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Silent Night

Dave Cragin asks, "How did ??? come to mean Christmas Eve?" Now that's a good seasonal topic if ever there were one. Píng'?n yè ??? literally means "peace(ful) night", which calls to mind "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night").  That's the famous German Christmas carol composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber (1787-1863) with […]

Multiculturalism meets international trade

From Bill Thomas via John Rohsenow: What a strange concatenation of languages and symbols! The objects pictured seem to be a set of earrings and a necklace, all sporting the Confederate flag.  At the bottom right are three figures that look like a cheesehead (?), an upside-down strawberry (?), and a lovable little snail (I […]

Evolving dongles

As of the 1980s, a dongle was "A software protection device which must be plugged into a computer to enable the protected software to be used on it". As of five or ten years ago, dongle had evolved to mean something like "a self-contained device that plugs into a  port on a computer that is […]

Silva Rerum.

Another bit of ostentatious erudition from the narrator of Mating (see this post): she says “Clearly the living quarters were just another part of the silva rerum,” and of course I had to investigate. I knew it was Latin for ‘the forest of things,’ but there had to be an allusion there; it turns out […]

Faidaman

This morning I asked my grandson, LeoDaniel SoliRain (five years old), what he wants Santa Claus to bring him tonight.  Without hesitation, he replied, "faidaman".  My son Thomas Krishna, his wife Lacey Michelle, his daughter Samira Lea (LD's seven year old sister), and especially I were all perplexed. I asked LD what a "faidaman" is.  […]

Geddadavit?

From John Allison's Scary Go Round for 12/23/2016: I'm trying to reconcile two apparently-incompatible pieces of knowledge, while simultaneously admitting to a scandalously inadequate knowledge of British dialectology: "Flapping andShow More Summary

"On the difference between writing and speaking"

William Hazlitt, "Essay XIV. On the difference between Writing and Speaking" (c1825), tells us that The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read. And Hazlitt argues that the written transcript reveals the true emptiness of the speech: The deception took place before; now it is removed. "Bottom! thou art […]

Google’s Interlingua.

Sam Wong writes for New Scientist about an interesting development in the rapidly improving Google Translate: Traditional machine-translation systems break sentences into words and phrases, and translate each individually. In September, Google Translate unveiled a new system that uses a neural network to work on entire sentences at once, giving it more context to figure […]

The Coolest Jobs! Get Paid to Learn a Language

What if you could get paid to learn a language? I’ve spent most of my adult life doing this. I’ve gotten jobs overseas and then learned the local language on the job. While I don’t think it’s necessary to live in a foreign country to learn a language, I will admit that I see the appeal. Show More Summary

Does your sweetheart stink?

Q: I remember reading a book by Wilfred Funk that says the verb “stink” was once a compliment. That has got me into some trouble of late. Could you please clear this up for me? A: In Six Weeks to Words of Power (1955), the lexicographer and publisher Wilfred J. Funk writes: “In the days... ? Read More: Does your sweetheart stink?

Bread-salt ice cream

AntC took this photograph today at the "Sun Moon Lake" Visitor Centre / main bus station in Taiwan: Such a surfeit of superlatives! nóngyù bù tiánnì, d?ngjí b?ngqílín de jízhì chéngxiàn ?????, ?????????? rich but not cloying, presenting the ultimate in the finest ice cream If it weren't for this perfect English word, "cloying", one […]

Birth Happy Day!

I found this piece of framed calligraphy in a small arts and crafts shop named Noa Omanuyot in the Dan Panorama Hotel on Mt. Carmel in Haifa: Before I explain what the Chinese says, I wish to emphasize that the characters are exquisitely formed.  In fact, they are quite remarkable for a person who doesn't […]

Lop.

Tsvetaeva’s mature style is elliptical to the point that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what she’s talking about. Usually after I marinate in the verses for a while it becomes clear, but sometimes I’m at a loss and try to find a translation to lean on. Unfortunately, she’s poorly served by translation (unlike Akhmatova […]

2016 US-to-UK Word of the Year: gerrymander

In a year like this year, it's no surprise that most of the Word-of-the-Year nominations related to politics, either directly or indirectly (like the 2016 UK-to-US WotY). Several of my correspondents have been noticing Americanisms in British political talk and Britishisms in American political talk. Show More Summary

Long Johns

From Faith Jones: I recently had the need to buy my elderly mother some long johns as she is finding even our wimpy, West Coast winters hard to take. In a thank you email she refused to call the tops "long johns," as to her that is only for the pants, but didn't know another […]

Directions for Signing up for the LSJ Committee Listserv

Prepared by: Netta Avineri, Susan D Blum, Hilary Parsons Dick, and Robin Conley Riner About the Listserv The Language & Social Justice (LSJ) listserv is a valuable tool for networking and keeping up with activities, information, and issues related to the LSJ, as well as in the field of language and social justice more broadly. […]

Lasàgn Cald.

This Prospero column from the Economist is about the dialect of Milan, milanes, about which I knew very little. It starts with a passage about old folk songs in dialect and “la mala, the now defunct Milanese underworld,” then continues: If these songs are a fascinating historical record of a changing city, they are also […]

Language for the people!

Four sure-to-be-amazing talks on language are coming to central Texas on January 8 and all are invited! The four speakers include two of our Language-Logistocracy, linguists and popularizers extraordinaire Ben Zimmer and John McWhorter. Wanna know how English is changing? They'll tell you. Third, Stanford Linguist Eve Clark, who's somehow managed to publish two books […]

The Ghost of Christmas Future Imperfect

Fritz Ruehr sent a cartoon that he found this morning on reddit: The spirit is willing, though the grammar is weak … Fritz notes that this Stack Exchange post from last year treads a similar path, with a cartoon version here: And he also points us to December 2005 Savage Chickens cartoon that features the Ghost […]

Toothsome dishes

Q: The other day I heard “toothsome” used to describe an attractive woman. What is the origin of this usage? Is there some connection to calling someone “a real dish”? A: “Toothsome” has meant tasty—in the literal sense of good to eat—since the 16th century. But it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the sexier... ? Read More: Toothsome dishes

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