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Another fake AI failure?

The "silly AI doing something stupidly funny" trope is a powerful one, partly because people like to see the mighty cast down, and partly because the "silly stupid AI" stereotype is often valid. But as with stereotypes of human groups, the most viral examples are often fakes. Take the "Voice Recognition Elevator"  skit from a few years […]


I’m still recovering from a fabulous roast-beef-and-Yorkshire-pudding dinner with a good pinot noir and two pies for dessert, so I’m just going to toss this out there and hope others think it’s as much fun as I do: 16th Century Book Can Be Read Six Different Ways.

Using animal images to cast aspersions

We call people "swine", "pigs", "dogs", "curs", "rats", even "water buffalo" when we want to disparage them. The latter epithet was uttered in the famous "water buffalo incident" that took place at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, when an Israeli-born Jewish student, translating from Hebrew slang behema ("animal; beast" — used by Israelis to […]

…"such matters as Opinion, not real worth, gives a value to"

Recently, a series of serendipitous connections led me to read Mary Astell's work, A serious proposal to the ladies, for the advancement of their true and greatest interest, first published in 1694.  And this experience led me to two questions, the first of which is, Why in the world are Mary Astell's works not available […]

Advances in tuba-to-text conversion

My dad accidentally texted me with voice recognition…while playing the tuba (h/t Chris Waigl)


Kaveh Waddell at The Atlantic writes about the development of an indigenous alphabet for the Fulani language by Abdoulaye Barry and his brother Ibrahima. The title, “The Alphabet That Will Save a People From Disappearing,” is idiotic — there are at least 20 million Fula, and they’re not going anywhere — but the story is […]

Words for anger

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an article on "The Varieties of Anger" in last Sunday's NYT.  Most of it consists of reflections on pre- and post-election anger in our society.  But Barrett has one paragraph in which she makes some rather dubious claims about the number of words for “anger” in several languages: The Russian language […]


As a distant and occasional fan of the UConn Huskies? women’s basketball team since the ’80s (I am otherwise not a basketball fan, and I don’t actually watch their games, but I take pleasure in their successes), I noticed the name of a freshman on their current team, Crystal Dangerfield, who scored 19 points last […]

"Thank you for your contribution"

Yesterday evening I wound up spending several hours in the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, and the result was a brilliant idea. Or maybe an idle fantasy — you decide. I found a comfortable place to sit, and was struggling with a large Excel spreadsheet that resisted being recast into a form accessible to more civilized […]

Dial A for Anachronism

Q: When I call a doctor’s office, I always hear this message: “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911.” The terms “hang up” and “dial” were meaningful in the days of rotary phones. But I imagine that millennials must find them quaint or silly. How long will it be before they’re replaced?... ? Read More: Dial A for Anachronism

The First Great Arabic Novel.

Unfortunately, Robyn Creswell’s NYRB review (from October of last year) of Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg is available in full only to subscribers, but I’ll quote a few salient bits here: Published in Paris in 1855, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg Over Leg is often called the first novel written in Arabic. […] Born to […]

Why We Shouldn’t Talk About “Normalizing” Donald Trump

When Donald Trump won the presidency, our vocabularies didn’t bulge to accommodate the reality that this ignorant geyser of hate had ascended to the world’s yugest leadership position. We’re left pressing the same worn-out words into...Show More Summary

The Cowardice of Asking “What Happened” on Election Night

After Donald Trump won the presidency, a dazed chorus emerged: What happened? The stunned syllables headlined the news. “US election: What happened?” ran Larry Beinhart’s analysis in Al Jazeera. “What happened to America?” as Griff Witte and Simon Denyer reported abroad for the Washington Post. Show More Summary

Big-league metaphors: the role of sports language in American politics

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining fellow Language Logger Barbara Partee on Josh Chetwynd's KGNU radio show, "The Real Deal in Sports." Josh is the author of The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors, and he spoke to Barbara and me about how the metaphorical language of sports pervades American politics (especially in the latest presidential campaign). […]

Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen): [N.B.:  Even with the embiggen feature deployed, you might need the assistance of a good magnifying glass, such as the one I keep handy next to my computer.] The title is: "Chinese – English – Tagalog – Spanish Business Conversation and Social Contact with Amoy Pronunciation" […]

2016 Oxford Dictionaries WOTY: Post-Truth

The Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word Of The Year is post-truth, which they define as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief". Here's their graph of its recent rise in frequency over the past seven months: They offer this history: […]

Apostrophe in Hangul

Google Street View in Pittsburgh at 5809 Forward Ave. shows a Young's Oriental Grocery. The corresponding Hangul transliteration of "Young's" gives "Young 'seu ? '?". I wonder whether this is a common practice in Korea, or whether it only exists among émigré communities abroad. [h.t. Charles Belov]

"Comrade" between communism and gaydom

In "Call me comrade … party requires members to resurrect Maoist term to signal equality:  Outdated greeting seen by analysts as a distraction and unworkable in today’s world" (SCMP, 11/13/16), Sidney Leng writes: A written guideline requiring Communist Party members to once again address each other as “comrade” is an outdated resurrection of Maoist rhetoric […]

"Fatso Kim the Third" blocked in China

On microblogs and on social media in China, it was well nigh universal to call the ruler of North Korea J?n s?n pàng ??? ("Kim Third Fat" [referring to Kim Jung-un, third in the line of Kims following his father Kim Jung-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung]) — until the North Korean government caught wind […]

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