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The two versions of Sergeev’s monograph on Mari manuscripts

O. A. Sergeev has dedicated much of his career to examining 18th and 19th-century manuscript word lists of the Mari language. In 2000 the Mari state press published his Mari-language overview of these treasures under the title ????? ????? ?????-????. Show More Summary

Sacré Bleu! Why Is Blue the Most Profane Color?

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing. Blue humour, blue movies, blue talk—what’s so obscene about the colour blue? Nobody really knows, as it turns out. The origin of blue in the sense of lewd,...Show More Summary

Strange land.

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Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC)

Michael Rank has an interesting article on Scribd entitled "Chinese telegram, 1978" (5/22/2015). It's about a 1978 telegram that he bought on eBay.  Here's a photograph: A preliminary note before providing the transcription and translation of the text:  Chinese telegrams are sent and received purely as four digit codes.  The sender has to convert a […]

It Made Most Sense in Greek.

I have to pass along another quote from Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome (see this post); he’s been describing the series of church councils that were intended to reconcile differing positions but usually wound up creating better-organized...Show More Summary

Fully (Sic) 2015 Eurovision wrap-up

Now that Vienna’s dangling balls have ceased oscillating, Lauren Gawne recaps this year's Eurovision Song Contest, considering the spectacle from a linguistic perspective.


It occurred to me to wonder why the word nephew, which comes from French neveu, is written with -ph-, so I looked it up in the OED, which (though the entry was updated in September 2003) is uncharacteristically unhelpful — after listing over a hundred variant spellings (including neveaw, newowe, neuo, nephwoy, and nevvey) gives […]

"Purple mist coming from the east" cake

Here is an interesting picture that Francois Dube took today in a cakeshop in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui (Muslim) Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China: Francois comments: As usual in China, the menu introduces each cake with its name in Mandarin and in English (with plenty of mistranslations). But one cake was different: […]

Marriage O'Quality

Tweeted by Graeme Orr: Marriage O'Quality. Comhghairdeas Éire! #marriageeqaulity — Graeme Orr (@Graeme_Orr) May 23, 2015 Clicking on "View Translation", Graeme was fascinated to learn that his combination of neologism and Gaelic is actually… Romanian!

5 Steps to Become Conversationally Fluent in Spanish

Spanish is the language that started off my lifelong obsession with language learning, so it holds a special place in my heart. Thanks to Spanish I was able to discover what what holding me back from becoming fluent in any language.Show More Summary

OK Google

On Thursday, I gave a talk at the Centre Cournot on the topic "Why Human Language Technology (almost) works" ("Pourquoi les technologies de la langue et du discours marchent enfin (ou presque)"), and for the introduction, I tried giving Google Now a few questions and instructions on my Android phone. In case you're not familiar with this […]

Qishan smell of urine yellow croaker

Tom Hancock sent in this photograph of a poster seen yesterday outside a Shaanxi restaurant just inside Beijing's third ring road: Here's the name of the dish they are advertising: Qísh?n sàozi huángyú ?????? I won't attempt to translate it at one fell swoop.  It will be more prudent to work at it two characters […]


I had one yanked today, so I thought I’d post about the Indo-European forms, which mostly all come from the same root and which beautifully illustrate all sorts of sound changes; this is the sort of thing that got me interested in historical linguistics. The Germanic forms — Old English tóþ, Old Saxon tand, Low […]

Underdog or Underduck?

Loveda in Traverse City called because she and her daughter-in-law call the same action by different names, and she wanted to know which one was correct. The action takes place on a swing set. The pusher runs under the swing and then lets go. Show More Summary

The Kick-Butt World of Cutthroat Compounds

The following post was excerpted from Sentence First: An Irishman's blog about the English language. A houseboat is a type of boat; a boathouse is a type of house. This illustrates a common pattern in English morphology: the rightmost part of a compound (houseboat) is usually the ‘head’. Show More Summary

Round about sennight

Q: In my readings of older material, I often see the word “sennight” (a k a, a week). Is it still used in British English, like “fortnight” (two weeks), or is “sennight” now archaic? A: The word “sennight,” an old construction meaning “seven nights,” is now archaic, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. So you... ? Read More: Round about sennight

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