Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

January Links

Posted by Neal on January 16, 2010

We’ll start off with a really cool video that’s been in the news recently (and will be featured Monday the 18th on Rachael Ray’s show): An Oregon high school rivalry led to some video challenges posted on YouTube. Student Javier Caceres got the cooperation of what seems to be his whole school, along with his video-production teacher and classmates, to do a music video. It’s a lip-sync of Hall & Oates’s “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” (featured in the movie 500 Days of Summer, which is undoubtedly how these teenagers come to be doing a video of a song from the 1980s). The linguistics-related piece is the most interesting part: Even though the song sounds normal, and the lip-syncing is pretty good (different students lip-sync with different levels of proficiency), it gradually becomes clear that this video is playing backwards, with cheerleader pompons jumping from the floor to their hands, etc. Therefore, when these actions were filmed originally, it must have been the lip-syncing that was done backwards. The story I read talked about the hours Caceres sent listening to the song and figuring out what mouth gestures the performers would have to make. This is an amazing phonetic achievement! It would have been even more amazing if they had done it karaoke-style, providing their own vocals. In that case, he’d have had to have the singers:

  1. pre-aspirate their stops,
  2. post-nasalize (and not pre-nasalize) vowels after nasal consonants,
  3. put in [ʒ] before the [d] in the backwards dreams, and make sure not to let the [i] turn into an [I] before the [r]: [zmirʒd] (zmeerzhd), not [smIrd] (smeared). (More on that in a later post.)

But impressive, nonetheless.

Here’s a Wishydig post from 2006, on the unusual powers of coronal sounds (i.e., the ones made with the tongue tip: [t, d, n, s, z] and a few others).

On day I heard on NPR that full-body scanning “may have prevented” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from getting on the plane he tried to bomb. “Well, obviously not!” I thought. “Everyone knows he made it onto the plane!” Then I dimly remembered someone writing about how some speakers say may have in situations where people like me would say might have. I tracked it down: It was one of Jan Freeman’s blog posts, and when I found it, I discovered that Jan had imported the posts from her Boston Globe-affiliated blog to a non-Globe-affiliated blog she calls Throw Grammar from the Train.

Lastly for this batch of links is an episode of a web comic called Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto. (HT to @erthsister, via @GrammarGirl.) I was further interested in this web site because of a couple of interesting words/phrases. One was weekdaily, which describes when new episodes of GWS come out. It took me a few seconds, but it suddenly clicked and I completed the analogy: day:daily::weekday:weekdaily. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard such a useful word before. It’s in Urban Dictionary, but not yet in OED. In the FAQ, one question was whether the characters were “based off” people in real life. Corsetto repeats this phrase in her answer: based off (as opposed to based on). I’ve read about this construction before, but can’t remember where (can’t find it in Language Log or the American Dialect Society mailing list archives, though it does come up tangentially in a Linguistic Mystic post). This was the first one I noticed on my own in the wild. CoCA gives 53,590 hits for based on; 14 for based off, with the earliest from 1993. Google News Archive has earlier hits for based off, but a lot of them are examples like based off the coast of Lebanon, so I haven’t got a good fix on how long based off without a coast has been around.

9 Responses to “January Links”

  1. The Ridger said

    One Ukrainian-language web newspaper I read tags itself as a ежеминутная интернет-газета (minute-ly internet newspaper), with ezhe-, a prefix used in words like “daily, weekly, monthly” and meaning “each, every”, attached to the word for minute. It works beautifully in Ukrainian and Russian, not so well in English.

  2. Nancy said

    Javier may have been inspired by the band Mutemath. Their video for “Typical” (released in 2007) made headlines for the same reason–they performed all parts backwards. Vocals, drums, everything.

    You can see the vocalist practicing his part from 1:59 through 2:16 in this making-of video:

  3. Nancy said

    Oh, I’m sorry. I thought I was just adding a link, not pulling the entire video onto this page. I didn’t realize that would happen.

  4. Blar said

    Here is a list of some other backwards music videos. Here is a youtube video that’s been going around that actually does have the vocals sung backwards.

  5. Estel said

    “based off of” gets some Google News hits slightly pre-1993 that aren’t in the coast sense, the earliest being Dec. 1990:

    “Fun Saver sale savings of up to $600 per couple is based off of travel …” [and there the snippet is cut off]

    And here’s a nice double example of “based off” … “based off of” from Dec. 1991:

    “Based off this analysis it was decided that it was best not (to) attempt a direct approach to Scott based off of the closeness of their communications.”

  6. The Shorewood folks posted the original recording—played forward, with sound—and it shows that a couple of students did in fact sing backwards:

    Also, need I remind you of Weird Al’s video for Amish Paradise? (And the behind-the-scenes clip that I just found.)

    • Neal said

      Thanks for the link. I guess I’m shamefully behind the curve when it comes to backwards singing on music videos — I never saw the Weird Al video until tonight!

  7. michael said

    thanks for the lazarus link! resurrecting a post after 4 years.

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