Steven Pinker at Congress Centre

Great talk taken from his new book The Stuff of Thought. I won’t cover the sophisticated and interesting arguments here (read the book!) but here are some nuggets on use of language …

Box of crayons that looks like an audience because it is in rows and tiered

Child to her father:

I don’t want the flat crayons I want the ones that look like an audience.

Groucho Marx classics:

I’ve had a great evening. But this wasn’t it.

If I held you any closer I’d be on the other side of you.

Why does a man with hair on his head have more hair than a man with hairs on his head?

Was the World Trade Centre attack on September 11th 2001 one incident or two? There was a 3.5 billion dollar lawsuit based on the interpretation of a maximum payout of $3.5 billion dollars “per incident”.

One of the reasons detectives suspected Scott Peterson of the murder of his wife was that he referred to her in the past tense before her body was found.

James Garfield‘s assassin’s remark following the death of the President of the United States from complications arising from poor medical care after being shot three months earlier:

The doctors killed him. I just shot him.

The Federal Communications Comission chose not to censure Bono over his remark that the award he was receiving was “really, really fucking brilliant” as it did not refer to a sexual act but was rather used to emphasize. Further legislation was passed as a result of this. Although the legislation goes into graphic detail over what words are not allowed it fails to make illegal the use of fucking as an emphasizing adverb.

That “damn tabernacle” and “damn chalice” are swearing in Quebecois French.

The description of a certain mode of speech as “fuck patois”. And an illustrative tirade from a soldier returning from war:

You fucking mean I’ve fucking come all the way fucking home from the fucking war to my fucking house to find my fucking wife having illicit sexual relations with my fucking neighbour?

The editor of Gourmet magazine challenged one of his journalists to bribe the maître d’s of New York’s finest restaurants $50 to seat him and his partner without reservations. It worked each and every time.

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