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Autodescriptive Linguistic Terms.

“Loanword” is a calque of German “Lehnwort”; “calque” is a loanword from French. Via Speculative Grammarian.

When “it” isn’t fit

Q: If I start a plant indoors and then move it outside, I can say either “I will harden off the plant” or “I will harden the plant off.” But if I use a pronoun, I can only say “I will harden it off,” not “I will harden off it.” What’s going on here? A:... ? Read More: When “it” isn’t fit

Language, law and money

Eric Lonergan, "The economics of language: David Hume & valuing Facebook", Philosophy of Money 2/19/2016: Language, law and money have very similar economic properties. Specifically, the resilience and propagation of these institutions does not reside in some intrinsic, physical value, nor in a promise, nor in the value each individual derives from them. It resides […]

How Language Influences Emotion.

Gracie Lofthouse interviews cultural historian Tiffany Watt Smith in the Atlantic about her new book, The Book of Human Emotions; it’s pretty hand-wavey stuff, but worth reading if only for the concept of “homefulness” and the fact that “The last person who was diagnosed with nostalgia as a cause of death died in 1918.” Thanks, […]

Rogue Finnish weatherword intrusion

Cameron M. sent in a screenshot of his weather report from a couple of days ago, in which the current weather in New York City is described as Pilvistä: Google Translate thinks that Pilvistä is Finnish for "mostly cloudy". In response to my question, Cameron explains that I’ve never set foot in Finland. And I hadn’t been […]

Dumpster fire

A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase "dumpster fire" as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations. And recently the usage seems to have spread to other domains and become more popular: Klaus Marre, "Sheldon Adelson’s Newspaper Is a Dumpster Fire", Who.What.Why 5/7/2016 Greg Wyshynski, "Dallas Stars goaltending […]

“I Done Handcuffed Lightning”: The Exuberant Spoken-Word Poetry of Muhammad Ali    

Muhammad Ali, who died Friday at 74, inspired glorious prose from a murderer’s row of marquee writers: Norman Mailer, Robert Lipsyte, and David Remnick, not to mention a generation of hip-hop artists. “He had been a splendidly plumed bird who wrote on the wind a singular kind of poetry of the body,” rhapsodized sports journalist Mark Kram in 1975. Show More Summary


One of the words in the Scripps National Spelling Bee 2016 (Guardian liveblog) was chremslach, the plural of chremsel; your curiosity about what the word represents can be satisfied by this lively Haaretz column by Liz Steinberg (thanks, Paul!): “Admittedly not the most common of Jewish foods, chremslach are flat, fried fritters made by some […]

Surfer-inflected official Chinese Twitter talk

Emily Rauhala has an entertaining, enlightening article about a startlingly improbable new kind of PRC officialese: "‘Ever been to Tibet bro?’ A nationalistic Chinese Twitter account goes rogue" (WP, 6/1/16) The article is so well written that I wouldn't want to try to steal Rauhala's thunder, so I will just quote the first part, and […]

The mysterious Interchange Level

Arriving at the London Underground subway station deep below King's Cross railway station, the main London terminal for trains to Edinburgh using the East Coast main line. I'm lugging a heavy wheeled bag, and there are flights of ordinary stairs as well as escalators, so I take the passenger elevator upward. Several of us crowd […]

Elaborate interiors and plain language

In "The shape of things to come" (5/13/2016) and "Trump the Thing Explainer" (3/16/2016), I wondered why Donald Trump's spartan linguistic style is so different in character from his taste in interior design, which seems to be firmly...Show More Summary


I haven’t had a lot of pho, the Vietnamese noodle-and-meat soup, but what I’ve had I’ve liked. The name is a notorious problem (for English-speakers): it looks like it should be pronounced like the word “foe,” and lots of people say it that way, but the Vietnamese word ph? actually has a mid-vowel that sounds […]

Why “lucky me,” not “lucky I”?

Q: Why does the expression “lucky me” have an object pronoun? A: Yes, it’s always “lucky me,” not “lucky I.” But why is the pronoun in the objective (or accusative) case rather than the nominative? The short answer is that a personal pronoun without a clear grammatical role—one that isn’t a subject or an object—is... ? Read More: Why “lucky me,” not “lucky I”?

Lovingly, Stridently, Unapologetically

Who will be the Lorax for the adverb, that most-maligned part of speech? Who will speak on the adverb’s behalf? For once again, it would seem, it is under attack. Christian Lorentzen’s New York Magazine piece, “Could We Just Lose Adverbs...Show More Summary

(((The Jewish Cowbell))): Unpacking a Gross New Meme from the Alt-Right

From every Internet niche comes a native shorthand, so we should not be surprised that includes putrescent swampy niches from the putrescent swamps of Twitter. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman shared his war story in the paper: The...Show More Summary

On Honesty in Argument.

Ryan Ruby has a 3 Quarks Daily piece called The Prescriptivist’s Progress that begins as follows: This month, two minor controversies revived the specter of the “language wars” and reintroduced the literary internet to the distinction between prescriptivism and descriptivism. One began when Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker Prize and readers […]

Coulter: "Hispanics" and "Mandarins" at a Trump rally

From an anonymous correspondent: Here’s an article about how Ann Coulter described the audience at a Trump rally as "a melting pot full of 'Hispanics' and 'Mandarins.’” (Her actual words seem to be, “They have Mandarins in the audience. They have Hispanics in the audience.”) "Ann Coulter brags about the large number of 'Mandarins' at […]


Iona Sharma’s “A’ghailleann”: On Language-Learning and the Decolonisation of the Mind is an essay about her attempt to learn Scottish Gaelic after failure to relearn what should in theory be her mother tongue, Hindi; it’s the kind of story I always find moving and inspiring: Here are the things you need to know first. I […]

How to Organise a Working Holiday Abroad (Have Fun, Learn a Language, Get Paid)

Want to travel more, work from anywhere, and live your dream lifestyle? Check out the Paradise Pack for an incredible 90% discount on over $2,500 of resources to help you do just that. After studying French for over a decade, I still couldn’t speak it. I started studying French when I was eight years old. Show More Summary

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