SORITES.

Reading David Runciman’s essay “Why Not Eat an Eclair?” in the 9 October 2008 LRB (it’s about why people vote despite the fact that their individual vote will not count), I hit this passage (which, among other things, explains the title):

Tuck’s threshold argument is compelling but it skirts around a significant fact about real-world elections that I highlighted earlier: although in theory it only requires one vote to take someone over the top, in practice, the closer you get to that threshold the harder it is to find it, as the mist of political enmity descends. One way to address this is provided by Tuck’s account of other cases where the threshold seems to disappear the closer you get to it. This happens when the borderline between two states of affairs is unavoidably vague, even though the process of change is cumulative. Baldness is a classic example. I go bald by losing my hair one strand at a time, but the loss of no one strand is enough in itself to move me from the category of non-bald to bald. So if I consider the loss of my hair on a strand by strand basis, I can’t go bald, not even if I lose it all. The same kind of reasoning can also apply the other way, say to fatness. No single éclair is ever going to make me fat, so I might as well eat this one. But if no single éclair will ever make me fat then, having eaten one yesterday, I might as well eat another one today, and so on, until I become the thing that one éclair at a time isn’t supposed to make me: fat. These are known as ‘sorites’ paradoxes (the ‘sorites’ being a ‘heap’ of the kind that ought never to arise if you add to it one grain of wheat at a time). It is not easy to say how they should be resolved. But Tuck shows that the best way to think about these puzzles is to consider them as not that different from the problem of voting.

All of this stuff is interesting, but what struck me from a linguistic point of view is the use of the word sorites. It is indeed from Greek σωρείτης ‘fallacy of the heap’ (from σωρός ‘heap’; in English it’s pronounced suh-RITE-eze, and despite appearances, it’s singular), but according to Merriam-Webster, it means “an argument consisting of propositions so arranged that the predicate of any one forms the subject of the next and the conclusion unites the subject of the first proposition with the predicate of the last”—a very different thing. The OED agrees, but has a sense 3 “A sophistical argument turning on the definition of a ‘heap’,” which has one citation, from 1768-74: Abraham Tucker, The light of nature pursued II. 140 “The like attack as was made of old by the Academics and Sceptics against the judgment of the senses, with their sophism of the sorites, or argument of the ‘heap’.”
So my question to those who actually know and use the word is: does that third OED sense, with its lonely centuries-old quotation for support, represent a current sense that will have more citations when they get around to revising the entry, or is Runciman misrepresenting current usage?

Comments

  1. This is definitely the term of choice among philosophers, at least in my limited experience (one graduate-level Philosophy of Language class). It even has its own entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sorites-paradox/

  2. I only use the word when referring to the paradox. I also pronounce it with a long o (and really do recall having used it aloud at work not so long ago in some discussion about some programming decision, like when is more logging too much logging).
    The encyclopedia entry to which davidf links also explains how the two senses are related. The paradox arises from a sorites (which I would call a polysyllogism or more honestly wouldn’t have need of a special word for) that repeats the add-one/sub-one proposition.

  3. davidf is right. Philosophers use “sorites” in Runciman’s sense.
    (philosophy grad student here)

  4. Thanks very much, all of you! I now know to trust my readers over M-W, to whom I shall send a stiff note of reproach and a suggestion for improving their next edition.

  5. mollymooly says:

    This chronological bibliography shows very little the first-edition OED could have used for sense 3; whereas nobody these days talks much about syllogisms, except historically.

  6. Actually, σωρός means ‘heap (of corn)’; σωρ(ε)ίτης means precisely ‘the fallacy of the heap’.

  7. Thanks, fiosachd; I changed the post accordingly.

  8. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Much as I would love to, I don’t think I’m ever going to be the kind of person who uses sorites paradox in my general conversation. Well, I might now I know what it means, but I bet there are heaps of other such phrases MMcM knows that I don’t. I’m not a better cook than MMcM; a better driver, maybe? A better gardener? Kinder to animals? Probably not. Better looking? Who knows, life isn’t fair.

  9. Fowler gives both senses (in first and second editions).

  10. The “better driver” question in fact has something like a sorites paradox in it. Is someone who lives in a big city and does not drive at all (no driver’s license, even) a better driver? They cause fewer traffic accidents and get fewer speeding tickets. But maybe not. So, suppose they borrow someone’s car and drive it a few feet someplace safe and legal like in a private drive. Is that enough? If not, how much would be?

  11. John Emerson says:

    The “slippery slope” is a version of the sorites paradox. It involves the extra assumption that since there’s no clear boundary that can be a stopping point, once you get on the slope you slide all the way to the bottom.

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    This is good, thanks guys. I’ll probably be able to work it into a conversation by tomorrow. Where does it pop up in philosophy?

  13. J. Del Col says:

    I’m familiar with sorites as the Paradox of the Beard.
    There’s also the problem of Theseus’ ship, which might be seen as a variant of sorites.
    If Theseus replaces all the parts of his ship over time, is it still the same ship?

  14. J. Del Col says:

    That should be “Fallacy of the Beard.”
    Sorry.

  15. If Theseus replaces all the parts of his ship over time, is it still the same ship?
    Or how about us? If matter is in constant flux (the atoms, molecules that constitute us), when are we different people? Deep, huh?

  16. The definition in M-W’s unabridged (W3I) is a study in obscurity:

    an abridged form of stating a series of syllogisms in a series of propositions so arranged that the predicate of each one that precedes forms the subject of each one that follows and the conclusion unites the subject of the first proposition with the predicate of the last proposition

    Here are SOED’s senses:

    1 Logic. A series of propositions in which the predicate of each is the subject of the next; an instance of this. M16.

    2 transf. A series or succession of things. Now rare. M17.

    3 A form of sophism leading by gradual steps from truth to absurdity and based on the absence of precise, esp. numerical, limits to terms such as ‘heap’. rare. L18.

    As commenters have confirmed above, the term is certainly current in philosophy. The general topic of vagueness is huge in the trade, with a good number of articles and monographs addressing it. See the first paragraph of “Vagueness-Adaptive Logic: A Pragmatical Approach to Sorites Paradoxes”, Bart Van Kerkhove and Guido Vanackere, Studia Logica, 2003, Vol. 75, No. 3, pp. 383-411:

    Sorites paradoxes have been haunting generations of logicians, ever since their original formulation in early Greece. In recent history, attempts at their solution clearly intensified twice. A first time, in the former half of the twentieth century, following the birth of modern logic. And again, more considerably, in the latter half of that century, with the rise of alternative logics.

    The term is currently used, I think, in more or less the ways illustrated in the dictionaries, but with wider and more robust application.
    Never cared for this sorites business myself. Not my area.

  17. Straw that broke the camel’s back. (“Drop that made the glass spill” in Danish).
    Old story about a farmer clearing his field of stones, piling them into the horsecart:
    “If you can drag that one, then you can drag this one, too.” He said and threw in another stone.
    “And if you can drag that one, you can drag this one, too.”
    And so on, and so forth.
    When the horse couldn’t move the cart, the farmer then got aboard and started throwing rocks out:
    “Well, if you can’t drag this one, you can’t drag that one, either.” And he threw out yet another rock.
    And so at the end of the day, the farmer drove his empty cart home.

  18. A.J.P. Crown says:

    And so at the end of the day, the farmer drove his empty cart home.
    See, this is what happens to people who don’t read Language Hat.

  19. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Or how about us?
    Yes. I was thinking the same thing. Doesn’t every cell in our body replace itself every ninety days? I’m sure I read it on the side of a milk carton.

  20. Then there’s the “one hoss shay” that was so tightly built that it didn’t wear out but one day just fell apart into a heap of dust. Also known to economists as the “light bulb model of depreciation”.

  21. Wasn’t there something about Milo of Crotona lifting a calf over his head and continuing to do it every day until the calf had grown into an ox? My father used to mention it, anyway, except that he said Milo of Croatia.

  22. J. Del Col says:

    Jamessal:
    We are indeed constantly renewing ourselves. At least that’s what House said the other night. A new kidney every few years, etc. a new outer skin layer every few days. We never can feel like our old selves, I guess.

  23. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Then there’s the “one hoss shay” that was so tightly built that it didn’t wear out but one day just fell apart into a heap of dust.
    One of the most important safety features used by structural engineers is to design load-bearing elements to fail gradually and show evidence of failure (such as cracks in concrete) when collapse is immanent — rather than just letting them go off pop like a balloon.

  24. A.J.P. Crown says:

    House just got it from Jamessal.

  25. Yes, I called him at the Princeton-Plainsboro hospital (just down the road from me) and edumucated him.
    I hadn’t wanted to link to this talk before, because Dawkins can annoy me, but it’s relevant and maybe even worth watching: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/richard_dawkins_on_our_queer_universe.html

  26. John Emerson says:

    One of the most important safety features used by structural engineers is to design load-bearing elements to fail gradually and show evidence of failure (such as cracks in concrete) when collapse is immanent — rather than just letting them go off pop like a balloon.
    Engineers are no fun. I like that “BOOM!” experience.
    They’re bad at designing cruise ships, too.

  27. John Emerson says:

    One of the most important safety features used by structural engineers is to design load-bearing elements to fail gradually and show evidence of failure (such as cracks in concrete) when collapse is immanent — rather than just letting them go off pop like a balloon.
    Engineers are no fun. I like that “BOOM!” experience.
    They’re bad at designing cruise ships, too.

  28. A.J.P. Crown says:

    John, did you have a nasty cruise experience? Do tell us what went wrong (with clues, so that I can guess which cruise line it was).

  29. I first encountered the word in Lewis Carroll’s Symbolic Logic, where he used it in the M-W sense — a series of categorical statements interrelated in such a way that they could be resolved to single statement. This web page has an example of one of Carroll’s soriteses.

  30. Siganus Sutor says:

    Engineers are no fun. I like that “BOOM!” experience.
    In this case it’s a pity you were not in Paris in May 2004. You would have enjoyed it a lot.

  31. Siganus Sutor says:

    > Sorites
    It reminds me of that bank employee who managed to get the cents of many bank accounts transferred to his own account. People didn’t notice the missing cents — actually they didn’t care — but the guy was charged for stealing them. Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf, isn’t it?

  32. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Engineers are no fun.

    A section of ceiling 30 metres long and 20 metres wide crashed to the ground …”It’s a very serious issue” says Scott Steedman, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineers, in London… the investigators would examine “…whether they have unwittingly imposed a funny load combination on particular elements”.

    New Scientist, May 2004

  33. Qui vole un œuf vole un bœuf, isn’t it?
    Qui vole une poule vole toute une volée de bœufs sur le toit, je dirais même. Ah, les maximes martiennes. We can’t get enough of them, ugye?

  34. A.J.P. Crow says:

    Sig, what did they decide caused the Paris collapse?

  35. Siganus Sutor says:

    I suppose it’s due to people being overweight nowadays. Or maybe “they have unwittingly imposed a funny load combination on particular elements”: the Brits use a safety factor of 1.4 on dead loads and 1.6 on live loads (people, their dog, their suitcases, the furniture they’re sitting on, etc.) whereas the French use only 1.35 and 1.5, which gives a clear evidence about how bad French design is. The problem is that these French “ignorance coefficients” (as a former boss used to call them) have been chosen for the Euronorm. If I were you I would now watch out every time I had to pass under a mere lintel.
    In fact I don’t know. I shall put my hat on, take my pipe and my magnifying glass and start investigating.
    (Noetica, Maxime is a man.)

  36. A.J.P. Crow says:

    Also the French are carrying all that Louis Vuitton luggage. i always thought of the safety factor as leading to safety, not 1,35 instead of 1,4 and your building falls down.
    Ever since I lived in Manhattan and all the terra-cotta decoration started falling off the old buildings, I never leave the house without putting on a crash helmet and shoulder protectors.

  37. (Noetica, Maxime is a man.)
    Vraiment? Petit Robert nous dit:
    maxime [maksim] n. f.

    2. Spécial[ement] Formule lapidaire énonçant une règle morale ou une vérité générale. Þ aphorisme, sentence. Maxime populaire, traditionnelle (Þ 1. adage, dicton, dit, proverbe)…
    Il faut le mettre au parfum sans plus attendre!

  38. More places to be for that BOOOOM experience: Kansas City Hyatt Regency in 1981, I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis in 2007, and (2003) you’re not even safe on your back porch in Chicago anymore without a parachute.
    So are these load-bearing elements not showing evidence of failure when collapse is immanent, or like the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around to hear it, there’s just no one paying attention.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    collapse is immanent
    I think that you(s) mean imminent (could happen any minute) rather than immanent (inherent in the nature of the subject).
    Maxime/maxime
    Maxime is the name of a man. One of the men with that name had a famous place in Paris, Chez Maxime. maxime is a feminine noun, as found in the Petit Robert.

  40. And a very eminent man, Marie-Lucie. To complete the set: imminent, immanent, eminent, the rarer emanant, and the much rarer immoment (SOED: “Of no moment; trifling”).
    “Je vais ou je vas mourir, l’un et l’autre se dit ou se disent.”
    – Dominique Bouhours (1628–1702), famous apocryphal last words of a model pedant
    That ”vas” is interesting, yes? Nowhere in Petit Robert, but amply attested elsewhere as archaic and sometimes colloquial (see Grevisse, for example). The ”se dit” is doubtful though, ugye? Anyway, the exactly wording is variously reported.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    Doesn’t every cell in our body replace itself every ninety days?

    Most take longer — there’s a lot of variation, though –, and the central nervous system is here to stay.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    There I start reading a thread with a very clear idea of what I want to write, then I read, then I comment, and then I notice I’ve completely forgotten what I originally wanted to write! Here goes: Sorites is a genus of foraminifer, and on its name the whole of Soritacea is built.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    [je vas mourir] That ”vas” is interesting, yes? Nowhere in Petit Robert, but amply attested elsewhere as archaic and sometimes colloquial
    I think it may have been a matter of dialect at the time of Bouhours. In older literature it occurs in the speech of rural characters. It is still used in Canada, although now frowned upon as many people aspire to more standard speech.
    se dit/se disent: here there may be confusion between l’un ou l’autre (singular) and l’un et l’autre (plural).

  44. here there may be confusion between l’un ou l’autre (singular) and l’un et l’autre (plural)
    Yes. In fact l’un ou l’autre is given as a variant in Bouhours’s supposed derniers mots – for just that reason, I think. Much discussed on the web. Here, for example.

  45. Sorites is a genus of foraminifer, and on its name the whole of Soritacea is built.
    Thanks heaps, David. It’s a relief to have that sorited out at last.

  46. I think we’ve all earned an éclair, in fact. LH?

  47. A.J.P. Cworn says:

    Thanks for imminent, m-l. I knew ‘immanent’ looked wrong, English being my first language and all, now I see why it doesn’t get picked up.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    As a French speaker I have an advantage for spelling such words, since they have exact counterparts in French, where the vowels are always pronounced distinctively. imminent/immanent is one such pair, and another one is compliment/complement. French speakers will never hesitate about the spelling as the pronunciation is a reliable guide, but confusion is almost inevitable in English.

  49. A.J.P. Crown says:

    So why does English blur all these useful distinctions into a sort of schwa, while other European languages (German, Scandinavian and Italian, to my knowledge, as well as French) don’t — in other words, is it possible to find a reason why such things have happened?

  50. Siganus Sutor says:

    A.J.P. what did they decide caused the Paris collapse
    There are several causes, one being linked to the other, but what triggered the failure seems to be steel struts punching the concrete shell. To provide stiffness to the vault, there was — there still is —, as Noetica could have said, “a complex suite of ligatures and stays”. In other words, outside the tunnel there were steel cables anchored to the top and the bottom of the vault and tightened on top of a number of steel struts resting on the external face of the shell. It is one or some of these struts that went through the concrete (their base was partly embedded in the 30-cm-thick concrete), making the cables suddenly slack, thus reducing to zero the tying up effect they had. So the shell got folded as it couldn’t resist the load on its own, and the whole section of the tunnel went down, killing four people. I just hope that stave churches with their suspended posts are better built.
     
     
    Nijma, remember also the two schools that collapsed in Haiti this month, killing dozens of children. Engineers and builders can be dangerous people indeed, and everyone should take great care when dealing with them. Sometimes they simply don’t know what they are doing.

  51. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah, structural engineers can go nuts. A sorites paradox, the straw that breaks the camels back. They just snap, like a steel cable. I’ve heard that.
    Well, one advantage of wood construction is the wood bits don’t have to go around thinking ‘Oh, wait a minute, am I in tension or am I in compression? …no, I can’t be in tension if I’m all floppy, whoops!’
    Thanks for explaining that Sig.

  52. Couronne: the wood bits don’t have to go around thinking ‘Oh, wait a minute, am I in tension or am I in compression? …no, I can’t be in tension if I’m all floppy, whoops!
    Oh yes they do. That’s call slenderness, which, if too high for a given load, can lead to something quite nasty called buckling. If you take a 100mm pole 10 metres high and you put an elephant on top, guess what will happen.

  53. Siganus Sutor says:

    “That’s called slenderness” — élancement in another dialect, just like toothache.

  54. A.J.P. Crown says:

    guess what will happen.
    Isn’t it in the bible? No, not The Steel Manual, I mean The Bible. Something about how many camels can you fit on a pinhead.
    Does Kreole have different technical words, or do you use the same ones as the French, like élancement?

  55. It looks like building contractors are almost as dangerous as linguists.
    Dancing on the head of a pin–it’s angels that do that, and as far as I know, angels don’t weigh anything, or at least they weigh less than an elephant, although I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in a thread that tackled this subject. It’s camels that go through the eye of a needle. I do remember something about the construction of the temple of Solomon that they couldn’t use any iron tools on it–like for cutting down the cedars of Lebanon and stuff. The temple’s not there any more, so that doesn’t speak very well of their building technique.

  56. stave churches with their suspended posts
    How DO they get stave churches to stay up?

  57. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Skyhooks.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    [Salomon's] temple’s not there any more, so that doesn’t speak very well of their building technique.
    I believe the temple was destroyed deliberately and its disappearance cannot be attributed to its collapsing on its own as the result of inadequate building techniques.

  59. Skyhooks
    From prestressed concrete?

  60. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Engineer Sutor thinks they are houses of cards, but I say they are more like jigsaw puzzles with intersecting jointed connections (like dovetails).

  61. jigsaw puzzles with intersecting jointed connections (like dovetails)
    Stave churches have stayed up a long time, I hear they only are destroyed by teenagers who set them on fire as a prank, also they have a rotting problem where the ends of the planks touch the ground–or was that just the Urnes church?. Reminds me of the Japanese wood joinery which isn’t at all like the ordinary mortise and tenon, but relies on complicated fitting together–maybe this construction also withstands earthquakes?
    (Solomon’s) temple was destroyed deliberately
    Knocking down a building isn’t that easy (or cheap) now and must have been even harder in antiquity. So why do some buildings get knocked down and others not. Like the Bastille and not abu Graib? Or the twin towers and not the Empire State Building? There is an Armenian church in Jerusalem that has been preserved by Arab conquerors several times as well. Is it something about the politics of the time or about the building itself?

  62. marie-lucie says:

    (imminent/immanent, etc)
    So why does English blur all these useful distinctions into a sort of schwa, while other European languages (German, Scandinavian and Italian, to my knowledge, as well as French) don’t — in other words, is it possible to find a reason why such things have happened?
    It is because in English important words have a strong stress on just one syllable of a word, emphasizing the vowel of that syllable, while the vowels in the other syllables become “reduced” as a result, hence the blur. You can see that in words which have derivatives, where the stress moves from one syllable to another, changing the vowels, as in Equal vs equAlity. This is a very common kind of change. For instance, if you compare French words to their equivalents in Spanish or Italian, French often has just e (pronounced schwa or nothing) where the others have a, as in Sp puerta, It porta, Fr porte (all from Latin porta). Similarly Spanish or Italian final o usually does not have an equivalent in French, as with Sp puerto, It porto, Fr port (all from Latin portus).
    The reduction or disappearance of earlier vowels in French is attributed to the influence of the Germanic conquerors (the Franks), who adopted Latin (which by now had become the language of the country) but pronounced it with much stronger stress than the Latin speakers. Although the general population continued to speak their language, I think that they must have imitated the pronunciation of the upper class, who by now were Franks, eventually causing many other changes in the French language. As the Franks conquered mostly the Northern half of the country, their accent did not have so much influence on the ancestor of Occitan, spoken in the Southern half.
    Vowel reduction also did take place in Germanic languages, and was a factor in the disappearance of many suffixes in English and their lack of vowel variety in German (eg just en where earlier versions had -an, -am, -um and others).

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Knocking down a building isn’t that easy (or cheap) now and must have been even harder in antiquity
    Yet so many cities were completely destroyed in antiquity! and specifically, a wooden building is always vulnerable to fire.

  64. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Thanks, marie-lucie. I’ve started a file on my computer to download the LH posts that are the most interesting to me, I just thought of doing it. This is my second (the first was Sili’s about the Danish numbering system). Now I’m going back to get some of your Occitan ones.

  65. “a wooden building is always vulnerable to fire.”
    Wasn’t Solomon’s temple stone? I thought the cedars of Lebanon were for the floor and paneling. I know a great number of the earliest archaeological sites in that part of the world have signs of fire, presumably from warfare, but I’ve seen a huge number of Roman era stone buildings.

  66. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Stave churches and all those old wooden buildings in Norway and Japan don’t touch the ground. They sit on stone walls, or many Norwegian buildings are carried on enormous wooden beams, two feet deep or more, just above the ground. That allows the wood floor to be vented so it can dry out properly (and it keeps mice at bay). Wood must stay either dry or wet, but not be subjected to both if you want to avoid rot. So those beams rest on stone piers or rocks or rubble foundation walls which bring the load to the ground.
    There are two ways to build against earthquakes: you can make a building VERY rigid to withstand the sideways loads or you can be Japanesey and make them like reeds that sway in the wind, giving in to the lateral load a bit. Then, most of these structures use (to some extent) ‘simply-supported’ beams, or ones that rotate relative to their supporting columns and don’t build up the big weird stresses that are found where beams are tied to their columns with bolts or nails or glue. You can sometimes see these simply-supported beam connections if you look up at the underside of a big steel or concrete railway bridge, the beam and column are completely separate with a joint line between them and a circular steel dowel pin keeping them both in place.

  67. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Knocking down a building isn’t that easy (or cheap) now
    The World Trade Center was very easy and cheap to knock down.

  68. A.J.P. Crown says:

    A lot of old stone buildings disappeared because they were subsumed by the surrounding vegetation. In Mexico and Guatemala the Mayan ruins were buried under the stuff for a thousand years. Of course the vegetation doesn’t grow at the same speed, or in such abundance, in the colder regions, which is why you can still see the stave churches. Now don’t ask me why you can still see the Buddhist temples in Thailand.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    We are talking about different things: buildings collapsing because of natural causes (eg stone walls toppled by earthquakes, or pulled apart by ivy or roots growing through them), because of poor building techniques and neglected maintenance, or by deliberate destruction, often followed by cannibalization and recycling of the building materials elsewhere. The latter certainly occurred in antiquity and later.
    Many Roman buildings or structures are still (at least partially) standing, but part of the reason is that no one tried hard to destroy them, or that they have been maintained more or less continuously (besides their often excellent building techniques). In Europe there are many ruins of medieval castles (forts) and churches which were partially destroyed by fire and not repaired: often parts of the walls are standing, but the roof and floors were burnt away. Without a roof, the tops of the walls are vulnerable to snow, rain, wind etc which can eventually topple the stones.
    As for deliberate destruction, places like Nineveh, Troy, Carthage and many more were deliberately destroyed in antiquity. Much is possible when you are determined and have a large labour force handy, as well as plenty of time, even without bulldozers or dynamite.

  70. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Yes, I don’t think we’re just talking about deliberate destruction here, you don’t always have to try. I think the only reason why some 5th Century Greek buildings in particular are still around is that some 18th Century Germans were curious enough to examine and measure them. Otherwise they (including the Elgin Marbles, or whatever you want to call them) might have gone the same way as the others.

  71. The World Trade Center was very easy and cheap to knock down.
    When you count the cost of transporting 12 or 13 people from other countries, living expenses for a year of so, flying lessons, maybe not so cheap. Especially if you consider the cost of the 4 airplanes involved to be “social costs” that were paid by someone, not necessarily the ones with the plan. And did they pay these guys minimum wage?–there might be some Taft-Hartley Act violations here too. And the buildings didn’t come down right away, it took more than a year before they were really “gone”. Not so easy.
    I also suspect that some of these buildings got disappeared because the architect didn’t design enough ladies rooms for them. When you see a plan of Solomon’s Temple, do you see a powder room in there anywhere? No.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    Was there a men’s room in Solomon’s Temple?

  73. Was there a men’s room?
    Hmmm. A lot of people coulda wanted this building gone.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    As a French speaker I have an advantage for spelling such words, since they have exact counterparts in French, where the vowels are always pronounced distinctively. imminent/immanent is one such pair, and another one is compliment/complement. French speakers will never hesitate about the spelling as the pronunciation is a reliable guide

    For fairly recent Romance imports like these — that they’re recent is shown by the fact that they’re stressed on the last syllable –, this holds in German, too; for example, I have no problem with the above examples (imminent doesn’t exist in German, but the other three do) — I have more of a problem actually pronouncing them the same way in English!
    (OK, it gets tricky with separat and Temperatur, but that’s because of the pronunciation of unstressed -er- in German.)
    Older loans, however, were treated differently. All Romance descendants of Latin fenestra are stressed on the second syllable; that syllable is simply gone in German Fenster, and the stress is on the first. The exact same applies to Polish granica “border” and German Grenze (if that was indeed borrowed specifically from Polish, which I’m not sure about; at least some other Slavic languages do stress it on the first rather than the second syllable).
    In sum, the vowel reduction business happened earlier in German than in English, and the spelling kept up with it.

  75. if that was indeed borrowed specifically from Polish
    So saith Lutz Mackensen.

  76. And Old Polish had initial stress, like Czech and Slovak; some peripheral Polish dialects still have it.

  77. Huh. When did the change take place?

Speak Your Mind

*