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December nine: A cardinal sin?

Q: I’m noticing that TV and radio hosts are getting away from using ordinal numbers for dates. For example, “It’s Thursday, October twenty” instead of “It’s Thursday, October twentieth.” Would you have any thoughts as to why? A: In speech, people normally use an ordinal number for a date, “October twentieth” or “October the twentieth,”... Show More Summary

It’s something I believe in! Help support the podcast and broadcast of A Way with Words, the radio show I co-host.

It’s something I believe in! Help support the podcast and broadcast of A Way with Words, the radio show I co-host. It's something I believe in! Help support the podcast and broadcast of A Way with Words, the radio show I co-host. Show More Summary

How to Spell Nahuatl?

Magnus Pharao Hansen says of himself: I am an anthropologist and linguist with a broad set of interests in what it means to be human – including language, culture, history, politics and evolution and how they interrelate. In my research, I study the indigenous languages and cultures of Mexico and their history and the relation […]

How Tunisia ruined its PISA performance

PISA 2015 is an OECD-run survey intended to evaluate education systems worldwide by giving the same test to (almost) all students of the same grade across a large number of countries and comparing the results. This years' results have gotten a lot of coverage, notably for the dismal perfomance of all the Arabic-speaking countries participating. Show More Summary

On the schneid

I heard from Dan in Traverse City. “ I often hear the term on the schneid used in reference to a losing streak in hockey. Mickey Redmond, broadcast analyst for the Detroit Red Wings, uses it a lot. Where did schneidcome from?” The word “schneid” is found in many sports other than hockey, but in all cases, the meaning is the same. Show More Summary

Reindeer lore

Yuletide is upon us, so it's time for some more reindeer talk.  The guest post below comes from Juha Janhunen, to whom I put the following questions: Do any of the following ride reindeer?  Sami, Lapp, Evenks (or other Siberian people) How long ago did the Sami, Lapp, Evenks (or other Siberian people) domesticate reindeer? […]

The squirrel-less are guilty

Courtesy of Loanwords in the World’s Languages ed. Haspelmath & Tadmor (Mouton de Gruyter, 2009) comes one of the most amusing etymologies I’ve ever seen. In his contribution on loanwords in Ket, Edward Vajda describes the historical...Show More Summary


This is such an obscure puzzler I suspect it’s going to remain unsolved, but it never hurts to try. I’m still reading Saltykov-Shchedrin’s ?????????? ?????? (see this post), and a repentant scoundrel is talking about how he’d made his way home after he’d lost his ill-gotten gains and his life had come crashing down around […]

How the C-section got its name

Q: If Julius Caesar wasn’t delivered by cesarean section, as I’ve read, how did the medical procedure get its name? A: Let’s begin with the old story that Julius Caesar was born by cesarean section, an urban legend that we discuss in Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths. (The usual spelling is... ? Read More: How the C-section got its name

30 Medieval Texts Translated in 2016.

This list from makes me want to spend a week or two ensconced in a really good research library (ideally, Sterling Memorial, where I spent so much of the 1970s), pulling down one book after another and reading to my heart’s content. I can’t even pretend I want to own them — they’re almost […]

Naughty or Nice? How “Santa” Looks in Other Cultures

Christmas is celebrated in many different ways around the world. So it's no surprise that the most iconic figure of the season also has many guises. You may know him as Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy, or simply Santa. Show More Summary

Bus announcements in Okinawa

Travis Seifman noticed something interesting about the announcements on certain public bus lines in Okinawa: the pronunciation of Japanese / Okinawan place names in the English-language announcements is way off. Your browser does not support the audio element. Your browser does not support the audio element. Although the quality of these two recordings may not […]

L2 shortcut?

In yesterday's Dilbert, Dogbert has a typically clever/evil idea: The strip's second row: But I'm not at all sure that his premise is valid. Different groups have different moral and intellectual stereotypes for different accents, and so the audience impact is hard to predict, and is not necessarily positive.

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Gorky and Tolstoy.

Aaron Lake Smith has a good piece for Lapham’s Quarterly about Maxim Gorky, focusing on his “troubled friendship” with Leo Tolstoy; it makes me want to read his 1919 reminiscence about the older writer: His essay on Tolstoy is one of the most complex depictions of the love and hate that intertwine within a friendship […]

Learning a Language with Virtual Reality

By Asia Alyson With the advancements of the latest technologies, almost anything is possible. Even learning a new language virtually has become more than attainable. New innovations such as virtual reality have provided learners with […] The post Learning a Language with Virtual Reality appeared first on Languages Around the Globe.

Mystery modal window error message

Almost every day, when looking through the headlines on Google News, I see one or two stories where the snippet from the first paragraph of the story says this: This is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button. Close Modal Dialog. This is a […]

Off-putting and down-putting

Q: People who are put off by a remark say it’s “off-putting.” Can a put-down be described as “down-putting”? A: Would you believe that the word “off-putting” is more than 600 years old? Honest. In the 1300s, “off-putting” was a noun meaning “the action of reproving,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It wasn’t until... ? Read More: Off-putting and down-putting

Ken Liu reinvents Chinese characters

In "Inside the world of Chinese science fiction, with 'Three Body Problem' translator Ken Liu" (Quartz, 12/2/16), Nikhil Sonnad conducts an interview with the sci-fi author and translator of the S?n t? ?? (Three-Body [Problem]) series by Liú Cíx?n ???. The interview focuses on an anthology of contemporary Chinese science fiction called Invisible Planets translated […]

Little green prescriptivists

Today's SMBC starts with this panel: And ends with this one: The aftercomic: My preferred imaginary event proving evolution false would be the discovery that highly-conserved junk DNA encodes versions of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew. Much more interesting than sauropods with nylon stretchpants — especially the variorum edition.

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