New name, ё!

I am now the proud owner of an official document with my new name: Djon Maksvini. No, I am not trying to rediscover my Italian roots, and a quick check of my residential history would establish that this is also not my porn name.  How did this name come about? The short answer:  the Russians are to blame. To quote J.K. Simmons from Burn After Reading, “The Russians??”

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Media(n) Math

As my readers (both of them) may have noticed, this blog is all over the place. That may or may not be a good thing. It’s probably a reflection of the fact that my mind is all over the place, which also may or may not be a good thing, but it certainly makes it difficult to do math for a living. In any case, beyond food, language, and the like, one of the issues I wanted to discuss is the use, and unfortunately more often the misuse, of math/science in the media and more generally the “real world”. There are others out there that are much more polished about this kind of thing than I am, but I shall try my hand at it regardless.

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On Nut Butters

As a follow-up to my recent post on Cashew Butter, take a look at what The Onion has to say on the matter.

I sometimes feel that every event in my life has an appropriate Simpsons quote or reference to an Onion item. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I think it’s time for a math post. Yesterday was Friday the 13th (of May, 2011). I don’t consider myself superstitious, but it got me wondering as to how frequent such a date is. To be definite, let’s ask the question: How many Friday the 13ths have there been in the past 1,000 years, i.e. since May 14 1011?

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I was riding my bike along Boulevard St-Joseph in Montreal’s East End, and I did a double-take when I first saw this:

For a Kafkaesque shopping experience

You might guess that this means “Market of the Store” – redundant at best, nonsensical at worst. I remembered after a moment that store means blind  (as in the window covering) so it suddenly makes a lot more sense, even though I still find it a tad excessive to have a mega-store devoted to window accoutrements. I did not actually go in, however – perhaps their focus is not quite so narrow and their merchandise actually runs the home-decoration gamut. To make things more interesting they could have called it Marché des Jalousies – now that would make for some ambiguity!

This is of course not the only false friend between English and French. A fairly well-known one is préservatif – if your jam is made with préservatifs, then it is not only not organic but will have some of these in it. I worked for one summer at a store called Canadian Tire – kind of a cross between a Target and a hardware store, with auto parts (although the branch that I worked at ironically did not sell tires). Every week, items that were on sale would get bright yellow stickers with Solde on them, this being the French word for Sale. An anglophone customer got belligerent with me, wondering why we were going to such pains to highlight items that had already been solde out?

Cashew Shrimp

I will occasionally post about food here. Be warned that it will not be along the lines of “I got this great recipe from the Joy of Cooking/some other blog/The Barefoot Naked Iron Ace of Chefs Show and I followed it to the letter and by golly it turned out great and here are some pretty pictures!” Rather, I expect it to be about 80% “there’s a reason people don’t cook like this” and 20% “you wouldn’t think that this would work, but it actually sorta does”.

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My mom and I will be spending two weeks in Moscow in June, staying at the Cosmos Hotel. Their website has been designed by someone who clearly is familiar with English yet is not quite ‘there’:

For when you’re feeling down.

I am incredibly bemused at the thought of this little critter sidling up to me in the dining room of some mysterious hotel and saying “looking good, Mr. M.!”.

This being said, I am resisting the urge to turn this blog into an annotated version of sites such as Engrish.com. If you’re unaware, it’s a compendium of highly witty and/or nonsensical mistranslations into English from around the world, mostly East Asia. Here’s a typical entry:

Anyone want to translate the Japanese?

Do I find such sites offensive? No. Should I? Possibly, but that’s a debate for another time. Do I find them funny? Oh yes. But I don’t want to imitate them.

I would also soon get out of my depths if I tried to perform genuine  scholarly analysis on this kind of thing — I am not a professional linguist, nor do I speak any non-European languages. If that’s what you’re looking for, Language Log has some very in-depth and enlightened discussions on such matters.

This is not to say that I will not post such comically-worded things from time to time; I simply want to keep this place from becoming a repository of posts on the theme “look-at-silly-foreigners-stumble-with-English”.