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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two: Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate […]


I’m on the home stretch of Rieber’s The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands (see this post), and in the course of reading up on the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875 and its consequences (which ultimately included the First World War and the entire last century’s worth of awfulness) I’ve run across items that satisfy my […]

New Yorker copy editors (probably) moving adverbs around

In an article called "The increasingly lonely hope of Barack Obama," the The New Yorker showed that it belongs to the increasingly lonely class of educated people who still imagine that if they ever allowed an adjunct to separate infinitival to from the plain-form verb of the infinitival complement that it introduces, demons would break […]

Fatal or mortal?

Q: I’d be grateful for your thoughts on whether “fatal” or “mortal” better describes a gunshot wound that someone dies of. A: Either “fatal” or “mortal” may describe a deadly wound. However, each adjective has several other meanings of its own. “Fatal” may also mean, among other things, decisive (“a fatal moment”), causing failure (“a... ? Read More: Fatal or mortal?


In his ?????? “???????” [The Frigate Pallada], Goncharov uses ????????? ??????? for what are now called ??????? ????, the Ryukyu Islands. I found the old name curious, and when Goncharov goes on to say “??? ??? ????? ????????? ???????, ???, ??? ?????? ? ??? ? ?????? ??????????, ????-????, ???, ??? ?????????? ???????? ??, ??-?? (Loo-Choo), […]

Famous Movie Quotes

Screenwriters have been providing movie-goers with memorable quotes for a long time. Many of these have fallen into common usage, often misquoted but much loved. Here are some of the best movie quotes of all time. ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’ (Gone With the Wind,...

Mayan Languages: How I Learned to Speak Tz’utujil in Guatemala

Have you ever wondered what ancient Mayan languages sound like? I did. My curiosity, in fact, led me to the indigenous town of San Juan La Laguna in Sololá, Guatemala where I volunteered my time at a health clinic and studied the language...Show More Summary

Patton Oswalt on Trump, Obama, David Lee Roth, and Rutgers linguistics

At the Writers Guild of America Awards on Sunday night, host Patton Oswalt predictably made some Trump jokes in his opening monologue. What wasn't so predictable was an extended analogy involving '80s hard rocker David Lee Roth and the linguistics department at Rutgers University. The key line: "Donald Trump taking Obama's job would be like […]

Bill of Goods.

My wife and I were out walking when one of us mentioned somebody being “sold a bill of goods” and we looked at each other in that this-is-a-case-for-Languagehat way and said “How did that expression arise?” We surmised, correctly, that a bill of goods is literally a consignment of merchandise (in the words of Merriam-Webster), […]

Jane Austen’s “Fanny”

Q: Where do you stand on the debate in academia over whether Jane Austen winkingly used the name “Fanny Price” for her Mansfield Park heroine? A: There’s no chance that Jane Austen was slyly winking at her readers when she used that name in Mansfield Park (1814). The British use of “fanny” to mean the... ? Read More: Jane Austen’s “Fanny”

A real-life subjacency problem sentence

There are some kinds of questions and relative clauses that you just can't form without resorting to a resumptive pronoun, even in languages - like English - that otherwise don't allow resumptive pronouns to begin with. Ever since Ross...Show More Summary

Two Japanese Questions.

1) In Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky bio, he says “After his return from Berlin in May 1924, Mayakovsky met with the Japanese author Tamisi Naito, who was visiting Moscow.” (In the original: “Efter hemkomsten från Berlin i maj 1924 träffade Majakovskij den japanske författaren Tamisi Naito, som var på besök i Moskva.”) I can find no reference […]

Homophonous phrase of the week

Wondermark for 1/24/2017, In which a Run is made:

Last night in Sweden

One of the most widely noted aspects of Donald Trump's campaign rally yesterday in Florida was his reference to a terrorist incident the night before in Sweden: Your browser does not support the audio element. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden — Sweden! Who would […]

Marg bar ___

This is a guest post by Reza Mirsajadi, who previously published a version on Facebook. For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the "Death to America" argument. This more or less amounts to "They [Iranians] want to kill us, they […]

Assure, Ensure, Insure

Nicole from Traverse City asked about the difference between insure and ensure. Then, later that week, at a meeting of the Michigan Commission on Services to the Aging, the same question came up, this time with assure added to the mix. Show More Summary

Dictionaries Are Hot Again.

Katherine Rosman has a piece for the New York Times on the current popularity of dictionaries: At a time when many are questioning the definition of common words they thought they understood, after years of the English language being degraded by text messages and hashtags, dictionaries have made a surprising comeback in the United States. […]

All Trumped up

Adam Wren, "'I'm Still All Trumped Up'", Politico Magazine 2/13/2017: On the first Saturday of Donald Trump’s presidency, as protesters and marchers stormed the nation’s capital and cities around the country, Dick and Jane Ames threw a party. […] “Oh, Trump—I’m still all Trumped up,” Jane, a retired insurance broker, told me, reveling in the memory […]


[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson] Yes, the following image from the most recent Weekly Playboy (???????? Sh?kan Pureib?i; not a regional edition of Hugh Hefner's Playboy), is labeled "Poop": I'm not sure whether to be relieved or further dismayed by the fact that this appears to be a nickname ("nom de loo?") or other […]

Gambling Disturb Terrible

A friend of Anne Henochowicz spotted this T-shirt in an Akihabara, Tokyo shop: The writing on the T-shirt says: Hei ???("Hey!") Shinz? ??????("Shinzoo" — Japan's prime minister's first name) Oretachi dake de umaku yarou ze ????????????????"Let's handle the business by ourselves" — it's difficult for me to put this sentence into good English; it basically […]

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