Author Archives: apophenikos

We’ve Been Bad Boys – We’ll Try to do Better!

Let’s start with a big, big thank you to all those folks who have either nominated us or voted us as “Best Group Blog” in the 2104 Edublogs awards. Thank you! It’s not that we go out of our way to garner praise from folks, but we appreciate the support – however it may turn out.

Now, having said “thanks,” we should move on to saying “we’re sorry.” Taking a look at the total number of posts for this year is somewhat depressing. It’s not even one per month! As far as we’re concerned, that hardly deserves the title “blog,” let alone set us up for being deserving of an award. Painful as it may be to admit, we’ve been a little unproductive this year. Sorry.

CC licence from

Bad Boys, Bad Boys: CC licence from

Part of the reason for the limited output for the blog is due to our being busy with our lives outside of the blogosphere. Dude 1, for example, has now finished the development of an online service for analyzing data log files from speech-generating devices (SGDs) devices sold by the Prentke Romich company, which has been a labor and a half for nearly two years! It also represents, as far as he’s concerned, a significant application of corpus linguistics to the field of AAC, using a database of over 450 million words that include tags for frequency and part-of-speech. If you want to take a look at Dude 1’s efforts, you can watch a brief video.


Dude 2 has been focused – no pun intended – on eye-gaze systems and software, which has taken him around world; well, not all of it 😉 It’s probably also worth mentioning that he’s also become a part-time racing car driver and given his insurance agent heart palpitations by explaining how fast he can drive. Given the choice between trying to blow up an engine in a sports car by hurtling around a track at velocities that typically don’t appear on a car’s speedometer or writing a blog, it’s a no-brainer.

Dude 2 racing car

So that’s pretty much our version of “what I did on my summer vacation” or perhaps an extended apologia [1]. And if you (a) haven’t voted for us but (b) accept our mea culpa on this, click on the image below to help give us the swift keep up the backside that we need to more fecund [2] in 2015.



[1] Like the much commoner word apology, this word derives from the Greek , ἀπολογία which means “a speech in defense of someone or something.” The first bit, apo-, means “away or off” and the second, logia means “speaking.” So you’re speaking off a charge made against you – in our case, the charge of being idle.

[2] In keeping with our aim of providing a minimum of educational content in our blogs, it’s likely that the word fecund is one you, gentle reader, haven’t used this year. In fact, according to an analysis using the Google Ngrams Viewer, it’s one of those words whose incidence is piddlingly small, having achieved a peak use at the end of the 1920’s but is now going through a slump. It comes from the Latin fecundus meaning “fruitful” and ultimately it’s likely to be related to the Proto-Indo-European word *dha meaning “to nurse or suckle.” Hey, what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality!

All I Needed to Know About Adjectives I Learned at Starbucks

Language is an example of a moving target par excellence. Only today, I received a tweet that outlined a number of reasons why you should instantly wife your girlfriend. Wife her, I thought? Since when did wife switch teams and become a verb? Well, truth be told, it turns out that it became a verb in 1387, as evidenced by a quote from that popular 14th century pot-boiler Prolicionycion wrtten by Ranulf Higden:

Þey..kepeþ besiliche here children, and suffreth hem nouȝt to wyfe wiþ ynne foure and twenty ȝere.

But for reasons unknown – as is often the case in etymology – the use of wife as a verb disappeared sometime during the early 18th century, leaving only the noun usage in common use [1]. After a brief dalliance with verbiness, the word settled back into its original home.

Let’s now go back to just last week during the 2014 Closing the Gap conference in Minneapolis. After standing in line for almost 15 minutes to get a Starbucks latte from the hotel’s coffee bar, I asked for a “tall skinny” and was then quizzed with, “Is that the short tall?”

A “short tall?” Dear Lord, how much more torture do we want to subject the English language to? Prescriptivists everywhere would be wailing in anguish and putting red pens to paper – or maybe tweeting their disgust in 140 characters or less!

However, it’s pretty clear what’s happening here. Just like wife in the 14th century, the word tall is getting bored with being a simple adjective and deciding that being a rambunctious noun is much better; “Noun Envy” as the psychoanalinguists might say [2].

Starbucks, for purposes of marketing and not linguistics, decided to ignore the more semantically accurate method of labeling coffee sizes by “small,” “medium,” “large,” and “freakin’ huge,” in favor of “tall,” “grande,” “venti” and “trenta.” But they created an element of cognitive dissonance in consumers’ minds by linking a word like tall, which is semantically typically opposed to short, with the word small, which is more likely to be balanced against large. So using a word like tall to describe something that is cognitively small just doesn’t jibe.

What our consciously unaware but unconsciously linguistic barista has done here is to overcome that dissonance by treating the word tall as a noun and using short as an attributive adjective. Pretty damn cool, eh? [3] I can easily imagine that at some point, various baristas [4] have uttered not only “Is that the small tall?” but also “Do you mean a medium grande?” or “Is that a large venti?”

So while I’m hanging out here with you all in our virtual Starbucks, something else you might be curious about is the whole “How do I order my coffee?” issue. Does one ask for “a skinny grande cappuccino” or “a grande skinny cappuccino?” And when you start adding caramel or extra shots, where on earth do  you hang them?

Well, having castigated my good friends at Starbucks in relation to their idiosyncratic naming of drink sizes, I’ll offer them points for actually providing a “syntax” for budding baristas in order to make ordering easier. In a 2003 manual distributed to employees, the following generic ordering structure was recommended:

1. CUP: That’s hot, cold, iced, or “for here.”
2. SHOT and SIZE: No stipulation for which should be first.
3. SYRUP: For your caramel, raspberry, cinnamon etc.
4. MILK: Skimmed, 2%, soy, or whatever.
5. DRINK: Coffee, tea, mocha, or any other name.

My personal common order is for a “grande, non-fat latte,” which fits the rules of 2>4>5. During summer, I might order an “iced, grande, non-fat latte,” which again conforms with 1>2>4>5. My wife has a “grande non-fat, caramel macchiato” that follows the rules, and sometimes goes for the “iced, grande non-fat caramel macchiato,” which illustrates the full-blown 1>2>3>4>5 ordering.

Budding researchers [5] might want to spend an afternoon at their local Starbies armed with a pen and a notebook, jotting down as many orders as they can overhear – what researchers like to call “taking a sample.” After an hour of sampling both orders and coffee, they should be able to do some analysis to see how many people actually conform to the ordering paradigm. Remember, this is what research is all about; setting up a hypothesis about how we think folks will order coffee, and then testing it against observations of how they really order it!

Outside the world of Starbucks, adjective ordering in English also has some rules. One of the most common ordering paradigms is as follows:

Order of adjectives

If we compare this with the Starbucks recommendations, we can see that the sequence CUP-SHOT/SIZE-SYRUP-MILK-DRINK corresponds to the generic OPINION-SIZE-MATERIAL-QUALIFIER-NOUN. So they’re pretty much on the syntactic ball here!

Doubtless our hundreds of “proxy Dudes” collecting real data at coffee bars across the world will find exceptions to the ordering rules, but language performance has always been variable. On the other hand, we’re unlikely to hear “macchiato iced grande caramel” or “caramel latte venti soy.”

Or are we?

[1] I suppose as a proponent of using evidence and data to support propositions, I did take a look at the Corpus of Contemporary American and found no instances of wife as a verb in the 450 million word sample. Same for the British National Corpus (100 million word sample) and the Canadian Strathy Corpus (50 million words). Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but I think I’m pretty confident in asserting that using wife as a verb is extremely rare and unlikely.

[2] Don’t rush out to your dictionary – even if YOUR dictionary is the Urban Dictionary – to find the word psychoanalinguist. It doesn’t exist. It’s only a “real word” in the sense that (a) I have just used it and (b) it can be understood within the context of this article.

[3] I suppose I need to appreciate that not everyone gets as excited about language change as I do. But this type of living example of how new meanings come about helps us all understand how important it is to be aware of the simple fact that languages are not, and never have been, static. I’m not suggesting that we allow some form of lexical anarchy where you can simply stick any old word anywhere but knowing that words can, and do, change meaning and category can, I believe, make us more aware clinicians.

[4] The word barista is, as you might know, Italian, so you might be tempted to point out to me that I should really be using the word baristi to mark the plural. However, the word baristas is perfectly acceptable because it’s an example of a word that’s been Anglicized i.e. taken into the English language, and the normal rule for making a plural word is simply to add an “s.” Hence baristas. I think I’ve talked about this before in relation to octopuses as being a wonderful plural, with octopi being fake Latin (octopus comes from Greek, not Latin, and if you wanted a Greek plural, it would really be octopodes!)

[5] It strikes me that a generous supervisor might be totally OK with letting a grad student work on a study such as, “Syntactic adjectival variability in coffee ordering.” And should that student be the recipient of a grant from Starbucks itself, it seems a bit of a no-brainer, don’t yah think?

Tooling up for Therapy: Guns in the Clinic?

Following the recent incident in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer, issues about race and gun control have once again taken center stage in the minds – and hearts – of large sections of the American public. Although the gun control topic is not the main one being discussed, its contribution to the situation was pointed out by an article in The Economist, a magazine produced in a country where gun control translates to “we don’t have any.”

First of all, the article offers some simple statistics about how the US compares with some other countries in relation to the number of people killed annually by police. The US, with a population of 315 million, saw 405 police shooting deaths in 2013; Germany, with 82 million, had 8; the UK, with 60 million, had zero; and Japan, with 127 million, had the same – zero.

But what was more thought-provoking was the following observation:

This is not because they are trigger-happy but because they are nervous. The citizens they encounter have perhaps 300 million guns between them, so a cop never knows whether the hand in a suspect’s pocket is gripping a Glock. This will not change soon. Even mild gun-controls laws tend to fail. And many Americans will look at the havoc in Ferguson and conclude that it’s time to buy a gun, just in case.

That first sentence actually makes sense. Whatever your beliefs may be in relation to gun control, it’s not impossible to be empathetic towards the notion that when you’re in a job where many of the people you come into contact with are (a) not likely to feel friendly towards you, and (b) could legitimately be carrying a gun, you might feel a little nervous. Note that this isn’t to say shooting an unarmed person is OK but that if you work in law enforcement there’s a good chance that you have learned to be more wary than most when it comes to issues of trust; and by “trust” I mean “could that person be carrying a gun?”

Yet it’s that final sentence that is something of a litmus test for determining people’s perspectives. Basically, what is says is that the answer to having lots of guns in the hands of people is to have more guns in the hands of more people. So you have to ask yourself; do I think having easier access to guns makes my life safer or more dangerous? For members of the National Rifle Association [2], the answer is “safer;” for supporters of gun control, the answer is “more dangerous.”

Gun culture and gaming

Gun culture and gaming

The gun-owning culture in the US is, quite frankly, very hard for folks who live in non-gun-owning cultures to understand. For example, when 20 children and 6 adults were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012, there was, as you might expect and hope, international outrage and grief, with many countries citing the ease with which people in the US can get guns as being a contributory factor. Yet bizarrely – to the rest of the world – one of the corollaries to the shooting was an increase in gun sales! And the other was the promotion of the idea that teachers should be allowed to carry guns in schools.

Both these things make some sense within the framework of US gun culture. The simple equation is more-guns = more-security. The oft-quoted trope of “if we outlaw guns only outlaws will own guns” is a variation on that theme. As is the idea that “the answer to bad people having guns is to make sure more good people have them.” The latter sounds appealing for a few seconds but defining who “good people” are is much more difficult: ask some of the people of Ferguson if the police are “good people” and their response may be pretty vocal.

So does “good people” include Speech and Language Therapists? Special Educators? Educational Psychologists? Not all of us work in idyllic Norman Rockwell Mayberry’s next door to Mr. Rogers, where trips to the Malt shop are followed by an afternoon of baseball followed by an evening’s barbecue with friends from the neighborhood. Some of us may have “interesting” tales to tell of visits to and from clients that turn out to be less than the perfect therapeutic experience. And perhaps carrying a gun to work is not necessarily as bad an idea as some might think.

Take our poll and see how you match up with other Speech Dudes readers!

For those who demand that a blogger have a “point of view,” this Dude [3] is in favor of gun controls. It’s perfectly possible to support the Second Amendment (and more important to support the First) while simultaneously wanting some modest controls over how guns are handled within society as a whole. There’s no likelihood that America can become a “gunless society” and the suggestion that we should somehow lose the Second Amendment is just plain silly. However, to simply do nothing because someone thinks gun control won’t work is tantamount to saying things are OK. And isn’t stupidity defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to change?” If I buy a car, I have to go to the DMV to register it; if I want more than one car, there’s nothing to say I can’t; the government is not trying to take my car away from me; and if I want to hang out with other car enthusiasts, I’m free to do so. If we’re OK with this modest controls for cars, why not guns?

[1] Here in sunny Cleveland, Ohio, Mayor Frank Jackson is trying to introduce a bill that would include some of the following rules: you can’t take a gun onto a school campus; if you are a convicted offender, you have to register ownership of a gun; you can’t buy more than one gun every three months (i.e. you can only add four guns per year to you collection); if your gun is lost or stolen, you have report it to the police. Put it another way, here’s what you currently CAN do; take a gun to campus (Ohio lets you carry a gun as long as it’s concealed); buy as many guns as you want; lose a gun and not care who finds it; let your kids use guns. But so ingrained is the gun culture mentality that there is actually lots of opposition to these control. To folks outside the US, what might seem like fairly reasonable controls (and no-one here is suggesting that folks can’t own guns or that “someone” is going to “take your guns away”) are, in fact, perceived by a section of the US community as a deeply intrusive attack on a fundamental human right – the right to bear arms. And it’s this perspective that makes any talk of gun control so contentious and explosive within the US yet it’s so hard for folks outside the US to really understand how emotional it is.

[2] For our readers outside the US, the National Rifle Association (or NRA) is a non-profit organization that promotes itself as “proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” The Second Amendment says that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The NRA interpret this as meaning that the word “people” implies “individual,” and therefore the individual has a right to bear arms – and in states with Concealed (or not-so-concealed) Carry laws, this is figuratively the case, where folks walk around with holstered guns just waiting for someone to “make my day, punk.”

[3] “This Dude” is Russell, who, to help put things in perspective, was born and raised in the north of England and didn’t move to the US until I was 35. It’s taken almost 20 years for me to appreciate the Gun Culture perspective. I’ve handled and shot a number of different guns (including Dirty Harry’s “most powerful handgun in the world, and it will blow your head clean off”); live in a hunting/fishing/shooting community; have a son-in-law who’s an ex-soldier who  only gave up his gun collection when his first child was born; and have a daughter who once received a pink Smith & Wesson handgun as a Christmas present. I mention all this to illustrate why it is that I can be a supporter of the right to bear arms yet still support the idea of gun controls.

Dude 2, Chip, would probably shoot me for this stance 🙂

Privacy: Your Choice of Dystopias

The ongoing kerfuffle about Google Glass is certainly one to follow if you’re at all interested in the notion of what constitutes privacy, and how much accommodation we’re prepared to make in order for people to have a reasonable “freedom of choice.” And I purposely put quotes around “freedom of choice” because that phrase in of itself is worthy of a book let alone a mention in a blog. It’s not always obvious to some people that one man’s freedom is another man’s restriction, and individual freedom is a social contract and not an absolute.


Democracy, as a political and social system, suffers great anguish and soul-searching in trying to constantly balance individual freedom and social responsibility. The law says I cannot smoke a cigarette in a public place. Why? Because the effects of second-hand smoke are alleged to be directly injurious to the health of other people. My “freedom” to choose to smoke is a “restriction” on many other people’s’ choice to live a longer life [1]. On the other hand, the link between CO2 emissions from cars and the potential death of everyone on the planet as a result of global warming is also seen by  some as a “restriction” on everyone’s right to live a longer life – but we don’t (yet) ban driving. Freedom is always a grim balancing act.

Google Glass – the wearable spectacles that include both a tiny screen for viewing and a camera for capturing images – represents another stage in the constant struggle to determine how “free” we are to do what we want in a diverse society. As with all technology, it’s not the thing in of itself that is the issue but its application in the real world. For what it’s worth. my experience using Google Glass has left me feeling a little “so what” in that there’s nothing about the use of this tech that yet makes me want to perch the glasses on my head for longer than a few minutes. It’s “interesting” but not “compelling.” [2]

On the other hand, the social questions that the use of Google Glass raise it much more interesting – and compelling. You don’t have to be paranoid or a conspiracy theorist to be concerned about the privacy issues related to the fact that in principal, there’s a piece of technology here that could be worn by millions and millions of people, which could be recording images of the world – including you, dear reader – that can be shared with anyone. We know, of course, that folks with smartphones can already do this but that isn’t an argument for accepting a more widespread and covert method of collecting pictures.

Which brings me to a quick detour into the idea of a choice of dystopias [3]. Back in 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote his classic novel Brave New World about a future in which the population are controlled by drugs, psychology, and technology. Some 17 years later, George Orwell wrote his great work, 1984, which has a different future where people are controlled by a dictatorship based on power and manipulation. Both of these are called dystopias [4] – the opposite of utopias or perfect worlds. Although for many people, the latter vision is frightening because it is so overtly violent and marked by a political dictatorship – a form of government that is so antithetical to the democratic sensitivities of North America and Europe – the former is far more scary because it is a vision of voluntary acquisition to control rather than a seizing of control by force. In 1984, people don’t read books because they are banned and burned by the state, but in Brave New World, they don’t read books because they no longer want to.

Huxley’s future is the one into which it is much easier to slide. If the President of the USA decided to impose his or her will on the populace by turning the troops loose on dissenters and creating a “secret police” to spy on everyone, there would be some resistance. In fact, there would likely be lots of resistance. It’s a feature of any dictatorship that those in power are constantly under threat from dissidents, and the people might be acquiescent but they are still aware that they are under the yoke of tyranny. But not so in a brave new world where freedoms are not taken but given away, piece by piece. And there are two phrases that are used all the time to encourage people to do this; “It’s for the safety of the people” and “It’s for the welfare of our children.” The latter is, to me, the more egregiously hypocritical in that it seeks to turn dissenters into seemingly uncaring and callous child haters.

So how unreasonable is it to install cameras in malls to prevent child abductions?[5] How unreasonable to have them installed along roads to protect public safety? How unreasonable is it to have cameras in ATM’s to prevent theft? All of these things are now a feature of everyday life that we were never “asked” to approve but were simply added, slice by slice, to the point that it is now possible to not only prevent abductions (possibly), catch speeders (and fine them), and photograph debit card thieves (who always seem to wear hoodies), but for law enforcement and hackers to track an individual’s whereabouts. [6]


We have already surrendered a level of privacy by letting this happen. A 2011 report said that the UK had over 1.85 million cameras across the country, which works out to about one camera for every 32 people. That’s a lot of eyes. Yet this has now become a part of the norm – knowing that you might be being watched or recorded. Of course, supporters of CCTV will always trot out the tired cliché of “but if you’re innocent, what have you to worry about?” I worry about the interpretation of “innocence;” I worry about who is making that call; and I worry about how my non-criminal behavior can be tracked and shared with people.

It’s 3:00 am and I’m drunk and walking home. I cross the road when there’s no traffic in sight. I take a pee against my front fence (hey, we’ve all been there, right!). Finally I get through the door and go to bed. Two days later there’s a knock at the door and I’m being charged with public intoxication, jaywalking, and indecent exposure. Now ask yourself – is that just? I guess if I’d stopped for a minute to have a quick smoke within 25 feet of a school I’d have another charge dropped on top!

So remind me again about how “innocence” inoculates me against being sanctioned in some way by “The Others.”

It’s not, therefore, much of a surprise to find that there are people who find the idea of Google Glass becoming a significant part of society somewhat troubling. In a recent poll by Toluna, a market-research firm, 72% of Americans put privacy concerns at the top of the list for why they won’t be wearing Google Glass. And in the UK, a blog post by the government’s data privacy watchdog agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says that use of Google Glass for anything other than “the collection of personal information for domestic purposes” could lead to prosecution under the Data Protection Act. It’s also worth noting that we already have the derogatory word glasshole used to describe wearers of this technology, and glassing-out to describe prolonged staring while wearing the glasses.

Perhaps it’s true after all that there is no longer any such thing as privacy. In our rush to make the world safer, nicer, and easier, we’ve allowed the genie to slip out of the bottle and we can’t stuff him back in. Or maybe we worry too much, like the writer of this passage:

Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ” what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.”[7]

The surprise – this is from a Harvard Law Review paper written in 1890! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

[1] It’s worth mentioning here that I don’t, and never have, indulge in smoking. For the life in me I’ve never seen the value in setting fire to rolled up plants and sucking up the burning smoke in to my lungs. However, I can empathize with those who do, bearing in mind that I frequently drink alcohol – a drug that, in contrast to nicotine – is currently legal. My vaguely Libertarian sensibilities therefore generally come down in favor of acknowledging an individual’s right to smoke, even though I don’t do it myself. And provided it’s done in an environment that doesn’t significantly damage my health, so be it. But should the government ever decide to make alcohol illegal, they’ll have to pry the Whie Russian from my cold, dead hands.

[2] One of the “reasons” put forward by proponents of Google Glass or body-mounted cameras is so that you can record your life. If that’s the case, at what point do you actually stop and look back at what you’ve recorded? Logically, your life is halved because you need to spend 50% of your time recording it and leave another 50% open for you to watch what you’ve recorded! And if you’re response is that you’ll only watch the best bits of your life, how much time are you then going to want to spend editing you thousands of hours recorded data?

[3] This sounds to me like a perfect names for a band, or an album, or even a book. I’ll therefore take the opportunity to copyright the phrase right now as “A Choice of Dystopias” just in case.

[4] The word was coined by Sir Thomas More as the title for his 1516 novel Utopia about a place with a perfect social and legal system where everyone is happy. He took it from pieces of Greek: eu- (εὐ) meaning “good” and “topos”(τόπος) meaning “place” i.e. a good place. You might think there was an actual Ancient Greek word εὐτόπία but apparently not! A good example of an invented Greek word 😉

[5] On a side note, it’s always struck me that if the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers and install metal detectors, we’ve never really understood the question in the first place. I suppose once we can sneak in “owning your own tank” under the cover of the 2nd amendment, then even that solution will need revising!

[6] On the trivial and personal side, because of the ease of online banking – and the speed at which transactions can be made – my wife often knows exactly where I’ve been and what I’ve spent before I get home from a night out. Sure, she can’t track the dollar bills I’ve slipped into a stripper’s garter but if I use my debit card to pay for the food and drink tab, my night at “Naughty Nancy’s Nudey Saloon” is easily tracked! It also makes it really hard to buy anything as a surprise because we have a joint account so she sees instantly if I buy something – or of I take out cash to buy it. It’s a minor thing but it is, in fact, just one more slice taken out of the privacy salami.

[7] Warren, S. D., & Brandeis, L. D. (1890). The Right to Privacy. Harvard Law Review, 4(5), 193-220

Coffee Rant: Or Why Adjectives Matter

Some years ago, I found myself reading some article about the evils of Corporate America and amongst a crowd of folks who were railing against one of the members of the Economic Axis of Evil – Starbucks. Being the misanthropic curmudgeon I am, I’m usually on the side of anyone who takes an opportunity to “stick it to the Man,” regardless of which flavor of “the Man” that may be, but in this instance, I was perversely on the side of Howard Schultz and his mighty mochaccino monolith. I was also in the minority, which also appealed to my sense of curmudgeonliness [1] and there’s a good chance that I was hyped up on caffeine too. So here’s the response, unedited and expurgated.

So some folks think that Starbucks is “too corporate” and “bland?” So they prefer the small “mom-and-pop” local coffee houses that are supposedly unique and special.

Well I say “poppycock” to their smug, preachy elitism. Why should anyone listen to a bunch of aging, sandal-toed, tofu-eating, ex-hippies who are just mad because their “organic real coffee” stores barely makes enough to keep them in muesli? These are the air-headed boomers who wanted to change the world in the 60’s, failed miserably, then joined the very same corporate world they now despise, which in turn helped them earn the money to start up the pathetic, ersatz “authentic” java joints they now run.

Excuse me for pointing out the stunningly obvious to these self-styled entrepreneurs but they seem to forget that their success comes on the back of the “coffee culture” explosion that Starbucks was instrumental in fueling. Some 20 years ago, springing fifty cents for a cup of hot brown slop from the Micky D’s drive-through was about as much as folks were willing to pay and as sophisticated as their taste reached. Now the three-dollar offering made from quality freshly ground beans is not an unusual occurrence, and the kaftan-wearing, self-important arbiters of taste have no problem selling their own free-trade farmer-friendly Guatemalan dark roast sludge for prices just under the standard Starbucks price. Oh yeah, and sometimes, no matter how much these self-appointed guardians of coffee purity bleat, their stuff is crap. Just because you know Juan Gonzales from Colombia personally and have visited his small pueblo to spend time with his wife and children doesn’t mean his stuff is good. For every coffee place that sells good, drinkable java there are ten others that, like Hans Christian Anderson’s emperor, are wearing no clothes. They talk the talk, walk the walk, but churn our bland or burned buckets of semi-drinkable swill that makes four-hour-old gas station coffee seem like nectar.

So stop your whining, you bunch of goatee-coiffed, hemp-wearing, pot-headed, jelly-brains and come back and pontificate when YOU have a multi-million dollar international organization that’s having to make decision on this sort of scale. Otherwise, go stock up on some of those home-made $2.99 granola bars that take away the taste of your insipid brew.

I chose to share this because (a) I’m too idle at the moment to write a brand new post – or to at least finish ONE of the three “draft” posts languishing in WordPress – and (b) I thought it demonstrated how there are times when the excessive use of adjectives can be used to good effect. Although most writing guides recommend the spartan use of adjectives, sometimes it’s fun to let them loose and watch them cavort and gamble happily with an otherwise sleepy collection of nouns.

[1] I doubt that curmudgeonliness is likely to catch on, and a quick check with the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows only two uses of the word; once in 1997 and another in 2008. However, what is does illustrate is how to use the process of affixation can turn a concrete noun into an abstract. Here’s the route:

(a) curmudgeon (n) -> curmudgeonly (adj)
(b) curmudgeonly (adj) -> curmudgeonliness (n)

It’s possible to change a concrete noun to an abstract directly without the intermediate adjectification by using different suffixes e.g. boy (n) -> boyhood (n); friend (n) -> friendship (n); star (n) -> stardom (n).

And one last fun fact to slip into your next party conversation; sticking an extra “bit” (or morpheme) to a word that changes it from one part-of-speech to another is called derivational morphology, whereas if it stays as the same part-of-speech it’s called inflectional morphology. Curmudgeon to curmudgeonly is derivational;  sing to singing or sings is inflectional. Go ahead, nerd out with that!

ColorBrewer: Utilizing cartography software for color coding

It seems that I am getting a reputation for being a teensy-weensy bit doryphoric [1] and that may have some truth in it insofar as I hate – with a passion – the tendency for people to use the word “utilize” rather than “use” simply because the former sounds more erudite. It’s not, in fact, erudite; it’s just plain wrong. As I’ve said in previous posts, “utilize” means “to use something in a manner for which it was not intended.” So I can “use” a paper clip to hold a set of pages together; but I can “utilize” it to scoop wax out of my ears or stab a cocktail olive in my vodka martini (shaken, not stirred).

Colorado beetle


So when I titled this post with “utilizing cartography software” I really do mean that and I’m not trying to sound clever by using a four-syllable word (utilizing) over the simpler two-syllable using. No siree, I say what I mean and I mean what I say: utilize. The software in question is online at ColorBrewer: Color Advice for Cartography and its original purpose was to help map makers choose colors that provide maximum contrast. Let’s create an example. Suppose you have a map of the US and you want to use colors to show the average temperatures as three data sets; below 50F, 51F-65F, and above 65F. You can use three colors in one of three different ways:

  • (a) Sequential: Three shades of a chosen color from light to dark to indicate low to high values. e.g. Sequential color
  • (b) Diverging: Three colors that split the data equally in terms of the difference between the colors, but with the mid-range being related to a degree of difference between the extremes. Divergent color coding
  • (c) Qualitative: Three colors that split the data into three distinct groups, such as apples/oranges/bananas or trains/boats/planes – or for the statisticians out there, any nominal level data. Color coding qualitative

For a map of temperature averages, you’d choose the sequential coding so as to show the degree of change. Here’s what such a map might look like:

Three data point colors

Three data point colors

Compare this with a version whereby we chose to have six data points rather than three i.e. less that 45F; 46F-50F; 51F-55F; 56F-60F; 60F-65F; above 65F.

Six data points colors

Six data points colors

What the software does that is interesting is that it automatically generates the colors such that they are split into “chromatic chunks” that are equally different. The lowest and highest color values for each map are the same but the shades of the intermediate colors are changed. If you were to choose a set of 10 data points, the software would split those up equally.

Of course, as the number of data points increases, the perceptual difference between them decreases i.e. it becomes harder to see a difference. This is one of the limitations of any color-coding system; the more data differentials you want to show, the less useful colors become. You then have to introduce another way of differentiating – such as shapes. So if you had 20 shades of gray, it’s hard to see difference, but with 20 shades of gray and squares, triangles, rectangles and circles, you now have only 5 color points for each shape.

One of the areas where color coding is used in Speech and Language Pathology is AAC and symbols. In the system of which I am an author [2] color coding is used to mark parts of speech. But suppose you were going to invent a new AAC system and wanted to work out a color coding scheme, how might you utilize the ColorBrewer website?

If you’re going to design your system using a syntactic approach (and I highly recommend you do that because that’s how language works!) you could first identify a color set for the traditional parts of speech; VERB, NOUN, ADJECTIVE, ADVERB, PRONOUN, CONJUNCTION, PREPOSITION, and INTERJECTION [3]. This looks suspiciously like a nominal data set, which corresponds to the Qualitative coding method mentioned at (c) above. So you go to the ColorBrewer site and take a look at the panel in the top left:

ColorBrewer Panel

ColorBrewer Panel

You can set the Number of data classes to 8, the Nature of your data to qualitative, and then pick yourself a color scheme. If you chose the one in the graphic above, you see the following set recommended:

Eight color data setFor the sake of completeness, here are all the other options:

ColorDataQualSet2You can now choose one of these sets knowing that the individual colors have been generated to optimize chromatic differences.

So let’s assume we go for that very first one that starts with the green with the HTML color code #7FC97F [4]. I’m going to suggest that we then use this for the VERB group and that any graphics related to verbs will be green. Now I can move to step 2 in the process.

Verbs can actually be graded in relation to morphological inflection. There are a limited number of endings; -s, -ing, -ed, and -en. Knowing this, I can go back to the ColorBrewer site and use the sequential setting to get a selection of possible greens. This time I changed the Number of data classes to 5 and the Nature of your data to Sequential. Here’s what then see as a suggested set of equally chromatically spaced greens:


This now gives me the option to code not just verbs but verb inflections, while chromatically signaling “verbiness” by green. Here’s a symbol set for walk and write that uses the sequential – or graded – color coding:

Color-coded symbols

Color-coded symbols

If you want an exercise in AAC system design, knowing that ADJECTIVES also inflect like verbs using two inflectional suffixes, -er and -est, you can try using the ColorBrewer to create color codes [5].

There are probably many other ways to utilize the site for generating color codes. For example, you might want to create colors for Place of Articulation when using pictures for artic/phonology work, and seeing as there are a discrete number of places, it should be easy enough. Why not grab yourself a coffee and hop on over the ColorBrewer now and play. But only use it if you’re creating a map. Please!

[1] A doryphore is defined by the OED as “A person who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly.” It comes from the Greek δορυϕόρος, which means “spear carrier,” and it was originally used in the US as a name for the Colorado beetle – a notable pest. This beetle was known as “the ten-striped spearman,” hence the allusion to a spear carrier.  To then take the noun and turn it into an adjective by adding the -ic suffix meaning “to have the nature of” was a piece of cake – and a great example of using affixation to change a word’s part of speech. As always, you leave a Speech Dudes’ post far smarter than you entered it!

[2] Way back in 1993 I was invited to join the Prentke Romich Company’s R&D department as one of a team of six who were tasked with developing what became the Unity language program. The same basic program is still used in PRC devices and the language structure has been maintained such that anyone who used it in 1996 could still use it in 2014 on the latest, greatest hardware. The vocabulary also uses color coding to mark out Parts-of-Speech but not exactly like I have suggested in this article. Maybe next time…?

[3] The notion of 8 Parts-of-Speech (POS) is common in language teaching but as with many aspects of English, it’s not 100% perfect. For example, words like the, a, and an can be categorized under Adjectives or added to a class of their own called Articles or – by adding a few more – Determiners. So you might see some sources talking about 9 Parts-of-Speech, and I like to treat these as separate from adjectives if only because they seem to behave significantly differently from a “typical” adjective. Another confounding factor is that some words can skip happily between the POS and create minor havoc; light is a great example of this. The take-away from this is that sometimes, words don’t always fit into neat little slots and you need to think about where best to put them and how best to teach them.

[4] In the world of web sites, colors are handled in code by giving them a value in hexadecimal numbers – that’s numbers using base 16 rather than the familiar base 10 of regular numbers. Black is #000000 and white is #FFFFFF. When you’re working on designing web pages, it’s sometimes useful to be able to tell a programmer that you want a specific color, and if you can give them the precise hex code – such as #FF0000 for red and #0000FF for blue – then it makes their job easier and you get exactly what you need. You can also something called RGB codes to described colors, based on the way in which the colors (R)ed, (G)reen and (B)lue are mixed on a screen. Purple, for example, is (128,0,128) and yellow is (255, 255, 0). Take a look at this Color Codes page for more details and the chance to play with a color picker.

[5] I suppose I should toss in a disclaimer here that I’m not suggesting that creating an AAC system is “simply” a matter of collecting a lot of pictures with colored outlines and then dropping them into a piece of technology. There is much more to it than that (ask me about navigation next time you see me at a conference) so consider this article just one slice of a huge pie.

Haiku Dudes – or Haiku’s for the Dudes

As part of our “Countdown to Christmas” giveaway, our question for Day 14 invited folks to send us a haiku that was dude-ish. Here are the entries.

Haiku picture1. Celebrate winter
Porter, stout, bock, barleywine
Mmh, lager and ale!
From Acey Holmes (@aceymorgan)

2. Speech Dudes play Santa
While lights adorn evergreens
Joy of the Season!
From Cyndee Williams Bowen (@BowenSpeech)

3. Fingers clutching cold
Icy spray across my face
Snowblower Holiday joy!
From Gail Van Tatenhove (@gvantatenhove)

4. Santa Claus Speech Dudes
Covertly making us think…
Sly educators!
From Lillian Stiegler

Although we like them all, we DID say we’d make a choice so Dude 1 went for Lillian’s haiku and Dude 2 for Acey’s. Coffee’s are now on the way to you both. Thanks for taking part and keep an eye open for our next competition in 2014!

Dudes’ Eye View: Video Review of 2013

So we’re into Year 3 of creating the Dudes’ Eye View review of the year – and this time it’s for 2013. Seven more years and we’ll have a decade’s worth of video! You can also download the MP3 soundtrack, also created by the fevered mind of Dude 1.

The special extended “extended Tap mix” is now available here:

Tech Notes
For those who are interested in the software I use, here’s the list!

  • Corel VideoStudio Pro X5
  • Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3
  • Sony Acid Studio 9
  • Audacity 2.0.5

If you’re interested in hiring a Dude to help create your own video and music, drop us an e-mail 😉

Countdown to Christmas – Question 24: Christmas Eve!

OK folks, that’s it – there is no more! Our virtual advent calendar ends today, leaving you all to open that magical 25th door tomorrow, where – when I was a kid – you’d find a piece of Cadbury chocolate and a picture of the baby Jesus in a straw-lined trough.

So as we come to the end of our super-fabulous coffee-giveaway extravaganza, our last question is also about last things. Coming up right after this video of Steely Dan’s “The Last Mall” from their Everything Must Go album.

A syllable is usually defined a having three distinct segments; the ONSET, the NUCLEUS, and the… what?


A few folks offered RIME (or RHYME) as the solution, and in fairness, we should acknowledge that this might be OK. However, when one talks about the three segments that have ONSET and NUCLEUS as the first two, the third is CODA. In the two-part description, one does indeed see ONSET and RIME, but the rime is defined as consisting of the NUCLEUS + CODA, or, in an open syllable, the CODE is absent. So, coda is what we wanted, which also fits in with the idea that this is the “end” of the contest – and coda means “end.”

Syllable structureLinks

The Syllable and the Foot from Macquarie University: nice overview.

Explore syllable structures across languages at the World Atlas of Language Structures online.


Countdown to Christmas – Question 23: Monday 23rd December

Normally, when you drag a pointed object along someone foot from heel to big toe, the toe will curl down. However, in ALS, the toe goes in the opposite direction and point upwards. What is this called?

Test for ALS(a) The Rossolimo sign

(b) The Babinski sign

(c) The Stransky sign

ANSWER: The Babinski sign.

The Babinski sign is a test of what’s called the plantar reflex – the natural tendency for the toes to curl down when something is scraped across the bottom of the foot. In ALS, there is an abnormal response in that the toes go upwards. Actually, in infants up to the age of one, you can see the Babinski sign but it disappears and is pathological in adults.

The test is named after Joseph Babinski (1857-1932) who was a Polish neurologist. He presented his observation about the plantar reflex at a conference in 1896 in Paris, and it then became referred to as the Babinski sign or Babinski reflex.


About Joseph Babinski on Wikipedia.

About ALS from the ALS Association.