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Bina Shah, "Trying to Dam a Digital Sea", NYT 4/10/2014: In September 2012, the Pakistani government expanded a ban on some YouTube contributors to a blockage of the whole video-sharing site, because the anti-Muslim film “Innocence of Muslims” had appeared on it. Eighteen months later, the ban remains, exposing a simmering struggle within Pakistan over […]

U-Nine-Ed States

Glen emailed me a week or so ago: Do you sometimes feel like people pronounce “united” to sound like “unined”? (Three syllables, but replacing the t sound with an n sound.) If so, is there some principle that would explain it? In fact, I have heard this. It’s particularly noticeable in the Stuff They Don’t […]

Male aunty

Joel Martinsen came across this snapshot a couple of days ago: Here's the story The sign says: Zh?opìn Zuòfàn ?yí (Nánn? bù xiàn) ? ??? ???? ?????? Help Wanted Cook Aunty (Male or female) Baidu Fanyi translates the last line more literally as "not limited to men and women". We've been grappling with gender a […]


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The Great Language Game: Followup.

Remember the Great Language Game? Well, its creator, Lars Yencken, has analyzed the over 16,000,000 results and made the results available for download, and you can read a summary, with some nice graphs, here. A taste: “Out of all the 78 languages currently featured in the game, players find it easiest to recognize French (Romance, […]

Read the Riot Act

To read someone the riot act is to berate that person for unwanted behavior and to threaten him or her with consequences if the behavior doesn’t cease. The fact is, there was an actual Riot Act, and it was passed into law in Great Britain in 1715. Show More Summary

9 Reasons You’re Hitting Language Learning Walls (& How to Break Through Them to Finally Become Fluent)

It’s the feeling of stagnation, like sitting around and waiting for something to happen because you know you’ve been putting in the work. It’s what happens when you feel a huge rush of demotivation because you’re really tired of studying...Show More Summary

Soziales Verhalten in deutscher Konversation

If you can't read that title, this post isn't for you. If, on the other hand, that title is in your mother tongue, you need to click here and help out a grad student. And if you know native speakers of German, please give them a heads up.

Graduate school

Q: In the recent New Yorker piece about the father of the Sandy Hook killer, Andrew Solomon writes that Adam Lanza’s older brother “moved to New Jersey after graduating college.” GRADUATING COLLEGE? Shouldn’t that be FROM college? A: We read the same article in the March 17 issue and had the same thought:... ? Read More: Graduate school

Grammar scandal at WSJ

Misspelling prosecutor as prosector is one thing; we all make letter-omission slips occasionally. But misspelling your version as you're version in a headline in a quality newspaper? It's a whole different magnitude of editorial sin. Yet at the time of writing, The Wall Street Journal's European edition has a headline up online saying "Prosector to […]

His Coffeeness

Kendall Willets had long ago noticed that Korean honorifics show up disproportionately in commercial settings, but this article brought up something new.  The -si- ? infix is only supposed to apply to the verb if the subject has higher status, but in service settings it's expanding to everything, including coffee. The big LOL sentence for […]

"We're updating our novel-length Terms of Service?"

Yesterday I got an email from, under the heading "We're updating our Terms of Service". It starts this way: Hi Mark, Our business and our community have grown, so we are updating our Terms of Service, Host Guarantee Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. These changes will be effective for all users on April […]

Ready on Dostoevsky.

I don’t often recommend podcasts because I don’t often listen to them, but I very much enjoyed George Miller’s interview with translator Oliver Ready, “about his five-year engagement with Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics, 2014): what persuaded him to take the project on? how did he limber up for it? and why – unusually […]

Kicks in the closet

Q: I have a question that occurred to me while reading your article about “kick the can down the road.” This isn’t life-altering or profound, but what is the origin of the slang use of “kicks” to mean shoes? A: The use of “kicks” for shoes originated in 1890s American slang, and judging... ? Read More: Kicks in the closet

Gender is the least of it

A.C. sends in this opening sentence from a story in his local (NZ) paper: The former lover of a murdered British jeweler was in his bed when he and his new girlfriend arrived at his villa on the Costa del Sol. The referential scorecard is: (1) the former lover (2) a murdered British jeweler (3) […]

A Tour of British Accents.

A tour of the British Isles in accents: “Professional accent and dialect coach Andrew Jack seamlessly switches between the various accents that are scattered across the UK, demonstrating the subtle distinctions between different varieties of English.” My UK readers will have to tell me how accurate it is, but it’s pretty damn impressive, as well […]

Dothraki and Valyrian.

I haven’t watched any of the HBO series Game of Thrones (though jamessal tells me it’s a must-see), but I found this Boston Globe piece by Britt Peterson, about the guy who invents its languages, quite interesting: In the past, the people writing [languages for Hollywood] have been mostly academic linguists. But David Peterson, the […]

The Cranes of Ibycus.

One of the benefits of reading nineteenth-century literature is that I keep running across cultural tropes that were then common but that have fallen into comparative desuetude since. (By “comparative desuetude,” I mean that although some of my readers are doubtless familiar with them, I myself am not.) One such is the cranes of Ibycus. […]

Pronounce Wisconsin.

Pronounce Wisconsin “is an online pronouncing gazetteer of place names in Wisconsin, including counties, cities, villages, and unincorporated communities. Over 1720 place names in Wisconsin can be accessed by simply mousing over the map.” Now that’s what I call a public service! And for a hipper take on the same theme, with audio clips right […]

Gazdanov’s Languages.

I find it hard to believe I’ve never mentioned Gaito Gazdanov on this blog, but the site search tells me it is so. I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of him before I wandered into the late lamented Donnell Library (see this post), shortly after my arrival in NYC in 1981, and stood, mouth agape, […]

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