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Colonialism or gas

The last three panels of Dumbing of Age for 8/10/2017, featuring Danny and Sal: Mouseover text: "They have a similar smell." What I wrote about g-dropping a dozen years ago ("The internet pilgrim's guide to g-dropping", 5/10/2004): In fact, there is no "g" involved at all, except in the spelling. Final -ng (in English spelling) stands for […]


When the White House issued a statement that finally condemned white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville this weekend, the version that was originally released had an unusual typo: "nephew-nazi" for "neo-Nazi": The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred and of course that […]

Brooks on biological sexism

David Brooks recently argued that James Damore's anti-gender-diversity memo was right, and that Google was wrong to fire him ("Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.", NYT 8/11/2017), giving us another example of his long-standing fascination with pseudo-scientific justifications of gender and ethnic stereotypes. Show More Summary


I ran across the Russian word ?????? [tompak], looked it up, and discovered it was defined as “tombac.” Just this once, the Oxford dictionary took pity on the ignorant user and added the parenthetical “(copper and zinc alloy),” so I knew what it meant, but of course I wanted to know the derivation. Vasmer told […]

Too cool to care

Today's xkcd: Mouseover title: "It's hard to train deep learning algorithms when most of the positive feedback they get is sarcastic." See also Geoff Pullum, "Robots gossiping in a secret language?", Lingua Franca 8/7/2017. In fact, I suspect that Microsoft Research might be making some progress on the "too cool to care" algorithm. Thursday and […]

The Lesser Prince of the Night.

I recently came across the Polish word ksi??yc ‘moon’ and thought “That’s odd — the other Slavic languages have reflexes of either Proto-Slavic luna (like Russian) or m?s?c? (like Serbo-Croatian and Czech). Where did this come from? It turns out (and this is a great etymology) that it’s originally a diminutive of ksi??? ‘prince’; to […]

-lude and –clude

Karl asked if the words ludicrous and interlude are based on the same root. The short answer: in spite of the spelling-challenged rapper, yes. Both came from the Latin verb ludere, to play. The concept of play lies beneath the surface of a number of common words, at least in their original meaning. Show More Summary

GAN4 ("Do it!")

From a long blog post on contemporary Chinese religious art and architecture: The post contains many other photographs of this monument, some with groups of people standing before it, so it is a real thing. We know where the monument...Show More Summary

The Language Learning Curve: What’s the Best Way for You to Improve Your Language Skills

Becoming fluent in a new language is a journey… and in my research with language learners I’ve discovered a “language learning curve” that most people follow. Before I share that, here’s how the language learning journey went for me. After...Show More Summary

An uncommon courtesy

Q: “Courtesy” as a verb? This is from a local Fox News employee in Austin, TX: “We would courtesy you.” A: It’s not just Fox News in Austin. We’ve found many examples of the identical wording from broadcasters around the country in offering people credit for using their online videos. Here’s a request by an... ? Read More: An uncommon courtesy

Palimpsests at Saint Catherine’s.

Richard Gray at the Atlantic writes about a perennially interesting topic: The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only […]

Buffy the very good Vampire Slayer

Sociolinguistics is all about how language is being used around us everyday, and where better to look than TV? Susan Reichelt and Mercedes Durham did just this, investigating how linguistic devices are used in Buffy The Vampire Slayer to strengthen characterisation. Show More Summary

Hysteria over Hyphens.

The Economist‘s Johnson column (on language) has a good roundup of the vexed issue of hyphens, which starts with the classic quote “If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.” I got the link from this post by Lucy Ferriss, who is quite wrong about spelled-out numbers followed by a reference to a […]

"North Korea best not…"

Donald Trump's "fire and fury" warning to North Korea, we now know, was unscripted, not the product of speechwriters and advisers. As some have suggested, Trump's aggressive language may have been (at least unconsciously) modeled on Harry Truman's announcement that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. Truman: If they do […]

You’ve escaped people listening to voicemail on speakerphone by working at home. Then a car parks in front of your home-office window.

You’ve escaped people listening to voicemail on speakerphone by working at home. Then a car parks in front of your home-office window. You've escaped people listening to voicemail on speakerphone by working at home. Then a car parks in front of your home-office window. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) August 9, 2017

Either or neither of three?

Q: I was under the impression that “either”/”neither” constructions are used with only two alternatives. But I often see them with three or more. Am I too restrictive? A: Yes, you’re too restrictive. “Either” and “neither” usually refer to only two things, but not always. When “either” showed up in Old English as ?ghwæðer (also... ? Read More: Either or neither of three?

Harry Potter and the Spanish ‘Tykes’.

UrbanAbydos has a Potterglot post that discusses… well, I’ll let the poster tell you: The amount of variation in the Spanish editions of the Philosopher’s Stone is stunning. Writing is an art and from draft-to-draft, you expect the language to be tweaked. But once it has been edited and published, you don’t expect noticeable variation […]

Chinese, Greek, and Latin

More than a year ago, I made this post: "Which is harder: Western classical languages or Chinese?" (3/6/16) In that post, I described a sense of anxiety that seems to pervade the venerable discipline of philology, which seemed to be in the process of morphing into something called "Classical Studies".  This feeling of uncertainty about […]

Neglected email

Some charmingly reflective and sincere writing in the latest xkcd comic as Cueball types a reply to a long-neglected email correspondent: Dear Kevin, I'm sorry it's taken me two years to reply to your email. I've built up so much stress and anxiety around my email inbox; it's an unhealthy dynamic which is more psychological […]

Caput Mortuum.

Reading Ford Madox Ford’s memoir Memories and Impressions (highly recommended by my wife, who’s become a Ford devotee), I ran across an expression that baffled me. In his encomium to Holman Hunt Ford says: But I think I never did advance — it was never my intention to advance — any suggestion that the true […]

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