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Response to Pullum on slurs

This is a guest post by Robert Henderson, Peter Klecha, and Eric McCready in response to Geoff Pullum's post of July 10. My only role was offering in advance to post a reply if the authors would like me to. I'm a good friend of Geoff Pullum and a friend of the authors. What follows […]

Rescued debate

Yesterday Sharon Klein wrote to ask about the 2010 debate on Language and Thought hosted by The Economist: Some colleagues in other departments (notably in philosophy) have been asking to talk about the hypothesis, linguistic relativism, and the actual research around the issues. While I can (and have begun to) collect relevant papers for a […]

The Language of the Hert.

Some kind LH reader sent me a copy of Sydney Goodsir Smith’s Collected Poems, which I had added to my wishlist only recently after waxing enthusiastic about Smith here — thank you, kind reader! Being the kind of person who reads the Foreword first, I did, and since it’s entirely about the problem of spelling […]

The convinced and the persuaded

Q: I was taught that “persuade” is used with “to” and “convince” with “of” or “that.” This rule must have changed when I wasn’t looking, since I can’t for the life of me figure out how the two verbs are being used now. Your help would be appreciated. A: Yes, “convince” and “persuade” once had... ? Read More: The convinced and the persuaded


Another quote from Weinberger’s The Ghosts of Birds: The koukou, the Morepork owl, hoots koukou. It lives by night, it belongs to the Underworld, its frightening eyes a sign of evil. A thin film covers its unblinking eyes, a thin film made from the fingernails of corpses. I was, of course, intrigued by “Morepork,” so […]

Helpful Google

The marvels of modern natural language processing: Michael Glazer, who sent in the example, wonders whether Google Translate has overdosed on old Boris and Natasha segments from Rocky and Bullwinkle: But it seems that the Google speech synthesis systems are not in on the fun, because if I accept Helpful Google's suggestion that I might […]

Nonfiction before ‘nonfiction’

Q: The earliest citation that my OED CD-ROM has for “nonfiction” (it’s hyphenated there) is from 1903. What was it called before then? And why doesn’t “nonfiction” have its own name instead of being defined as not something else? A: The term “nonfiction” (or “non-fiction”) is older than you think. Show More Summary

Blessed Are teh Copy Editors.

I’m taking shameless advantage of my bully pulpit to post a plug for my profession, that of copyediting (or, if you or your style guides prefer, copy-editing or copy editing). Ben Yagoda at Lingua Franca writes about the lamentable decision by the New York Times to cut their copyediting staff in half and get rid […]

Annals of redundancy and masochism

Two gems from Chris Brannick via Facebook (the first is from the site of the Immortality Pills in Guangzhou and the second is from the Langham Place Hotel, also in Guangzhou): 1. yánjìn xiédài ???? ("it is forbidden to carry") wéijìn wùp?n ???? ("prohibited items") 2. x?ngshén zh? xu?n ???? ("wake up selection") d?ndi?n z?oc?n […]

Annals of poor translation

Below are two pages from the instruction book for a small point and shoot digital camera (the original in Chinese and the corresponding page translated into English). As you can see, the language display has a couple of strange choices. ji?n Zh?ng ?? ("simplified Chinese [characters]") fán Zh?ng ?? ("traditional Chinese [characters]") — fán ? […]

Serious earworm infection

I had heard "Let Me Love You" by D J Snake featuring Justin Bieber many times on the radio and was intrigued by several things: 1. Who / what is D J Snake? 2. In what way is the super famous Biebs "featured" on a record by a D J named Snake?  In other words, […]

Two Etymologies.

1) Posted by aldiboronti at, quoting the OED (“This took me by surprise, I had no idea of the connection”): chance, n., adj. and adv. Etymology: Middle English chea(u)nce, < Old French cheance (= Provençal cazensa, Italian cadenza) < late Latin cadentia falling, < cadent– falling, present participle of cad?re to fall: compare cadence […]

Incrimination by presupposition? The Goldstone e-mail

Paul Kay offered the following item for discussion around the water cooler at Language Log central: Here's an excerpt from the initial email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump, Jr.: ?"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its  government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and […]

North America on the Belt and Road?

I've spent the past couple of days at the "Belt and Road Forum for Language Resources", organized by the "Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Language Resources". There are other recently-founded Beijing Advanced Innovation Centers...Show More Summary


Helen DeWitt at paperpools posts a quote from Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (Oxford University Press, 2017) posted in turn by Rolf Degen (@DegenRolf) on Twitter (where he “performed various arcane manipulations to come up with a quotation that blithely bypasses the 140-character limit”). I can’t copy and […]

Dialect maps get surreal

Everybody seems to enjoy sharing dialect maps displaying the boundaries of different American regionalisms. So it was only a matter of time before this enticing form of data visualization got satirized. On Twitter, Josh Cagle takes them in an absurdist direction. these maps that have been going around showing various regionalisms have been really illuminating, […]

Graphing the Distribution of English Letters.

David Taylor at (“data hacking and sundry curiosities”) posted back in 2014 a very nice graph titled “Distribution of English letters toward beginning, middle and end of words.” He adds: I’ve had many “oh, yeah” moments looking over the graphs. For example, words almost never begin with “x”, but it’s quite common as the […]

It’s such a crucial question and @guyraz on @HowIBuiltThis seems to ask it in every interview: How much of your success was just good luck?

It’s such a crucial question and @guyraz on @HowIBuiltThis seems to ask it in every interview: How much of your success was just good luck? It's such a crucial question and @guyraz on @HowIBuiltThis seems to ask it in every interview: How much of your success was just good luck? — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) July […]

Bilingual Baby: How to Teach Your Baby Two Languages

This past year, my husband and I welcomed a new addition to our family. While we were awaiting his arrival, we discussed whether or not we’d raise him to be a bilingual baby and speak multiple languages. For this article, I’ll call the...Show More Summary

Digital footprint

Q: Our local public radio station advertises that it broadcasts “digital.” This doesn’t sound right to me. I would say that it broadcasts “digitally.” Am I correct? A: It doesn’t sound right to us either. A radio station broadcasts “digitally,”...Show More Summary

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