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Creeping English in Chinese

Many years ago, I predicted that — due to the exigencies of technological change and the increasing tempo of life — China would willy-nilly gravitate either toward romanization of Mandarin (and the other Sinitic languages) or the gradual adoption of English for many aspects of written communication (e.g., business, science, medicine) because they are perceived […]

A Japanese English portmanteau that failed

Sign on a store front in Nagasaki: JEWECOLOGY characterizes itself as an "eco style jewelries recycle store". The Japanese are inordinately fond of portmanteau words: "Japan: crazy over portmanteaux" (7/26/16) "What's in a name — Pikachu,...Show More Summary

Editing wars at London Bridge Street

As of the time of writing, you only get one hit if you ask Google to show you all the pages on the web containing the word sequence in order legally to minimise. That lone hit leads you to an anonymous leader in The Times (there is a paywall) in which this sentence occurs: Companies […]

Needs must when the devil drives

Q: What is the grammar of “needs must,” as in “needs must when the devil drives”? I’ve seen online discussions of the etymology, but not the grammar. A: The word “needs” here is a very old adverb meaning “of necessity,” “necessarily,” or “unavoidably.” It’s considered obsolete now except in the idiomatic expression “needs must” (or... Show More Summary

Well, my third book has reached a new milestone: after 11,000 copies sold, it has finally shown up on the pirate ebook sites.

Well, my third book has reached a new milestone: after 11,000 copies sold, it has finally shown up on the pirate ebook sites. Well, my third book has reached a new milestone: after 11,000 copies sold, it has finally shown up on the pirate ebook sites. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) January 23, 2017

12 Words Peculiar to Irish English.

Stan Carey posts about words or usages “characteristic of Irish English (aka Hiberno-English), whether integral to its grammar or produced on occasions of unalloyed Irishness.” A couple of samples: 1. Plámás is an Irish word borrowed into Irish English meaning ‘empty flattery or wheedling’. It’s sometimes used witheringly in reference to political speech, for some […]

Inaugural embedding again

"Inaugural Embedding", 9/9/2005: 0 1 2 3 4 Mean Sentence Length Washington1879 629 (44%) 554 (39%) 206 (14%) 36 (3%) 5 (<1%) 60 Lincoln1865 440 (63%) 222 (32%) 38 (5%) 0 0 26 Bush2005 1842 (88%) 244 (12%) 4 (<1%) 0 0 22 Trump2017 1264 (87%) 178 (12%) 15 (1%) 0 0 8 "The evolution […]

Nguyen: the most common Vietnamese surname

Dave Cragin writes: I have a brother-in-law who is originally from Hong Kong and his last name is Yuen.  I learned from John McWhorter’s superb series on linguistics that this Chinese name is of Turkic origin.  I asked my brother-in-law about this and he said “Yes, family lore is that we originally came from North-West […]

Only America First

A question asked on Facebook: Okay, linguists who work on focus sensitive particles – can you tell me what on earth this means? "From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first" I couldn't bear to listen so I don't know where the focal accent was, but no possibility makes sense. 'only AMERICA […]

Semitic languages in two Arabic novels

I've been reading two novels in Arabic lately. Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmad Saadawi, reimagines Baghdad's descent into chaos in the mid-2000s, blending gritty realism with semi-allegorical horror. Samraweet, by Hajji Jaber, is an...Show More Summary

Pisemsky’s Thousand Souls.

I’m almost halfway through what is generally considered Alexei Pisemsky’s best novel, the 1858 ?????? ???, translated by Ivy Litvinov as One Thousand Souls, and I can’t wait any longer to post about it — it’s so good I have to let the world know. I’ve praised Pisemsky’s Brak po strasti [Marriage for passion] (here) […]

American freedoms

It's probably not an accident that yesterday's inaugural address, compared to the previous half-century or so, has the highest frequency of the morpheme america (= America, American, Americans) and the lowest frequency of the morpheme freedom (= freedom, freedoms): The numbers (with morpheme counts  translated to frequencies per million words — and I know that […]

Made biscuits for my marchers.

Made biscuits for my marchers. Made biscuits for my marchers. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) January 21, 2017

Slow-talking the inaugural

Before Donald Trump's speech yesterday, I wondered whether he would turn the political world upside down by delivering an improvised riff in the style of his campaign rallies. But no — his speech was scripted and read verbatim as written, although it featured several of the signature lines from his rallies, as well as the first use of […]


I occasionally take a whack at dumb, prejudiced, or ill-informed items relating to language, but it’s a side dish at LH. To the redditors at badlinguistics, it’s the whole menu, so if you have a hankering for mockery of things like “Italian is dying because people are using loanwords and not the subjunctive” or “A […]

Sensory century

I am at UC Davis to participate in a Global Tea Initiative.  The first event yesterday morning was to go to a tea tasting presided over by Master Wing-Chi Ip.  A taxi came to our hotel to drive us over to a building bearing the name of Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), a giant in the California […]

How Adults Learn: 6 Important Things to Know

“I’ll never learn to run with the stamina of Paula Radcliffe, so why bother training for a marathon?” “I’ll never win a Nobel Prize in maths, so what’s the point of studying it at all?” “I’ll never play cello like Yo-Yo Mah, so I shouldn’t...Show More Summary

One last (?) piece of nonsense

Callum Borchers, "Count Obama’s references to ‘I’ and ‘me’ while you can, conservative media", WaPo 1/18/2017: For eight years, tracking Obama's use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" has been a cherished ritual in the conservative media — one small way to promote the idea that the president is self-centered and therefore out of […]

When “we” is “you”

Q: It bothers me to be addressed by a clerk or server as “we” instead of “you.” For example, “Are we enjoying our meal?” or “Are we ready to check out?” I find this a putdown. It reminds me of how some people speak to a child. I know the server means no offense, but,... ? Read More: When “we” is “you”

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