fish” was actually “ghotib.” The ‘b’ on the end is silent, like in dumb.

Get it? See? I always outdid those wannabes that were taking other people’s work and peddling at their own. I at least added to the work. I told you I was clever. But not as clever as this.


Fortunately, I’m no longer in contact with any of the people that could throw this in my face.

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I’m like this, but not as good-looking.

Reactive Centrifugal Force (Actually, Language [Actually, Me Being a Pain in the Ass]) #physics #science #language #pita

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Here’s a random memory triggered by an unrelated Facebook post I read.

When I was a physics major, one of my professors, referencing a carnival ride, actually said, “Centrifugal force doesn’t exist. What you’re experiencing is centripetal force pushing you in.”

I responded, “But if centripetal force exists, doesn’t Newton’s Third Law of Motion demand that centrifugal force also exist? Wouldn’t that be the force your body exerts back on the wall?”

Boy, was he pissed. Of course he knew that the “reactive centrifugal force” existed. This is the force that you exert on the wall in reaction to the wall pushing you towards the center. It’s a very real force. However, even back then, I was killing people for linguistic imprecision. I couldn’t help it. It was a legitimate question brought on by a quirk in how physicists label these topics.

“Centrifugal force” is used differently from “reactive centrifugal force,” which is stupid. All forces have a reactive counterforce, so why qualify it as “reactive”? Unfortunately, that’s the linguistic convention, but when you say “centrifugal force doesn’t exist,” it misleads people who otherwise have a grasp on what you’re teaching. Physics professors should make it clear that there is an outward force, but we experience a misperception that this outward force is acting on us. In fact, the outward force is acting on the wall (or whatever is forcing you to take a curved path). Without “reactive” modifying it, “centrifugal force” refers to the misperception rather than the very real force.

If you want more details on the physics, here’s a relatively short lecture on this topic (about 12-1/2 minutes), though it doesn’t discuss the issue I’m raising here. In fact, it makes the same mistake. I originally provided a paragraph explaining some concepts the lecture takes for granted, but that paragraph would probably have made things worse. 🙂

You may have expected this to be about science, or language, but it was really about me being a pain in the ass.

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