Monday, September 26, 2022

Konstanz Working Cafés #3: Coffee Fellows

A chain offering for our third café in consideration.

  • Good location: this branch is inside the station, right next to the main bus stop. Not a lovely spot, but a highly practical one.
  • Good free wifi: this sets it apart from almost all other cafés in Konstanz.
  • There is usually space to work, and even a few power sockets.
  • Despite being in a genuinely lovely building, this branch has all the ambience of a hospital waiting room (see picture).
  • The best thing that can be said about the food and coffee here is that it’s basically fine. I once got a bagel that didn’t have a hole in the middle.
  • It’s ludicrously expensive, even compared to the pricey town-centre places.
  • Staff try to sell you stuff you don’t want.
Overall rating: ☕️☕️ (2/5)

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Konstanz Working Cafés #2: Das Voglhaus

Following on from the previous instalment, Das Voglhaus is another central café popular with the tourists.


  • Location: central, not as close as Pano to public transport, but on a pedestrian street with good prospects for people-watching when you get board.
  • Decent coffee and great food, mostly in the light bites category, like the depicted spinach and feta quiche with red onion chutney. Perfect when you’re working and don’t want something heavy. Plus it’s all vegetarian and organic, which makes one feel virtuous.
  • Range of seating options: benches, stools, beanbags (but see below).
  • Friendly staff.
  • Aggressively pro-European (they have little badges with the EU flag).
  • Smallish and usually packed at key times of day, so difficult to get in. Especially since, as a single working dude, I have to queue with my stuff before getting a table, by which time any free seats might have disappeared.
  • Bad acoustics. It’s really loud in here.
  • On the wall is the below terrible poem, a paean to libertarianism (see picture). It’s attributed to Dr. med. Albert Schweitzer, and widely cited in right-wing interwebs circles, but actually isn’t by Schweitzer: it’s a translation of an American English poem by Dean Alfange.
  • No chance at all to get an internet connection; it’s like the place is lined with a foot of lead.
Overall rating: ☕️☕️☕️ (3/5)

Monday, September 19, 2022

Konstanz Working Cafés #1: Pano

This new irregular series looks at cafés in Konstanz where you can go and work. Since it’s hard to find the perfect place here, I hope this information will help others.

Pano is a big place in the centre of town, so a good place to start.


  • Great location: 3 minutes’ walk from the central bus stop and train station.
  • It’s big: finding a seat there won’t be a problem.
  • Coffees there are also big (see picture).
  • The vibe is nice and Olde Worlde (see picture).
  • Sometimes sparrows get into the building, which is cute, and then you get to watch the staff trying to chase them out, which is funny.
  • There is a variety of seating options, from comfy sofas to long tables to high stools.
  • There is pretty much always a massive queue to order anything, regardless of what time of day it is or how many people are there. Not for people in a hurry.
  • Relatedly, the system for ordering is incredibly stressful and intimidating. Everyone queues together, then you order food (if you want any; but you have to queue for it regardless), and then you go to the till and also order drinks, then wait to pick everything up. There are sometimes some other counters open, but I don’t know what they do, and I’m not about to queue for 20 minutes to get shouted at for being in the wrong place (and, yes, this is Germany, so they won’t hold back).
  • There’s no guest wifi, though this isn’t the end of the world here, as a variety of free networks are just about close enough to be connected to.
  • Depending on the time of day, the place may be full of absolute wankers drinking bubbly.
I haven’t listed the coffee here as either an advantage or a disadvantage, since it seems fine, but nothing to write home about.

Overall rating: ☕️☕️☕️ (3/5)

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Ritter Sport ratings Spring 2022

You know the pandemic must be coming to an end when, after quite some time, Ritter release a brand new range of spring flavours!

Before you get too excited, we’ve seen one of them before. “Buenos Dias” Weisse Mango Maracuja showed up in Spring 2020, just after lockdown began, and got a respectable 7.5/10. The other two are new, though.

“Hi There” Salzkaramell: 8/10

Ritter jumps on the salted caramel bandwagon with this one, and can’t be faulted for its effort: crunchy, salty and tasty.

“Konnichiwa” Kirsch Mandel: 9/10

I’ve discoursed at length on my love for the citrus varieties with a crunchy element. What else is there to say? This one is sweet, sour, and beautifully textured, all at the same time. 9 rather than 10 for using almonds, which are not my favourite nut.

Vegan Pur: 7.5/10

A little crumblier than most Ritter Sport varieties, but that might even be an illusion - you’d be hard pressed to tell this one was vegan if you didn’t have it marked on the packaging. Funnily enough, this reminds me of the Russian chocolate that Dad used to bring back from his trips abroad.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Books read 2021

I’d decided to read fewer books in 2021 than in 2018-20, partly because I wanted to read more articles. And so it was, with 38 books read this year. They’re from all over the place, with a resurgence of fantasy and sci-fi.

Robert Jackson Bennett, Foundryside

This fantasy adventure is fun enough, and reminiscent of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other book of his I’ve read, the fantastic City of Stairs, however. The first part of the book comes across as almost procedural, with some jarring turns of phrase, and the setting isn’t hugely original - aside from “scriving”, the magic-technology concept that really sets this world-building apart from others. Some of the characters, such as the protagonist Sancia, are engagingly written, but others, such as Orso, seem underdeveloped given their role in the latter half of the book.

Artūras Ratkus, The Adjective Inflection in Gothic and Early Germanic: Structure and Development

A re-read of this PhD thesis. On the issue of which Greek Bible version to compare with the Gothic for linguistic purposes, this ought to be virtually required reading. The artroid hypothesis in chapter 5 is also extremely cool, and useful for some of my current research; chapter 4 contains much justified criticism of attempts to shoehorn early Germanic languages into a typological straitjacket. I’m less convinced by the usefulness of canonicity either as a descriptive tool or as a diachronically explanatory principle. But there’s no doubt that this is excellent research.

Private Eye Annual 2020

Maybe it’s just me but even the humour of this awful year seems to have been somewhat subdued. Still funny though.

Phil Torres, Were the great tragedies of history “mere ripples”? The case against longtermism

This is a minibook of 42 pages including front and end matter, so a bit of a cheat. But it’s a powerful read. Anyone who’s tempted by the seductive rhetoric of Nick Bostrom and colleagues’ “longtermist” ideology ought to read this and consider whether they’re willing to subscribe to a framework that licenses horrific atrocities in the name of the unknown mass of people who have not yet been born. It’s written by someone who’s become disillusioned with that framework after spending much time working in it, and hence has a virtually unparalleled overview of the relevant issues.

Edward Snowden, Permanent Record

I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be this good. Snowden writes lucidly and powerfully and gives the impression of an extremely principled yet thoughtful man. It’s fun for me to read the autobiography of a millennial – probably the first time I’ve done so, and there’s much I can relate to in his treatment of the early internet and the possibilities it afforded. And towards the end of the book it “reads like a literary thriller”, as the NYT puts it. Snowden also doesn’t sugar-coat more obnoxious figures in his general movement: Julian Assange is described as “self-interested and vain, moody, and even bullying”, regardless of his self-image, and Glenn Greenwald is really only mentioned in passing – one gets the impression Snowden’s trying to distance himself from him. In comparison, Laura Poitras and Sarah Harrison in particular get more positive write-ups.

Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower

In many ways this brings together bits of other fantasy series I’ve been reading recently. The idea of language directly shaping reality is also found in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Foundryside, the economics of godhood (and the mystery element) is central to Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, and the ancient narrator focusing on a protagonist in the second person is a key part of N. K. Jemisin’s trilogy. This book caused none of the confusion I encountered with Ancillary Justice, and was a very compelling read, especially towards the end. It also has a protagonist who’s a trans man, respectfully dealt with as far as I am able to judge, and not in a way that overshadows the book’s many other selling points. A good read.

R. F. Kuang, The Poppy War

More of a young adult book than most of what I read, the 500+ pages of this one absolutely zoom by. It’s hard to describe it as anything other than a somewhat darker, Chinese-themed Harry Potter - at least in the first half. The allusions to Chinese history and culture are unmistakable even to a HSK 3 n00b like myself - in fact, I wonder if they might not get too grating for those who know more. But it’s a fantastically readable book.

Joe Abercrombie, The Blade Itself

Epic fantasy again, and this one has all the usual ingredients: intrigue, an ensemble cast, magic, impending invasions, etc. etc. It was an enjoyable read but I didn’t love it, perhaps because the overall narrative structure is so heavily skewed towards introducing the characters and settings: it’s very clearly written as the first book of a series, and hardly works at all as a standalone novel, despite its 500+ pages of length. There are also far too many paragraphs that begin with the word “Shit!”. I might enjoy this one more as a TV series, though then you’d miss out on a lot of what’s going on in Logen’s and particularly Glokta’s heads.

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

This one was recommended to me as fantasy, but I wouldn’t call it that. The sole fantastical element is that the protagonist, Lauren Olamina, is a “sharer” who feels others’ emotions. Otherwise the book is a combination of a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale and a road novel. In the former dimension, it hits harder than anything I’ve read in that vein - perhaps because of how intensely personal it is, particularly in the first half of the novel. Would like to read more. Fortunately there is more.

George Monbiot, How did we get into this mess?

I still don’t know how we got into this mess, but this is a fine set of essays by one of the best journalists out there (even if he is something of an egotist). Ranges from farming subsidies to ecofascism to niche backroom dealings. Don’t read it if you don’t  want to be angry.

Lucy Holland, Sistersong

Follows three siblings in the England of late antiquity, with magic, romance and intrigue. The second fantasy novel I’ve read this year to have a trans protagonist (and it’s hard not to read Keyne/Constantine as the protagonist, despite the narration being split with the two sisters), though unlike in The Raven Tower the issue is much more central to the story here. Also features Gildas as resident grump and magician-in-denial. This is a much more well-rounded work than the Worldmaker Trilogy by the same author. I would have liked to hear more about what was going on with Os - perhaps I was missing something obvious, though.

Naomi Novik, A Deadly Education

This book was a slow starter for me - the protagonist isn’t immediately likeable and there was a lot of exposition. That said, I think it’s one of my favourite books this year so far, on balance - the vertiginous hypervigilance and quirky protagonist make it stand out from the crowd. Again, there are Harry Potter similarities, but with everyone paranoid (and rightly so). I’ve wondered for a while what genuinely millennial fantasy might look like. With its pessimistic focus on social inequalities and omnipresent anxiety and self-examination, this might just be it, even though Novik herself isn’t a millennial.

Tristram Hunt, Building Jerusalem

This book is about nineteenth-century British cities, especially those outside London. It does occasionally veer into the dry and long-winded, but on the whole Hunt is an adept and engaging writer, and I learned a lot.

Tim Clare, The Ice House

Exciting, cerebral modern fantasy. It’s a sequel (which I didn’t know before I picked it up) so I wasn’t always sure what was going on, but it roared along, especially in the second half. Occasionally the flowery prose descriptions come across as trying too hard, but it also makes a change to read a fantasy writer whose style is more than workmanlike.

Hajo Holborn, A history of modern Germany, vol. 1: The Reformation

It’s been nearly twenty years since I last (and first) read this book, and a lot’s happened to me since then, so I have a very different perspective on it now. It’s still a very useful overview of the main religious and political developments in what is now Germany from the fifteenth century to the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. I’m not a historian, so I don’t know how many of his conclusions have held up in detail (the book was written in the 1950s), but one thing that stands out is the occasional reference to German national unity, as if this is a notion that can be taken for granted even in this period - occasionally even to something that approximates German national character. Holborn is definitively not a Nazi - he fled the country in the 1930s to get away from them - but his scholarship is still shaped by the context in which Nazism was able to take root, I guess, one in which nationalism was taken as something quite natural and unavoidable. The other thing that’s missing from this book is any sense of what life would have been like for an ordinary person - the focus is entirely on big-picture political and intellectual (and occasionally economic) movements, aside from the occasional mention of the absolutely horrific effects on the peasantry of the rise of professional mercenary armies in the early seventeenth century.

Adam Ledgeway, From Latin to Romance

This is an inspiringly erudite and wide-ranging book, but at the same time curiously divided. Chapters 3 and 4 explore an account involving the rise of functional structure, while chapter 5 presents a completely different Minimalist, cartographic, Kaynean account. The subsequent chapters 6 and 7 make reference to both types of account, so that it’s as if the author wants to have his cake and eat it. That’s hardly a comfortable situation. Are the two types of account notational variants? If not, which is right?

Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Broken Realms: Teclis

In some ways this feels like the army book we should have had last summer. The narrative part is fun, and a whole host of new units are added, including many which will make the Lumineth seem much more familiar to an old-school High Elf player like me: Bladelords (swordmasters), Starshard Ballistae (repeater bolt throwers), army standard bearers, standalone mage and mounted heroes, and more. There are some newer, more creative elements too: the Hurakan, air elementals and their elfy friends, which appeal to me a lot more than the earth-oriented Alarith. And as always the book is beautifully produced.

Josh Reynolds, Plague Garden

An Age of Sigmar novel, by probably the best Black Library author out there. I’m not a huge fan of the Stormcast Eternals - too preachy and po-faced, and a bit too much like the Space Marines that always turned me off the 40k setting. And this one is no literary masterpiece - more like one extended four-hundred-page battle scene. But it’s exciting and easy to read, and even made me sympathize with some of the Stormcast characters.

Ece Temelkuran, How to lose a country: the seven steps from democracy to dictatorship

In this book Temelkuran, an exile from Erdogan’s regime in Turkey, outlines the warning signs for the rise of a populist fascist state. Occasionally the writing deviates into a somewhat self-congratulatory pessimism (“I called it!”), which is pretty distasteful to me, to be honest. And not everything is as well connected narratively as it could be. Still, this is a useful checklist; the next thing to watch for in the UK is the attempt to police what the ideal citizen should look like, especially for women.

Leigh Bardugo, The Ninth House

I read this after enjoying the Grishaverse adaptation on Netflix. This is decidedly darker, and reminds me of Lev Grossman’s Magicians (which I’ve only seen the series of). Set at Yale, it’s all about magic, secret societies, and a murder mystery. All fairly standard stuff, but well done.

Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London

Two urban fantasy/crime crossovers one after the other! This one reads like good Neil Gaiman fan fiction. It’s cool but not hugely coherent, and contains some edgy moments that border on the offensive. The two main storylines don’t really tie into each other very well.

Rachel Hendery, Relative clauses in time and space

An impressive book, and relevant to various bits of my current research. It’s made all the more impressive by the fact that it was originally a PhD thesis. The game plan is to establish a whole new research field: diachronic typology (basically, the intersection of typology and historical linguistics). The book is eclectic and cheerfully mixes abstract generative analyses with Givón-style functionalism and grammaticalization theory.

Sathnam Sanghera, Empireland

A timely discussion of how empire has shaped almost everything in Britain, with catalogues of inconceivable atrocities. Sanghera clearly wants to avoid being seen as the “woke elite”, so there are points where I think he verges into some uncomfortable middle-groundism. But that’s understandable in view of his desire to reach people and to open up the empire conversation: he’s adamant that it should be taught more in schools, and I agree (perhaps at the expense of the Tudors).

Max Adams, The First Kingdom

Another in the series of popular history books by Max Adams, this time focusing on the period of the adventus saxonum, 4th-7th centuries. It’s a tricky subject to make accessible, and to my mind Adams doesn’t really succeed - at least not to the same level as he does in The King in the North and Ælfred’s Britain. There’s no thread of narrative running through the book, and a lot of archaeological detail of the kind I don’t really enjoy. All of which is to say that it’s probably an accurate book rather than an entertaining one, and it does seem well-informed by recent and less recent research.

Mareike Keller, Code-switching: unifying contemporary and historical perspectives

A neat little book of not quite 100 pages that applies structural approaches to code-switching to historical data. Well argued and nicely written.

Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

Enjoyable post-apocalyptic craziness. If there’s much of a deeper message I missed it, though.

Carola Trips, From OV to VO in Early Middle English

An extremely interesting work - the author’s PhD thesis. Subsequent reviews and discussions have been quite critical, but the actual perspective here is more nuanced than those discussions usually allow. There is high-level syntactic discussion here, and original empirical work on the Ormulum, making the case for Scandinavian influence. Unfortunately there are also many, many typos and other minor errors - Benjamins’ copy-editing and proofreading seems to have been nonexistent.

Alice Roberts, Ancestors: a history of Britain in seven burials

For someone who isn’t interested in archaeology, I sure seem to spend plenty of time reading about it. Roberts does a good job of conveying the excitement of archaeological discoveries, though I think she’s overstating the transformative potential of ancient DNA studies somewhat. And the most annoying part of the book is the humanist evangelizing in the final chapter.

Zen Cho, Black Water Sister

Urban fantasy set in Malaysia. Lively and personal - a different spin on ghosts and gods than what most of the literature has to offer. Notable is the use of Manglish for some of the characters’ speech.

Fran Colman, The Grammar of Names in Anglo-Saxon England

I was expecting something philological. This book is that, but it’s also a dense web of theoretical linguistic argumentation of a kind I’ve never seen, and very difficult to follow, shifting from criticizing one perspective to criticizing another, with hefty amounts of citations of John M. Anderson. The linguistic diagrams were not followable for me. The discussion of weak adjectives and the -n exponent was interesting, but I fear that most people aiming to obtain a better understanding of Old English names by reading this book will come away disappointed.

Heather Rogers, Green Gone Wrong

A book about the pluses and minuses of current greenness. A variety of case studies go into it: Rogers is almost breathlessly positive about some developments (e.g. green living arrangements) while utterly damning about others (especially crop-based biofuels, but also the current organic movement and carbon offsetting). Not so much a coherent manifesto as a report on the state of various things.

Charles N. Li & Sandra Thompson, Mandarin Chinese: a functional reference grammar

A useful and insightful descriptive grammar of one of the world’s most-spoken languages.

Kwame Ture & Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The politics of liberation in America

It beats me why this book and this movement were ever considered divisive - everything in here ranges from commonsensical to very insightful. I was reading it mainly as part of a search for the historical roots of the concept of institutional racism, but ended up learning more about the history of mid-20th-century American racial politics than I thought I would.

Max Egremont, Forgotten Land: Journeys among the Ghosts of East Prussia

Through a series of interwoven vignettes of figures from the area, this book presents the history of East Prussia during the 20th century - an area I didn’t know much about, but which, like many areas adjacent to present-day Germany, have a history that can’t easily be reduced to one nation-state and one language. Dry in parts but moving in others.

Verena Schröter, Null subjects in Englishes

Much of the recent variationist work on null subjects has been somewhat dismissive of generative proposals even while mischaracterizing them. Schröter’s book is a welcome exception. She draws on a variety of traditions, though her own method is variationist, and conducts new empirical work on British English as well as Indian, Hong Kong and Singapore English. The results are unlikely to convince anyone that British English is a true null subject language in the generative sense, even on their own merits: outside coordination contexts, subjects are overt 97.88% of the time, and over 99% outside declarative main clauses. Indian and Hong Kong English do not show much more; Singapore English is out in front, with only 89.09% of subjects overt outside coordination contexts, and more examples in questions in particular. The lack of theoretical framework beyond logistic regression and fairly informal post hoc explanation for differences in constraint ranking is a bit disappointing, though by no means untypical for this sort of work. Still, it’s a valuable contribution to the literature.

Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies

Mantel’s Cromwell saga plods on, this time dealing with the fall of Anne Boleyn. Cromwell himself has the opportunity to get revenge on the plotters against Wolsey in the guise of bringing down Anne and her alleged lovers, while Mantel has the opportunity to continue her weird pronoun use (“X”, he said; he, Cromwell). A slow read with some well-crafted dialogue.

Stephen Booth, Scared to Live

A crime novel set in the Peak District, where I grew up! It’s distinctly odd to see the trivialities of youthful life in that area (“the Pav”, Hulley’s buses, Gulliver’s Kingdom…) featured in print. I suppose this is what Londoners feel all the time. It’s mostly well-crafted, though it goes in a completely unexpected direction from about halfway through, and the dénouement feels very unsatisfyingly rushed.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, Gravel Heart

This novel follows Salim, a Muslim who grows up in Tanzania and studies in London. There are some good postcolonial quotables, but I felt the narrative was too predictable at several key points to be truly powerful. Then again, perhaps that was the intention.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Review of 2021

What did you do in 2021 that you'd never done before?

Gave a keynote talk at a really big conference (virtually, unfortunately). Got vaccinated against COVID-19 (double AstraZeneca with a Moderna chaser).

Did you keep your New Years' resolutions?

I didn’t make any, which was wise, as I wouldn’t have kept them.

Have you any resolutions for next year?

Pay more attention to my health.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

This year, I don’t think so.

Did anyone close to you die?

No - though several caught Covid.

What countries did you visit?

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Monaco, San Marino, Slovakia, and the UK. Not bad for someone who didn’t leave Germany in the first half of the year.

What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?

The ability to continue our syntax social at Seekuh without danger or fear.

What date(s) from 2021 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

23rd June 2021: day of vaccination dose 2, eventually spelling (relative) freedom.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Something that had best remain under wraps, for now, I’m afraid. But other than that: restoring and extending the model railway in my office! There is a new bridge and tunnel that I’m looking forward to showing you.

What was your biggest failure?

I lost my iPad! Fortunately I was able to get it back again.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

This year I’ve been remarkably healthy. The sickest I’ve been was after my first dose of AstraZeneca, and that lasted less than 24 hours.

What was the best thing you bought?

Travel tickets! Specifically, the ones to Bratislava. Too long without convoluted European train adventures!

Whose behaviour merited celebration?

The good folks who set up a new series on historical linguistics with Language Science Press. Also, all my wonderful PhD students.

Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

Anonymous Twitter fanboys and debatebros.

Where did most of your money go?

This year, quite a lot of it’s gone into my mortgage.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The ability to travel again!

What songs will always remind you of 2021?

Faunts - M4 Part II

Manchester Orchestra - The Silence

Compared to this time last year, are you:

Happier or sadder? Happier.

Thinner or fatter? Fatter (?).

Richer or poorer? Richer.

What do you wish you'd done more of?

Repeated now two years in a row: “Real relaxation activities, i.e. hiking, cooking, washing things. I’m bad at relaxing.” Even when I have complete control of my own time and nowhere else to be.

What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in 2021?

Losing my iPad.

Who did you meet for the first time?

Nice people at Míšakemp 2021 on Mors, Denmark. A couple of cool English linguists in Konstanz.

Did you fall in love in 2021?


How many people did you kiss?


How many one-night stands did you have?


What was your favourite TV programme?

Probably Shadow and Bone on Netflix. Series 3 of Sex Education was also good. But I spent lots more time watching T90’s Age of Empires 2 streaming content, as well as Roll Together’s D&D streams (especially the sublime Gloom Falls on Baldur’s Gate).

What was your favourite film of this year?

I didn’t watch many. Only one in the cinema was No Time to Die, and at home I watched Fight Club, Grand Budapest Hotel, and Saving Private Ryan. I think my favourite was the Grand Budapest Hotel.

What was the best book you read in 2021?

Fiction: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik.

Non-fiction: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.

What was the best game you played in 2021?

Slightly slower on games this year than last. In the first half of the year, I played Cyberpunk 2077, which was good (think GTA but with more body-modification and Japanese people) but inevitably didn’t live up to the hype, as well as being bugged to hell. Another new game was Life is Strange: True Colors, more of a narrative/puzzle offering. I also replayed Shadowrun: Dragonfall agaaaain, and the classic Wesnoth campaigns Invasion from the Unknown and After the Storm, as well as Dragon Age II (agaaaaaaaaain) and most of Dragon Age: Origins. Overall, I probably got the most fun out of the Wesnoth campaigns.

What was your greatest musical discovery?


How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?

Warm clothes that ideally aren’t torn.

What kept you sane?

The prospect of travel and in-person teaching.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 36. It was right after DiGS, which I organized, so I don’t remember much - I think I slept a lot, ate cake, and had a birthday Zoom call with friends.

View of Mainau from Litzelstetten, birthday 2021.

How did you spend Christmas?

At home with the folks in Derbyshire.

What would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

No pandemic. Or at least no fourth/fifth etc. waves.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

It was a poor year for celebrity-fancying.

What political issue stirred you the most?

The German general elections this year were a bit of a rollercoaster, though I wasn’t allowed to vote. And the outcome was a lot better than it could have been.

Who did you miss?

I got to see a few people that I hadn’t seen in a long while, which was nice. But I missed Michael Walkden and Rachel Fritts in particular.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

No, I don’t think so.

Was 2021 a good year for you?

Better than 2020, on pretty much all counts.

What was your favourite moment of the year?

I very much enjoyed Míšakemp in Denmark - playing table tennis, drinking cans of beer, and scooting about on foot in a remote landscape. Visiting Southwold with David & Fi was nice too, as were my three weekend breaks in Bratislava, San Marino and Monaco.

What is a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021?

You don’t have to be particularly good at something to enjoy it, and vice versa.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Singular "dice"?

(plural) are those things that you roll in tabletop games, sometimes known as "math(s) rocks". What's the singular? What do you call it when you roll only one?

There's a school of thought that says that the only correct answer is die. That is: one die, multiple dice. And it isn't difficult to find internet pedants claiming this. As usual, though, when internet pedants start fulminating against some linguistic usage, it means that the truth is more complicated and that there are other possibilities out there.

My starting point, as usual, is the OED. There it says:

The form dice (used as plural and singular) is of much more frequent occurrence in gaming and related senses than the singular die.

This is to be found in the OED's second edition (1989), so it's clear that the singular use has been around for a while. The OED also provides an example from 1557:

1557   R. Record Whetstone of Witte sig. Rii   I haue a dice of Brasse of .64. vnces of Troye weighte.

(Two earlier examples are provided there, but both involve the regularized plural dices – which, though it implies a singular dice, doesn't count as a use of it.)

Speaking for myself, as a Brit, the singular die is just not grammatical for me in the context of the six-sided cubes with numbers on. Moreover, some of the sources above imply that there is a British-American difference as regards the use of these forms. Time to play around with Google Ngram Viewer!

The usual caveats are needed with regard to this source: it's just published books, so it's biased towards formal, conservative practice; there are some terrible errors of dating and transcription in there; it's pretty much useless before 1800; etc. But it's easy to use and good for getting an overview, in general terms, of historical developments.

Starting with the basic corpus "English (2019)", we see a lot of fluctuation. a die is in general more common than a dice throughout, which is not surprising, since a die is not restricted to the context of math-rocks. Since 1990 it seems as if a dice is on the rise.

The picture is similar for this die vs. this dice. But let's now turn to regional differences. As usual with Google Books, the picture for American English closely matches the overall view:

British English is different, though - with the two uses much closer together.

The smaller-scale fluctuations are harder to assess, but it looks like there was relatively little difference between the two in 2000, and that the gap has since widened again. If we restrict the context even further (roll a die vs. roll a dice), looking at the post-1950 period (the Age of Math Rocks), it's even closer. The below graph shows that for British English the two variants are pretty much in lockstep until about 2008, when singular die seems to shoot up again.

And here's the corresponding graph for American English:

Here, singular dice has very much been the minority variant all along, and hardly used at all before 1998.

So there's a clear difference between British English, where singular dice is an established variant, and American English, where it (largely) isn't. But none of this empirical evidence helps us to figure out what the CORRECT singular form is, of course! That can only be done through LOGIC and RATIONAL REASONING!

I present the following analogically-linked forms for your delectation:

  • two mice : one mouse
  • two lice : one louse
  • two dice : one douse
QED. The douse is cast!