blog postsIs it "Miss" or "Ms"? A newly-discovered 1885 cite suggests it's MissJul 27, 2010 5:30 pm3322 views A rare occurrence of "Ms." in 1885 suggests that the term is an abbreviation of "Miss." Ever since "Ms." emerged as a marriage-neutral alternative to "Miss" and "Mrs." in the 1970s, linguists have been trying to trace the origins of this new honorific. It turns out that "Ms." is not so new after all. The form goes back at least to the 1760s, when it served as an abbreviation for "Mistress" (remember Shakespeare's Mistress Quickly?) and for "Miss," already a shortened form of "Mistress," which was also sometimes spelled "Mis." The few early instances of "Ms." carried no particular information about matrimonial status (it was used for single or for married women) and no political statement about gender equality. Eventually "Miss" and "Mrs." emerged as the standard honorifics for women, just as "Mr." was used for men ("Master," from which "Mr." derives, was often used for boys, though it's not common today). While "Miss" was often prefixed to the names of unmarried women or used for young women or girls, it could also refer to married women. And "Mrs.," typically reserved for married women, did not always signal marital status (for example, widows and divorced women often continued to use "Mrs."). The spread of "Ms." over the past forty years both simplifies and complicates the title paradigm.Nieuw Amsterdam wants to make Dutch its official languageJul 19, 2010 12:30 am3250 views . . . . . . . Coming off a Fourth of July patriotic high, on July 12th the town board of tiny Homer Township, Illinois (pop. 25,069), made English its official language. Meanwhile 900 miles to the east, the Nieuw Amsterdam City Council (motto: "there are 8 million stories in the naakt stad") may soon opt for official Dutch.ROBOT TEACHERS!!! -- Coming soon, to a classroom near you!!!Jul 11, 2010 4:45 pm6007 views They're coming, and they'll be here by September! Robot teachers, programmed with a single mission: to save our failing schools. Funded by the Frankenstein Foundation, computer engineers in secret mountain laboratories and workshops hidden deep below the desert floor are feverishly soldering chips and circuit boards onto bits of aluminum to create mechanical life forms whose sole purpose is to teach English. We need this invasion of English-teaching robots because, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego, "an unprecedented number of children in the US start public school with major deficits in basic academic skills, including vocabulary skills." So computer scientists at UCSD's Machine Perception Laboratory designed RUBI, a "sociable robot" who successfully taught a group of toddlers ten vocabulary words in only twelve days. RUBI improved the children's word-mastery by a full 25% compared to a control set of words not taught by the mechanical wonder.Revising our freedom: Digital archeology and Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of IndependenceJul 6, 2010 3:15 pm3655 views On the last page of the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote "fellow-subjects," then thought better of a phrase that evoked the very monarch he was challenging, and changed the words to "fellow-citizens." It's no surprise that Jefferson was a writer who revised: every writer tweaks and fiddles, and a declaration of independence should be worded just right. What's interesting about this particular edit is what Jefferson changed, how he changed it, and how that change came to light. In a list of the colonies' grievances against King George III Jefferson wrote, "he has incited treasonable insurrections of our fellow-subjects, with the allurements of forfeiture and confiscation of our property." But the future president, whose image now graces the two-dollar bill, must have realized right away that "fellow-subjects" was the language of monarchy, not democracy, because "while the ink was still wet" Jefferson took out "subjects" and put in "citizens."The Second Amendment: Supreme Court offers handguns as affirmative action for the poorJul 1, 2010 6:30 pm2192 views The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the best way for African Americans, women, and other oppressed groups in America to improve their lot is to buy a gun. In an irony that is hard to overlook, in the very week that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee would attack Elena Kagan for her association with civil rights activist and distinguished Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court's conservative majority wrapped itself in the mantle of civil rights to celebrate the Second Amendment as a vital resource for the nation's downtrodden and oppressed. In their decision in the case of McDonald et al. v. City of Chicago, the five conservative justices extended the scope of the Second Amendment to the states and struck down handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois, framing their decision in the language of civil rights.