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We’re All Semanticists Now: Dr. Beaver’s Response

I blogged recently about a linguistics paper so stuffed with jargon that it read to me as if it had poorly translated from the original Croatian. I also wondered what the paper had to do with belly buttons, as was suggested by its title (“Have You Noticed That Your Belly Button Lint Colour Is Related to the Colour of Your Clothing?”), when in fact its abstract made not a single umbilical reference. The author of the paper was named David Beaver.

It turns out that Dr. Beaver is a very good sport. He wrote in to say that he wasn’t thrilled with the blog post — although his mother thought it served him well, his wife disagreed — but, rather than complain, he did one better: he translated the paper back into Croatian. He also explained the belly button connection. Finally, he noted that he no longer teaches at Stanford, as I’d written, but is now at the University of Texas. His full response, posted on Language Log, is well worth the read, especially if your Croatian is as poor as mine.

FWIW, the reason I came across Beaver’s paper in the first place was that I was Google-searching for “they might be giants” and “belly button.” Why? Someone had mentioned that TMBG might have written a song about belly buttons, which I wanted to find because of a forthcoming book in which I have a steep interest. More on this later.