Saturday, March 23

Long time no see

Lars asked on the Linguistics list:
'Just curious, does anybody know where this phrase comes from? "Long time no see." Is it an imitation of substandard English (by foreigners, perhaps), or what? How did it come to be widely used?'

Eric Partridge has this on p. 1386 in his monumental life work, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937-84, my Desert Island Book Choice par excellence):

'In British usage, it derives ex Far East pidgin; in American, either from the British phrase or from Amerindian pidgin. Perhaps the most widely used conventional phase in the world.

'Wilfred Granville thinks that it came to Britain via the Navy and says that it is a "Chinaside locution akin to such phrases as 'no can do', 'chop chop', 'no wanchee', etc. Naval Officers used to greet 'old ships' who'd been on China Station with 'Hullo, old boy, long time no see' " (letter of 5 Nov. 1967. Douglas Leechman, however, supports a US-Canadian origination, thus: "It is based on an anecdote concerning an eminent citizen of some Pacific Coast city, Vancouver, Seattle, or San Francisco, who was showing the sights of Chinatown to a visiting tycoon. They were stopped by a ravishing Chinese girl, obviously of the profession, who cried in delight, 'Why Hally. Wassa maller you? Long time no see!' I first heard it about 1910 and used it no later than last week. Very common out here." (Letter written from Victoria, British Columbia, on 18 Nov. 1967.) Professor F.E.L. Priestley likewise thinks it of American origin -- perhaps from the cinematic conception of Red Indian speech.

'As for the printed record, the earliest I have is Harry C. Witever, "Love and Learn", 1924, p. 73. (Moe).

'P.B.: The phrase is in fact a direct translation of the Chinese equivalent, 'hao jiu mei jian'. Among Servicemen in Hong Kong in the 1960s there was a conventional phrase attributed (?wishful-thinking) to the bar-girls or "hostesses": "Long time no see! Short time [q.v.] buckshee!" '

Friday, March 22

Kevin Warwick: no longer a 'mere human'

'Overriding everything, at the expense of a normal life, is Kevin's all-encompassing scientific quest and desire to be a Cyborg' (cybernetic organism), I read. Just over a week ago, his nervous system was surgically connected to a computer. In the FAQ page of his web site, he describes the purpose of the experiment thus: 'If we can just get fingers moving, and nothing more, by remote signals from the computer, this will contribute to research and may well help people to walk again, who could not do so. It may also give people an extra, or different sense, e.g. it could help blind people "feel" objects . . .'

Kevin's new book (I, Cyborg) comes out on 2 August 2002. Whether he is 'the world's leading expert in Cybernetics', as the web site claims, I have no way of knowing. But Kevin has apparently published more than 300 research papers on the subject, and become a media celebrity. In books like In the Mind of the Machine, he describes a future in which machines surpass humans in intelligence. It makes sense to me.

Some of the messages on his message board are horribly abusive, but some are adulatory. Some of his academic peers are highly critical, indeed dismissive, of his research (see But remember Galileo, Darwin and others: many, if not most, pioneers in science and technology are ridiculed and reviled by their contemporaries. I admire him, and wish him success.

His wife, too, has had implants inserted and is joining in the experiment with him. Kevin says: 'I chose her because there is no one else I would like to reveal my feelings to.' I wish the brave Warwicks all the luck in the world -- and shall be returning to the site frequently to see how they get on.

Thursday, March 21

Yesterday's Sweet Clarity post from 'Stefpun' about the American spelling 'nite' and David Crystal's '-ough' sentence* reminds me of the AmE word 'donut', which in turn always calls to mind the BrE expression 'to do one's nut' (as in 'Bloomin' 'eck, 'e didn't 'arf do 'is flippin' nut!') -- OED: 'to become angry, lose one's head; to be worked up about something; to be crazy' . . . And à propos Richard Wade and his 'freespeling' campaign ( -- also discussed in SC yesterday -- if you start simplifying orthography, where on earth do you stop? The logical conclusion would be to write 'do' as 'doo', 'read' as 'red' and 'reed', 'was' as 'woz', 'says' as 'sez', and so on . . . until our lovely language ended up hung, drawn and quartered, looking more foreign (or forin) than Polish and jam-packed with, not jam (like the proper doughnuts of my youth), but armies of ambiguous homomorphs to boot**.

/end of rant for the nite/

* 'Though the rough cough and hiccough plough me through, I ought to cross the lough' ('lough' being an Irish lake, pronounced like the Scottish 'loch').
** Besides; 'boot' here comes from the OE word for 'remedy' (bot).

Wednesday, March 20

How computer-friendly are you?

What makes computers so compelling? Why do we spend so many waking hours locked in their embrace? Is it the sense of power they afford? After all –– unlike other people –– they (almost) invariably do our bidding, and hardly ever tire or make any demands of their own.

Thirty-odd years ago, I taught myself to type on an Olivetti Lettera 22. Twenty years ago, with word-processing, I was a more productive typist. Soon I had my own computer, of sorts. I shared it with my elder son, who played games and sometimes did his homework on it.

Still, my emotions remained unattached. It was a machine that helped me do my duty efficiently, and little else. It hardly gave me any sense of power, or affected the rest of my life. I was only too happy to turn it off after a duty session. It was ensconced in the compartment of my mind and life labelled ‘work’ –– still, basically, a glorified typewriter. The intricate details of what went on inside the computer left me cold (and still do).

Getting e-mail and an Internet connection in 1996 started a process that has now made computing a pivot of my existence. I began (covertly –– even now I’m embarrassed to admit it, although there are many millions like me) to get emotionally involved with the machine. It overtook television as my main source of entertainment, as well as education. When it comes to reading, I still prefer snuggling down in bed with a book, I think . . . (but how come I don’t do it more often, then?)

Now, after all these years, the computer and I are close –– wonderfully compatible (on the whole). It looks as if I’m in love: I gaze at the screen, entranced, for hours. Often, I find it hard to drag myself away. At any given moment, my position on the work–play continuum is indefinable. What am I doing here now, working or playing? Work has come to resemble play, and my play is converging with my work. Does that reduce the value of either, or both?

The computer is far more than an indispensable tool. It brings the world to my desk, connecting me with individuals all over the world and multiplying the number of people I'm in touch with many times over. Socially and emotionally, for better and for worse, my life is now inextricably tied up with my computer. And my younger son seems to be following suit.

But there’s still more. My behaviour isn’t entirely rational. There’s something inherently compelling, even seductive, about sitting here –– reading, reflecting and (perhaps above all) tapping out my thoughts –– hour after hour. I am the computer, the computer is me –– we seem to merge. Who needs cyberkinetics and implanted electrodes? In a sense, I'm there already. Undeniably, the object has become an addiction, an alter ego and a friend. Is it a substitute for, or a supplement to, real friendship and communication? Something to welcome or withstand? Where is it all leading? I don’t know –– what about you?

Tuesday, March 19

British slang

(1) Real-life UK students’ slang
British student slang includes the following for ‘drunk’: ‘trollied’, ‘muntered’, ‘klangered’, ‘steaming’, ‘lashed’, ‘gazumped’, ‘bladdered’, ‘bazeracked’, ‘kettled’, ‘mashed’, ‘hammered’, ‘wombled’, ‘blatted’, ‘mullered’, ‘messy’ and ‘willied’. You can also have a ‘sesh’ (a drinking session) and go out ‘on the lash’ or for a ‘complete bender’ (i.e. get drunk). The next day, the result may be ‘carnage’.

Students use rhyming slang as well. When it comes to a degree, they aim for a ‘Geoff Hurst’ (first), but are more likely to get a ‘Trevor Nunn’ (2:1) or a ‘Desmond’ (2:2, as in ‘Archbishop Desmond Tutu’). But those who have skipped too many lectures may find themselves with a ‘Douglas Hurd’ (third) or even a ‘Dan Quayle’ (fail).

(2) Fictional UK teenage slang
The fictional diaries of Georgia Nicolson, aged 14, are a hit with teenagers across the Atlantic. Some of Georgia’s slang words and expressions (‘full-frontal snogging’, ‘naff’, ‘po faced’, ‘prat’, ‘gormless’, ‘oik’) are common parlance, others date back to the 50-year-old author Louise Rennison’s days as a teenager and others are pure invention. ‘Georgia may not sound like a bona fide British teenager, but ‘Ms Rennison is proud to have turned the tables on the nation which unleashed "cool", "like" and "wassup" upon the world,’ reports BBC News Online. She attributes the American craze for British slang to its being ‘a bit rude, a little bit naughty –– something of a novelty in these days of political correctness.’ And: ‘Teenagers really love something that’s theirs, something secret. I think that's why they've adopted Georgia's language.’

(3) Cockney rhyming-slang Bible
With the full backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Mike Coles (a teacher in East London) has translated the Bible into cockney rhyming slang to make it more fun for his pupils. His interpretation of nine stories from the Old Testament and St. Mark’s Gospel, published in May 2001, has Jesus walking on ‘fisherman's daughter’ (water), breaking ‘Uncle Ned’ (bread) and turning water into ‘rise and shine’ (wine). Mr Coles hopes that his ‘Captain Hook’ (book) might even persuade ‘saucepan lids’ (kids) to read more, and spend less time in front of the ‘custard and jelly’ (telly). Dr George Carey, the A of C, says: ‘The Bible in cockney takes it out of the formal church setting, and puts it back into the marketplace, into the streets, where it originally took place.’
Sensational science

Here are two snippets from today’s mailbox (courtesy of Scientific American) that tie in with my articles about computing (‘Pervasive and truly personal computing’ and ‘The Infoscope’) below. 'Reverse-engineering' of the human brain, with all its frightening implications, comes another step closer . . .

Implant Enables Thought to Control Computer Cursor
Scientists have now given a new twist to the phrase ‘wishful thinking’. According to new research conducted on monkeys, a tiny array of electrodes that records, interprets and reconstructs the activity involved in hand motion can harness brain power to control an on-screen cursor.

The Coming Merging of Mind and Machine
Ray Kurzweil writes: ‘By the third decade of the 21st century, we will be in a position to create complete, detailed maps of the computationally relevant features of the human brain and to re-create these designs in advanced neural computers. We will provide a variety of bodies for our machines, too, from virtual bodies in virtual reality to bodies comprising swarms of nanobots*. In fact, humanoid robots that ambulate and have lifelike facial expressions are already being developed at several laboratories in Tokyo.’
(* Kurzweil defines nanobots as microscopic robots that can be inserted into the bloodstream and programmed to explore every capillary, monitoring the brain's connections and neurotransmitter concentrations.)

Monday, March 18

Pervasive and truly personal computing

Wearable computers are movement- and voice-activated extensions of their users. They afford access to all kinds of information about the user's surroundings. In other words, they mediate 'augmented reality' (see also the Infoscope article below), involving the integration of the real and the virtual world. The new wireless wearables have countless potential uses––industrial, medical, navigational, military, financial (e-money and digital signatures), and much more.

The head-mounted displays (HMDs) of wearables allow the user to look at the virtual and real worlds simultaneously. It is, for example, possible to read e-mail while walking down the street. Students can take notes while watching the teacher, rather than constantly glancing back and forth between paper and blackboard.

Future emergency personnel will use wearable computers to access life-saving information in hazardous environments. Future tourists may sport geeky get-ups that give them access to maps of every street, multimedia clips about historic sites, and a digital camera that replaces both the camcorder and the regular camera. People with face blindness (prosopagnosia; see will be able to 'recognise' others by getting people’s names superimposed on their faces on the computer screen (an 'augmented memory' application).

Like multimedia PCs, wearables can have all kinds of consumer electronics integrated into them. A single device will be able to handle all forms of electronic media, be it audio, visual or wireless digital communication.

Wearables have vast educational potential. More and more pupils at American schools are taking them wherever they go. Children with speech defects and other learning disabilities are among the foremost beneficiaries. Plaudits for this 'assistive technology' at the recent 7th annual International Conference on Wearable Computing in Chicago include claims that it has
* 'turned introverted eight-grade geeks, wise guys and insecure girls into confident digital mavens' (Alexandria County Day School Director of Technology Sherry Ward)
* 'been like night turning into day' (special-education teacher Lisa Zverloff, Coventry Local School District near Akron, Ohio, whose pupils have disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to autism) for some pupils
* given non-disabled pupils independence and stronger academic, cognitive and communications skills (Xybernaut developers).

The Mobile Assistant (MA V) device made by Xybernaut Corp., for example, consists of a computer module with a 500 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 256 MB SDRAM, a 5 GB hard drive and powerful speakers, attached to a flat panel display the size of a paperback. The touchpad display has built-in speech and handwriting recognition. The package includes a robust nylon backpack, but the system is typically worn on a belt holster with a headset-style video display, microphone and earpiece speaker, and a wrist-mounted mini-keyboard.

At, Xybernaut claims that the MA V brings 'the power and functionality of a state-of-the-art desktop computer' to all pupils, giving them the tools they need wherever they are––in the classroom or at home, in the playground or at the grocery store. Programs like Xyberkids allow teachers to develop, for example, lessons that integrate pictures with speech. They can be adapted to pupils’ individual needs: one software application, for instance, allows pupils with speech difficulties to communicate through touch-activated icons.

As for user acceptance, the 'covert wearcomp/wearcam systems' developed in the early 1990s, especially the 'underwearable computer', have made it possible to ' be wired without looking weird' (Steve Mann). Computers will be sewn into clothing, and even machine-washable.

The logical conclusion of pervasive computing is 'ubiquitous computing' (or 'ubicomp' for short). Mark Weiser (Chief Technologist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) writes at
'For thirty years most interface design, and most computer design, has been headed down the path of the "dramatic" machine. Its highest ideal is to make a computer so exciting, so wonderful, so interesting, that we never want to be without it. A less-traveled path I call the "invisible"; its highest ideal is to make a computer so imbedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it.'
Whichever way we go, the chances are that people will no longer say they are 'going to work on the computer'. Instead, computers will be integrated into every aspect of our daily lives. Users may have hundreds of computers at their disposal, each automatically performing some task in response to its environment. These 'super-toys' (cf. Brian Aldiss) should require little or no conscious input from their users. The users may hardly even be aware of the computers' presence.

With 'affective computing', wearables and other computers will even be able to recognise and respond to their users’ emotional states, using body-mounted sensors. A computer language tutor, for example, might change its pace and presentation in response to the user’s naturally expressed signs of interest, boredom, frustration or confusion. But I was forgetting: with rapid-fire virtual interpreters whispering in our ears and voicing our thoughts for us, there will hardly be any need for us actually to learn foreign languages any more.

Sources and references

* FAQs about wearable computers, compiled by pioneers Steve Mann, Greg Pfeil, Bradley Rhodes and Josh Weaver:
* ‘Smart Clothes: The MIT Wearable Computing Web Page’ by Steve Mann:
* Report by Al Swanson from United Press International, March 2002:
* Xybernaut:
* MIT projects:
* Ubiquitous computing: and!rodney/mike_essay_copy.html.
* ‘Super-toys last all summer long’ by Brian Aldiss (the story that inspired Spielberg’s film AI):

Sunday, March 17

Persuasion, rhetoric and cross-cultural communication
A review of 'Beyond Language: Cultural Predispositions in Business Correspondence' by Charles P. Campbell (, a paper presented at a conference in Texas in 20 February 1998.

With examples from American and Chinese business correspondence, Campbell shows how western rhetorical principles can be used to accommodate other cultural patterns.

Western countries tend to have what Edward T. Hall (ref. 1) calls 'low-context cultures'. The more shared context (i.e. stored or shared information) there is, the less information must be transmitted, and vice versa. According to Campbell, low-context cultures (such as the USA) tend to value goals and procedures and short-term, purposive behaviour; they also tend to set store by individualism. 'High-context cultures' (such as China), on the other hand, tend to value long-term relationships more, and to be relatively collectivist.

Any written document, Campbell argues, contains the three elements of 'ethos', 'logos' and 'pathos' (the classic elements of Aristotelian rhetoric), although they are not equally well developed. The logos represents the matter under discussion. Pathos is the reader’s stake in the matter. Ethos is the author’s claims to dependability and authoritativeness. Even documents written entirely in the passive voice and without reference to readers still have an implied ethos (objectivity, professional competence, lofty indifference) and pathos (readers should be able to 'get it' on their own). Aristotle saw ethos, logos and pathos as inseparable.

The balance of logos, pathos and ethos seems to have shifted in the West over the past century, Campbell reports. John Brockmann (1989, ref. 2) noted that, in manuals written around 1900, ethical exhortation was fairly usual: writers reminded readers of shared civic values. Today, manuals today shy away from ethical exhortation. (Computer manuals, for example, seldom tell the reader why certain features might be helpful or why one might want to use them.) There has also been a decline in the use of pathos (except, perhaps, in advertising). In western business correspondence, then, logos rules supreme.

In high-context cultures like China and Japan, on the other hand, writers carefully develop relationships with their readers. To western eyes, oriental business correspondence may therefore seem hopelessly indirect. It gets to the point only at the very end of the letter.

The Japanese concept of kishotenketsu seems to explain the typical descriptive but lengthy introductory remarks, as well as the structure, of the standard business letter. A Japanese linguist quoted by Dennett (1988, ref. 3) says: 'First you have the subject, ki, then you raise it, sho, next roll it, ten, and then . . . you end it beautifully, ketsu.'

A Chinese teacher quoted in Li Xiao-ming’s "Good Writing" in Cross-cultural Context (ref. 4), which explores priorities in the teaching of composition in the USA with those in China, states:
'It is very unlikely that one would start a piece from a form; we all start from ideas or from experience in life . . . Especially in a country like China that has a literary history of thousands of years, is arrogant to think that one can surpass his predecessors without first learning from them.'
In Chinese rhetoric, two inseparable characteristics that contribute to good writing are the qualities qing and li. Qing is all about persuasion, while li is a matter of reason and truth. As another teacher quoted by Li Xiao-ming puts it,
'Truths, though existing in objectivity, are approached and learned only through subjectivity. Truths should be learned with passion and conviction.'
Campbell postulates that, while li appears roughly analogous to logos, qing seems to include both ethos and pathos. Chinese rhetoric does not appear to make the western distinction between individual and audience: emotions are not yours or mine, but ours.

Campbell’s conclusion, with reference to the letters reproduced in his article, is this:
'For business-letter writers in low-context cultures writing in English to readers in high-context cultures (Latin or Asian), this advice may be as simple as remembering that their cultures predispose readers to be more interested in long-term relations with reliable people than in products or profits for their own sake.'
Westerners should bear in mind, too, the importance of ceremony and politeness in oriental cultures, in particular. We should not neglect the need for pathos, in the classic rhetorical sense. In writing to members of Latin and Asian cultures, we should therefore start with one or more paragraphs that establish common ground and show our understanding of the readers.

And as Campbell points out, this strategy 'works pretty well even on readers in low-context cultures.'

1. Hall, Edward T., 1983. The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. New York: Doubleday.
2. Brockmann, R. John, 1989. ‘A Historical Consideration of Ethics and the Technical Writer: From the 1880's to the 1980's.’ In Technical Communication and Ethics, ed. R. John Brockmann and Fern Rook. Arlington, VA: Society for Technical Communication, pp. 107–112.
3. Dennett, Joann Temple, 1988. ‘Not to Say is Better Than to Say. How Rhetorical Structure Reflects Cultural Context in Japanese-English Technical Writing.’ IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 31: 116–9.
4. Li, Xiao-ming. 1996. "Good Writing" in Cross-cultural Context. Albany: State University of New York Press.

See also
* Excerpts from Book I of Aristotle's Rhetoric at
* Aristotle's Rhetoric (the function, nature and proofs of rhetoric) at
* Understanding Persuasion and Argument at for an analysis of logos, ethos and pathos, with modern examples.