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The emperor’s cold feet

Q: Professor Wadding, a minor character in The Transit of Venus, says the expression “cold feet” comes from Emperor Henry IV’s waiting in the snow at Canossa to meet Pope Gregory VII. Is this etymology too good to be true? Yes, that’s a fictitious story, but don’t blame Shirley Hazzard, the author of the novel.... ? Read More: The emperor’s cold feet

Renaming anonymous

Paula Abul sends in a spooneristic eggcorn: I've just come across an eggcorn I've never seen before, and thought it might interest you. It is the phrase "who will rename anonymous", in place of the more usual "remain anonymous". A cursory Google search shows a fair few instances. Her example is from Kate Allen, "What Your Hairstylist […]


Joan from Torch Lake reminded me of a figure of speech that is delightful to encounter. It involves a sentence in which the last half presents a twist in meaning – an unexpected conclusion – that causes the listener to go back to the first half to reinterpret the meaning of a term. Show More Summary

Announcing SLA Spring 2018 Meeting

The Society for Linguistic Anthropology is pleased to announce that plans are well under way for our first Spring Conference, March 8-10, in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Museum.  The SLA board would like to ask SLA members to fill out a very brief (one question) survey as to whether you think you […]


Tessa Wong reports for BBC News on Kristang, a creole spoken by a community of people of mixed Portuguese and Asian ancestry in Malacca and Singapore: Until two years ago, university student Kevin Martens Wong had never even heard of his ancestral tongue, let alone spoken it. The Singaporean linguist was researching endangered languages when […]

Announcement: Edward Sapir Book Prize 2017

Submission Deadline: May 15, 2017 The Edward Sapir Book Prize was established in 2001 and is awarded to a book that makes the most significant contribution to our understanding of language in society, or the ways in which language mediates historical or contemporary sociocultural processes. Beginning in 2012, the Sapir Prize has been awarded annually. […]

"Far beyond unconventional levels of dishonesty"

For the Washington Post opinion blog The Plum Line, Greg Sargent wrote: "The events of this week are revealing with a new level of clarity that President Trump and the White House have ventured far beyond unconventional levels of dishonesty." Obligatory screenshot: On Twitter, Jonathan Zittrain wondered if Sargent actually meant "far beyond conventional levels […]

How to Speak English Like the English

Two of my favourite articles on Fluent in 3 Months are Benny's classics How to Speak English Like the Irish and its sequel Advanced Hiberno English. So, being from England, I'd like to share some thoughts on how to speak English like...Show More Summary

Irish "would"

Below is an email from Eoin Ryan (with added audio): Last week on Language Log you posted about a "tentative would" as used by Mike Pence, which reminded me of a use of "would" which I find interesting and may be similar, but I think it is different. Also, last week I had no clear examples […]

A New Daodejing.

Longtime LH commenter John Emerson writes: For about 40 years I have been studying the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching, Laozi, Lao Tzu) and am now writing a book about it. Eventually it will include a translation and commentaries, but right now I only have a reedited Chinese text. Please tell any of your Classical-Chinese-reading friends […]

Is “monthslong” a word?

Q: Is “monthslong” a new word or did the editors at NPR slip up? A recent story referred to “a monthslong campaign of racist bullying.” A: Yes, “monthslong” is a word—a unit of written or spoken language—and it’s not all that new. But is it really a word, one that’s alive and well in writing... ? Read More: Is “monthslong” a word?

"Made Beaver" and more

As of March 17 2017, DCHP-2 went live: the Second Edition of A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. The Project History, by Stefan Dollinger and Margery Fee, is worth reading — it includes this interesting variation on James Murray's Reading Programme: Because funding was slow to materialize, we adapted our data collection methods to […]

Six Polish Books that Should Be Translated.

I’m a big fan of pointing out good books that haven’t been translated, and Antonia Lloyd-Jones has a list of six that should whet translators’ appetites. I’m particularly struck by the first one, whose description makes me wish I read Polish: 1. A meticulously researched, epic historical novel set in Italy: Maciej Hen, Solfatara (WAB […]

Beyond fluff

Video from this article by Anthony Kuhn on the NPR Parallels blog: "For Years, I've Been A Correspondent In China. This Month, I Became A Viral Star" (3/18/17) Also available on Weibo here. Show More Summary

Court fight over Oxford commas and asyndetic lists

Language Log often weighs in when courts try to nail down the meaning of a statute. Laws are written in natural language—though one might long, by formalization, to end the thousand natural ambiguities that text is heir to—and thus judges are forced to play linguist. Any disambiguation puzzle requires a reader to weigh competing factors. Happily, this week's "case in […]

Dictionary of Canadianisms Online.

A decade ago I posted about the project to revise the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, whose first edition appeared in 1967. The revised second edition is now online here, free for anyone to access. As Dave Wilton says at (where I learned about it): The new edition not only includes words that […]

How 3 YouTubers Learned Brazilian Portuguese by Making Videos

Sitting down with textbooks isn't the only way to learn a language... as you'll be aware if you've read much on Fluent in 3 Months. In this post, you will learn how three language learners used making videos on Youtube as their secret...Show More Summary

Limerick Poems and Civil Wars

This is a St. Patrick's Day guest post by Stephen Goranson. The five-line nonsense verses with AABBA rhymes existed long before they were called Limericks, it's generally agreed, but why they got that name lacks consensus. Let's start with an example: There was a young rustic named Mallory Who drew but a very small salary. […]

Trilingual signs in Sicily

"The Jewish Ghosts of Palermo", a post on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife, shows this photograph near the beginning: Caption:Possibly the most important Jewish street in Palermo, the Via dei Cartari was where all the Jewish scribes drew up any contract needed by the citizens of Palermo. There's an unobstructed view of the […]

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