Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shashi Tharoor on the English language - some errors in his analysis

This article by Shashi Tharoor in the New York Times came up on the BAQC Facebook group earlier today.
An English friend of mine says that he nearly had a heart attack on a flight in the United States when the American pilot announced that the plane would be airborne "momentarily.' 'In British English, the language my friend speaks, "momentarily" means "for a moment," and he thought the pilot was suggesting an imminent crash soon after takeoff. In American English, however, "momentarily" means "in a moment," and the pilot was merely appeasing the impatient passengers.
I had my suspicions that Shashi Tharoor was not, in fact, accurately representing the subject matter. I had my suspicions, that's all. This is not intended to be a commentary on Shashi Tharoor himself. Although I hate to miss out on any opportunity to call into question a politician's motives.

Some of it was pretty clearly false.
A British linguist once told a New York audience that whereas a double negative could make a positive, there was no language in the world in which a double positive made a negative. A heckler put paid to his thesis in forthright American: "Yeah, right."
So, yeah, this is an old joke. "Yeah, yeah" and "Yeah, right" are two instances of usage in the English language where two positives seem to make a negative. But it occurred to me that, besides that problem, Shashi Tharoor was mistaken in ascribing this to the differences between British usage of the English language versus American. It is, in fact, a matter of context. (This would be studied as part of what is known as pragmatics in linguistics.) Even a British speaker of the English could say 'yeah, right' (and also 'yeah, yeah') to imply disagreement. The tone of voice is what would give away the context in this case. Unless, of course, the speaker is a teenager. Those fellows give nothing away.

As for Shashi Tharoor's point on the usage of the word "momentarily", it turns out that Mark Liberman has written up an entire post on this topic.
Cavett wrote: 
When the flight attendant would say, “We will be landing in Chicago momentarily,” I used to enjoy replying, “Will there be time to get off?” But I see the forces of darkness have prevailed, and this and many wrong uses are now deemed acceptable by the alleged guardians of our language, the too-quickly supine dictionary makers. Are they afraid of being judged “not with it”? What ever happened to, “Everybody does it don’t make it right”? 
I chose the quotation because it's an especially clear example of the sentiment that usage, no matter how widespread and how authoritative, doesn't outweigh the peever's sense that a certain usage is somehow morally wrong. But having chosen the passage, I felt in duty bound to check the implication that the evil sense of momentarily is a recent development, limited to ill-educated flight attendants and similar corporate drudges.
It was my understanding too that the word 'momentarily' should be used in the sense of 'for a moment'. People who use the word 'momentarily' in the 'soon' sense may strike some as ill-educated or under-educated but that usage, in fact, has some history to it. It is merely a deprecated usage of the word. It has little do with the differences between British and American English. So, anyway, Shashi Tharoor is quite mistaken on many points in this article. I don't believe much of the other stuff he has written as well. Poor Mr. Tharoor. The trouble with being a politician is nobody believes you even when you are being sincere. Because it is just so hard for anybody to tell.