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Every Non-word.

I generally have little interest in lists of invented words, which at best induce a slight smile and are never heard of again, but every non-word (@nondenotative) is different; it consists of “combinations of English syllables that don’t appear in the dictionary,” and the very fact that it’s not trying to be clever means you […]


Mike from Cadillac asked about the word shingles. Specifically, he wanted to know how the painful rash connects to a roof tile. Even though the current spelling of both words is identical, it is an accident of history. The overlapping shingles used to protect a roof are thin pieces of wood with parallel sides, one end thicker than the other. Show More Summary

Words can wound. Let’s stop calling people ‘crazy’.

This Mental Health Week, Erica Dodd explains why casually using terms that deride mental illness can have more of an effect than you might think.

HelloTalk App Review: Chat with Native Speakers on Your Smartphone

HelloTalk is the coolest new app in town that serves one purpose: it connects you directly with native speakers for live written and spoken practice, all from your smartphone. There are sites out there that let you search for peopleShow More Summary

10 Books That Wouldn’t Exist Without Flann O’Brien.

If this were 10 Books That Wouldn’t Exist Without Shakespeare or Cervantes or some other obvious candidate, I would have yawned and moved on. But I couldn’t resist Flann O’Brien, who (as ever) needs all the publicity he can get; I learned some interesting stuff (“Borges reviewed At Swim-Two-Birds in 1939, claiming that it was […]

Grading political comments

A dozen people have sent me links to this blog post — "Presidential Debate Grammar Power Rankings", Grammarly Blog 10/6/2015 — or to various commentaries on it, e.g. Justin Moyer, "Trump supporters have the worst Facebook grammar, study...Show More Summary

Retroactive confirmation

Claire Landsbaum, "Research Confirms Using Periods in Texts Makes You Seem Pissed Off", ComPlex 10/3/2015: Before texts, every sentence ended with a period. But with the advent of impersonal electronic communication, line breaks became a quicker and easier way to express the end of a thought. "The default is to end just by stopping, with […]

A usage to diary for?

Q: Is “diaried” the past tense of the verb “diary”? Example: “I diaried a notation this morning that Ms. Heard did not show up for her Aug. 12th appointment.” A: If “diary” is used as a verb, then “diaried” would be the expected past-tense form. But there’s not a trace of the usage in standard... ? Read More: A usage to diary for?

Gender bending

There's a guy with brown hair who has worked as a checkout person at a store I go to regularly.  He's been there for about five years.  Of the 20 or so checkout persons at the store, all of the others except one are female, mostly between 18 and 25. Over the course of the […]

Is it True that German is Hard to Learn?

I’m fed up with the myth that German is hard to learn for English speakers. Learning another language can be infuriating, particularly as you find yourself committing grammar rules, pronunciations, and a never-ending list of words to memory. Show More Summary

Fifteen Years of wood s lot.

Five years ago I wrote: I am in awe of Mark Woods, who’s been putting out wood s lot for ten years now. It’s all I can do to crank out a post a day; you could say Mark puts out a post a day too, but each of his is equivalent to a dozen […]

The G.K. Chesterton Prize for Ignoring Women

Yogi Berra may or may not have said that "You can observe a lot just by watching". He didn't add that you can learn a lot just by counting — but as a baseball person, he surely knew the power of simple statistics. You can learn a lot about G.K. Chesterton from the Wikipedia article about him, […]

Why the sudden need?

And what sort of factory? That's what Stephen B. wondered when he read the Guardian headline, "German factory orders slide unexpectedly".

Mauritian Creole

Brian Jongseong Park was recently in Berlin and got to see an art show featuring works from Berlin-based Mauritian artist Djuneid Dulloo, who is a friend of Brian's from school. One work that caught Brian's eye was "Ras Lavi", which is covered in examples of Mauritian Creole: Brian asked Djuneid about the work, and he […]

Unicode Suggestions Requested.

I just got the following e-mail: We’re drafting a proposal to add as many remaining unsupported phonetic and orthographic symbols to Unicode as we can justify. I thought you might have come across things you’d like to have encoded. You seem like the kind of person who might have stashed away notes on things like […]

Hey! Look at that! I’m working on another book. It’ll be something for learners.

Hey! Look at that! I’m working on another book. It’ll be something for learners. Hey! Look at that! I'm working on another book. It'll be something for learners. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) October 5, 2015

An unusual way to celebrate

In the running for attachment ambiguity of the week is a photo caption from Simon Johnson and Ben Hirschler, "Beating Parasites wins three scientists Nobel Prize for medicine", Reuters 10/5/2015: The caption: William C. Campbell, a parasitologist and RISE Associate with Drew University, poses near paintings he made of parasites shortly after learning that he was a […]

Looking over pronouns

Henry T wonders (by email) whether something is changing in English syntax: This from a 30ish native speaker of American English, with a PhD, definitely literate. "I had a quick glance at sections of the [xxx], and it does have some good tips, so I'd encourage you to look over it:" The issue is whether  a verb-associated intransitive preposition goes before […]

Is a chant enchanting, or cant?

Q: After seeing a Puerto Rican license plate with the motto Isla del Encanto, a thought struck me: encanto … cantar, and that of course led me to “enchantment” … “chant.” Are all these words related? A: Yes, they’re all ultimately derived from canere, a Latin verb meaning to sing, and its frequentative, cantare. A... ? Read More: Is a chant enchanting, or cant?

Lost and found

In the 10/4/15 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn has a sympathetic look at Chinglish:  "Cultural sensitivity lost — and found — in translation".  He offers the following sign at a museum near Datong as a prime specimen: The Chinese reads: q?ng wù f?nyuè, zhùyì ?nquán ???? ???? ("please do not cross over, pay […]

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