Archive for 'News about research'

Umpteen reflections on Indefinite Hyperbolic Numerals

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

With apologies to our readers who might already know, Indefinite Hyperbolic Numerals* (IHNs) are words like zillion, jillion, and umpteen. Or, to be exact :

“Indefinite hyperbolic numerals (IHN) are words that (1) resemble numerals morphologically, and (2) act as numerals morphosyntactically within numeral phrases, yet (3) whose direct numerical referent remains indefinite.”

For an in-depth look at them, turn to the work of Professor Stephen Chrisomalis of Wayne State University, US. His paper : ‘Umpteen reflections on indefinite hyperbolic numerals’ appears in the journal American Speech, 2016 volume 91, number 1: 3-33. In which, as part of his investigation, the author has compiled a new table of what he determines to be the earliest origins of IHNs. For example, both squillion and umpteen are found to have appeared as early as 1878, whereas umptillion only surfaced in 1948.

Also see: A load of vague non-numerical quantifiers

*Note: Some call them ‘Numericals’.

Untrained modern youths and ancient masters in self(ie) portraits

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

What do modern youths and ancient masters have in common? One possible commonality is they way they depict themselves in self portraits – specifically whether they tend to prefer giving preference to their left cheek or the right one.

“[…] a set of selfies and wefies by modern youths reveals comparable biases to self-portraits and portraits by master painters over the history of the visual arts. Assuming that our group of young selfie-takers had no academic training in painting, portraiture, and art history, these findings therefore support an account of posing preferences in terms of biologically determined asymmetries over an account based on culturally induced conventions.”

– explain a research team from the Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Università di Parma, Italy, and the School of Psychology, University of Liverpool, UK.

They make steps towards clarifying potential confusion with regard to image-reversal in smartphone cameras – as opposed to the mirrors which were often used by Old Masters for their pre-photographic selfies :-

“Because in smartphones the preview image is mirror-reversed, but the image file is saved as taken from a front camera (non-mirror-reversed), a saved image with the selfie-taker on the left signals a preference for a (mirror-reversed) preview image where the selfie-taker is on the right.”

See: Nicola Bruno, Carole Bode & Marco Bertamini (2016): Composition in portraits: Selfies and wefies reveal similar biases in untrained modern youths and ancient masters, in: Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, 27 May 2016.

Note that mirror (and smartphone) portraits are only reversed left-right rather than up-down – a much discussed phenomenon. Here’s Richard Feynman’s take on it . . .

Dangerous infectious diseases : good news for Wall Street?

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

“In this research, we show that large events of devastating nature to the economy can be considered as good news to some interest groups, such as stock market traders.”

– explain researchers Michael Donadelli [pictured], Renatas Kizys and Max Riedel in a new paper for the Journal of Financial Markets. In this case. the ‘large events of devastating nature’ are related to outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases – which the team examine via correlations in Disease Related News items (DRNs) and stock market performance. They find that though outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases are no doubt very bad news for some sections of society, for others, they can be seen as “exploitable investment opportunities” :

“We find that DRNs have a positive and significant sentiment effect among investors (on Wall Street).”

They hypothesize that the stock market opportunities might, for example, be related to vaccine development by pharmaceutical firms.

“Our findings are of utmost importance and practical usefulness for institutional and individual investors, portfolio managers, financial analysts, and pharmaceutical firms. Indeed, we identify a range of exploitable investment opportunities.”

see ‘Dangerous infectious diseases : Bad news for Main Street, good news for Wall Street?’


Why Lawyers Are Nice (or Nasty)

Monday, March 27th, 2017

Which might be the best strategies for lawyers to maximize success – should they be honest or dishonest (and/or aggressive or passive) ? Researchers Giovanni Sartor, EUI – Florence [pictured] Michel Rudnianski, CNAM/ORT – Paris, Antonino Rotolo, CIRSFID – Bologna, Régis Riveret, University of Aberdeen, and Eunate Mayor, EUI – Florence, offer solutions in their EUI Working Paper LAW2009/08 ‘Why Lawyers Are Nice (or Nasty) : A Game-Theoretical Argumentation Exercise’

Applying Professor Dung’s Abstract Argumentation Framework (see: P. M. Dung. ‘On the acceptability of arguments and its fundamental role in nonmonotonic reasoning, logic programming, and n–person games.’ Artificial Intelligence, 77:321–57, 1995) the team are able to determine that : –

“[…] given certain hypotheses concerning the costs of proceeding, the most successful posture for a lawyer is to be non-honest and non-aggressive, followed by being honest and aggressive, then by being honest and non-aggressive, and finally by being non-honest and aggressive. In other words, given that framework, being non-honest pays only when one is non-aggressive, while aggressiveness only pays when coupled with honesty.”

Also see; The pleasure of being nasty.


“Ecco il fico” — Barbarossa, the fig, the bite, the thumb, and the mule

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

The phrase “Ecco il fico” has a particularly ripe meaning, writes Rob Chirico in the Strong Language blog:



The year was 1162 when he returned and easily subdued the revolt. According to the chronicler Giambattista Gelli, Frederick [Frederick the First, Holy Roman emperor, also known as “Barbarossa”] got them back for the mule debacle, and then some: “The Emperor, justly incensed, urged the besieged [citizens] to yield, which they at last did… he received them with mercy upon this condition: that every person who desired to live should, with their teeth, take a fig out of the genitals of a [she] mule.” That is to say, Barbarossa gave the ringleaders a choice of being hanged (or beheaded), or saving themselves by presenting a fig to the executioner as a token of ransom. The fly in the ointment, so to speak, was that the fig had been stuck in the ass of the Empress’s ass—er, mule. The prisoner had to extract it with his teeth. He would then bring it to the executioner saying, “Ecco il fico” (translated as “Here is the fig”—but you knew that). If that was not punishment enough, he then had to replace the fig in the mule’s fundament to be ready for extraction by the next miscreant.

Chirico explains this as background for understanding a particular hand gesture:

for decades the incident was used to humiliate and insult the Milanese. You’ve seen it. The precise form is to make a fist with your thumb thrust out between the index and middle fingers and bite the thumb. The exact name of the gesture is known as “making the fig.” It was already a widespread insult in Shakespeare’s time, as he used it in Act I, Scene I of Romeo and Juliet.

The thumb-biting hand gesture has variants, used in various parts of the world.

The Romeo and Juliet incident, which may or may not be quite as described here, is accompanied by this statement: “No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.” It can play out in different ways, at the option of the director of the play. This video shows some of the ways: