musings on the tomato (and suspected pseudonyms)

One of my tangential work-related projects has involved developing materials for labelling disfluencies¹ in speech, especially as they interact with prosody. Disfluencies include a number of phenomena such as filled pauses (um, uh) false starts (Hey! Those are my pa- trousers!) and unexpec- -ted … pauses or lengthening of woooords or partsss of words.² Disfluencies occur very frequently in natural speech, especially in spontaneous speech.³

Since they occur so frequently, it should be really easy to find examples of them, right? Well, yes and no. The trouble is that we’ve been looking for examples that we can redistribute, as part of training materials. Some of the materials we have used in previous research has not been licensed in this way. (A lot of people made such recordings before even imagining the web, let alone that their voices might show up there.) So, I have been on the hunt, on and off for several years, for materials that are suitable: high quality recordings of spontaneous speech produced by native speakers of American English. Those constraints right there limit things more than you might think. And then add on to that the desire to find things that have been released into the public domain, or shared with a creative commons license allowing derivative works and redistribution.

I don’t remember exactly when I came across the Internet Archive, and considered it as a potential resource for finding such soundfiles, but searches had been only moderately fruitful. But when I found the tomato guy, the Internet Archive bore fruit.

Buried among hundreds of podcasts, I found Musings with Sherman Oak, and I found Sherman Oak rambling about eating a tomato. This podcast was not only chock-full of examples of disfluencies, but tagged as public domain. And on top of that, I found it hilarious. If you have a minute, go have a listen to Sherman talking about tomatoes. (The whole episode is only 3 minutes and 17 seconds, but you can get a pretty good idea from the first minute. Or jump ahead to one of my favorite bits, around 1:30: “raw tomatoes are an evil vile thing.”)

I have no idea who Sherman Oak is. Sherman had a blog for a while, also called Musings with Sherman Oak. The blog has very little content, and a suspiciously large number of typos and other quirks. Which is completely in character with Sherman Oaks.

But I have this strong suspicion that Sherman Oak is a just that: a character. I think there’s a strong possibility that it is an actor or comedian, or comedian-actor, creating Sherman. In fact, I have a candidate: Thomas Lennon. (He was on, and one of the creators of, Reno 911, and has done a lot of stand-up and sketch comedy.)⁴

Listening to Sherman, I had this sense that I recognized his voice. And poking around more through some videos of Thomas Lennon on YouTube, I haven’t yet found anything that dissuades me.⁵ In fact, if Sherman Oak is not a character of Thomas Lennon, then he should be.

¹ Yeah, I just linked to Wikipedia. For a much denser and more academic discussion of disfluencies, see Shriberg’s 1994 dissertation.
² i.e. segmental lengthening that is not obviously in the service of phrasing or pitch accents.
³ Spontaneous speech typically is contrasted with read, elicited, or rehearsed speech.
⁴ He also, as is the case with many actors, lives in L.A. There is a district of LA called Sherman Oaks, which could be a coincidence. He is also from a town in Illinois called Oak Park. I only know these things from reading his Wiki page. I never previously had any cause to stalk him.
⁵ See, for example, this interview [youtube] or this stand-up bit [youtube].

Some tomatoes grown by a friend of mine in her garden. I did not eat them, though I have been known to enjoy a tomato. Even a raw one.

little Phoebe

A little list of Five Phoebe things.

  1. Phoebe is a name meaning “bright and shining,” originating from ancient Greek. The first Phoebe was a goddess in Greek mythology, one of the Titans (also spelled Phoibe)
  2. Many Phoebes have since made their appearance in fiction and life, such as Phoebe Snow, used in advertisements for the Lackawanna Railroad in the early 1900s:

  3. Phoebes are birds: “The genus Sayornis is a small group of medium-sized insect-eating birds in the Tyrant flycatcher family Tyrranidaenative to North and South America.” (wiki). They are named for their song, which is said to sound like “fee-bee” (Click here to hear some Phoebe chirping.)
    An Eastern Phoebe
  4. Phoebe is Saturn’s smallest moon, a satellite which was once a comet.
    Phoebe, moon of Saturn.

  5. Phoebe, or Little Phoebe, is a term meaning “five”

    little phoebe

    the cardinal number that is the sum of four and one

    In case this meaning seems completely obscure to you, as it did to me, it appears to have originated in the dice game, craps. Among the “Principal craps terms” listed under the heading for craps in Dictionary of the American West: over 5,000 terms and expressions from Aarigaa! to Zopilote, by Winfred Blevins are these terms for a roll of 5: “fever dice, little Phoebe, feebee, or just Phoebe

This is all by way of saying that my own little Phoebe is five today.

Phoebe, five-year old girl.

Happy birthday, sweet Phoebe.

Image links: a roll of Phoebe with dice, Phoebe (moon), Phoebe (bird), and Phoebe Snow. (All 4 of these are public domain images. The image of Phoebe (child) is not.)

for whoever

In case you don’t know the Beautiful South, allow me to introduce them to you. (Whoever you are.) Here is their song, “Song for Whoever.”

Oh Shirley, oh Deborah, oh Julie, oh Jane
I wrote so many songs about you
I forget your name (I forget your name)
Jennifer, Allison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
Jennifer, Allison, Phillipa, Sue, Deborah, Annabel, too
I forget your name

6 weird things about me

In exchange for getting YTSL of Webs of Significance to subject herself to the 5 questions meme, which she has graciously already posted about, I have offered myself up to be tagged by her for the 6 weird things meme. (Yes, I realize these are not your traditional meming behaviors. However, I don’t expect we’ll be fined by the International Meme Police. I do sometimes worry about being persecuted by the International Mime Police though. My “walking against the wind” is appallingly bad.*)

Anyhow, here is a list of 6 weird things about me.

  1. I was a weird kid, and had a variety of colorful fantasies. I’m sure most kids did, but somehow, I think mine may have been a bit weirder than normal. For example, when I was around 9 or 10 years old, I used to imagine that as an adult, I’d choose to regularly wear full blown Victorian-style gone-with-the-windian hoop-skirted dresses. Because as an adult I’d have full choice over what I’d wear.
  2. artichokes.jpg

  3. My favorite food is a vegetable. I love artichokes. Not to say that I don’t have other food loves. But artichokes are tops. I’m talking fresh, steamed, prickly, spiky, alien-looking thistle buds. My deep, abiding love for artichokes dates back to my youth, and was considered to have been no_pizza1.jpg
  4. decidedly odd by other kids. When other American kids were asked for favorite foods, they’d almost universally answer “pizza.” But me, I’d answer “artichokes.” I actually didn’t even like pizza as a kid. (Yes, another weirdness. I got over it.) I remember a school project once where the kids of my 5th or 6th grade class had to put together a newspaper. As a new kid at the school, I was interviewed. The “editors” chose to put the headline for the resulting article on the front page: “Girl Likes Artichokes”. It almost could have been a Weekly World News article.

  5. I once lost my sense of smell. I don’t remember for how long. Might have been a couple of weeks. It came back gradually. When it first came back, I could smell only one thing: cherry scones. (I’ve been meaning to write this story, but I think I’ll save the details for later.)
  6. I can sing a bunch of TV theme songs for shows that I’ve never watched. For example, “77 Sunset Strip” and “Flipper”, or one of my favorites to sing, “Surfside 6“. (Keep in mind that the indented parts are sung in my best bimbo voice.):

    Surfside 6
           What’s that?
    Surfside 6
           an address?
    Surfside 6
           for a houseboat?
    Surfside 6
           and where is it?
    In Miami Beach
    da da da, da da da
    cha cha cha

  7. My name is spelled in Esperanto. (In a way that speaks more to the weirdness eccentricity of my parents than of myself…) In case you haven’t heard of Esperanto, it’s an artificially created international language. Much like the dodo, it is most frequently referenced in jokes about obsolescence, obscurity and extinction.

    Esperanto is a joke. It’s for cranks. You can tell it’s for cranks because, on the few occasions you hear about it, you hear that it is “not just for cranks”.


    cynics have mocked it as an idealistic cult for linguistic weirdos.

  8. I can get quite compulsive about my hobbies. And I have a weird sense of humor. This is a combination that some people have found disturbing. For example, consider this incident from a recent visit to the in-laws. John and my mother-in-law and I were sitting at the kitchen table late at night, talking. I noticed a “Clipper magazine”, a hideous thing made up entirely of ads, with coupons to clip. When I saw the magazine sitting there, with me sitting around with my hands unoccupied, I had this overwhelming urge to clip the letters. I thought I could make a banner for the blog. When I asked my mother-in-law if I could cut up her magazine, she asked why. As I have felt it best to hide the existence of my blog from her, I had to come up with a plausible reason: “I need to write a ransom note.”


Okay, them’s my 6 weird things. Others might claim that there are additional weird things about me. John says my little toes are weird. So I suppose they could have been items 5 and 6.

Now I believe I’m supposed to tag 6 other people, according to the rules:

People who are tagged should write a blog post of 6 weird things about them as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says ‘you are tagged’ in their comments and tell them to read your blog.

Okay, this is definitely the hard part. Maybe I should just go around to random blogs and leave the “you are tagged” bit. Or maybe I’ll just go around leaving comments telling random people to read my blog. That would be oh-so-smooth. Or I could send notes with cut up letters telling people to read my blog…or else.

So, I think I’ll go with some people I haven’t attempted to tag before, but believe to have some weirdness to them. (And I mean that as a compliment.):

  • jeanerz of Jean Crawford, Starr Linguist
  • KC of Where’s My Cape?
  • NotSoSage of NotSoSage
  • Jaŋari of Matjjin-nehen
  • and

  • Lori of Celebrating the Absurd
  • And since she’s seemed moderately amenable to this sort of thing in the past,

  • jenny of baggage carousel 4.
  • If any of you don’t want to play, I can untag you. Or you can just ignore the tag (which is what often happens). If someone out there does want to play (either this game or some future one) please let me know.

    *I’m trying to figure out a way to throw in this quote about miming by Paula Poundstone, who said:

    The saddest thing about me talking all the time is that I am a gifted mime. I could have had a brilliant career. I just couldn’t shut up!


    Look at me, I’m in a box!


    Last night I signed up for YouTube, and posted a video there for the first time ever. (Can you blame me?) When I went to sign up, and selected my user name, I got a message saying that the user name was already taken. My first thought was that I must have already signed up for YouTube, and just forgotten about it. So I tried my various passwords. No go. So maybe I used a different password that I’ve forgotten about. So I hit the button for “forgot password,” and got the message that an email with my password would be sent to my email address. So I waited. For my email. No email. NO EMAIL!

    Do you realize what this means? Somebody out there signed up for a YouTube account with my name. MY NAME! Mine! For the first time ever, and I mean ever, I was faced with having to make a second choice. It was a bit of a shock. I ended up choosing alejna99. In part because I’m amused by the idea of having 99 alejnas signing up before me.