Category Archives: Uncategorized

First Post: Another Dude.

Not an original title, but I don’t always have an original thought.  Hope you enjoy the rantings, ravings, and misadventures of Duke Iceland.  Now, if you think Duke is my real name… stop reading now…This is my alias, my avatar, my other life, concealing my true identify as one of the Speech Dudes.  I really am a SLP and have specialized in AAC for nearly 20 years, working in rehab, the public schools, at the university level, the industry, and private practice.  Either I am very lucky for all my experiences, or I have one of the worst cases of professional ADHD.  Personally, my feelings are this field is going through a major time of transition like it has never seen before.  A new technology penetrated our field in a way that nothing has done before. It is time to weed out the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the technology can bring.

The Dudes Do ASHA 2011: Day 1. On Traveling, Truth, and EBP

journey, (n). / /. A day’s travel; the distance traveled in a day or a specified number of days.

According to the English writer Oliver Goldsmith, “Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” Well, in all honesty, when the journey is to the ASHA 2011 conference in San Diego and the accommodations are at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling any sympathy for our having to travel for hours and across thousands of miles to get here. When you’re sitting back in a swanky, high-priced bar drinking White Russians and nibbling on a $26 selection of gourmet meatballs, you keep glancing at the hotel entrance to see if the “Occupy San Diego” people are about to storm the building with flaming torches, dragging off “the rich” to a hastily constructed gibbet.

The Odysea Bar

Still, it’s not as if this is the regular lifestyle for the Speech Dudes. No sir! For every luxury hotel we stay in there are tales we can tell of others that involve insect infestations, bullet-proof check-in desks, ear-splitting air-conditioners, no air-conditioners (in a Coloradan summer), and one just on the edge of a European red-light district that rented by the hour. So rest assured the Dudes are immensely appreciative of their current locations, split as they are between the Hilton and the Marriott, also with a view of the bay.

Despite having traveled individually from the East Coast, Mid-West, and Canada, we are, after all, Speechies, and within minutes of ordering food and drinks at 10:30 pm PST, the conversation  shifted from how which is the worst airport in the US (Philadelphia  is currently in the running, says one of us) to Speech Pathology, specifically the issue of outcomes. Incredible as it may seem that a group of guys at a bar would want to get into Evidence-based Practice rather than the sad state of the NBA and the prospect of not being able to spend some quality time over Christmas secretly hoping LeBron James will twist an ankle and bruise his ego, we ploughed into the current fad for dropping iPads [2] on every kid with a pair of hands as the “miracle cure” from St. Stephen of Jobs and the Angels at Apple.

The messianic zeal of evangelical Jobbites [3] is such that the answer to life, the Universe, and everything, is quite simply “there’s an App for that.” And if there isn’t, then someone will make one and all will be well. It’s no use talking about “levels of evidence” or “controlled experiments” or even “proof” because there is, of course, lots of “proof” on YouTube, and, of course, sales of iPads outstrip the gross domestic product of several South American countries so they must be useful.

Already, Jobbites reading this are spluttering and trembling, their wobbling fingers poised to launch into a tirade of near-religious rhetoric in defense of the New World Order, where Apple will save the world by the benevolent use of the “One store to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” But take a deep breath and hold back for just a few minutes.

Whether using technology for teaching articulation skills, sentence construction, fluency, AAC, literacy, and so on, the glamour [2] of the machine can cloud our judgment. Our pads, tablets, smart phones, and laptops are such magical totems that we really want them to be special. The trick is for us to make sure we are open-minded enough to see the benefits of new technology (or just new approaches in general) but not so open-minded that our brains fall out.

Sackett, Strauss, Richardson, Rosenberg, and Haynes (2000) [3] talked about using a foreground question to determine the quality of external evidence that can help us make informed decisions about using a new approach. The use the acronym PICO as a memory aid that helps us formulate a testable question;

  • A Patient or Problem
  • An Intervention (a treatment or evaluation)
  • A Comparison or Contrast
  • An Outcome (measurable, of course)

Thus, a good question to ask would be “If I use this app for a month (I) with my 4-year-old client with a hearing loss (P) will the improvement in selecting new images on the screen (O) be better than if I’d used simple picture books (C).”

OK, so you can fine tune this in a few ways but we’re writing a blog post not an EBP textbook. The point is that we do have the clinical tools to evaluate the use of flashy new technology if we ask the right questions. Just using an app for a month and noticing “change” tells you nothing; the client may have “changed” if you’d let them watch SpongeBob SquarePants with you because the interaction was the cause, not the app.

Healthy skepticism is not a rejection of change but a necessary perspective to evaluate the extent of change. What is dangerous about new approaches, technological or social, is when claims are made to efficacy that are based purely on anecdote and a wish to see things happen.

And who would have thought White Russians and meatballs could lead to this.

Time for bed…

Time for bed


[1] Curiously it is iPads and not tablets in general. A recent report asked schools if they were considering buying new tablet technology for the classrooms and 100% said iPads against 0% for any other device. Now, doesn’t that strike anyone else as odd if the education system is supposed to be evaluating things on merit? Or is this a triumph for Apple’s marketing department? Just a thought.

 [2] The word glamour not only means “fascination” or “allure” but also “a magical spell cast over a person to hold them in thrall.” Literary types might want to take a read, or re-read, of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and the verses entitled The Beguiling of Merlin. This demonstrates poetically how the glamorous Vivienne enchants and defeats the Arthurian mythological wizard.

[3] A Jobbite is an individual who considers Steve Jobs and all his works as beyond criticism. Followers of Ayn Rand have a similar perspective, which ultimately can result in the emergence of cults. Although Jobs was unquestionably influential in the world of technology, it’s easy to forget that Apple succeeded because of the creativity and hard-work of its workers. Jobs himself didn’t actually sit down and build iAnythings – he facilitated it, and there was his skill.

[4] Sackett, D.L., Strauss, S.E., Richardson, W.S., Rosenberg, W. and Haynes, R.B. (2000) Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and each EBM. Edinburgh, Scotland: Churchill Livingstone.

Il Fornaio Restaurant, Coronado Island, San Diego

With only days until the ASHA 2011 convention, it’s important to schedule your valuable time for the gruelling lineup of lectures, short courses, poster sessions, and exhibition stops. But even more critical is the need to answer that most important of questions: Where do we eat? [1]

Lat week, the Dudes tweeted a recommendation for Il Fornaio on Coronado Island but 144 characters hardly does justice to that – nor does it give you any specifics. So I thought I’d add just a few more details that might persuade you to make the trip. [2]

The first thing you need to do is take the ferry across the water to Coronado Island. This, in all honesty, is part of the fun of the experience. Provided there isn’t a force 9 gale threatening to provide you with a place setting at the table of Day Jones’ Locker, the brief trip across the bay is a relaxing prequel to the meal, and gives you the opportunity to see San Diego from the water.

San Diego

San Diego

There are two spots from which to catch the ferry, one of which is by the San Diego Conference Center and the other is at the Broadway Pier. The latter is at the west end of Broadway and the former just behind the conference center, so your choice depends pretty much on where you’re staying. For times, check the San Diego Harbor Excursion web site. The Broadway pier leaves on the hour and return on the half.

The restaurant itself is a short walk from the ferry landing on Coronado Island. You go through the Old Ferry Landing Shopping Center where you can pick up a cup of coffee on the way back.

Il Fornaio Restaurant

Il Fornaio

The restaurant offers monthly regional dishes so there’s never a bad time to go! On my last visit in March 2011, I had the Potato and Leek soup followed by Salmon Fettuccine, both of which were delicious. I could pretend that I kept copious notes on the flavors but in truth, I simply sat and enjoyed both the food and the company. [3] There was a group of us at the time and so we did the obvious in relation to dessert – shared several! Rest assured that chocolate, cream, and gelato play essential roles.

There are a couple of practical points to consider. The first is to book ahead just to make sure you get a table. By all means carpe diem and simply catch the ferry and hope for the best but if you can’t get a table because it’s full of SLP’s, you might be left with the Burger King for your culinary festivities.

The second is to time it so that it’s light when you go and dark when you sail back. This is so you can experience seeing the city in two ways and even, as I did above, take some pictures.

So that’s about it. The good news is that there are many fine restaurants in San Diego so if you can’t make it to Il Fornaio, you’ll be able to find other wonderful dining locations. However, if you want to combine a boat ride with dinner, this is an opportunity you’ll not be sorry to take.

[1] According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “The history of every major galactic civilisation has passed through three distinct and recognisable phases: those of survival, inquiry, and sophistication. Otherwise known as the ‘How,’ ‘Why,’ and ‘Where’ phases. For instance, the first phase is characterised by the question: ‘How can we eat?’ The second by the question: ‘Why do we eat?’ And the third by the question: ‘Where should we have lunch?'”

[2] None of the Dudes is being paid by Il Fornaio for this recommendation. However, we’re aware that good social media trolls marketeers will be combing the web using RSS feeds to spot mentions of their clients, so it is possible that the nice folks at Il Fornaio may spot this blog and feel inclined to offer us at least a free drink at our next visit 😉 So, feel free, my Coronadan friends, to send us an email and we’ll work something out. And if, dear reader, you should decide to visit, feel free to mention the Speech Dudes and our website 😉

[3] So here’s a super secret tip that may – or may not – enhance your chances of improving the level of service you get in any restaurant. Carry a notebook, a pen, and occasionally scribble something. Anything. Make sure you are in visual range of your server who, if they are observant, will wonder if you are a restaurant critic. It’s a cheap trick but I am one of the more shameless Dudes when it comes to having a good time.

Learning to Love the Spam

When I was a wee little lad and there were only two TV channels available – both in black and white – I didn’t know that my family was poor. That’s not hard to understand if you can wrap your head around the notion that the concept of “poverty” is a relative thing. If you’re working in a Chinese factory for 25 cents an hour when all your friends are earning 5 cents, you are, indeed, the big man om campus, and tossing a dollar on the bar to pay for a round of drinks makes you a veritable Warren Buffet to your chums.

No, “poverty” is a relative thing, and seeing as having to go outside to take a shit then wipe your botty with newspaper was how I’d always experience lavatorial etiquette, you can probably understand how excited I was when we had an indoor toilet fitted in the 70’s.

the 60s

Happy Days?

Unsurprisingly, the family cuisine was not exactly on the gourmet scale. I swear, my mother could feed five of us with nothing more than a loaf of bread and a can of tuna fish. Jesus at least had the luxury of five loaves and two fish; my mom had just the one of each. Another of our favorites was something we called “cheese and milk,” which was a delicious dish made from… well, cheese and milk. By boiling up a quarter pound of cheese with a bottle of milk then serving it with half a loaf of “Wonderloaf,” we could enjoy a family meal sitting in front of the coal fire. Incidentally, this “cheapest-of-the-cheap” dishes is now called “fondue,” and by changing its name along with serving it in a fancy building, my childhood staple is currently so expensive that if we were back in the 60’s, I’d be that scruffy kid sticking his snotty nose on the restaurant window looking for scraps.

Another addition to this feast of famine was canned ham, or as we dare to call it at the risk of being sued by the Hormel corporation, Spam®. [1] Most regular folks will pick up a can of Armour’s “Treet Meat” or Walmart’s “Great Value Luncheon Meat” and happily call it spam – even though it isn’t 😉

It’s relative cheapness meant that it was a special treat for the family, especially if sliced thin, fried, and used as sandwich filling for “spam butties,” an excellent source of nutrition if you’re on the “Cardiac Explosion” diet plan or the “Cholesterol-coated Arteries” regime.

spam sandwich

Spam sandwich

In fact, its ubiquity lead to it becoming a cultural meme created by the ground-breaking comedians of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in their now-classic “Spam sketch.” If you’ve never seen it, here it is. And if you have seen it, you can’t get too much spam!

The excessive use of the word spam in this sketch lead to it being used by the early nerdy-geeky computer community to describe the proliferation of unwanted junk e-mails that began to dominate the in-boxes of anyone with an account. [2] Since then, the word has become much more encompassing to include all the different forms of junk now available in the forms of Twitter-spam, IM spam, SMS spam, Facebook spam, and blog spam. And it’s the latter of these that turns out to be a source of amusement. The recent post on The Urban Dictionary: The Speech Therapist’s Secret Weapon resulted in the following comment;

I would like to thank you for the efforts youve got produced in writing this article. I am hoping the same finest operate from you inside the potential also. Actually your creative writing skills has inspired me to start my personal BlogEngine weblog now.

I’ve left it without editing because poking fun at misspellings and poor grammar is part of the entertainment and, quite frankly, a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. What’s funnier than the actual post is the address of the poster; “” The total mismatch between the message’s content that praises the post and cites it as an “inspiration” and the harsh reality that the poster simply wants to pay money for a bigger willy is just deliciously funny.

And a follow-up post to my piece on Hated People and Celebrities turned up this praise-filled gem;

Howdy, It is difficult to search out well-informed individuals for this theme, however you be understood as what happens that you are preaching about! Thank you

This turns out to be from someone providing me a link back to a site selling Hermes bags – and their authenticity is somewhat doubtful.

So once I can get past the underlying implication that I am small-dicked transvestite looking for a new handbag,  I can at least take some pleasure from the inanity of the spam before consigning these little snippets of textual poop to my virtual trash can. There’s no real way to stop the spam, and the best you can do is keep it to a minimum by using filters and blocking software, but at least trying to see a little humor in the crap that does get through can make life less sucky – and after all, making life suck less is what it’s really all about.

“The Speech Dudes: Trying To Make Life Suck Less, One Day At A Time.”

[1] Spam, as you ought to know, is a brand name, owned by a company called Hormel. Like hoover, kleenex, and xerox, it has become “genericised,” a linguistic process whereby an adjectival trademark become a generic noun or verb. Legally, we should never say “I was hoovering the rug” or “Pass me a kleenex” or “I love this spam” unless we are actually referring to a Hoover® vaccum cleaner, a Kleenex® tissue, or a Spam® canned ham product. Put any of this in writing and the legal departments from the aforementioned companies could be serving you with a “cease-and-desist” notice quicker than shit exits a dysenteric. No, remember to alway put that “X is a registered trademark of Y and all rights are reserved.” There, I’ve said it.

[2] A common “etymythology” is that the word is an acronym for “Short Pointless Annoying Message” but this is more of a bacroyn – taking a word and then making a sentence from it. Some folks use the word aptronym to refer to an “appropriate” acronyn, which would surely fit the “short, pointless, annoying message.” Alas, the Python derivation is the correct one and all others are just fodder for whipping up an argument during a night out at the pub.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: Book Review

Don’t Get Too Comfortable
David Rakoff
First Anchor Books
Paperback US Edition, 2006, $14:00
Kindle US download, $9:99

In some sense, I’ve always preferred essays to novels. I suspect this is partly because as a reader, I like to enter the world the writer creates and get lost there, which, in reality, takes time; and time is a commodity that most of us have little of. I remember the heady days of being a student when there was time to pick up a book during the summer break and read it from cover to cover without feeling any guilt at not being better employed fixing a gutter, re-painting a room, doing the grocery shopping, taking the kids to the park, or any other of the endless adult-orientated diversions that make reading these days a near-impossible task. But collections of essays can be nibbled at rather than consumed in an orgy of lexophagia, and thus fit much easier into busy lives.

Another advantage of the essay as an art form is that for a piece to be succesful, the writer has to be succinct, spare, and able to hold you attention for a short period of time. Unlike novels, there is little room, if any, for padding and waffle. The purple prose of “heaving bosoms” and “dark, mysterious, smoky glances” that stuff up the literary pabulum of ten-a-penny pot-boilers has no place in a well-written article. And given that there are so many books yet so little time, I appreciate any essayist who refuses to waste my time by providing pointless banalities served up with watery words and mundane metaphor.

Rakoff Don't Get Too Comfortable
David Rakoff

David Rakoff is, therefore, not a sinner. And in his little collection of 15 compositions in Don’t Get Too Comfortable, there are many examples of how to provide maximum entertainment with minimum verbiage.

Rakoff is not afraid to use adjectives when he thinks it serves a purpose. For example, in his essay entitled Sesion Privada, he recounts his time at a Playboy photo-shoot on the island of Cayo Espanto, three miles off San Pedro in Belize. At one point he talks about his feelings of being uncomfortable at having to spend time in a place of such luxury while knowing that just a few miles away there are people who are living in poverty. Yet he manages to summarize his attitude in just one sentence:

Mine are the tears of the Walrus, bemoaning the wholesale carnage of his little oyster friends as he scoops another bivalve into his voracious, sucking maw.

Just that one phrase “voracious, sucking maw” is elegant enough to justify the price of admission to this book.

His article As It Is In Heaven is a delightful contrast between a flight on one of the final transatlantic trips on the Concorde supersonic plane and an internal trip from Newark Liberty International to Myrtle Beach, Florida, on Hooters Airlines. Despite the apparent differences, he manages to find an underlying similarity between the two events when he observes the boyish, childlike behavior of the male passengers. When the Concorde reaches its cruising altitude of 56,000 feet and speed of Mach 2, he notes how guys are eager to get their pictures taken up at the front of the plane;

They all smile for the cameras, faces like those of children, unashamedly delighted and amazed. The wonder of aviation revived, a full century into its innovation.

This is another vital skill that a good essayist needs to have; the ability to see the commonalities between us as much as the differences. Reading about the rich and famous is pointless and, ultimately, unsatisfying, if we cannot see elements of ourselves in the narrative. That’s why many celebrity biographies rarely succeed; because the use of the pronoun “I” far outweighs the use of “we.” With Rakoff, and others, even if the actual word “we” isn’t used, it is certainly implied.

I Can’t Get It For You Wholesale is a piece about a trip to Paris to cover a fashion show for InStyle magazine. Whilst there, he gets to meet face-to-face with the designer, Karl Lagerfeld, who, in a petulant show of celebrity dismissiveness, takes the opportunity to take a swing at Rakoff by saying to him “What can you write that hasn’t been written already?” Bad move, Karl, because apparently he can write something that has been written already;

…not having undergone his alarming weight loss, and seated on a velvet chair, with is large, doughy rump dominating the miniature furniture like a loose, flabby, ass-flavored muffin overrisen from its pan, he resembles a Daumier caricature of some corpulent, inhumane oligarch drawn sitting on a commode, stuffing his greedy throat with the corpses of dead children, while from the other end he shits out huge, malodorous piles of tainted money. How’s that for new and groundbreaking, Mr. L?

You can pretty much hear Karl’s head exploding as he read this, and that’s as it should be.

And there is more. Much more. Although he is primarily a humorist, he uses that humor to make moral points. His passion can burst through magnificently, as is evidenced by his treatment of Barbara Bush after her defense of not showing body bags of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq. I’ll let you discover that for yourself, but he leaves you in no doubt as to how he feels.

Rakoff is something of a pessimist, which is made much more apparent in his most recent offering, Half Empty, but it’s a gentle pessimism tempered by an ability to see things that still make life worth living, whether that’s the grinning faces of the businessmen on Concorde or the almost impossible optimism of Patrick Guerriero, the head of the Republican’s “Log Cabin” group. whose aim is to make homosexuality acceptable to everyone in the Grand Old Party. 

So if you enjoy witty writing, and have less time than you wish you had, then you can actually get comfortable with this book, despite what the title suggests.

Hated People and Celebrities… along with adjectives, euphemism, and rhetoric

George ClooneyAlthough the Speech Dudes don’t mind hearing such descriptive adjectives are matureseasoned, experienced, or even worldly when applied to themselves, it would be a mistake to think that all these euphemisms for old mean out-of-touch, gaga, or loosing it. In fact, we like to think that being in the same age bracket as George Clooney, Piers Brosnan, Bruce Willis, Sean Connery, and Denzel Washington is not that bad. Mind you, Nick Nolte, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Buscemi are also part of this gang, so perhaps we’re being a little optimistic!

Anyhow, age insecurities aside, it’s no coincidental that the points of reference we use are celebrities because we’re hip enough to know that we live in a celebrity-orientated world, where “being famous” is an actual career choice for more folks under the age of 30 than we’d all like to admit. This doesn’t apply to you, dear reader, because if you’re reading this blog in preference to OK magazine or The Justin Bieber Encyclopedia, the chances are you’re not totally impressed by the Celebrity Culture. But if Johnny Depp were to ask for your cell number…

However, for those who demand proof, which should be all of you, here’s a couple of interesting lines from the very readable and most excellent The Narcissism Epidemic (2009) by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell [1];

In 2006, 51% of 18- to 25-year-olds said that ‘becoming famous’ was an important goal of their generation – nearly five times as many as named ‘becoming more spiritual’ as an important goal. A 2006 poll asked children in Britain to name ‘the very best thing in the world.’ The most popular answer was ‘being a celebrity.’ “Good looks’ and ‘being rich’ rounded out the top three, making for a perfectly narcissistic triumvirate.” (p.93)

Nevertheless, the Speech Dudes enjoy a celebrity train-wreck as much as anyone else (Charlie Sheen, anyone?) and so the release of a new list of The Most Hated People in America is worth commenting on – from a linguistic point of view, of course.

First, let’s shoot the most obvious and largest fish in the barrel: This list in NOT about “people” but “celebrities.” My sister-in-law qualifies as a “most hated person in the world” from a personal perspective, but she is, thankfully, not a celebrity, hence her absence from the list. And by celebrity, we really mean “someone who is famous enough to catch the eyes of the global media networks.” One possible reason for using people over celebrity is that if you check the data [2], people is ten times more frequently used than celebrity, which means the headline will get more “hits” from search engines looking for keywords. This is worth bearing in mind if you’re creating headlines for your blogs. And who said studying corpus linguistics is boring and arcane!

Casey AnthonyNot surprisingly, Casey Anthony heads this year’s list. Now here’s a case that demonstrates perfectly how the Celebrity Culture is a media-based, pruriently biased phenomenon and the modern equivalent of “bread and circuses” for our 21st-century decadent neo-Rome. A women allegedly kills her child, is tried by the courts using the laws of the land, and set free because there is insufficient evidence to find her guilty. So, is she innocent?

Well, as far as the court of public opinion goes – and that’s us, boys and girls – she ISN’T. You see, much as we all use words like justice, democracy, and law, the Celebrity Culture realises that appealing to our Id will always triumph over paying lip service to our Superego. The law says she is innocent but our collective animal instincts would like to see her punished.

The problem is; we don’t like her. We just don’t. Watching the endless TV clips of Anthony made us aware of her non-verbal communications, and we were all irked by her presumed smirks, her indirect eye contact, her apparently dead-pan face. Of course, all these clips were chosen by TV editors to fit into a 5-second video clip for the fast-moving broadcasts that rarely do more than provide filler for ads. From Casey Anthony to Huggies in an eye blink. It also helps that many folks were spoon-fed by Fox’s witch-finder General, Nancy Grace, a women for whom the phrase “Sentence first; verdict afterwards” was prophetically accurate.

The Hated People list is little more than a reflection of how we shape the media, and vice versa, and how “entertainment” has become the measure of what is “worthy” of coverage. You don’t need Wikipedia or a degree in Anthropology to see that the people are on the list because their lifestyles impinge on the base elements of human nature that we all love to hear about: murder, sex, infidelity, greed, vanity. In fact, if you wanted to correlate each celeb with each of the Seven Deadly sins, you could probably do it before finishing a half-empty cup of coffee.

Jon GosselinMeanwhile, it’s somewhat ironic that Jon Gosselin is one the list for two reasons: First, one of the reasons he wanted to leave his family was that he thought that he couldn’t cope with being in the Celebrity Culture! And second, St. Kate’s show, Jon and Kate plus Four Each on the Weekends has been pulled from TLC. It seems that sometimes, escaping from the publicity lens is harder to do than putting on a blood-soaked leather glove. That right, OJ?

And as for Spencer Pratt… Well, we can at least use him to teach a new linguistic term: aptronym: a surname that matches your profession or personality. I’m not sure that being a prat[3] is typically seen as being a career but in this case, we might want to argue in the affirmative. It may seem a little unfair for folks to continually maul the man but this really is like shooting fish in a barrel and he did choose to swim in it in the  first place.

We started this piece with a list of preferred adjectives and we’ll end with a few that should be made use of more often when talking about Celebrity Culture: vapid, fatuous, narcissistic, trivial, and prurient. And that’s not using euphemism[4].

[1] Twenge, J. and Campbell, K.W. (2009). The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of  Entitlement. New York: Free Press.

[2] If you haven’t yet discovered the online corpora available at Brigham Young University, take a trip to and sign up. It’s free and once you start using it to investigate word frequencies it becomes a daily tool.

[3] In British English – or as some of prefer, “real English” – a prat is an idiot or someone who behaves in an idiotic, stupid, or foolish manner. Back in the 16th century, prat was slang for a buttock or ass, and at the beginning of the 20th century is was used to refer to the pocket from which a pick-pocket would pick. The link between an ass-buttock and an ass-idiot seems clear in both British and American Englishes.

[4] For a more scholarly read on the topic of euphemism and taboo words, take a look at Forbidden Words (2006) by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, published by Cambridge University Press. They draw the distinction between euphemism (talking sweetly), dysphemism (talking offensively), and orthophemism (talking neutrally), and they refer to them all collectively as X-phemisms. Three examples of this would be poopshitfaeces, or maybe making-lovefuckingintercourse. The book discusses the links between X-phemisms and human taboos, arguing that the emotional component of taboo words is driven by the limbic system, and that taboo words cannot be censored because they are so closely linked to emotion.

Slang and New Words: What Makes A Word Sticky?

In an article for Slate entitled That’s So Mysto, Juliet Lapidos considers why it is that some slang words take off and stick around whereas others have a mayfly-like existence and end up in the trash cans of lexical history. Clearly one element is a form of linguistic natural selection, where new words compete against a plethora of others and fight to the death for oral ascendency. Such competition, red in tooth and claw, can best be seen by taking a trip to the ever profane and rarely sacred Urban Dictionary. Scorned by some lexicographers and linguists as being neither a dictionary nor particularly urban (as opposed to urbane, where a single letter makes all the difference), it is a fascinating existential experiment in the crowd-sourcing of meaning. Here, folks not only get the chance to massage their bloated, narcissistic egos by coining what they think are brilliant new words (they rarely are) but also to vote on how “accurate” a definition is. Meaning defined by the masses and not a panel of lexical specialists who meet over Chablis and crepes to decide what is groovy and hip. [1]

slang wordle

Words and Slang

For those who haven’t meandered down the seedy streets of the “UD,” here’s a typical example of a word that’s been coined and, so far as I know, hasn’t even made it to first base – which is typically a Teen Movie:


"beege" at Urban Dictionary

Note that you can vote for whether you like it or not, see other related forms of the word, add you own comments, or even – and I shudder to think how this works – add a video.

What’s fascinating for those of us who love language is that we can see how quickly people apply the rule of both derivational and lexical morphology to these new words. So in the first definition, we have beeges as an example of using the plural form of the noun, and in the second we have the word being used as a verb, to beege, and then “he beeged…,” which makes use of the -ed morpheme to indicate the past. It’s also instructive to see how the past tense inflection is regular and not some funky irregular, such as *boge (/boʊʒ/) offering support for the notion that we do, in fact, have a set of rules stored in our heads that allow us to construct new forms of words that follow patterns.

The chances are that 95% of the words coined in the UD will eventually end up as merely archived words on the website, the etymological equivalent of the German-born geneticist Richard Goldschmidt‘s “hopeful monsters.”

Yet like the coral-encrusted wrecks of forgotten shipwrecks deep below swirling oceans, archaic and antiquated slang words can sometimes be rediscovered. While writing this very article, my background music of choice includes the timeless and most excellent The Nightfly by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen. Track 5, New Frontier, opens with the lines;

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding,
A summer smoker underground

Does anyone still have wingdings? In the US, back in the 1940’s, people would have whingdings, defined at that time as a wild party of celebration. [2] But earlier than that, in 1929, the journal American Speech defined a wingding as a false fit or spasm, typically thrown by a drug addict in the hope that a doctor would be called and administer a narcotic – which is exactly what the addict wanted! [3]

Clearly the derivational idea of a “wild party” from a “drug-seeking fit” isn’t too hard of a leap to make, hence the 1970’s popular use of the word for drinking binges, typically underage ones.

And the summer smoker? That’s another term for a party, referring primarily to a male get-together where smoking is allowed. It can also refer to a concert where patrons can smoke, and this meaning can be traced back to at least 1887, through to the 1970’s. [4]

This is also an example of where the Urban Dictionary fails to be comprehensive in terms of its treatment of language as a historical phenomenon. The only definition for summer smoker is “someone who only smokes in the summer because the UK smoking ban forces them outside, and it is too cold in the winter.” The chances are that the person who penned this was not familiar with the earlier definitions and what we see here is an example of the same slang word being “recreated” with a totally new meaning.

Predicting New Words

Predicting New Words

So why do some words succeed where others don’t? That’s something marketing executives would love to know! It’s worth checking out a book called Predicting New Words by Allan Metcalf [5], which I managed to buy for the princely sum of 1 cent from Amazon as a “Used – very good” hardback. [6] He introduces a metric called the FUDGE factor, an acronym (or maybe a bacronym) for the following features that determine the long-term success of a word:

Frequency: How much is the word used?

Unobtrusiveness: How low is it flying under the radar? Words that explode on the scene and become mot-du-jours actually disappear faster than those that just seem to seep into the language.

Diversity: How much is it used across populations and situations? In the field of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) we talk about core words and define them as “words that are used with high frequency across situations and across populations.” A word may be very popular in a specific environment but until it becomes adopted by the general population, it remains jargon, not slang.

Generative: Can you create new forms and meanings? For example, the word blockbuster originally meant a specific type of bomb, but it adopted the current meaning of “something dramatic, immense, and powerful.”

Endurance of Concept: Can the word continue in the absence of other elements? For example, hands up if you know what a cassette is? Do you even have a cassette? Can you play it? The word cassette has become less frequently used since the 1980s, which has matched the decline of the use of cassette players and the rise of digitally-based media distribution.

For each of these features, Metcalf assigns a score from 0 to 3, and on the basis of summation, he gives words a score that indicates the likelihood of longevity. For example, he predicted in 2002 (when the book was released) that ground zero will continue, as will weapons grade, but that she-eo (the female version of CEO) and paradessence (the paradoxical essence of a product) would fail. However, he suggested that NASDAQ would likely fall away but it appears to be still pretty popular.

Well, it’s time for me to go check out is some new dude has friended me on Facebook, see if any of my homies have tweeted some new dish, and work on another awesome blog post.

[1] OK, so that’s a little harsh and stereotypical. It’s probably Bud Light and a burger. And meaning IS a product of crowd-sourcing in that words can only take on a particular referent if a group of speakers agree on it. The word dog only means “to follow someone closely” if everyone agrees to that. It could mean “to throw up after spending too long on a trampoline” if enough folks used it that way long enough.

[2] Oxford English Dictionary.

[3] American Speech, 2, 281/1.

[4] Oxford English Dictionary.

[5] Metcalf, A. (2002). Predicting New Words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

[6] Whenever I buy I book, I try to keep the receipt and use it as a bookmark. Why? Because at some point in the future, it acts as a reminder of when I bought it, where I bought it, and even what was going on in my life. As I was looking through Metcalfe’s book, I found a Continental Airline boarding pass for a flight to Denver, Colorado, on 6th January. Unfortunately, the ticker doesn’t give the year! Nevertheless, it reminded me that this was, indeed, one of those “books to read on long plane flights.”

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Pot of Ink

I am a firm believer in always maintaining a low-tech backup system for those times when such basic necessities as electricity and WiFi are not available. It may be hard to believe but there are places in the world where iPhones, Droids, and laptops won’t work! I know, crazy, yes?

Which is why I carry two pieces of technology that operate in such extreme conditions. One is called a notepad and made of pieces of paper bound together inside two hard covers. The second is critical for the success of the notepad and it’s called a pen. This is a small, hand-held tube containing ink, a colored liquid that you can use to mark the paper.

Moleskine Notebook

Moleskine Notebook

I’m mentioning these in detail because it is possible that some people in the not-to-distant future may not have any direct experience with these items. They may also be unfamiliar with the process of scratching marks on paper, which we call writing. Unbelievable? Maybe not.

From Fall 2011, the State of Indiana will no longer require students to learn cursive script as part of the school curriculum. It will become “optional” – which is as good as saying “ignored.” Hawaii has jumped on the bandwagon by adopting a similar stance, along with Illinois, Ohio, and apparently a good number of others. Doubtless kids will be required to take a stab at hitting keys on a keyboard or iPad, provided it doesn’t eat into their “Angry Birds” time; and of course, it will be essential to learn to spell in order to send text messages and tweets. Well, sort of spell. But the actual skill of using a pen on paper could be on the way out. Once credit card technology can handle fingerprints, we won’t even have to sign receipts.

All of this has been steadily creeping up on us as can be evidenced by the fact that trying to get ink for refilling a fountain pen is becoming a tougher task than tracking down a crystal skull – or the scrolls in the Ark of the Covenent. Hell, it would be easier to find the scrolls than to write them if you needed to use a bottle of ink!

Fountain pen

Cross Torero Pen

My low-tech backup system currently consists of a Moleskine reporter’s notepad and a Cross Torero Diamondback fountain pen. In truth, I’ve been a Moleskine notebook scribbler for a few years now and the pen can vary, but essentially, armed with these two pieces of equipment, I can keep track of ideas, save contact details, draw maps for people, and use the International Phonetic Alphabet to knock out a phonological analysis. My first draft was “ knock up a phonological analysis” but I am aware that “knock up” in the US means something different from the UK meaning of “knock up” that I am referring to!

Phonological analysis

At this point in evolution, it is still possible to refill these pens using ink-filled plastic cartridges but as we become more eco-conscious, using a refillable cartridge makes more sense. And after all, this is precisely how you could do it less than 30 years ago. Now I’m not talking going back to the quill and dipping into an inkwell, just being able to suck ink from a bottle into a pen. Hardly rocket science.

But how easy is it to find bottles of ink? Amazingly enough, these are now “specialist items.” In fact, if you type the work “ink replacement” or “ink cartridge” into a search engine, you find printer inks. Go to Staples and you’ll even find fountain pens as “fine writing instruments” and not “pens.” Trying to get hold of a fountain pen is like taking a trip to Diagon Alley and finding Ollivanders (“The pen chooses the writer, Speech Dude. It’s not always clear why.”)

Notebook AAC

AAC device

In the absence of Hogwortian powers, I’m afraid that the quest for ink meant having to go to a variety of stores, which included Staples (one bottle of black ink), Wal-Mart (no ink), a local craft store (lots of calligraphy equipment but no bottled ink), and a book store (no ink, no books – it was the local Borders and tragically its last day. Now there’s a sign of the times.)

It’s somewhat ironic that in order to maintain this quaint, old-fashioned art of writing on paper with a fountain pen I ended up having to use the internet, the very thing that is hastening us toward a new phase of literacy, or even illiteracy. After all, if I can talk to a computer and have it speak back, why do I even need to write anything?

Perhaps Robert Graves was more prophetic than he knew when he wrote the words of the final lines of his classic story, I, Claudius; “Write no more now,  Tiberius Claudius, God of the Britons, write no more.”

“The Annotated Alice” – An Essential Book for Speechies

Don’t try this without a safety net or three mojitos. Parse the following sentence:

Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

If you’ve given up and decided to drink another mojito instead, you’re in good company. Even linguist Geoff Pullum, co-author of the phenomenal Cambridge Grammar of the English Language has said that he can’t decide whether it’s grammatical or not. On the other hand, if you’ve sobered up and actually created a tree diagram that looks more complex than the map of the London Underground, congratulations and please send us a copy.

This magnificent sentence comes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that somehow never seems to make it onto the recommended reading list for Speechies but that deserves to be made obligatory. And the particular version to get hold of is The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition, edited and annotated by Martin Gardner, and containing the original artwork prints of the Victorian artists, John Tenniel.

The Annotated Alice book

Annotated Alice

Combining both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this book cannot fail to appeal to Speech Therapists, teachers, and linguists, or in fact, anyone with any interest in language. Carroll plays with words the way kittens play with string. He bends them, stretches them, chops them up, and puts them back together in entertaining ways. Just one chapter of the Alice books could form the basis for a semester of study.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

Sheer brilliance. He start out by a pronoun-verb contraction to hit us with twas and without skipping a heartbeat trots out a new word, brillig. You may never have heard the word before but somehow we feel it means something akin to bright or brilliant. We at least know it’s an adjective despite the fact you won’t find it in a dictionary.

The Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock

And how about slithy? That, surprisingly enough, does get a mention in the Oxofrd English Dictionary as an adjective from 1662, itself a variation of the word sleathy, originating from the Old Norse slœða meaning “to drag or trail behind.” But Carroll used it to mean “smooth and active” (Carroll, 1855), which is very different from the previous use. In fact, it comes from a mix of slimy and lithe, which is called a “portmanteau word” – a phrase also coined by Carroll himself!

According to Humpty Dumpty,  toves are “something like badgers, they’re something like lizards, and they’re something like corkscrews. Also they make their nests under sun-dials, also they live on cheese.” The fact that the word toves appears immediately following the definitive article alerts us to the interpretation that a tove is a noun; the final “s” also signals nouniness.

As you can see, we are just at the end of the first line and we’re talking about phonology and morphology (the /s/ at the end of tove); syntax (an article precedes a noun); contractions (twas); and blends (slithy). So tell me again why you wouldn’t want this book on the undergraduate reading list. Why, you could write a 5,000 word essay on The Derivational and Inflexional Morphological Structures Inherent in Jabberwocky and their Relevence to English Language Development! Well, at least I could 😉

But it’s not just the fact that you can lose yourself in Carroll’s text alone that makes this book so fascinating; it’s the comments and scholarship of Martin Gardner, whose knowledge of all things Alice is encyclopedic. His commentary covers not only language but philosophy, physics, history, mythology, and mathematics. The list of references takes up several pages and the budding Alice scholar could do no better than to ouse this book as their primary reference.

Pedagogy aside, there’s another reason to read this book. It’s fun! It’s easy to pop in the Disney Alice in Wonderland DVD and think you know the story, but if you’ve never picked up the books before, you are in for a rare treat. So pop down to your local Borders before it closes completely and splash out on a copy, or help your local bookstore go out of business by ordering from Amazon. Whatever way you choose to do it, as long as you get the real, physical book rather than some awful electronic format, you’ll have something to take with you on your vacation.

Oh, and college lecturers… Get this on the reading list for your students. They WILL thank you for it.

Lewis Carroll’s diaries:the private journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1993): The Lewis Carroll Society.

And talking of being doggedly skeptical…

It’s called Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and defined by the American Humane Society as;

… a goal-directed intervention in which an animal is incorporated as an integral part of the clinical health-care treatment process. AAT is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions.

So what are we to make about Scout the Labrador who apparently is a skilled phonetician. In a recent article from the Missoulian newspaper, SLP Nancy Jo Connell takes her dog with her when treating children with language problems. Now, there’s some evidence (and not a lot) that pets such as dogs and cats can make someone feel better, and kids with autism appear to relate to animals.

Therapy dog

"I think that was a linguolabial trill!"

But where do we draw the line on the claims made about AAT? How about here?

He has a big vocabulary. When children with speech problems use the right word the right way, he responds. When autistic children who have problems with self-expression speak, he responds. When deaf children sign to him, he responds.

Really? A big vocabulary? The dog? Has he been assessed on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test? Did he bark the answer or just paw the pictures? It’s always a good idea to be open minded but not so open that your brains fall out.

Here’s an explanation of how it works from Connell:

With Scout, the children don’t have to be “corrected” if they use the wrong word.

If Scout doesn’t respond, Connell and others simply encourage them to find the right sound or word.

“It’s not a corrective model,” she said. “We don’t tell them what’s wrong. If they say a word and Scout doesn’t respond, we say, ‘Oh, he doesn’t understand you.’ “

Ah, so the truth is not necessarily that the dog understands the kids but that this is more of an example of a therapist using facilitated communication with animal. If the assertion is that Scout can process human speech and “know” the answer to something, we’re going to need a little more evidence than kids “use the right words, he responds.”

Badge for certified therapy dogs

Official CTD Badge

The problem here is whether SLP’s as a profession are interested in evidence-based practice or not. We can choose to “go with our gut” because in the case of having dogs around the clinic, unless the pooch actually bites a client, there’s no law necessarily being broken, and if you are sincerely advocating for using your pet as a therapy tool the least you can do is provide some objective measures of intervention with and without “Fluffy,” “Spot,” or “Lassie.” Hopefully the claims for Scout’s vocabulary size and ability to discriminate correct and incorrect responses is more journalistic hyperbole than alleged practicum fact.

For a reasonably sober summary of AAT, you could stop by the website of the Interactive Autism Network and read their article on findings. They point out that, “there is little research-based evidence that AATs lead to specific gains by children with ASD, but interest in the topic is growing in parallel with the field of AAT itself.”

By all means enjoy your pets, but avoid outrageous claims about their clinical skills. And after all, if animals really are that smart, how long do you think it will be before employees replace you with Champion the Wonder Horse?