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The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH

In 1711, long before E.B. White over-interpreted the Fowler brothers and sent out mobs of zombified prescriptivists to hunt down whiches, Joseph Addison gave us "The Humble Petition of WHO and WHICH", The Spectator 78: ' The humble Petition of WHO and WHICH, ' SHEWETH, ' THAT your petitioners being in a forlorn and destitute condition, know not […]

Songhay historical linguistics: Three new articles

Northern Songhay is a small group of languages (Korandjé, Tadaksahak, Tagdal, and Tasawaq) spoken in the Sahara, with a Songhay core vocabulary and grammar but extremely heavy Berber influence on vocabulary and structure. In Tadaksahak...Show More Summary


Back in 2007 I posted about an old Russian epithet for Greeks, ?????? [pindós], that has come to be directed at Americans; in reading Serafimovich (see this post) I’ve run across another one, ?????? [grekós], which is obviously straight from Greek ??????? [?rekós]. The ragged elements of the Red Army (with associated sailors, families, and […]

People don’t “steal slang” any more than they stole the words they learned from their mothers’ lips.

People don’t “steal slang” any more than they stole the words they learned from their mothers’ lips. People don't "steal slang" any more than they stole the words they learned from their mothers' lips. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) August 22, 2015

Modern English Grammar

Richard Hershberger, who usually writes about baseball, has a recent post at Ordinary Times about "Modern English Grammar": My post today is uncharacteristically devoid of baseball content. It is about grammar, one of my many unremunerative interests. Specifically it is about modern English grammar. I don’t mean by this (except incidentally) the grammar of modern […]

Teaching in Dardja before colonial rule

In a recent article on RFI, I'm quoted as saying that Darja (Algerian dialectal Arabic) was already used in education before the colonial period. Here's why I said so. If you talk to anyone who studied at a Qur'?nic school before independence,...Show More Summary

How Not to Use Ngrams.

A good piece by Ted Underwood from his blog The Stone and the Shell (“Using large digital libraries to advance literary history”), How not to do things with words: In recent weeks, journals published two papers purporting to draw broad cultural inferences from Google’s ngram corpus. [...] I’m writing this post because systems of academic […]

Learn Spanish: 30+ Resources for Spanish Reading Practice (Beginner to Intermediate)

With Spanish as your target language, you know how important it is to learn lots of Spanish words and pick up basic grammar. One of the best ways (besides speaking) to learn Spanish words and grammar is to read Spanish. The problem? Textbooks are too basic (or too boring!), while novels are difficult for beginners. Show More Summary

"… could have bore"

Brian Bender, "Former officials question Clinton's email defense", Politico 8/20/105: While sympathetic to the messy nature of the classification system, fellow diplomats and specialists say Clinton could have bore responsibility to flag sensitive material. Mr. Bender is not the first to construe "bore" as a past participle — the OED gives us 1769   L. Sterne […]

Miser, miserly, and miserable

Q: I assume that “miser” and “miserly” are relations of “miserable,” but how exactly are they related? A: All three are ultimately derived from miser, a Latin adjective meaning wretched or unfortunate. The use of the “adjective in the sense ‘miserly’ is not recorded in Latin, but may have existed,” according to the Oxford English... Show More Summary

Non-programmer friendly

Brad DeLong linked to a paywalled Financial Times article by Lisa Pollack about problems with spreadsheet usage, and observed that [C]onsiderations like these make me extremely hesitant when I think of asking my students in Econ 1 next spring to do problems sets in Excel. Shouldn’t I be asking them to do it in R via R Studio or […]

Multistory Profanity.

Many years ago I learned from Edward Topol about the Russian system of classifying mat, or profanity, according to the number of layers, or stories/storeys, it contains, the more elaborate having three or even seven levels; I don’t think I’d ever encountered this system in literary use before, but reading Alexander Serafimovich‘s classic of Soviet […]

Devilishly difficult "dialect"

Are some languages innately more difficult than others?  In "Difficult languages" (1/2/10), Bill Poser addressed this question from various angles.  I've heard it said that Georgian is incredibly difficult because it possesses an "impossible"...Show More Summary

What does "vocal fry" mean?

Julianne Escobedo Sheperd, "LOL Vocal Fry Rules U R All Dumb", Jezebel 7/30/2015: This week, in shit-hot stuff happening on the internet, once-great feminist pundit Naomi Wolf wrote a column about how vocal fry is Keeping Women Down, and then other women across the internet rebutted her, rightly positing that when your dads bitch about […]

Peevers in Paradise.

Matt of No-sword has a (cleverly titled) post about some linguistic descriptions he noticed in Margaret Mead’s Coming of age in Samoa; first he points out that when she says the “immaturity” in use of language of a group of girls between ten and twenty years old “was chiefly evidenced by a lack of familiarity […]

This usage is legit, no?

Q: Is there any grammar rule that forbids using the word “no” at the end of a question? A: No! English speakers often end a sentence with “no?” to make it a question, especially in casual speech. One might say, for example, “You enjoyed it, no?” to mean “You enjoyed it, didn’t you?” Notice how... ? Read More: This usage is legit, no?

Random readings

Three random things from my to-blog list — no time this morning for more — maybe some commentary later: Douglas Maurer, "Testing how well Google translate works for medical translation", iMedicalApps 8/12/2015 Matt Michel, "6 Reasons You Can't Trust Science Anymore", Cracked 8/13/2015 "Loaded Language", Boston Calling (BBC)  

Spotlighting Australia’s Languages: Tamil

We Australians don't know much about the languages spoken in our own country - so Fully Sic is here to help! Over the coming months, we'll be featuring a series of posts about languages spoken around the country. Today, Niru Perera tells us about Tamil.

Add1Challenge Review: Learn a Language in 90 Days

When I met Brian Kwong a few years ago and saw his immense enthusiasm, I was glad to see someone else so eagerly encouraging language learners. He surprised me further by putting his enthusiasm into practice and building a community where language learners support one another. Show More Summary


I’m still reading Kotkin’s Stalin (I’ve just gotten to the end of his account of the Civil War and am setting it aside to read Evan Mawdsley’s The Russian Civil War, which has been sitting on my shelf since 2010 and which I am enjoying greatly), and I’ve discovered he’s very fond of an obscure […]

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