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Hallowe’en be thy name

Q: My husband grew up in New York and says “HOLLOW-een.” I grew up in Chicago and pronounce it “HALLOW-een.” Which is right? A: We answered a similar question five years ago, but this is a good day to revisit it! As we wrote in 2009, dictionaries accept both pronunciations, but your preference (“HALLOW-een”) is... ? Read More: Hallowe’en be thy name

Linguistic Family Tree.

We’re all used to the idea of the tree as a model of development through time, whether of species or languages, but rarely is it portrayed so strikingly as in Minna Sundberg’s gorgeous rendering (from the site for her webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent). The only quibble I might have is that it appears (from […]

Some Tuareg-Songhay loans

I'm almost three-quarters of the way through Heath's Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali). The main interest lies in its efforts to reduce the bewildering complexity of Tuareg morphology to some sort of order, an impossible task which it accomplishes more successfully than any other Tuareg grammar I've looked at so far. Show More Summary


Those LLog readers who aren't already Radiolab listeners should give their latest episode on translation a listen. There are 8 stories packed into this one episode, a few about language and a few not-so-much, but all of them well-worth the price of admission. But I'm not just here to promote Radiolab. I'm also here to […]

Modern Languages Open.

The latest XIX ??? post informs me, and I am informing you, of a wonderful new venture, a free, peer-reviewed, online journal called Modern Languages Open. The inaugural issue has all sorts of interesting-sounding stuff, like “Reading Intermediality: Lorca’s Viaje a la luna (“Journey to the Moon,” 1929) and Un chien andalou (Buñuel/Dalí, 1929)” by […]

They haven't proven they're not afraid of anyone not named Bumgarner. Or have they?

Bob Nightengale, "Forget 1985, these Royals on verge of their own history", USA Today 10/29/2014: It's been a wild ride for these two teams. They had to win an elimination game as a wild-card entrant just to get into this dance. Now, one will be hoisting the World Series championship trophy. The Royals certainly haven't […]

Ben Zimmer: Linguistics Journalism Award

My first thought upon reading the following announcement is that my colleagues and I here at Language Log headquarters hasten to claim Ben as one of ours (he doesn't just belong to the WSJ!): "WSJ's Ben Zimmer receives first LSA Linguistics Journalism Award" Here's the text of the LSA announcement: The Linguistic Society of America […]

Juggling Languages: The Balancing Act That All Polyglots Must Perform

Polyglottery is a bit of a balancing act. Because we only have so many hours in a day, we can’t learn all languages. But when you have the itch for language learning like I and so many other polyglots do, you sometimes can’t help but to take on a new language challenge even though you […]

Mari sarcasm

Mari has ura, a Chuvash loanword, meaning ‘restless, diligent, painstaking, not indifferent’. The Mari-English dictionary entry for the word offers the compound ??????? ??? ?? ‘diligent worker, person painstaking in his/her work’, literally ‘for-work diligent person’. Show More Summary

Two Slavic verbs

Johanna Nichols contributed a paper to the collection New Approaches to Slavic Verbs of Motion ed. Hasko & Perelmutter (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010) arguing that Slavic indeterminate motion verbs like xoditi are denominal and not deverbal. Show More Summary

The surprising origin of Kyrgyzstan’s Altyn Arashan

Back in 2008, while traveling in the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan, I visited the Altyn Arashan hot springs (as described here), but I didn’t think anything about the place-name other than that it was a golden (altïn) something. Years...Show More Summary

Mari šaške ‘mink’ borrowed even into South Kipchak

MariE šaške, MariW šäšk? ‘mink’ and Finnish dial. häähkä ibid. have some kind of old relationship with Lithuanian š?škas ‘polecat’. Whether it’s a Baltic > Uralic loan or vice versa doesn’t matter, the match is very old, and therefore we must assume that Chuvash šašk? ‘mink’ is a loan from Mari. Show More Summary

A calque on Romanian in Transylvanian Hungarian

Another foreigner learning Hungarian, mainly in Hungary with references based on the standard language, has drawn my attention to a grammatical feature he has heard only in Transylvania and which he finds quite jarring. In standard Hungarian,...Show More Summary

“Body” or “bodily” fluids?

Q: With all the attention on Ebola, there is increased use of the term “bodily fluids.” I keep muttering at the TV screen whenever I hear this pretentious phrase. My gut says it should be “body fluids.” What is your opinion? A: Both phrases are OK, so use whichever one sounds best to your ear—or... ? Read More: “Body” or “bodily” fluids?

Afghanistan’s Battlefield Slang.

War slang is always interesting; I’m familiar with the lexicon of Vietnam (being the grandfatherly baby boomer that I am), but I wasn’t up on the equivalent for UK troops in Afghanistan, so I was glad to find this BBC News piece. Soldiers, like mathematicians and jazz musicians, are masters at brilliant repurposing of ordinary […]

Consort & Concert

Having heard music by the Quadriga Consort, Francine asked about the possibility of a connection between the words concert and consort. It turns out that in a limited sense, there is. But first let’s distinguish between two nouns with identical spellings and some overlapping meanings. Show More Summary

Chow Yun-fat

Hong Kong movie star Chow Yun-fat has fallen afoul of the authorities on mainland China for supporting the Occupy Center democracy protesters. It's interesting to see how the media report what he said about having his films banned on the Mainland. "'I'll just make less then': Actor Chow Yun-fat responds to alleged PRC ban for […]

Linguist jokes (5)

I walked into the 7th-floor common room in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences building at the University of Edinburgh yesterday and saw this message on the shared whiteboard: The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense. Classy graffiti, I thought. This is a very intellectual place. […]

Leister and Glutton.

I’m currently editing a book on the prehistory of Scandinavia, and as usually happens with specialized works, I’m picking up some new vocabulary. Both these words looked like they might be typos, but a dip into the dictionary validated them. A leister (pronounced LEE-ster) is a three-pronged spear used in fishing, and the AHD says […]

Ikea: Peppered Caca for the holidays

John Brezinsky writes: I used to live in Moscow, where everyone has long been amused that Ikea chose to name a line of wine glasses "svalka". ?????? can either mean a garbage dump or a dumpster. I was very amused when I saw the name of the official Ikea ginger cookies at the location in […]

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