Monday, April 30, 2018

Homographs, homonyms, heteronyms, and polysemes

   No, these are not new preference designations for recreational sex.  We perhaps have enough of those already (seven, last time I counted: LGBTQIP).

   Homographs are dozens of words with the same spelling but more than one meaning.  If these different meanings are pronounced the same, they’re homonyms, many of which can be either a noun or a verb, such as down, effect, tie, exploit, file, implant, insult, sink, sign, and kiss.

   Homographs that are pronounced differently according to meaning are Heteronyms, such as invalid, lead, minute, pervert, progress, rebel, record, and subject.  This can lead to some interesting sentences:

The doctor wound a bandage around the wound.
Sometimes the dump will refuse more refuse.
A soldier decided to desert in the desert, but only after he’d had his dessert.
The dove dove to avoid the hawk.
We don’t object to the object.
He painted a bass on his bass drum.
It was like trying to wind string in the wind.
There was no time like the present to present his present to her.

   Polysemes are cousins to homographs of both the above homonym and heteronym varieties.  They’re words that started out meaning some activity but later began also meaning the people engaged in the activity, or products of the activity, or that became verbs concerning the activity.  Traditional examples are: ministry, nurse, service, court, delegation, and police.  Some techy recent additions to this family are Facebook, Google, and hack, which began life as ordinary nouns but grew up to become verbs as well.

  All of this makes me exceedingly happy I’m not an adult laboring to learn English.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Who on Earth is the happiest?

  A recent survey attempted to find out which are the happiest nations on the planet, based among other things on life expectancy, degree of freedom, social support, general trust, and generosity.  The top countries are Scandinavian.  Finland, Norway, and Denmark, followed by Iceland and Switzerland, in that order.  America was eighteenth on the list, the study citing obesity, wealth disparity, and business and governmental corruption as partial reasons.

  Of the ten least happy countries, eight are in Africa, with badly overpopulated Burundi at the top of that list.  Dense population and resultant poverty, poor health care, entrenched bloody tribalism clashes, lack of education, and endemic corruption all contribute.  Some 600 million people on that troubled continent don’t even have electricity, much less electric toothbrushes.

  What rank on which list will the United States earn in coming decades?  That’s largely up to us.

  But surely virulent partisan politics, continuing degradation and dumbing down of our educational system, rampant drug abuse, an ever-burgeoning deficit, increasing population numbers, and spreading distrust of all government levels are not going to help.


Monday, April 2, 2018

The New Killer Addiction

   It’s epidemic.  All over the planet.  And there doesn’t appear to be a cure.

  People, especially young people, are increasingly no longer involved in the real world around them but are almost constantly engrossed in the shallow artificiality that is flipping past their emotionless zombie gazes on their smartphones and tablets.  Take a short break from your own cell and look around in any public park, at the beach, on school campuses, in airline terminals, on buses and in airplanes.  Nearly everyone is immersed in Phoneworld.  You see couples on the street far more engaged with their phones than with each other.  People ostensibly go out for a group dinner, then rudely ignore each other so they can receive messages and feverishly thumb texts off into the ether.  Tourists standing before nature’s splendors take endless phone shots and selfies rather than indulge in old-fashioned experiencing and enjoying.

   The addiction all too often has gruesome and deadly consequences.  Driving while texting and talking on cellphones is killing 5,000 people a year and injuring thousands more across our nation alone.  Even distracted walking with resultant injuries is becoming a threat, with people bumping into each other on busy sidewalks or stepping out into traffic.

   A recent Baylor University study of college students, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, found that women spend an average of ten hours daily on their cellphones, while men spend an average of eight hours.  Subtract sleep time and that doesn’t leave many hours for reality.  Sixty percent of all students queried admitted they may have Screen Addiction. 

   Nobody seems to know what to do about it. 

  There are increasing pressures that deepen the addiction through thousands upon thousands of apps.  A Hilton app lets you use your phone as a room key.  Restaurants and supermarkets and stores are encouraging you to use your phone as an ordering and checkout tool, allowing them to operate with fewer employees.  Theme parks have navigational and ride-wait-time apps that speed customer flow.  There are gadgets that tether your phone to you so you seldom even have to put it down or into a pocket or purse. 

   And all the while robotic web crawlers, lurking invisibly and silently behind our billions of screens, are at work for vast data centers like Facebook and Google and Amazon, tirelessly watching and listening and gathering and storing away data on every addict, from our educational and employment and medical and political and social histories to our dining and entertainment preferences to our brands of underwear.

   Is this an early sign of artificial intelligence (AI) creeping into our lives, eventually to seek more control over us than it obviously already has?  Robots are not only building our vehicles but are also taking over driving them.  Computers are piloting and landing planes and controlling our habitats and talking cordially with us and even generating news reports. 

   We lost one of our great minds recently.  Before he left us, Stephen Hawking warned humankind about the insidious encroachment of AI.  So far, there’s no evidence I can see that anyone has listened to him.

   We’re all too mesmerized by—and intimately occupied with—our wonderful cellphones.