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The Brummie Black Hole.

Lucy Townsend of BBC News describes a situation I had not been aware of: The accent frequently comes bottom in polls of people’s favourites. It is rarely heard on television or in films unless they are comedies. It is also rarely pronounced correctly – the rounded vowel sounds and the hard “ing” are often emphasised […]

Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?

We start with a psycholinguistic controversy. On one side, there's Herbert Clark and Jean Fox Tree, "Using uh and um in spontaneous speaking", Cognition 2002. The proposal examined here is that speakers use uh and um to announce that they are initiating what they expect to be a minor (uh), or major (um), delay in […]

An Interview with Gérard Diffloth.

A very interesting interview with Professor Gérard Diffloth, “a leading figure in Southeast Asian linguistics, specializing in the languages of the Austroasiatic family”; the interviewer is Nathan Badenoch, with whom he is working on...Show More Summary

Multilingual Jiang Zemin

This is an old video of Jiang Zemin berating a female reporter and defending the right of the central government in Beijing to handpick the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, in this case the first, Tung Chee-hwa. The video, which is an amazing display of Jiang's verbal pyrotechnics, is getting a lot of circulation these […]

A record-setting pangrammatic window

A few months ago, I posted here (and on Slate's Lexicon Valley blog) about @PangramTweets, a bot created by Jesse Sheidlower that combs Twitter for tweets that include all 26 letters of the alphabet. I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if PangramTweets turns up any particularly short "pangrammatic windows," i.e., pangrammatic strings […]

Radical Linguistics.

Ross Perlin, whom we met here as a reviewer (of the Yiddish-Japanese Dictionary/Yidish-Yapanish Verterbukh/Idisshu-go jiten), has a very interesting essay in Dissent, called “Radical Linguistics in an Age of Extinction.” I doubt anyone will agree with everything he has to say, but it begins unassailably — “Modern linguistics is founded on a radical premise: the […]

Plural data

Today's xkcd: Mouseover title: "If you want to have more fun at the expense of language pedants, try developing an hypercorrection habit." That should be "…developing another hypercorrection habit", since making data plural in that situation is exactly analogous to using whom in "Whom are you, anyways?"

Bated Breath

Margaret from Traverse City came across the phrase with bated breath and wondered what it meant and where it came from. It is considered a cliché. The first thing to observe is that the spelling is b-a-t-e-d, not b-a-i-t-e-d. A person with baited breath would have been eating worms or minnows. Show More Summary

Translating the Umbrella Revolution

Far from prohibiting translation (see the last item here), the young demonstrators in Hong Kong are offering free translation services for the media and others who may be in need of them. The following photograph was shared on Twitter by Newsweek's Lauren Walker: While I'm not sure I'd fully rely on the guy on the […]

Will learning new languages help you pick up girls?

Last summer, a huge publication asked if I would write an article for them about How learning languages will help you chat up girls. … As nice as it would have been to be in that big magazine, I said no thanks. Then, since it was just before the World Cup, they made me a […]

Getting involved

Q: Which preposition should follow “involve”—“in” or “with”? I must be using the “wrong” preposition in casual conversations, because I seem to use the two interchangeably. Is there an easy rule to follow? A: We have a hunch that you’re mostly concerned with the use of “involve” in the passive (“to be involved”) or as... ? Read More: Getting involved


From David Donnell: "Not for nothin'," as the native NY'ers say, but I saw this commercial on the idiot-box tonight and was tickled by the play on words. Surprised to google and discover "half-fast" has been around for some time. But the TV ad still makes me laugh!


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Tasteless coffee

From "Signspotting around the world: Funny fails", a "Lonely Planet travel signs" feature of CNN Travel, I have selected an ensemble of four signs to illustrate different types of translation difficulties. The first was spotted in a Beijing cafe: X?láitè k?f?i ????? That would be "X?láitè Coffee", with "X?láitè very much having the look of […]

Historical Synonym Word Clouds.

From “Spiflicated, mopsy, and spondulicks: historical synonyms for everyday things” at the Oxford Dictionaries blog: In Words in Time and Place, David Crystal explores fifteen fascinating sets of synonyms, using the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. We’ve turned selections from six sections of Words in Time and Place into word clouds, arranged in […]

Mari and Udmurt dictionaries for Kindle (with caveats)

There are fairly ample Mari-Russian and Udmurt-Russian dictionaries in the Goldendict format (get them here). And there is a toolchain that can convert a Goldendict dictionary to Mobipocket format for use on the Kindle and other e-readers. Show More Summary


I mentioned in this post, a few days ago, that I was starting The Manticore; I have now almost finished it, and I continue to enjoy the odd bits of knowledge I’m picking up. For instance, a character’s remark that “Diarmuid began to call me Sir Edward, in reference to Marshall Hall” led me to […]

Must-read for Wednesday afternoon

Josef Fruehwald, "America's Ugliest Accent: Something's ugly alright", Val Systems 10/1/2014.  

Do fish have tongues?

Q: I recently returned from a vacation in Newfoundland, where I enjoyed the regional dish of “cod tongue.” Or should it be “cod’s tongue”? Or maybe “cods’ tongues”? I suspect that “cod” in “cod tongue” is an adjective (telling us what kind of tongue), not a noun (telling us whose tongue). A: The word “cod”... ? Read More: Do fish have tongues?

A hoax upon both your houses!

So there was a bit of a kerfuffle the other week when the article “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” hit the airwaves. I first spotted the headline when a friend posted the article on Facebook with the comment “RIP.” ’Cause I’m a word nerd like that, the first thing […]

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