Now that’s certainly a paradoxical term; it even sounds vaguely self-contradictory. The underlying facts are just as surprising:

By combining quantum computation and quantum interrogation, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found an exotic way of determining an answer to an algorithm – without ever running the algorithm.

Using an optical-based quantum computer, a research team led by physicist Paul Kwiat has presented the first demonstration of “counterfactual computation,” inferring information about an answer, even though the computer did not run. The researchers report their work in the Feb. 23 issue of Nature.

Further down, Paul Kwiat gives a slightly clearer definition of counterfactual computation in the context of quantum computing :

“It seems absolutely bizarre that counterfactual computation – using information that is counter to what must have actually happened – could find an answer without running the entire quantum computer,” said Kwiat, a John Bardeen Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at Illinois.

Should you have online access to Nature, you can read the article.

  1. Who are you callin’ ungrammatical? — a good article by Jan Freeman in the Boston Globe. The topic is, you guessed it, whom.
  2. American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift — an interview with the linguist William Labov by Robert Siegel on (US) National Public Radio. Via Mark Liberman at Language Log; he also reports on the sad news concerning the public access to Prof. Labov’s research, though.
  3. Le mot de la fin — this is a four-times-a-week radio editorial by the lexicographer Alain Rey. (His is the name on most of the Robert dictionaries.) About 3 min each, and available as a podcast.
  4. Speaking in Minor and Major Keys [.pdf] — via Argonaut, a research paper by Maartje Schreuder, Laura van Eerten and Dicky Gilbers, who have found a correlation between musical minor/major keys and sad/happy emotional speech: “In order to investigate emotional intonation, we recorded and analyzed the performances of five professional readers reading passages from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh in Dutch. In pitch contours of all speakers we found intervals between tones indicating minor modality in passages in which the sad character Eeyore is speaking and intervals indicating major modality in passages in which the happy, energetic Tigger is speaking.” A similar study had apparently been done already for Japanese.

Amuse-bouche to zaibatsu

Des entrées nouvelles dans le Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, l’un des dictionnaires les plus réputés de la langue anglaise.

New entries in the 2005 edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary.

I was slightly surprised about the new sense of neoconservative. There must have been some semantic variation over the last few years.

  • 2005-09-26
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It is reassuring to know that the Paris police Préfecture has been making plans in the event of terrorists attacking several places at once, like in Madrid or London. According to a Libération article, the first step would be to get everyone out of the public transport network: Si un jour, un attentat […]

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  • 2005-09-04
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The canonical example for a speech act that can cause real harm has long been “screaming ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre”. Maybe this should be replaced with “screaming ’suicide bomber’ in a packed crowd”. All in all, last week has been rather too murderous. (I am aware that neither of these utterances is a performative act the […]

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Les rennes en rose

Some eggcorns seem to transcend languages. Or rather, some idioms seem to undergo eggcornification in several languages at once. In English, scapegoat has been turned into escape goat and scrapegoat. As for the French equivalent, bouc émissaire has at least four eggcorn versions.

The extremely common eggcorn rein»reign has a French cousin, too. Except that in French, people don’t take the reigns, but the reindeers of power.

According to my estimate, prendre les rennes de … amounts to over 10% of the instances where standard French would have required rênes.

J’ai déjà fait allusion à cela : certaines locutions semblent plus enclines que d’autres à se laisser transformer en poteaux roses. Et le phénomène peut transcender les frontières linguistiques. Ainsi, le pauvre bouc émissaire pointe le nez déguisé en bouquet misère, bouquet mystère, bouc et misère, bouc et mystère et ainsi de suite. Mais son homologue […]

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Les poteaux roses, c’est auripilant

The word horripilant comes from horreur and not from any word that derive from the root aur- (gold).

Asphondylia auripila is a little gall midge, presumably covered in golden body hair.

  • 2005-07-22
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Trouvailles : Quel plaisir de faire violence à ce qui auripile nos oreilles. (lien) […] il se donne un genre qui m’auripile et je ne supporte pas sa façon de massacrer les chansons de nos grands chanteurs français. (lien) La n’est pas la question, mais ça m’auripile de vous entendre dire: “Attention aux motos Ecoles”, vous en avez eu […]

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… où l’on découvre les poteaux roses

This is a long overdue post on French eggcorns, with an introduction and (in the second instalment) a collection of about 40 of “poteaux roses”.

Les lecteurs/trices francophones qui ne jettent pas les gants devant les billets rédigés dans la langue de JK Rowling ont déjà rencontré un genre d’entités mystérieuses appelés eggcorns. Il est grand temps que /ser.ənˈdɪp.ɪ.ti/ leur consacre un article en français. Le voici. L’histoire des eggcorns a débuté il y a deux ans, quand les professeurs de […]

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Finex ! Pooo !

Interesting (but too short) article on the language of the French military — slang, phonetic idiosyncrasies, and lexicalised initialisms. The source is a semi-confidential manuscript written by an unnamed officer.

Remarkable examples: “PMF” for “woman”, from the collective term “female military personnel”; “IAL” for “drinking straw”, from “interface for liquid food”. And so on.

A general is called a “leek”. Why? Because his head is white, but his shaft still green.

The “translation” of an excerpt from Little Red Riding Hood (that would be “LRRH”, or “PCR” in French) is particularly amusing.

  • 2005-07-14
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Libé parle langue dans un article de Jean-Dominique Merchet consacré à l’argot militaire (14 juillet oblige). S’il est assez vague sur sa source, «  un petit document semi-confidentiel » (à mon avis, c’est celui-ci ; voir également là) rédigé par un officier anonyme, cet aperçu de particularités lexicales — lexicalisation de termes et sigles issus du jargon bureaucratique […]

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Another lexical creation in French, which Jean Véronis could have caught had he fished for neologisms in the RSS feeds of Libération: blog-bouler, adj. (and past participle) blog-boulé/e. A junior high school girl has nearly been blog-boulée, i.e. “blog-balled”: expelled from her school for having slandered her maths teacher on her (less than one month old) […]

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