Pesticides, language and ‘Doctor Who’. What are pyrethroids?

Doctor becomes her (images©: BBC)

I’m currently writing my PhD thesis in Catalan —and some percentage in English to get the international mention— when they reveal that the actor who will take the lead role in Doctor Who will be, in fact, an actress. Weirdly enough, both facts are closely related.

If you saw the teaser of my first scientific musical two years ago, you know that pyrethroids are pesticides, that they are less toxic than DDT, organophosphorates and carbamates and that they are used in aquaculture —and that I’m not a professional singer. However, as you never saw the whole show, this video has a Shakespearean feel, much ado about nothing. So today I’m introducing these pesticides that you have been eating all your life and have probably applied to your hair unknowingly.

About a century ago pyrethrins, which were extracted from a plant of the chrysanthemum family, were modified to study how their chemical activity changed. Pyrethroids were created. In the seventies, pyrethroids went from household products to agricultural pesticides and started substituting other pesticides. Pyrethroids were more effective, stable but biodegradable and selectively more toxic to insects than mammals.

But pyrethroids are not only used on the crops. They are used to fight parasites in farms and fish farms, to treat lice or scabies and to control malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Now go check your home insecticide; it’s bound to have pyrethroids in it.

So why are language and Doctor Who in this article’s title? As I’m writing my thesis in Catalan, I’ve realised my mother tongue does something weird, unusual and against terminology’s best practices. In Catalan pyrethroids are transgender —not to be confused with transgenic. So the English permethrin in an agricultural context will be a male word (permetrín), while in a farmaceutical context it will be female (permetrina). English has feet that smell and noses that run; we’re entitled to our own excentricities. However, only pyrethroids that in English end in -in are transgender, others, e.g. fenvalerate, don’t change.

It bugs me [bugs and pesticides; see what I did there?] that when I talk about the compounds as molecules or when I discuss different applications in my thesis there will be no or both contexts involved. And you can’t go changing pesticides’ gender every other paragraph. It bugs me square that, maybe influenced by Spanish, which makes them always female, in my laboratory we’ve always used them in female form in Catalan. I might have to go back and amend some texts.

Depending on the context, pyrethroids can change gender in Catalan

Which brings us to Doctor Who and the recent announcement of the new Doctor. After 54 years and 13* male incarnations, Doctor becomes her. Sadly enough, myriads of haters (both men and women) find it outrageous that a 2000-year-old alien who changes his body periodically is going to include his genitals in the next change. On the other hand, we’ve never been told what’s down there so, who knows?

Long story short, I write a blog to look modern and fashionable and there’s nothing more modern and fashionable than respecting the gender change of any person, character or pesticide.

 

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* Disclaimer for trolls die-hard fans: I am obviously counting the War Doctor, but not the Metacrisis Doctor as that is a deviation that doesn’t lead to the current incarnation.

Correct these mistakes for Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s nothing jollier than knowing your vocabulary. Therefore, today we’re learning about two Catalan words that foreigners tend to get wrong.

Now that the tió tradition has gone properly international thanks to Kate McKinnon (see video below), it’s time to debunk the belief that tió means uncle. ‘If you know basic Spanish’ some people say and even write on their blogs ‘you’ll know that tío means uncle’. Well, yes; but we’re talking about a Catalan tradition, hence a Catalan word. Tió—not tío—means log, as Kate explains. And isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at the bloody thing.

What Kate doesn’t get so right is calling it cagatió. However, there is currently a debate among natives about this issue (trending topic included: #EsDiuTió). As the song to make the tió poo presents starts with ‘Caga tió’, which literally translates to ‘poo [imperative] log’, some use this as the log name and that’s wrong. Conversely, cagatió is indeed a word that means the act of making the tió poo, the event. So you’ll say: On the evening of the 24th we’re doing the cagatió and the tió will poo lots of sweets and presents for us.

It's only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

It’s only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

A not-so-festive issue, but relevant any time a foreigner mentions Barcelona, is what you can call the Catalan capital. Barcelona is the official name, that’s easy. BCN is a well-known and correct abbreviation. There is only one more alternative: Barna, from Bar(celo)na. Barça (pronounced ‘barsa’) is just a name for the football team. So calling the city Barça or Barsa is utterly wrong. Mispronouncing the wrong term and calling it Barca (‘barka’) is even worse, as barca means boat.

So you finally know it and you can sound a bit wiser this Christmas. Now go, deck the halls and don your gay apparel, unless you live in an extremely religious country. Ah, the irony!

Proper English on the Spanish radio? Not thanks to Maroon 5

If you ever listen to the Spanish radio, you’ll notice that their English is highly improvable. See some examples.

When Spain couldn’t speak English—or even less than now—the average citizen settled for the pleasure of the melody, which they accompanied with a succession of sounds sort of inspired by the actual lyrics. That is, In the Ghetto sung by El Príncipe Gitano was fine.

You’d think that in 2016 radio disk jockeys would have polished their English due to the exposure to that language. Far from the truth. They even dare make comments that are allegedly related to the lyrics. Allegedly.

After Love Yourself by Justin Bieber was played, a deejay added ‘That’s right. Everyone should love themselves’. She probably focussed on the title, the slow rhythm and the whispering and ignored the words, since ‘love yourself’ in that song is an obvious ‘f**k you’.

They don’t even try. After almost a decade of Halo by Beyoncé—in which the title of the song is repeated to boredom—other deejay introduced it as ‘HA-lo’, four sounds, instead of the six from ‘hey-low’.

'Listen, I'm going to mess with grammar if I want to and you're going to love it'

‘Listen, I’m going to mess with grammar if I want to and you’re going to love it’

However, who can blame them when the anglophone bands commit atrocities such as ‘even the sun sets in paradise’? I’m indeed quoting Payphone by Maroon 5. If the metaphor means that nothing is perfect and the sun sets everywhere, even in paradise, they should sing ‘the sun sets even in paradise’. Notice the place of the adverb. As it is in the song, it means that many things set in paradise, even the sun.

There’s still a lot to do…

Interesting facts about the Catalan language – 2015

Just like last year, the same week of the Diada, the Catalan national day, I want to talk about my language. Here’s a visual selection of the 50 facts about the Catalan situation nowadays published in the InformeCat 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua.

Adapted from the InformeCAT 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua

Adapted from the InformeCAT 2015 by Plataforma per la Llengua

Yes, I’m still studying Polish

And my Polish friends find it hard to believe.

I haven’t told you about my progress with the Slavic language since October. Before Easter I spent two weeks in Poland. But why? What’s in there? Apart from Poles, there’s my progress test.

Wouldn't you like all your exams to be like this? [foto©: Rafał Rzepeckl]

Wouldn’t you like all your exams to be like this? [foto©: Rafał Rzepeckl]

Once again some friends hosted me. Friends have, nevertheless, no educational obligation and Polish is used occasionally since English allows for proper communication, which is better than guessing each other’s message. However, I found a way to stimulate my friends to speak more Polish to me: meeting their friends.

At first everybody loves that crazy guy who’s learning their language and introductions and first contact are made in Polish. Thanks to that, the conversation continues like this and now I’m a lot more able to join in than last summer.

There are still lots of gaps, but my fake understanding face is convincing enough to keep the dialogue going so that I get immersed in Polish. At some point I’ll say more than three sentences in a row in English and they’ll swap to it to save me a headache.

So much have I improved that I understand radio announcers a lot better. Such is my progress, that back to Barcelona I went to a pub with a Polish friend and some Slovak acquaintances of him and I could even understand some of their sentences. I’m on fire.

What’s your English dialect? Got words?

Today, I’m sharing with you three simple, short and even fun tests to test your dialect and your vocabulary in English.

Which English? (5 min)

Cutest thing ever for a post about English [photo: Daily Mail Online]

Cutest picture ever for a post about English [photo: Daily Mail Online]

English grammar is different around the world and influences of your own language—if it’s a different one—may show on your performance. This test consists of three parts. First you’re presented with a sentence and two pictures and you have to choose the image that best represents the sentence. Then you have to tick the phrases that fit in some gaps. Finally, you need to point out the grammatically correct sentences of a list. It’s not uncommon to find different answers to the same thing. But this test doesn’t allow greys; it’s black or white.

An algorithm will guess your dialect and your native language. The more people take the test, the better its guess will be. I took it twice and got English (UK) as my dialect. Scottish and Australian/Welsh were the second and third/third guesses, respectively. As for my native language, the first option was English (UK) and the third was Finnish both times. Its second guess was either Spanish or Hungarian.

How strong is your vocabulary? (1 min)

There’s only 10 questions. You need to select a synonym for each word out of four choices. That’s all. The average score is 2470. My average [3 attempts] is 2800.

Word test (5 min)

In this test you get 100 letter sequences. You have to decide whether they are actual English words or not. This gives an estimate of the percentage of English words that you know. Natives should get about 67 %; high-proficient second language speakers should get 33 %. My average [3 attempts] is 71 %.

I encourage you to take the tests and share your results here. Try to beat me. Someone has to take this show-off down a peck or two.