3 posts with tag “linguistics”

Apple’s incomplete pronoun fields

In iOS 17, you are now able to add pronouns to contacts, including your own contact card. This is a good thing, but at least one important pronoun case is missing from the “English” options.

The cases included are:

  1. Subjective (“Yesterday, she went outside.”)
  2. Objective (“I went with her.”)
  3. Possessive pronoun (“The idea was hers.”)

These three cases mirror the common “she/her/hers” structure used to communicate pronouns on social platforms like Twitter and Zoom; as such, they may seem complete, but they aren’t.

The missing case is the possessive adjective: “It was her idea.”

This may seem redundant, because in the declension of feminine pronouns, the possessive adjective is the same as the objective: “her.”

But in masculine pronouns, the possessive adjective is the same as the possessive pronoun: “his” (as in, “It was his idea”).

Possessive pronounHersHis
Possessive adjectiveHerHis

This isn’t a problem when interacting with people — we know how to decline the common feminine and masculine pronouns, so we know which form to use for the possessive adjective.

But because the iOS 17 UI doesn’t have a field for the possessive adjective, the OS and apps that have access to these fields — which have to behave programmatically — can’t know what to use for that case.

If I’m writing an app and I want the UI to say, “Would you like to call her?” in reference to some contact of yours, I can use the objective pronoun field. But if I want the UI to say “Her birthday is coming up” (the possessive adjective), I don’t have the necessary information.

I can try to guess, based on what I know about the declension of these common pronouns. But what about uncommon ones, like Ze or Xe? Anything I want to use will have to be hard-coded.

This is not even to mention the reflexive case — “She was proud of herself” — which is entirely absent.

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SubstantialisciousThis word is used in Snickers’ new ad campaign, wherein they plaster these long, awkward neologisms (e.g., “Peanutopolis,” “Hungerectomy,” etc.) on buses and billboards and on their candy bar wrappers themselves.

What struck me about this one is that anybody reading it would promptly assume that it is a fusion of “substantial” and “delicious”; but wouldn’t that produce “substantialicious,” not “-scious”? In fact, the only words that end in “-scious” are “luscious” and the various forms of consciousness. I don’t think they meant to evoke lusciousness, and even if they did, shouldn’t they have coined “Substantialuscious”?

Things got worse when I opened the wrapper:

Substantialiscious \sub-'stan(t)-shu-'li-shus\
(noun). The weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue.

It is, of course, an adjective, a fact that a contributor to Urban Dictionary even tried to point out, albeit incorrectly.

It’s an easy target, I know, but I’m just genuinely surprised that they let something like that get out the door; it’s a fairly clever campaign, and “Hungerectomy” in particular presupposes that the average person is smart enough to know what the suffix “-ectomy” means. And wouldn’t somebody who knows that also know an adjective from a noun? It’s just confusing.

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