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Conrad from Traverse City brought up the word commission as yet another example of a word with multiple meanings. It came from a Latin verb, committere, to entrust. Here’s a rundown of the meanings that evolved over the years. · order,...Show More Summary

More fun with Facebook: THE

The script that I used to make that course assignment about Facebook pronouns ("Sex, age, and pronouns on Facebook", 9/19/2014; "More fun with Facebook pronouns", 9/27/2014) can trivially be focused on any other words — so here's "the": And "this": Also "those": And "that" (though the determiner version is mixed with the complementizer): For some […]

For want of an apostrophe…

Via Lisa McClendon, aka Madam Grammar, comes this unfortunately punctuated headline currently on Drudge Report: The headline links through to an article from the UK tabloid The Mirror: "The Snappening: Thousands of kids, some as young as 10, could have nude photos posted online." ("The Snappening" is the name given by 4chan hackers of the […]

Intelligibility and the language / dialect problem

From Anschel Schaffer-Cohen: I'm an avid Language Log reader, and as an amateur student of language politics I'm always fascinated by your discussions of language vs. dialect vs. topolect, and the role played by mutual intelligibility. As such, I was fascinated to see this quote show up in my Facebook newsfeed: From the last sentence […]

Farewell to Troubadour.

Seven years ago I sang the praises of Troubadour Books in North Hatfield (across the river from here); in 2010 I added an update saying that the store was moving to Hadley, where it would share a building with Grey Matter Books. (You can see the new bookstore in a 2011 video here: “Two Guys […]

Stronzio Bestiale, Galadriel Mirkwood, Crosley Shelvador, …

"The true story of Stonzio Bestiale", Parolacce 10/5/2014: Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. Yet, in 1987, professor Bestiale, supposedly a physicist in Palermo, Sicily, authored major papers in prestigious scientific peer reviewed journals such as the  Journal […]


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X is the Y of Z: Infectious Death Cult Edition

The MedPage Today Tweet of the Week: This is the Katrina of ISIS analogies — Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) October 6, 2014 Some LLOG background: "X as the Y of Z", 7/28/2006 "X as the Y of Z, again", 3/25/2008 "Obama is the Y of Z", 11/5/2008 "X is the Y of Z: pop music […]

The magical fecundity of the Japanese verb suru ("to do") and verb ending -ru

The Agency for Cultural Affairs' annual survey on Japanese usage is out. This year's results as reported in the media: % of people who use chin suru ???? ("to 'nuke' something in the microwave") = 90.4% ("chin" is the sound your microwave makes to let you know your food is ready) cf. "Microwave display" saboru […]

Overtone singing

Anna-Maria Hefele: The fundamental frequency is about 273 Hz (which is a bit flatter than C#4), and as the spectrogram below shows, the "scale" that she sings picks out the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th harmonics (confusingly, these are the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th overtones, since the fundamental frequency […]

A black-belt crash blossom

Posted by Alex Bledsoe on Twitter: Copy editors…I miss them. — AlexBledsoe (@AlexBledsoe) October 9, 2014 The photo of the news article showed up on Imgur/Reddit a few days ago with the subject line, "That tumour has skills." But the article itself dates back to Dec. 27, 2013, when it appeared in the Daily […]

Ring-singing Tsvetaeva.

Via wood s lot, where Tsvetaeva is featured in yesterday’s post, I discovered this superb version of an untitled 1914 poem of hers, translated from the Russian by Ekaterina Rogalsky: I do not think, or argue, or complain. Or sleep. I long for neither sun, nor moon, nor sea. Nor ship. I do not feel […]

The product in your hair

Product lines Q: I had my hair cut the other day and as usual the stylist asked me whether I wanted her to use any product. When did “product” enter our vocabulary as something you buy at a salon? A: The noun “product,” which first showed up in English in the 15th century as a... ? Read More: The product in your hair

Moveable past tense markers in Polish

I’ve been slowly going through Andrew Spencer and Ana R. Luis’s Clitics, part of the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics series, which is lots of fun. As one might expect, there are a lot of examples from Balkan Sprachbund languages.Show More Summary


Another bit of humor in Veltman (see this post) involves playing with a Chinese name, and trying to investigate it has taken me through interesting paths to a dead end. Here’s the passage in Veltman: He found the tea business tempting. He learned that besides the Chinese van-sun-cho-dzi there was the Russian Ivan-sun-cho-dzi, and he […]

How do you get spoken practice in a less common language, when you can’t find native speakers?

On Monday (13th October 2014), I hop on a flight to Thailand – after which I’ll be hanging out in Asia for several months. Those of you subscribed to the email list will find out precisely where we go next, and what we’re doing, before anyone else But as you know, I’ve been very busy […]

He’ll Be None the Wiser

Since I began this blog in 2004, I’ve been vague about where in central Ohio I live, but tonight I’m proud to say that I live in Reynoldsburg, where phenomenal community support for our public school teachers has seen them through a summer of appalling disrespect from the local board of education (except for one […]


The word carnival is interesting in its own right; despite appearances — OED: “The explanations ‘farewell flesh, farewell to flesh’ (from Latin vale) found already in Florio, and ‘down with flesh!’ (from French aval), belong to the domain of popular etymology” — it’s from medieval Italian carnelevale, from (again quoting the OED) “Latin carnem lev?re, […]

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