Discover a new way to find and share stories you'll love… Learn about Reading Desk

All Blogs / Academics / Linguistics / Popular


Get More Specific:

15 Unique German Illnesses.

An enjoyable list from Arika Okrent; alongside the usual suspects like Ostalgie (nostalgia for the old way of life in East Germany) and Weltschmerz (you probably know what Weltschmerz is), there are such piquant entries as Kevinismus (“a strange propensity to give their kids wholly un-German, American-sounding names like Justin, Mandy, Dennis, Cindy, and Kevin”) […]

McWhorter on the global linguascape of 2115

John McWhorter has an ambitious article in the Wall Street Journal for 1/2/15: "What the World Will Speak in 2115:  A century from now, expect fewer but simpler languages on every continent." The article covers a lot of ground and includes much daring prognostication along the way.  I won't attempt to summarize everything in this rich essay, […]

Error-laden phishing attempts

Phishers trawling for email account names are generally smart enough to pull all sorts of programming tricks, forging headers and obtaining lists of spammable addresses and setting up arrangements to capture login names and passwords obediently typed in by the gullible; but then they give themselves away with errors of grammar and punctuation that are […]

No problem at all

Q: I’m struck by the strangeness of the phraselet “at all.” It seems to pop up everywhere, with a clear connotation but not much denotation at all. Is it shorthand for “at all events”? Seems to me it’s used in cases where the full phrase wouldn’t work at all. A: “At all” is one of... ? Read More: No problem at all

Quinzhee.

My wife informed me today that what we’d been calling an igloo, the snow fort the grandkids made in the yard when the weather permitted, was actually a quinzhee. I’d never heard of such a thing, but sure enough, it has a Wikipedia article and an OED entry (Third Edition, December 2007): Etymology: < Slave […]

Moth onomastics: Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)

"Chinese character" is the name for a moth in this Wikipedia article.  At first when I read the article, I thought that there must have been an error.  But when I started to check around, I discovered that the same English name for Cilix glaucata occurred all over the place. See, for example, Moths and […]

Look correct

From reddit, a road sign in Leopardstown that translates English "Look right" to something like Irish "Look at correct": In the comments, someone linked to a sign near Cork Airport reminding English and German speakers to drive on the left, while advising the French to drive on the right: [h/t Shane Roberts]

The humanities in an alternate universe

A couple of months ago, I got a copy of The Chronicle Review with a cover story by Arthur Krystal called "Neuroscience is ruining the humanities". Actual, there are two semi-falsehoods in that sentence. In the first place, I actually got the physical publication in the mail about a week ago, even though the issue […]

English Purity, French Corruption.

No, I’m not talking about morals, I’m talking about Latin. Another enlightening passage from Curtius (see this post): The chain of French literature begins only with the eleventh century. Spanish literature begins at the end of the twelfth century; Italian not until about 1220, with St. Francis’ Hymn to the Sun and the Sicilian art […]

Nervous cluelessness and getting there first

An email correspondent working for someone who is (evidently) a clueless would-be grammar purist appealed to me recently for help: I am working with a client who insists that it is grammatically incorrect to use Get There First as a tag line. For the life of us, we cannot figure out what is grammatically incorrect […]

All ADJ and shit

Howard Oakley ("Birth of a new English phrase", 1/23/2015) was puzzled by the phrase "all proper and shit", in the context of a tweet by Christopher Phin noting that "[choice of printing mode] makes my writing seem all proper and shit". So Howard investigated the history of that four-word sequence by means of various web search tools. I strongly […]

Literature from Underrepresented Languages.

An essay by editor Daniel Goulden on rare and underrepresented languages in Asymptote: [...] In expanding the umbrella of world literature, Asymptote helps shine a light on languages neglected by publishers in New York and London. In our October 2013 issue, for instance, we published a series of poems by Natalia Toledo, the first woman […]

Benny Goes to Oz

Hey language hackers! Today I write to you from… Australia! This is a HUGE first for me, as I’ve been waiting to add this country to my list for years, and you all have been asking me for years why I’ve been neglecting this continent…...Show More Summary

In our humble opinion

Q: The new CEO of a local organization recently emailed this: “It is with humbleness and excitement that I take on this leadership role.” Why back-form a clumsy-sounding noun from an adjective when we already have a perfectly good noun—“humility”? A: One of the blessings of English is its flexibility. We have umpteen different ways... ? Read More: In our humble opinion

The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously. Ever since that tragic event, the government has been trying to ascertain how it happened and who was accountable.  A decision has […]

The News in Hausa.

Another link from frequent commenter Paul: BBC News in Hausa. As he says, it’s a useful resource because “you know roughly what the news is in English so it should give you good clues.” Another example of the riches provided by the internet; when I bought my Hausa dictionary, I never dreamed it would become […]

Copyright © 2011 Regator, LLC