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Harrisian transformation of the week

Today’s SMBC: The mouseover title: “In the future, you’ll pay to chop wood, but it’s not real wood.” The aftercomic:

On digesting food and fact

Q: How did the digestion of food come to mean a digest of information? A: You’ll be surprised to hear this, but the two senses showed up in English about the same time, and the Latin source for both referred to the digesting of information, not food. When the word “digest” appeared in Middle English... ? Read More: On digesting food and fact


CNN now stands for Cardiac Care Network because their ppl are having heart attacks over Trump doing what Dems once demanded-fire Comey. — Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) May 10, 2017 CNN, CCN, whatever… More evidence for the Conservation of Gemination.

New Interest in Italian Dialects.

Silvia Marchetti’s piece on Italian dialects has a silly title but an encouraging message: All of Italy is seeing a renewed interest in dialects, a revival linked to a national — and greater European — identity crisis. “It’s a matter of territorial belonging,” says Andrea Maniero, a linguistics expert and resident of Nardò, where […]

AN News: Right-wing Politics in Brazil: Iconization and Accusations of Corruption

Anthropology News Column by Aaron Ansell In late 2016, I noticed a peculiar convergence between Brazilian and US politics. In both countries, the political right spurred mass mobilization against a ruling center-left party through the demonization of leading women as corrupt. While neither Senator Hillary Clinton (US) nor President Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) were indicted on […]

English names in East Asia

We have had thousands of students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore enrolled as undergraduates and graduate students at Penn.  To name just a few at random, there are Andromeda, Tess, Sophie, Isis (but she changed it to Iset after finding out about the Islamic terrorist state), Leander, Lovesky, and so on.  I won’t […]


Today’s Pearls Before Swine — “Who’s on first” updated: We have some puns of this kind here at Ware College House, for example a regular events announcement title “What When Ware”, t-shirts labeled “Ware it’s at”, and so on. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) there’s no Hu College House or Watt College House at Penn. Though I […]

Not very difficult at all?

“Cyberattack thwarted by flipping ‘kill switch’ but experts fear new blitz“, ABC News 5/13/2017 The attack appears to have been thwarted by private cybersecurity researchers who identified and triggered the malware’s “kill switch,” which halted the attacks before it spread throughout U.S. Show More Summary

No word for “Community Room”?

At the Valencia Police Station in San Francisco, CA, there is a sign reading “Community Room” in English and Spanish. There is also Chinese on the sign; however, apparently a word or two is not considered adequate to communicate this concept in Chinese. The Chinese says: Rúgu? nín x?yào rènhé xiézhù huò sh?yòng fúwù, q?ng […]

How the Corded Ware Culture Was Formed.

It’s been a couple of years since we got into the whole Indo-Europeans-and-Corded-Ware thing (e.g., here), so I thought I’d post Re-theorising mobility and the formation of culture and language among the Corded Ware Culture in Europe, by Kristian Kristiansen, Morten E. Allentoft, Karin M. Frei, Rune Iversen, Niels N. Johannsen, Guus Kroonen, ?ukasz Pospieszny, […]


In English, "re-" is a moderately productive derivational prefix - reboot, remake, redo... In French, though, it seems more like an incorporated adverb - it's practically the main way you say "again": remanger (eat again), repleuvoir (rain again), redire (say again) are all perfectly normal. Show More Summary

Cheater’s stocks in Hong Kong and on the Mainland

Until three days ago when I read the following article in the South China Morning Post, I had never heard of this expression: “Opinion: All you need to know about cheater’s stocks: its lures, its victims and the key opinion leaders” (Shirley Yam, 5/10/17) She calls these stocks LAO QIAN GU in Chinese, but since […]


The latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine has, as usual, a lively letters section, and I thought the following exchange was worth posting: Admiral Grace Hopper’s name may replace John C. Calhoun’s on the college where I lived some 70 years ago, but she is not its “namesake.” Your headline has it backwards. The […]

Weaponized Tibetan Pinyin

Jichang Lulu has just posted a very interesting article titled  “the clash of romanisations” (5/12/17).  It begins: Last month the Ministry of Civil Affairs (???) published a list of six ‘standardised’ place names in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a large part of which the PRC claims as part of South Tibet (??). This generated […]

Priming the pump: a cartoon history

As Mark Liberman noted, Donald Trump seemed to imply in his recent interview with The Economist that he coined the phrase “priming the pump,” or at least the financial use of it: “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.” Was this just some sort of peculiar […]

Nerves, Tears and a Breakthrough: 2 Weeks Without Speaking English [Mission Update]

What’s it really like giving up your mother tongue? If you’ve read my last update you’ll know that I gave up speaking English for 30 days to focus on only speaking German. My goal was to reach the B2 level by the time the Cologne Carnival came around. As I write this, I’m in the midst of that challenge. Show More Summary

Is it a fray or an affray?

Q: Is there a difference between “fray” and “affray”? A: “Fray” and “affray” are about as closely related as two words can be, but like human relatives they’ve grown apart over the years The story begins in the 1300s when Middle English adopted “affray” from Anglo-Norman, first as a verb and later as a noun.... ? Read More: Is it a fray or an affray?

Priming the pump

“Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump“, The Economist 5/11/2017: That all goes into tax reduction. Tremendous savings. But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit? It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”? Yes. We have to […]

When intonation overrides tone, part 2

Richard Warmington has a deep interest in the relationship between tone and intonation, especially in Mandarin.  He has made a number of penetrating observations and asked a series of probing questions on this phenomenon.  Since this is also a subject that has come up numerous times on Language Log (see below for a several previous […]


Elon Gilad has another good Haaretz column, this time on an interesting surname: Many Israelis welcomed the news that the Israel Defense Forces’ new chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, will be the first Israeli of Moroccan descent to attain the senior post. While it is true that both Eisenkot’s parents were born in Morocco, many […]

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