Magnifying glass on an old handwritten letter / 123RF
What exactly is — or are — “forensic linguistics”? It’s the application of linguistic knowledge, methods and insights to the forensic context of law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure. Here’s an example of it.
Retired FBI agent James Fitzgerald is one of the U.S.’s most prominent forensic linguists: as well as advising on some of TV’s popular fictional crime and forensics shows, he was on the investigative teams of two high-profile criminal cases of the last couple of decades: the Unabomber, and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. The Ramsey case was recently back in the news, with a new TV documentary detailing a new, independent investigation of that 20-year-old crime. As part of the new investigative team, Fitzgerald returned to the scene of the crime to analyze in detail the notorious ransom note that became such a mysterious and vital part of the unsolved homicide. He talked to Yahoo TV about the significance of that 370-word document, and the various things it revealed about the person who wrote it. Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview: Continue reading →
Fancy trying your hand at a bit of proofreading, on National Proofreading Day? See if you can catch all the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the five sentences below. A clean copy will be posted tomorrow. (Clue: you should be able to spot at least 10 errors, and a few more.) Good luck! Continue reading →
On World Spelling Day, Glossophilia hear by presents an unpresidented spelling quiz on the subject of America’s 45th precident of the United States of America — “one of the dummer people on television” (Donald Trump — not about himself — in a June 2015 pre-presidenshal tweet). How many spelling errors can you count in the President’s tweets illustrated below? Continue reading →
As the great American novelist Philip Roth has recently commented to the New Yorker: “Whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither [Richard Nixon nor George W. Bush] was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
In grammatical and usage news this past month: a political email scandal involving risotto and apostrophes; some fishy regional accents, literally; how we’ll all be talking in 50 years’ time; Trump gets it wrong yet again; a British supermarket with a name that’s already been taken (by Iceland, for itself); a dictionary goes online; and those familiar experiences and concepts that desperately need a word or name to describe them … Continue reading →
Miniature of the “Alexander Romance”, a 14th-century book, late Byzantine period / Wikimedia Commons
We use them all the time: adjectives that originally came from real or proper names. In its simplest form — a French kiss, a Shakespearean turn-of-phrase, a Freudian slip — it seems only fair that a proper name should retain its proper capitalized status when it steps out as an adjective. However, a word can lose its initial luster when an adjective starts to assert its own “improper” identity and emancipate itself from its lofty namesake. “In August, a teenager from Iowa cooked dozens of similarly Lilliputian pancakes for her chickens,” reported New York magazine yesterday. Here, the miniaturizing adjective named after Jonathan Swift’s fictional island was allowed to keep its proper L. “Toronto tries to simplify byzantine PATH map,” the Toronto Star said in a headline on Monday, with the Canadian paper’s editors denying byzantine its capital B despite the adjective taking its name from a real but ancient empire. Why is there a difference in treatment between the two? Continue reading →
Can you see the curious mistake* in this tag on a popular lunch bag? (And I’m not referring to the headline-case caps; you can read more about cap styling at this earlier Glosso post.)
At the risk of giving away the answer, Glosso finds it slightly strange that it looks like the error of a non-native English-speaker who is spelling phonetically a word pair (and a curious choice of words at that), and the phonetic translation only works if it’s pronounced with a British accent — but the company that produces the lunch bag is U.S.-based. Go figger.
TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky. In this month’s language usage news, we have a high-profile hold-out on the use of the singular “their”; the word okay and its origins; a list of horrid words; a vulgar word finds its way into the OED; a spelling mistake that thwarted a bank heist; bad spelling used for effect in an ad campaign; Donald Trump’s 6th-grade linguistic skills; and a spelling quiz from a fine New York institution. (Warning: explicit vocabulary ahead.) Continue reading →