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Will "Arrival" bring linguistics into the popular consciousness? A guest post by Luke Lindemann

The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist front and center, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean for […]

The Licentious Thrush.

I’ve been reading Saltykov-Shchedrin’s ?????????? ?????? [Provincial sketches] (1856-57), a now-forgotten work consisting of delightful descriptions of the endemically corrupt town of Krutogorsk (a lightly fictionalized version of Vyatka,...Show More Summary

Seasonal Slang and All Things Christmas

English is a peculiar language and there is perhaps no time of year when it gives more cause for bewilderment than Christmas. For a start, we seem to have become confused about what we are actually supposed to call the event. The word ‘Christmas’ is easy to understand, it...

The Dad-ification of Language Shows That Masculinity Is Still Evolving

Media outlets groaned at the “dad jokes” President Obama cracked at his final Turkey Pardon this Thanksgiving. In the run-up to the election, BuzzFeed fawned over “how dad” vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine was. And as Hello Giggles...Show More Summary

You dirty, yellow-bellied rat

Q: A post about the word “rat” as it relates to despicable, disloyal, or deceitful people would be interesting, don’t you think? A: When “rat” showed up in Old English (as “ræt”) it meant the rodent that we’re all familiar with. It didn’t refer to human rats until hundreds of years later. Here’s the story.... ? Read More: You dirty, yellow-bellied rat

Syntactic tunneling

From Harry Asche: I am a tunnel engineer, and the patron saint of tunnelling is St Barbara.  Her saint's day is the 4th of December.  I am a bit of a tunnel nut, so on a visit to a church in Europe, I bought a St Barbara card, printed on a handy credit-card sized piece […]

Trevor Noah reflects on language and identity

In my introductory undergraduate course on English words, and in most undergraduate introductory courses on linguistics, students are invited to reflect on language and identity—how the way you speak communicates information about who you are—which they are typically very interested in. This isn't my beat, professionally speaking, but as a linguist I have a duty […]

A Year in Reading 2016.

Once again it’s time for the Year in Reading feature at The Millions, in which people write about books they’ve read and enjoyed during the previous year; my contribution is up, featuring my review of Aileen M. Kelly’s great biography of Herzen, The Discovery of Chance, as well as my other favorites of the year, […]


This post began as an exploration of a head-scratcher of a sentence I heard on an episode of Radiotopia’s Criminal podcast. In it, a woman described being an inmate in a prison that housed both men and women. (She described it as a “co-ed prison,” which is worthy of comment in itself, but not the […]

Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 2

On Saturday the 26th, Yixue Yang and I went to the Ting Wong Restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown. I took one look at the menu and knew right away that the first thing I wanted was the second item on the menu, the Congee with Chopped Beef. I love Hong Kong style congee (rice porridge or […]

Siwi vocabulary for addressing animals

Probably every language has a certain number of forms used especially for addressing animals, especially domestic animals. In response to a recent query by Mark Dingemanse, I gathered together all the ones I happened to have recorded for Siwi - the list below is definitely not exhaustive, but should at least be suggestive. Show More Summary

A new English word

Since I began the study of Chinese languages half a century ago, there's one word that I have found very useful and versatile, but extremely hard to translate into English, so in this post I'm going to propose that we might as well just simply (g?ncuì ?? = the previous five English words) borrow it […]

Roa Lynn and Patrick Morgan.

Forrest Gander has a wonderful account at Literary Hub of translating Neruda, starting by describing his reluctance to take on the task: “It’s not that I don’t love Neruda, but given the attention he’s justly received […] I’ve wanted to champion terrific lesser-known and more contemporary Latin American writers in translation.” I’ll leave you to […]

I Went Looking For “The Good Ol’ Days.” It Took Me Back 5,000 Years.

This essay is adapted from the Pessimists Archive podcast, a show about technology and the history of unfounded fears. Subscribe on iTunes, or listen to the full audio version. Why Donald Trump won will be debated for generations, but we can all agree on one thing: Nostalgia is powerful. Show More Summary

Fractious or fractured?

Q: A recent edition of The Hill described President-elect Trump’s relationship with the New York Times as “fractious.” Isn’t “fractured” the right word in this instance? A: We wouldn’t use either term to describe the President-elect’s...Show More Summary


I have little interest in demonology, but when I happened on Esther Inglis-Arkell’s webpage The Five Best and Five Worst Demons to Get Possessed By, I knew I had to post about #3 on the Worst Demons list: Agares can be a woman or a man. If the demon is a man, the man is […]

Telephone or telegraph?

There's a controversy over whether President Xi Jinping called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory in the November 8th election.  The problem is summarized in this passage from The Economist: Chinese officials pay obsessive attention to ensuring the Communist Party’s line is reflected accurately by the country’s main media. But Mr Trump’s […]

How Getting Older (and Wiser) Improved My Language Learning Skills

“I’d love to learn a new language, but I’m just terrible at it. Plus, the best time to learn a language is when you’re young.” People say this to me a lot. I can relate. When I decided to quit my job and take a sabbatical year, in part...Show More Summary

Language & Communication: Request for Information

This is a guest post by Bill Badecker, Linguistics Program Director at the National Science Foundation. Subject: Language & Communication:  Request for Information Dear Colleagues, I am reaching out to share a request for information (RFI) that you may be interested in responding to from representatives from the Federal Government’s Interagency Working Group on Language […]

The Redundant "Close Proximity" Is Way More Beloved Than It Should Be

This article originally appeared in Zócalo Public Square. The warning echoes beneath the girdered ceiling of Boston’s South Station, and in the cramped bustle of New York’s Penn Station, on a TSA loop of repeating announcements: “Keep personal items in close proximity.” Any prerecorded phrase, repeated often enough, can drive one mad. Show More Summary

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