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Haaretz has a “Word of the Day” feature, and Shoshana Kordova writes about “Firgun: The art of tooting someone else’s horn”: You tell your friend how much she deserves the prize she just won – and you really mean it. Or perhaps your coworker comes up with such a great idea that you can’t stop […]

Musee & Peace

This sign from a Nagoya subway is for waxing and other hair removal. Photograph courtesy of Nathan Hopson. The three big kanji read: natsukoi hada ?? ? ("summer love skin") But I'm more interested in the words written in Roman letters above the kanji. The combination of the French word "MUSEE" (i.e., musée ["museum"]) and […]

Technology is probably isn't destroying our humanity

Versions of  the "technology destroying humanity" trope have been around for thousands of years, certainly since the invention of writing devalued textual memorization. I wouldn't be surprised if there were analogous complaints about the invention of the spear. The most overhyped version of this trope that I've ever seen was the 2009 "Twitter numbs our sense of […]

Do you sleep in your contacts?

Q: When I go to bed without removing my contact lenses, I sleep in my contacts. Or so I say, even though the reverse is true: my contacts are in me when I sleep. What say you? A: The preposition “in” has been used to mean “wearing” since Anglo-Saxon days. The earliest example in the... ? Read More: Do you sleep in your contacts?

Needs more sexting

Today's xkcd: I'm not sure what "another study" refers to in this case. The mouseover title suggests a research program in computational humanistic educational psychology: I'd like to find a corpus of writing writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (e.g. Show More Summary


Matt Murphy, "Is 'unbecoming' becoming a sexist word? Warren Tolman apologizes after calling opponent Maura Healey unbecoming during debate", State House News Service 8/27/2014: BOSTON — Democratic attorney general candidate Warren Tolman...Show More Summary

Suddenly Popular.

An xkcd of obvious linguistic relevance; since you’ll wonder: lahar. Don’t miss the mouseover text, and just to get it out of the way: I, for one, welcome our new God-Empress overlord. (Hat tip to John Cowan for sending me the link....


Michael Newton has called attention to this Chinese sign on Twitter: Too bad this isn't their website URL. >> Ah yes, the BJHDQRMZFJGYEY via @imgur #best #china #acronym — Michael Newton (@mikenewt) August 28, 2014 The Imgur photo was posted 9 months ago, and the associated Reddit thread does a pretty good job explaining […]

What you missed: The best language news/links over the summer

How’s your summer been? I have been (and still am) travelling almost every single day to encourage language learners one-on-one, but I know a lot of you have had your own language projects to keep you busy! Since you may not have been browsing the Internet as often with so much sunshine to soak up, […]

The once and future goddess

Geeta Pandey, "An 'English goddess' for India's down-trodden", BBC News 2/15/2011: The Dalit (formerly untouchable) community is building a temple in Banka village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to worship the Goddess of the English language, which they believe will help them climb up the social and economic ladder. About two feet […]

Nixes Nicettes, Nice Nicors.

The always enticing wood s lot sent me to Apollinaire’s “Automne malade” (here‘s a pretty good translation — I didn’t like the one at the s lot), and I was struck not only by Apollinaire’s lush sonic landscape but by a line with two words that I didn’t understand and weren’t in any of my […]


Kyle Massey, "‘Burly,’ a Word With a Racially Charged History", NYT 8/25/2014: As protests raged after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two articles in The Times on Aug. 16 referred to both Mr. Brown and the state police captain overseeing security in the case as “burly.” Both Mr. Brown and the […]

Close encounters

Q: When I was younger, I didn’t hear anyone say “close with,” but now I hear it all the time. Example: “She’s close with her sister.” For me, it should be “close to.” I did a Google search, however, and got millions of hits for “close with.” Am I crazzzy? A: No, you’re not crazzzy!... ? Read More: Close encounters

Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin

A few months ago on the Penn campus I heard a Chinese guy and a girl having a conversation in Mandarin, and I was surprised when he twice said, "Wo3 ming2bai4 le."  The rest of his speech was standard, but then he came out with this strange transformation of "Wo3 ming2bai le".  Of course, I […]

Who will teach our languages?

More and more Australians are embracing the idea that our first languages should be taught in schools. Faced with high levels of language endangerment and loss, everyone's hoping for a quick fix. John Hobson takes a look at what works and what doesn’t. Show More Summary

A Bilingual Challenge.

Earlier this year I posted about writers who publish in languages other than their own; John Cowan sent me a link to this piece by Francois Grosjean about writing a book in one of the two languages he’s fluent in: The actual writing process was far harder than I had imagined even though I write […]

"Reject the pernicious cult of celebrity"

"Noam Chomsky to become new X-Factor judge", NewsBiscuit 8/23/2014: Professor of linguistics and political campaigner Noam Chomsky has been confirmed as the new judge on TV talent show The X Factor. ‘Cheryl Cole was still recovering from malaria and we needed someone who could fill the intellectual void,’ said programme creator Simon Cowell, ‘Professor Chomsky […]

Postcard from Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Festival season is almost over. Giant tents are already being taken down at the BBC site on university land below my office window. Soon (Sunday, August 31) will come the final outdoor concert in the Princes Street Gardens, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra sitting below a thousand-year-old castle playing dramatic music (Ride of […]

Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch Online.

I was just informed (thanks, Valery!) that if I followed etymonline on Facebook I would know that “he posted today that Wartburg’s Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch is now available/searchable online.” I have now “liked” the FB page, and I pass on to you both the suggestion and the link — I presume there are other people […]

Did World War I give us cooties?

Q: I tuned in late to Pat’s last appearance on WNYC and just caught the tail end of her discussion about cooties. Did I hear right that World War I gave us the word? A: When the word “cooties” first showed up, it referred to the lice that were rampant on the bodies of soldiers... ? Read More: Did World War I give us cooties?

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