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“Twere is a contraction of a form of the verb to be. In full, it is written as it were, a subjunctive form. I bring it up because it is used in a scene in the Coen Brothers’ movie, Hail, Caesar. In that scene, a movie director becomes...Show More Summary

Tell the truth!

It was a linguistic maneuver that had possibly never been tried before in the history of real estate: tell the straight truth about the property, no varnishing, no slathering with adjectives like "stunning". Just tell it like it is. One brave firm of real estate agents, Scott & Stapleton in England, tried it as a […]

The Universal Apocrypha of Linguistics and Verbal Ordnance

The first panel from today's Girl Genius refers to Traubhünd's Universal Apocrypha of Linguistics and Verbal Ordnance: …better known these days as the Oxford English Dictionary…

Winnie-the-Pooh in Caucasian Languages.

This YouTube video (four and a half minutes) has Winnie-the-Pooh’s song (Russian lyrics here) in Avar, Ossetian, Darghin, Kumyk, Lak, Lezghin, and Tatar (and at the end, for good measure, English, German, and Russian). Fun! (Via Steven Lubman’s Facebook post.)

How Gender Neutral Is Guys, Really?

The unlikely story of guy: It was originally an eponym for Guy Fawkes, then referred to someone dressed up in a grotesque costume. By the mid-19 th century its meaning had broadened to denote a man, before extending further to become an informal, gender-neutral vocative or term of address, especially in the plural. Show More Summary

5 Hacks to Learn Languages by Reading Literature

Nothing is better than a great book. And, if it is a foreign book? Even better! You can learn a lot from reading books in your target language. You can benefit from a book’s message and equally from its language. In other words, a book...Show More Summary

Doublet Compound Name Request.

A reader writes: I’d like to know whether there is a linguistics term for a compound made up of two doublets. I suspect the phenomenon is so rare – the only unforced example I can think of in English is “head chef” – that no-one’s ever seen the need for a term. But I’d love […]

A risky preposition

Q: I see both “risk of” and “risk for” regularly, particularly in the health context. “Risk for cancer,” “risk of dying prematurely,” etc. How do you know when to use “of” or “for”? Are both acceptable? A: There’s no clear answer here. Both “risk of” and “risk for” are used by educated writers, and many... ? Read More: A risky preposition

Pussy and pusillanimous

Email yesterday from P.O.: Professor Liberman, we need you. You're no doubt aware of Trump's recent comment, quoting a supporter. But now TPM has gone and printed a reader email linking 'pussy' to pusillanimous'. I had never heard this before, and I'm fairly well-read. I did some google-sleuthing, and found that it has clearly been […]

OCS and Old Irish Online.

I hope I haven’t posted this before, but it’s good enough it deserves a repeat if I have: the Linguistics Research Center at the University of Texas has “thousands of web pages, most of them devoted to ancient Indo-European languages and cultures”; Paul sent me their links for Old Church Slavonic and Old Irish, and […]

Chinglish medley

An assortment of Chinglish signs and menu items from my files (I forget who sent them to me).  There are eight all together.  Before diving into an examination of them one after the other, I should note that the last two partially result from the perennial problem of not knowing how to deal with warnings […]

Endowed chairs at the 2017 Linguistic Institute

Anyone familiar with academia will have noticed how often the high-prestige invited participants at conferences or summer schools and the holders of endowed professorships tend to be men. Well, not so much in linguistics, it would seem. Look at the list of the faculty members selected to hold the four prestigious endowed professorships at the […]

A Soninke loan in Songhay

There are a rather large number of words in Songhay, the language of the Niger River valley between Timbuktu and southern Niger, which are almost the same as in Soninke, the language of the semidesert regions around the Mali-Senegal-Mauritania borders well to the west. Show More Summary

Political sound and silence

As part of an exercise/demonstration for a course, last night I ran Neville Ryant's second-best speech activity detector (SAD) on Barack Obama's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2010 (50 of them), and George W. Bush's Weekly Radio Addresses for 2008 (48 of them). The distributions of speech and silence durations, via R's kernel density estimation function, look like […]

Separating the modern usses from the cave usses

Dinosaur Comics for 2/3/2016: Mouseover title: "oh wow a comic in which ryan argues the technology that gave us the word "bonertastic" is really important, WHAT A SURPRISE" And for added linguistic value, the page's javascript code includes this comment: about how to spell the plural of us: really not sure the right way […]

College Girl Fiction.

Keely Savoie of Mount Holyoke College reports on a literary genre I was unfamiliar with: It was once inconceivable: girls and young women pursuing higher education away from home, where they lived in dorms with one another, apart from their families. But after Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1837 as the first of […]

Strove Monday

Q: A recent editorial in the Washington Post says many of Donald Trump’s “rivals have strove to mimic him.” Shouldn’t that be “have striven”? A: “Strove” or “strived” is the past tense of the verb “strive.” The past participle (used with forms of “have”) is “striven” or “strived.” So the Post’s editorial writers should have... ? Read More: Strove Monday


Bey Bey — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) February 8, 2016

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