Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2013 March 1

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March 1[edit]

Adjective and Noun word lists.[edit]

I'm trying to find a list of the most common adjectives and nouns...things that everyone would easily recognize and understand. I need several hundred - preferably more like a thousand of each kind of word. The application is to generate an easily-remembered code-phrase for some software I'm writing by picking one word from each list at random. I'd like to end up with things that really stick in people's memory - like "Green Elephant", "Tiny Shoe", "Scaly Racecar" - and to try to avoid similar combinations like "Green Popcorn" and "Greenish Popcorn"...but I can probably hand-edit the list to avoid the worst of those.

The "Basic English" word lists come close to what I want - but the resulting list would be too small for my needs.

To keep the resulting mental images easy to remember, I'd also like to somehow limit the nouns to physical objects like animals, tools, that kind of thing - and not include Basic English nouns like "work", "class", "change". There is Basic English picture wordlist - which is perfect - but only contains 200 words.

Is there a name for that subset of nouns that describe physical objects that I might find a list of? SteveBaker (talk) 14:23, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

To answer your final question, the usual term is "concrete nouns". Deor (talk) 15:08, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
Swadesh list might be a starting point... AnonMoos (talk) 16:21, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
You might be better off with the General Service List; but you'd have to winnow out the terms which are not concrete nouns by hand. --Orange Mike | Talk 22:54, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
How about Concrete Nouns - a Partial List. (More than 1,000 on it, by my count.) There's a 1,000-strong List of Adjectives at, which wikipedia doesn't let me link to. (talk) 18:21, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
The only list of concrete adjectives I'm finding is this one that you have to pay for ($1) (and maybe also be a teacher?) - do you know any teachers to ask? Maybe this kind of thing is a common educational resource. (talk) 18:28, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
See Rainbow codes for an historical example of this, incidentally. Tevildo (talk) 20:37, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
(That's what gave me the idea!) SteveBaker (talk) 01:42, 2 March 2013 (UTC)

Google Translate[edit]

When I use Google Translate to translate single Japanese sentences into English, it very often misunderstands the sentence in a fundamental way and produces something entirely wrong or gibberish. However, when I use it to translate whole pages, I can usually glean some reasonable sense from the translation. Despite doing some tests, I still can't really figure out whether this is because I am simply picking out keywords and then mentally correcting or filling in the glue that Google Translate is not getting correct, or whether Google Translate is inherently doing a much better job when it has a larger chunk of text. Does anyone have any ideas about this? (talk) 14:41, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

This question might be better asked at the computer desk. --Orange Mike | Talk 15:39, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
It doesn't seem to make a difference for units longer than a sentence. I tested by trying to translate a couple of paragraphs (from the ja.wikipedia article of the day), then taking a sentence from within that passage and trying to translate it on its own. The translation of that sentence was identical. (talk) 16:26, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
I actually think the question is appropriate here -- to the best of my knowledge Google Translate does not handle groups of sentences in any way different from a series of individual sentences. What is happening, I believe, is that you are seeing the effects of context on your ability to understand English sentences. It's astonishing how strong that effect is. For a classic example, try to make sense of the following paragraph taken from a 1972 paper by John Bransford and Martha Johnson:
The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups depending on their makeup. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo any particular endeavor. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications from doing too many can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. The manipulation of the appropriate mechanisms should be self-explanatory, and we need not dwell on it here. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one can never tell.
Then unhide the following, and re-read the paragraph again.
Unhide this to see the context
The following discussion has been closed. Please do not modify it.
Doing laundry.
Looie496 (talk) 16:49, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
Classic demonstration of context there. I'm quite sure Looie and 111 are right about Google translate working at only the sentence level - that has been my own experience, and I'm sure I read it somewhere as well. It is the same if you do things in one word sentences, eg. if you go ibant. obscuri. sola. sub. nocte. per. umbram...., with the hope of getting a word-by-word gloss, it achieves nothing. I was thinking I could create a full "interlinear" gloss, with the specific definition of each Latin word chosen according to the surrounding words. Instead, it is exactly the same as entering the words one at a time. So yes, I agree you must be using context yourself, as Google sadly has no idea of it beyond the sentence. IBE (talk) 19:50, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
  • Thanks for the helpful replies. When I was thinking about this earlier, I somehow failed to focus on the essential question of whether Google even does translate sentences differently depending on the wider context. (talk) 20:42, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

ap in welsh names[edit]

How is ap in Welsh names such as Rhys ap Gruffydd pronounced in modern Welsh and nowadays in English if the two differ? IPA or rhyming words will help. Thanks. μηδείς (talk) 19:01, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

For starters, there's IPA on the Dafydd ap Gruffydd article, but no indication whether that's the modern pronunciation or not. [1] suggests a as in cat, and the p voiced to b before vowels. (talk) 19:38, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
I'm quite certain that "ap" rhymes with "cap" (a longer sound would be accented with a circumflex). The English pronunciation really ought to follow the Welsh. Alansplodge (talk) 00:45, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
Sorry, it seems that it's not always accented, but I'm still certain that it's a short vowel in this instance. Welsh Names - PRONUNCIATION AND PATRONYMICS tells you everything about "ap" except how it is pronounced. Alansplodge (talk) 00:53, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
I am fairly ignorant of Welsh except for what you'd get in an introductory sketch, dd being edh and u being i and so forth. My curiosity, based on experience with other tongues, was whether ap had the "cup", "cap", or "father" vowel", and whether the p was voiced, silent, or otherwise lenited. I know Upjohn comes from ap John. But that doesn't mean it's not just a bare schwa or something more exotic at this point. μηδείς (talk) 02:11, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
"dd" is a soft "th" in English orthography, like "these". Alansplodge (talk) 09:27, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
Yes, that's what I meant by edh above, which is the name of the letter ð. μηδείς (talk) 19:52, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
Ah, Old English, ok. Incidentally, the same sound is represented by "dh" in Cornish. Alansplodge (talk) 00:47, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
Edh is the name used for the letter in the IPA and most English-language Germanic studies. See also æsh and ezh and eng (and yogh although I don't think that has a corresponding symbol in the IPA). μηδείς (talk) 02:47, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
Not a schwa. As in French papa rather than SE England cat. Itsmejudith (talk) 10:26, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
Welsh does have a schwa sound, and it isn't always unstressed, but not in the word ap, which is just [ap]. Stressed schwa is spelled y in a nonfinal syllable, e.g. cyllell [ˈkəɬɛɬ] 'knife'. Angr (talk) 16:20, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
And the p is neither voiced nor lenited. --ColinFine (talk) 17:53, 5 March 2013 (UTC)

Natural and Unnatural[edit]

I am referring to "nature" as in Nature. I would think the opposite of "natural" is "unnatural" or "synthetic", as is the case with "natural diamonds" dug from the ground and "synthetic diamonds" from a laboratory. However, by the chemical composition alone, they are both made of pure carbon, which means that they are both supposed to be "natural", right? Or perhaps the origin of the material is most important in determining the market price of the diamond. How does one tell the difference between something made in nature and something made by human? Maybe a human product (Mount Rushmore) looks like it is created intentionally while a natural product (a cave) looks like it is created irrationally or spontaneously or without pattern and order? But that doesn't make sense, when there are really theories, equations, and laws about how the universe works, and sometimes nature can produce things that resemble man-made structures, as if nature itself behaves like a person, intentionally creating or pre-programming things to work a certain way indefinitely. I wonder if a scientific theory would be man-made or natural. Personally, I find this mind-boggling and confusing. If anyone can clearly define the difference between something made by nature and something made by a human, then that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. (talk) 19:45, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

You mention Rushmore as something obviously made by humans. Look at Wave Rock, which might also seem to have human intervention, but did not. -- Jack of Oz [Talk] 20:42, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
Can such a distinction truly be made? Why is a beaver dam or a beehive different than a skyscraper? A living creature takes raw materials, manipulates them and builds something new.    → Michael J    21:18, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
According to, sometimes the same substance can be natural in one situation and artificial in another situation. Defining naturalness is one thing, but identifying it is another thing.
Wavelength (talk) 21:38, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
Identification seems to be the harder part. (talk) 21:45, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
By the way, an antonym of natural that's better than unnatural or synthetic in the sense under discussion is artificial. Deor (talk) 21:48, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
It seems to me that "unnatural" is often used to mean "made by humans". People will add "...rather than nature", but humans are obviously part of nature, so that doesn't make much sense. HiLo48 (talk) 21:57, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
Traditionally, at least, unnatural has usually been applied to things that are supposedly contrary to human nature: a mother who mistreats her child, certain sex acts, and so forth. Perhaps some people are using it in a different sense nowadays. Deor (talk) 22:07, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
It is possible to distinguish between a left-handed amino acid and a right-handed amino acid. It is possible to distinguish between a left-handed nucleotide and a right-handed nucleotide. In living organisms, all amino acids are left-handed and all nucleotides are right-handed. More information is at
Wavelength (talk) 22:00, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
According to, both natural diamonds and synthetic diamonds can have impurities. A diamond may be a blood diamond or involve child labour in the diamond industry. The working paper "Ecological Comparison of Synthetic versus Mined Diamonds" is at
Wavelength (talk) 23:50, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
  • I suggest you look at genus–differentia definition. Concepts are defined in part by that from which they are contrasted. Natural can be contrasted to unnatural, (by nature versus not by nature, essence, make-up) or to artificial; by external design rather than spontaneously internal. Fundamentally, a thing's nature is what it is if nothing external interferes with it. The opposition natural versus chemical is a rather derived and unconsidered modern one, which depends on the naive and false idea that anything chemical is artificial, i.e., made by artifice. The unfortunate notion that artifice is evil is a conceit of the great Romantic artists and the greatest, Tolkien. μηδείς (talk) 02:23, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
In Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, Monsanto prosecuted the canola farmer Percy Schmeiser for allegedly growing Roundup Ready (that is, glyphosate-resistant) canola without having paid a licence fee for the patented seed of the genetically modified organism. The lawsuit involved the ability to distinguish between natural canola and genetically modified canola.
Wavelength (talk) 03:36, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
Did it? Is that what the wording of the case really said? That suggests that they had a clear definition of what natural means in natural canola. What is that definition? What's unnatural about genetically modified canola? Where's the 100% clear definition that confirms that view? If a human makes something, is it unnatural? HiLo48 (talk) 19:39, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
The usage here is contextual, one of convenience. The court was not interested in officially defining the word natural once and for all. The word was simply being used to refer to canola that didn't show the genetic modification. They could simply have replaced the word natural with genetically unmodified. That would in no way have affected Monsanto's suit. μηδείς (talk) 19:46, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
In my message of 03:36, 2 March 2013 (UTC), I myself chose the word "natural" to describe genetically unmodified canola. I do not know whether the lawsuit used the word in that way, but this page has a section with the heading "(Early 1999): Monsanto Executive Acknowledges Cross-Pollination between GM and Natural Plants".
Wavelength (talk) 22:00, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
The Bible has related passages at Romans 1:18–32 (where some activities are referred to as being unnatural) and 11:17–24 (where natural branches are contrasted with grafted branches).
Wavelength (talk) 22:03, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
As a pseudo-history book once pointed out, the British first slapped the Intolerable Acts on the American Colonists; followed by the Abominable Acts; and then the Unnatural Acts. War was inevitable. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 15:41, 3 March 2013 (UTC)

Semicolon and coordinating conjunction combined?[edit]

I have heard that a semicolon may be combined with a coordinating conjunction, provided that there are one or more commas in the sentences combined. E.g.

Despite all obstacles in my path, thought the whole world might be against me, and though armies might rise up against me, I will stand strong in the face of all my troubles; and though I might fall, I will rise again to overcome.

I have been unable to find a reliable source for this, although I have found it several places around the internet.

Here it says:

3. You can use a semicolon before coordinating conjunctions or before any elements (not necessarily introduced by coordinating conjunctions) when these are either long or contain commas or other punctuation marks within them.
Staff on this airliner may come from such European countries as France and Germany; or they may come from Asian countries such as Singapore and Korea; or they may come from Latin American countries such as Brazil and Peru.
These elements can number more than two, thus creating a list of elements. The semicolon is needed to distinguish between the usually long elements, which can be phrases or clauses.

It seems that this rule would make sense in the semicolon's traditional capacity as a sort of supercomma to avoid ambiguity (multiple independent clauses with internal punctuation), but I haven't been able to find a citation for this rule in a grammar manual or style guide.

I am unable to find a reliable source for this, and I'd like to either be able to find one or figure out where this then false rule originated.

Thanks, -Nano (talk) 22:33, 1 March 2013 (UTC)

Use of the semicolon as a super-comma is common practice, sanctioned by Fowler (who warns, however, against using semicolons in a series that is itself connected to the rest of the sentence only by a comma -- a strict hierarchy must be observed). -- Elphion (talk) 23:02, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
From the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., §6.57: "Normally, an independent clause introduced by a conjunction is preceded by a comma (see 6.28). In formal prose, a semicolon may be used instead—either to effect a stronger, more dramatic separation between clauses or when the second independent clause has internal punctuation." Lesgles (talk) 23:15, 1 March 2013 (UTC)