Posts Tagged song

Linguistic Alternative Polka (“Weird Al” Yankovic parody lyrics)


Here are some linguistics-related parody lyrics I wrote to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Alternative Polka”. I’ve grouped them into numbered topics, with notes below explaining what each part is about. The topic switches don’t necessarily match the transitions between song snippets in the original.

  1. Soy un perdedor
    ‘I’m a loser’, baby,
    it means that in Spanish.
    Everybody!
    Soy un perdedor
    ‘I’m a loser’, baby,
    it means that in Spanish.
    Hey
  1. I am, I am, I am
    I said I wanna get copular
    I said I’m gonna be copular
    You said “Hi, copular, I’ll be your dad.
    Be your dad.”
  1. I know you know what’s on my mind
    I know the deixis in my mind
    You know the referent that’s inside
    I know you know, you know, you know
  1. Here’s a wug, a wug, a wug, a wug
    Here’s a wug, a wug, a wug
    A word I never knew, this should be fun!
    How do I deal when it’s not the only one?
    Now that there are two, it’s twice as fun!
    How do I deal when it’s not the only one?
    Don’t know what to do, there’s more than one!
    Until I pluralise with linguistic morphological smarts
  1. Help me, my Broca part is broken
    Help me, I’ve got no fluent speech
    Help me, I understand but hard write speak
    Help me, word brain frustrate myself
  1. Don’t wanna [animal noise]-talk like an animal
    I want a squeal with morphemes inside
    Don’t wanna [animal noise]-talk like an animal
  1. So here’s how this bit is fraught:
    This rhyme relies on caught-cot.
    Hey, hey, hey
  1. You slang slang slang slang slang
    shame shame shame
    But slang slang slang slang slang
    is everything so let it go.
    ‘Cause the standards you preach
    that that my speech doesn’t reach are so recent that they
    ignore etymology, yo!
    And every time I speak you chide;
    do you know when you scold me
    the old meanings did expand, also panned,
    yet we understand!
    And I’m here to remind you
    of the complex ways language got that way
    It’s not fair to deny me
    of the force of change that still acts today.
    You oughta know
    Hey
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change.
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change.
    And someone will say something “wrong” that’s right the next day.
    Despite all your rage, language still has to constantly change!
  1. I hate all the ‘u’s
    from lands of old.
    I hate -our language too
    when you write o-u-r.
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
    I don’t o-u anything!
  1. Language sounds, all around,
    watch how they compound!
    Language sounds, all around,
    they abound.
    Language sounds, language sounds
    they confound
    language sounds, language sounds
    so unsound!
    language sounds, language sounds
    Do you have the time to listen to my rhyme?
    Sounds similar and different all at once.
    That is one of those minimal pairs that show
    phonetic contrast also is phonemic.
    A dozen ways to say a /t/
    Sometimes my ears play tricks on me
    I’m stuck on this grey tape; I think I’m a great ape
    Are these distinct phonemes, or allophones?
    Are they allophones?
    Hey!

Here’s my explanation of the different parts. Please note that while I do have a Masters in Linguistics, I am in no way an expert on any of these things (though I’m pretty sure about the Spanish), so don’t take my word for it.

  1. Pretty self-explanatory, really. ‘Soy un perdedor’ is Spanish for ‘I’m a loser’. All I changed from the original was the punctuation and the explanation, ‘It means that in Spanish.’

  2. Copulas and copular verbs link the subject of a sentence to a complement, which can be all sorts of things, including both nouns and adjectives. So the copula ‘am’ in “I am hungry” is followed by an adjective, but it could just as well be followed by a noun. This gives rise to the popular ‘dad joke’ format:

    Kid: I’m hungry.
    Dad: Hi, Hungry; I’m Dad.

    I feel like the copular sense of the verbs ‘feel’ and ‘look’ also have a role in this format of dad joke, though I’m not sure how to properly describe it linguistically:

    Kid: I feel like an ice cream.
    Dad: Well, you don’t look like one!

    (You, as a dad: Well, you don’t look like the copular sense of the verbs ‘feel’ and ‘look’ also have a role in this format of dad joke, though I’m not sure how to properly describe it linguistically!)

    But I suppose that’s really just two distinct meanings of the phrasal verb ‘feel like‘, and an implicit ‘eating’ in the Kid’s sentence, which the Dad ignores. Still, you can see how ‘look’ is copular in sentences such as ‘I look weird’. For most verbs, e.g. ‘sing’, you’d have to say ‘I sing weirdly‘, but with ‘look’ it’s just a more specific way of saying ‘I am weird’. We can veer back into dad joke territory when we use a word such as ‘well’ that can be either an adverb or an adjective:

    Kid: You look well!
    Dad: That’s because I have good eyesight.

    Here, the Kid is using ‘look’ as a copula, and ‘well’ as an adjective meaning ‘healthy’, so the phrase means that the Dad appears to be healthy, but the Dad is interpreting ‘look’ as a regular verb and ‘well’ as an adverb, such that the phrase means he’s good at looking at things.

    This is more than I expected to say to complement this subject. See also the explanation of #9 for an example of the zero copula as used in African American Vernacular English.

  3. Deixis is when the same word can mean different things depending on context, such as who’s saying the word, when and where they’re saying it, where they’re pointing, and so on. Joey and I made a video demonstrating personal deixis. This lyric just expresses that we only tend to use deixis when we’re pretty sure whoever we are communicating with knows what the deictic words are referring to.

  4. This refers to the Wug Test — a test of how well a young child understands the rules of their language. The titular example is when a child is shown a picture of a cute little creature and told it is called a ‘wug’. The child is then shown two of them, and asked what they are called. If they understand how words are usually pluralised in English, they’ll answer ‘wugs’. Wugs are very popular with linguists. They are the reason that if I ever record a sequel to my album Wake Up Gasping, it will have to have the same acronym.

  5. Broca’s Area is a part of the brain involved in language production. A person whose Broca’s area is damaged may have Broca’s aphasia, where they can generally understand writing and speech or signing but have difficulty producing language themselves, usually missing out grammatical function words. I’ve tried to mimic this kind of language in the last two lines (to the extent that the song allows). I hope that this is a somewhat realistic example and not seen as making fun of people with any form of aphasia. I watched some videos by Sarah Scott and Mike Caputo to get an idea of how people with Broca’s aphasia speak and how hard they work to improve their communication.

  6. Morphemes are the smallest units of language that carry some kind of meaning. For instance, ‘mean’ and ‘ing’ are separate morphemes. A single morpheme can be made up of multiple sounds, but those sounds don’t mean anything by themselves. This is called ‘double articulation‘, and it’s one of the properties of human language that doesn’t tend to exist in animal communication. In fact, perhaps it would point out that difference better to say ‘I want a squeal with phonemes inside’. But we have phonemes in part #10.

  7. This is what started me writing this ridiculous thing, back in October 2020. The original lyrics are:

    My whole existence is flawed.
    You get me closer to God.

    which got me thinking about how that very couplet is flawed — it doesn’t rhyme in my accent. It relies on the cot-caught merger, where the vowels in the words ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ are pronounced the same. ‘Flawed’ has the same vowel as ‘caught’, and ‘God’ has the same vowel as ‘cot’. In accents with the cot-caught merger, those are both the same vowel, so ‘flawed’ rhymes with ‘God’ and ‘fraught’ rhymes with ‘cot’, but in accents without the merger, those are two different vowels, so the rhyme doesn’t work. You can explore other rhymes that depend on the cot-caught merger and other accent-specific features in Rhyme.Science, the rhyming dictionary I made.

  8. Some nice people like to ‘correct’ others for using words differently from how they do. Sometimes they take exception to usages they consider ‘new’, but don’t realise have been around for hundreds of years. Sometimes they happily use words and grammar that were considered incorrect much more recently. Sometimes they call things ungrammatical because they’re using the grammar of a different dialect. Sometimes they try to use the etymology of a word to dictate how it should be used today. In all of these cases, if they knew more etymology, they’d understand that everything we say comes to us via previously-pooh-poohed mistakes, mispronunciations, dialectal or regional variations, calques, borrowings, slang, analogies, generalisations, specialisations, misunderstandings, rebracketings, back-formations, metaphors, and so on. There’s not much point trying to stop these processes, though I’m sure somebody tried to stop the language you consider correct today from getting how it is.

    To learn more, I can recommend The History of English Podcast, etymonline, Grammar Girl, Lingthusiasm, The Unfolding of Language, and… wait, I should probably stop here before I list the entire contents of my podcast library and the bookcase to my right. Just… take your impulse to quash somebody else’s communication and redirect it towards learning more yourself.

  9. Where my Noah Webster stans at? Here’s an entire song parody I wrote about -or vs. -our spellings.

  10. Spoken languages have a lot of sounds in them! More sounds than the speakers realise. To figure out what the basic units of sound in a given language (called phonemes, and written between /slashes/) are, you need to find ‘minimal pairs’ — words that only differ by one sound. You can tell that /t/ and /r/ are different phonemes in English, because ‘time’ and ‘rhyme’ are different words. But there are actually many different ways of saying /t/, depending on context, and even though they are distinct sounds (called phones, and written in [square brackets]) they are all perceived as the same /t/ phoneme. This is the case for /r/ and other phonemes as well. The different sounds that are all perceived as the same phoneme in a given language are called allophones of that phoneme.

    Note that sounds that are allophones in one language can be separate phonemes in another — for instance, in Spanish, a single phoneme has allophones that English speakers would hear as the separate phonemes /b/ and /v/.

    Sometimes we actually can use allophones to distinguish between phrases, though! For instance, we can hear the difference between ‘gray tape’ and ‘great ape’. The difference is called a juncture, and I’ll be honest, I read about it last week on wikipedia and have not read the citation, so I’m really not sure whether this makes them distinct phonemes or still allophones. By the way, humans are in the Hominidae family commonly called the ‘great apes’ (though some uses of that term exclude humans), so if you think that you’re a great ape, you probably are.

    This part of the song has another kind of sound — sounding weird! The original song has ‘melodramatic fools’ where I put ‘minimal pairs that show’, and both lyrics have a stress on the second syllable, where it wouldn’t normally go. In this case, all that does is make it sound a bit wrong, but syllable stress can also be phonemic and can differentiate words. For instance, the minimal pair ‘abstract’ (the adjective or noun, with the stress on the first syllable) and ‘abstract’ (the verb, with the stress on the second syllable.) There are many English words which change stress depending on which part of speech they are (convict, record, laminate, attribute, etc…), but in a lot of cases the unstressed vowel also changes to a schwa, so the stress isn’t the only difference.

That’s all I have to say about that! Next, perhaps I’ll finish the entirely unnecessary parody lyrics about PSOLA that I started writing in 2016, so if you’re playing these on a string instrument, stay tuned!

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We got married (to each other) and then did cute couple things on a boat!


Remember that time that Joey Marianer and I got engaged (to each other)? Well, a while after that, we also got married, as is typical for engaged couples. It was just a small ceremony in a courthouse, followed by a small gathering with two large cheesecakes. Here’s a very short video synopsis of the wedding:

I just edited the closed captions, and noticed that YouTube’s autocaptions thought the judge said, ‘congratulations youtube and you guys get a blog it’s okay’ when in fact he said, ‘Congratulations, you two. And you guys can applaud; it’s okay!’ Anyway, that video has been gathering congratulations on YouTube for a while, so now you guys get a blog about it.

Then we ate cheesecake with a few friends, and Joey did this:

If you don’t understand what just happened, here’s a video that will explain it.

A few days and two negative COVID tests later, we boarded the JoCo Cruise. On cosplay day we cosplayed each other:

Two photos side by side. The left one is labelled 'everyday' and shows me wearing a pink gingham skirt, a black T-shirt with a picture of Steve Wozniak in the rainbow Apple logo colours, an Apple logo necklace, and a blue custom mask, while Joey is wearing peach-coloured board shorts, a white T-shirt showing palm trees in a sunset, and a white mask. The right photo is labelled 'cosplay day' and has Joey wearing the pink skirt, the Steve Wozniak T-shirt in a larger size, the necklace, and the blue mask, and me wearing pink board shorts, the white palm tree shirt, and a white mask.
What we wore the day before cosplay day vs. what we wore on cosplay day. Joey didn’t wear a wig because the masks are uncomfortable enough. The long-time fans know that long hair and a tiara is canon for Joey cosplay.

This was mainly to facilitate changing into our pants for the Fancy Pants Parade. I haven’t found a video that shows us in the parade itself, but here’s one of us practising last year, when we thought the cruise might be virtual again so we’d need a video:

Then two days later, all decked out for formal night, we did a show, which was also quite geared towards things we could only do while physically together. I structured the setlist to tell the story of how our relationship developed through collaborating on songs.

If you prefer, there’s also a playlist of individual pieces. I even made a playlist of the videos mentioned in the show, complete with the comments in which I might have been flirting with Joey. Some of the poems and songs are on my album, one is on our album of SpinTunes entries, some are on the playlist of Hallelujahs, but three of them have never been published anywhere before.

I’ve wanted to do a poetry show on the cruise for a while, but was always afraid of having to miss out on other events that were scheduled at the same time as it. I did a show on the 2021 virtual cruise where that wasn’t so much of a concern, and people seemed to like it, so an in-person sequel seemed like a good idea. Only, with Joey’s help, it was not merely a poetry show, but also a musical show!

My fears were somewhat realised; this show was scheduled opposite the reception for frequent cruisers, which most of the people who know me well enough to attend my show were eligible to go to. But the other thing those people know is that I film every event I’m at (so far I’ve uploaded 12 hours, 48 minutes of video from the 2022 cruise, and I’m only up to Wednesday afternoon), so they could safely miss the show and watch it now! We got through the setlist with a little time to spare, so we even got to attend the reception briefly.

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A successful ploy to increase engagement


Well, in 2021, among other things, I released an iOS app and a poetry album, wrote an article about accessibility, tech edited three articles about iOS development, won my second Fancy Pants Parade, did a poetry show, wrote a macOS app to find words that look or sound like they’re related but aren’t and a script to make etymological family trees, found a job, lost a job, found a job again, and finally buried a job in soft peat for three months and recycled it as firelighters (that last bit is an exaggeration. Burning jobs to keep warm is not advisable.)

Here’s another exciting thing that happened that I didn’t mention on this blog. During a brief lull in the apocalypse, Joey Marianer came to visit, and we got engaged… to each other! We had of course already discussed this previously, and I wasn’t expecting a song and dance to be made about it, but there was nevertheless a song, as follows:

It’s a parody of the “Weird Al” Yankovic original, “Good Enough for Now“. I find metal rings uncomfortable and a bit dangerous, so Joey got me a silicone engagement ring with a ring on it. This is a much cooler idea than the off-the-shelf ring I got Joey which has flowers on it and no explicit mathematical concepts.

The pretense for recording that was that immediately beforehand, we’d sung some words I’d written to a tune that came to Joey in a dream:

Joey happened to be here while my friend Phil got married (a year later than planned) and joined a group of Phil’s vaccinated and tested friends to celebrate in Tenerife. So here we are walking along the beach looking all couple-y.

Angela and Joey holding hands walking in wet sand along the edge of the waves on a beach in Tenerife. We're both wearing pink board shorts and light-coloured T-shirts. In the background are blue skies and apartment buildings.

I’ll eventually put up videos of some things we saw in Tenerife. After we got back from Tenerife but before Joey went home, we recorded a few short videos in which we are exceedingly cute at each other while demonstrating some linguistic concepts. Here we explore the differences in our accents:

And here we demonstrate how personal deixis can change the meaning of a sentence depending on context:

So, plague willing, we’ll get married in February, have multiple wedding-adjacent cake-eating parties in various real and virtual places over the next several years, and at some point during that time I’ll get the appropriate visa so we can move in together and hopefully only get on each other’s c-tactile nerves.

And now for some unrelated things to look forward to on my YouTube channel. The above videos were shot on my iPhone, which was my first experience with 4K HDR. I’m not sure if editing that on my mid-2014 MacBook Pro did the HDR justice.

However, I bought a new camera recently which can do 4K, and also has several other features which will make recording concerts (and indeed, entire cruises full of concerts) easier — no more stopping to get around a 4GB file size limit, or change batteries, or change SD cards. I won’t generally film entire concerts in 4K due to the space requirements and likelihood of the camera overheating and shutting down, but it’s a nice feature to have for other things. I’ve also ordered the new MacBook Pro, which will have a better display for viewing and editing such video.

I planned to film as much as possible of a concert here in Vienna in 4K, just to see how long I could film continuously in 4K if I took all the measures I knew about to prevent overheating. The concert had to be cancelled due to lockdown, so instead, I recorded myself talking about how I got to work at CERN, as a sequel to the video about getting a laptop from Woz and going to a concert with him. I recorded in 4K for 36 minutes nonstop (which is longer than my old camera can record nonstop even in 1080p) before I ran out of things to say, so I’d call that a successful test. When the new MacBook arrives, I’ll edit that video and hopefully put it online before flying away to get married and (insert SARS-CaVeat here) record an entire cruise full of concerts. I hope I remember how to record and process an entire cruise full of concerts after a year off, and don’t make too many mistakes with the new camera.

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Who We Are (a.k.a. Wear Your Nametag) – a song


A few weeks before JoCo Cruise 2020, I wrote a song to perform at the open mic. It’s a singalong which I figured everyone could relate to, so I figured people would enjoy it. I came up with the tune myself, and Joey Marianer worked out some ukulele accompaniment. Then we found out there would be no open mic on the cruise, so we performed it at Beth Kinderman’s song circle at MarsCon, though there was a lot of background noise and not much singing along there.

I was signed up to perform in a shadow event called ‘A Bunch of Monkeys Read Some Stuff‘ on the cruise, so I also performed it there, along with some short poems I’d written during NanoRhymo 1 and 2, and Global Poetry Writing Month. Words and tweet links of the specific tiny poems are in the video description.

Later in the cruise, Joey hastily organised an especially unofficial open mic, so we performed it there as well. By that time I was slightly more confident about remembering the words:

Here are the lyrics. They contain much haplology, and work best in an accent without the trap-bath split; I had to change the way I pronounce ‘demand’ to sing it, and I didn’t always keep that change consistent through the rest of the song.

We’re close, and I’m finally here with you.
You don’t look like your avatar.
Until I demand all
your names and your handles,
I probably won’t know who you are.

You’ve changed name and gender
your hair, or your shirt
You took off your glasses
your beard or your skirt
You left for three seconds,
your mouth’s now ajar.
I probably don’t know who you are

I probably don’t know who you are.
I probably don’t know who you are!
Your name and your face too,
I just cannot place you.
I probably don’t know who you are.

You’ve just really killed it at open mic.
Your singalong chorus went. far,
but nobody says so
when you’re off the stage, so
they probably don’t know who you are.

They snubbed you at dinner
they brought the wrong beer
Regaled you with stories
you told them last year.
They won’t share their stateroom
or give back your car
They probably don’t know who you are

They probably don’t know who you are.
They probably don’t know who you are!
Even if someone knows ya,
there’s prosopagnosia —
they probably don’t know who you are.

You once seemed at least somewhat normative
but each year things get more bizarre.
There’s joy and there’s strife while
you’re changing your lifestyle.
You probably don’t know who you are.

I couldn’t write this part;
It wouldn’t be true.
Just think about things
That are changing for you.
It takes time and patience
To tune a guitar
You probably don’t know who you are

You probably don’t know who you are.
You probably don’t know who you are!
You’re constantly growing
new parts for not knowing.
You probably don’t know who you are.

We probably don’t know who we are.
We probably don’t know who we are!
And we don’t know whether
we’ll find out together.
We probably don’t know who we are.

It’s all based on truth. Every JoCo Cruise I spend an action-packed and sleep-deprived week with people who are, to varying degrees, my friends. It’s a cruise where people’s clothes and makeup are often far more memorable than their faces, so I may or may not recognise my new or old friends each time I see them during that week. The subtle difference between formal night and pyjama day attire in the videos above can’t compare to the costume changes some people go through. I spend the rest of the year connected to many of these friends via the internet, where I learn their full names and/or other handles, but (despite the name of one of the websites) not necessarily the faces which go with those names. Then we meet in person again, a year of growth different.

Sometimes they grow a full beard between cruises, and then once I’ve figured out who they are, shave it off during the cruise (you know who you are. I didn’t.) Sometimes they transition, tell me their new name, and I don’t connect that ‘new’ person with the name and face they had previously until weeks after I get home. Sometimes I accidentally tell people their own origin stories.

I perform at many open mics, and often love the performances as they’re happening, but don’t remember exactly what the performers looked like or who did what. When people come up to me afterwards and praise my performance, I want to do the same for them, but am not sure whether or what they performed.

I wrote the ‘I’ and ‘they’ parts with no particular plan to turn it into something serious at the end, but then a ‘you’ section seemed like the obvious continuation. That part is true for me, too — the most predictable thing about my life is that it will keep getting ever more ridiculous. May you all find a Jim Boggia to help tune your metaphorical guitars, and if not, time and patience.

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The Impossible Journey (a song)


With The Terrible Trivium being a little too tedious for the judges’ tastes, The Quantifiers were eliminated from round 2 of SpinTunes #16, but the competition encourages ‘shadow’ entries from people not competing, so we wrote a song for the next round anyway. The challenge was:

Write an uplifting song to sing for a Graduation, Dedication, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Funeral, Baptism, or similar event.

We decided to continue writing songs about The Phantom Tollbooth. Joey came up with the idea of writing a song for the ceremony at the end of the book celebrating the protagonists’ rescue of Rhyme and Reason. I thought we could recap the events of the book in such a way that the lyrics could also be interpreted to be about any celebration of somebody’s hard-won achievements. Here’s the song we ended up with:

Here are the rest of the entries:

We got the challenge on Saturday morning (in my timezone), with the deadline being the following Sunday, and the next Thursday we were both flying to Minnesota for MarsCon 2020. Usually I start off by writing a full draft of the lyrics over the weekend, and then I sit back while Joey writes music for it, sings it, creates instrumentals, and mixes the recording. We didn’t want to take time out of MarsCon mixing a song, so I thought we’d probably end up recruiting some of the musicians at MarsCon to perform a live version.

Instead, while we were discussing it over videochat on Saturday morning, Joey immediately recorded a trumpet tune and sent it to me. That afternoon, I sent lyrics to that tune as a chorus, and suggested writing verses abstractly describing the things the characters had fought through. I planned to read the book on the plane so I could have the lyrics written by the time we met in Minnesota.

That night before I went to bed, I sent Joey a recording of myself singing a couple of possible lines for the verses, in a tune I’d made up based on the chorus tune. On Sunday evening, Joey sent back a recording of my chorus lyrics with extra trumpets, just as you hear it in the final song.

On Monday, I felt like I was way behind in my part of the song, so that evening, I skimmed through the book and wrote a line for each scene, unrhymed, and a final eight resonably rhymed lines about the scene where Rhyme and Reason were rescued. I arranged the unrhymed lines in quatrains with the fourth line of each a little shorter, and choruses between them.

By Tuesday morning, Joey had already recorded a great ‘quick and dirty’ version of the song, with more instrumentation than our previous songs had. It had fewer choruses than I’d imagined, and the last four rhymed lines were cut. I submitted that one as a ‘safety’ in case we didn’t manage to finish a better recording, but I also pointed out some small things which could be improved.

On Thursday morning, I got up at something like 4a.m to go to the airport, and Joey had sent an updated recording, so I quickly updated our Spintunes submission before getting ready to leave. That was our final entry, and I like it more than the songs we spent the full week on. I probably should have taken the time to fix the slightly shorter lines that were once at the ends of quatrains though — one of the judges commented on how they didn’t fit properly into the tune.

The final four lines, in case you are interested, were:

Your every action has a tiny effect
To never fail would be a sorrow
What one day seems useless will later effect
the wonderful secrets of tomorrow

‘The wonderful secrets of tomorrow’ being a direct quote from the book.

The prompt for the fourth round of Spintunes was:

Write a song about something that seemed a good idea at the time, but ended very badly. Maybe you should have given it a little more thought…

We did not submit a shadow for it, since we were busy on JoCo Cruise (and yes, we considered writing one about going on a cruise during a pandemic), but here are others’ entries:

The world was quite different when we got back to port, with all future cruises and many flights being cancelled, but as far as I know we all made it home, and nobody on our cruise had the virus. I’m now staying at home, like most of you, and uploading my 29 hours or so of JoCo Cruise videos — so far, the New Monkey Orientation and part of the first Red Team concert.  Subscribe to my channel if you want to see the rest, but be warned that there will be a lot of uploads over the coming months, so they might flood your recommendations or notifications.

And now for something completely different: I’ve also uploaded a guided tour of Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis, recorded a few days before the cruise:

I recommend watching this immediately after the full pre-show video I uploaded earlier, if you haven’t seen that already. Joey and I also sang a few things at a song circle at MarsCon, but perhaps I’ll put those in a different post.

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The Terrible Trivium (another song!)


With Dining in Dictionopolis, Joey and I came eighth over all in Spintunes #16 round 1, and with all the rankings close to the extreme ends, were apparently Marmite for judges. This means The Quantifiers were indeed qualifiers, making it to round two of Spintunes #16, though we would probably have written a song for this round anyway. The challenge was:

Your lyrics must prominently feature counting. How and what you count is up to you – you can count up or down, by ones, fives, tens, logarithmically, exponentially; you can count steps in a process, miles in a journey, hours in a day…

Which seemed like an invitation to stay in the Phantom Tollbooth universe, and sing about Digitopolis. We ended up writing about a scene from after Milo has visited Digitopolis, in which a demon known as The Terrible Trivium engages the protagonists in easy but worthless tasks, in order to keep them from their goal. As before, I wrote most of the words (though Joey suggested the scene) and Joey did the music, most of the singing (I sang some additional vocals), and the arranging. Here’s the song:

Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free. Milo ends up using the magic staff (a pencil) he got in Digitopolis to calculate that the tasks would take them 837 years to finish, so they escape thanks to the power of arithmetic, although that part didn’t make it into the song.

The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:

Commenters at the listening party surmised that we would end up writing a Phantom Tollbooth musical, which is probably the case, although despite one person’s suggestion, it probably won’t be on ice.

The next challenge will be due while we’re at MarsCon, so rather than spending a lot of that time mixing a song, we might recruit some of the musicians there and record our song live. I’ve already put my copy of The Phantom Tollbooth in my carryon luggage.

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Dining in Dictionopolis (a song!)


Joey Marianer and I knew that it would be ridiculous to enter into SpinTunes #16, what with the deadlines for later rounds falling just after times when we’d be busy at MarsCon or on cruises, so obviously we entered. I’ve been passively following SpinTunes and its participants since before it even started, with its inspiration Masters of Song Fu, and this is the first time I’ve teamed up with someone musical enough to actually join in the fun. We called ourselves The Quantifiers, based on what we wore to MathsJam 2019, and filled in the rest of the entry form with the first things that came to mind. We continued to foolishly use the first things to come to mind as the contest started.

The first challenge was, “Write a song based on a scene from a book or movie”, so I thought of one of my favourite books which Joey has also read, and one of my favourite scenes from that book, and started coming up with lyric ideas while Joey was still asleep in another time zone. At some point Joey wrote some music and made a first recording while I was asleep. Joey also contributed lyric ideas, and I contributed music ideas (and one line of singing) but mostly the words are mine and the music and singing are Joey’s.

The book is The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and if you like puns, you would love it. The song is about the scene where the protagonist, Milo, is invited to a banquet lunch with King Azaz the Unabridged, of Dictionopolis. As guest of honour, Milo must choose the menu, and he gets exactly what he asks for.

Click through to see the lyrics or download the song for free.

The rest of the songs submitted for this challenge are in this album:

I haven’t listened to them all yet, but I’m listening to them in the SpinTunes listening party right now and following along with the comments. The actual listening party for this round starts at around 53:10. The other songs have more instrumentation than ours, and it generally sounds like the artists have more experience with this kind of thing, which they do, but one commenter described our song as “A less trippy early Floyd”, so I’ll take it. I don’t know what possessed Joey to do this with me, but my main goals were to have fun making the song and make a few Phantom Tollbooth fans smile, and we did both. If this inspires you to reread the book, consider reading it in another language or in another version of English — I know there are a few sections that are noticeably different between the edition I have and the one my nemesis in the US has.

If you’re familiar with The Phantom Tollbooth, you might think it a bit weird for two people dressed as mathematical symbols to write a song based in Dictionopolis, but we’re both into maths and linguistics, so let’s just say I’m the Princess of Sweet Rhyme and Joey is the Princess of Pure Reason, although I believe this song was actually edited in Cubase.

Here’s hoping we have just as much fun in the next round, whether we’re still in the competition (in which case, The Quantifiers will be Qualifiers!) or we just decide to submit a shadow entry.

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May the Fourth Be With You


I’ve published both of these things before, but not both on May the Fourth. Here’s a video of the poem that I wrote about Star Wars before I saw it, along with a wrap-up of what I thought about the poem after seeing Star Wars:

And here’s a musical version of that poem, set to music and sung by Joey Marianer:

I’ve just noticed that the automatically-generated closed captions on that one say ‘sorry Bingley Lloyd’ instead of ‘stars were being made’, which is hilarious, but if you’re hard of hearing you’d be better off reading the text of the poem here instead. I don’t think I’ve added proper closed captions to my video of it either yet, sorry; I should have thought about this before today.

May the force be with Peter Mayhew always.

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With or Without U (U2 Parody)


Here are some parody lyrics to U2’s With or Without You which I wrote in response to a facebook comment back in May. It’s about time I shared them:

The contours of paramours
The velour of troubadours
They’re spelled with u
But in colour, labour day
with far-harbour ardour, neighbours say
They will write, without u
Write -or without u
Write -or without u
Not behaviour to condemn
Who has honour, humour them
Latinate roots for u
Spelled -or without u
Spelt -or without o-u-r
These are spelled
With or without u
And your dialect’s okay
And your spelling is okay
And you spell
And you spell
And your spelling is okay
My armour’s breached
There is no errour in yor ways
just flavour and splendour
And can I lend a vowel?
And your dialect’s okay
And your spelling is okay
And you spell
And you spell
And your spelling is okay
With or without u
With or without o-u-r
These are spelled
With or without u
O… O-U, O-R
With or without u
With or without o-u-r
These are spelt
With or without u
With or without u

Enjoy it with or without U2’s version playing along. I’d like to say that I used my Masters degree in linguistics to write this, but really, everything came from the -or, -our section of the Wikipedia page on American and British English spelling differences. I threw in a few other spelling variations for fun.

I hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. For those who celebrate Christmas, vicariously or otherwise, here’s a playlist of Christmas-related things I’ve uploaded to YouTube, and the tag of Christmas-related blog posts I’ve written.

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In which I appear content with content in which I appear


I’ve been having a pretty relaxed month, but my life is ridiculous, therefore so far in September I have appeared in a music video, a radio broadcast, and a podcast.

The music video is Molly Lewis’s ‘Pantsuit Sasquatch‘, for which I recorded my feet walking up to a tortoise sculpture on a playground:

This joins the six other official music videos I have contributed to, and five unofficial music videos I’ve made. I guess I just like being in music videos.

The radio broadcast (which you can also listen to online) was episode #9 of the Open Phil Broadcast on Radio Orange. The broadcast mostly features regulars at the Open Phil open mic in Vienna. Each episode features an interview with and performance by two acts; I shared this one with Adrian Lüssing, also known as The Cliff.

It was an honour to be invited to participate in the broadcast, and it was made extra awesome by the fact that it happened while Joey Marianer, who has been setting a lot of my poetry to music, was visiting Vienna, so he participated too. I recited They Might Not Be Giants, then he sang his version of it, then we sang I Love Your Body, with Joey singing the first part and me singing the second part. Yes, me singing. This is about the first time I’ve sung for an audience, and the third time Joey and I had sung that song together, and it went on the radio. I think it went pretty well, though! We performed it again a few days later on the Open Phil stage, and I’ll post video of that once I’ve uploaded it.

The podcast was episode #60 of Wrong, but Useful, a recreational mathematics podcast by @icecolbeveridge (Colin in real life) and @reflectivemaths (Dave in real life). I was invited to be a special guest cohost. I’m not sure I contributed very much, but I once again recited They Might Not Be Giants, because the hosts had heard me perform that at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last year. I have to admit, I had not actually listened to the podcast until I was invited to be on it — podcast listening is something I usually do while commuting, and lately I’ve been noncommutative. However, before episode #60 was recorded, Joey and I listened to episode #59 together, and I’m happy to report that the answer we came up with for the coin-flipping puzzle was correct.

In hindsight, I wish I’d mentioned my linguistics degree while we were chatting about English and poetry and such. I also wish I’d said something about the fact that nobody on episode #59 noticed that the diameter of the Fields medal in millimetres happened to round up to the number of the podcast (that is, 64, not 59. You don’t expect mathematicians to give each podcast episode only a single number do you?)

This reminds me, I need to register for the MathsJam Annual Gathering soon. You should too, if you can get to it. It’s a lot of fun! And who knows? Maybe if you go, you’ll end up co-hosting a podcast.

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