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Awesome foods

Felix Sadeli sent in this list of colossal mistranslations of food names. We've already seen several of these and explained a number of them on Language Log: "Puke " (10/8/10) "Gourmet Chinese cookshop " (1/27/14) — "Soup for Sluts" (in the comments) "Combating the monolithic tree mushroom stem squid " (5/3/10) ("The jew's ear Juice" — […]

Noseblind spot

Q: A Febreze commercial uses the apparently new word “noseblind” to describe someone who can’t smell. As far as I know, there are only two common adjectives for sensory deficiencies: “blind” and “deaf.” Aside from obscure medical terms, are there common words for the loss of the three other traditional senses? A: Although the Febreze... ? Read More: Noseblind spot

Oscar crash blossom

Attachment ambiguity strikes again! Originally the headline was "Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals he tried to commit suicide during 2015 Oscars acceptance speech for 'The Imitation Game'". Now it's "Screenwriter Graham Moore reveals during Oscars acceptance speech for 'The Imitation Game' that he tried to commit suicide at 16", Daily News 2/23/2015.   [h/t Omri Ceren]   […]


Penny asked if the word cant is just another word for slang. That’s one of the meanings of the word—a provincial dialect so peculiar that it constitutes vulgar slang—but it’s not the exclusive meaning. In fact, cant is most often described as jargon—specialized words used in a certain profession ( legal jargon ) or by a definable group. Show More Summary

"They called for more structure"

From Kevin Knight's home page: I think our approach to syntax in machine translation is best described in D. Barthelme's short story They called for more structure…. In case you didn't follow the link, and to guard against future link rot: They called for more structure, then, so we brought in some big hairy four-by-fours […]

Solving the mystery of "off the cuff"

Peter Reitan, "Paper Linen and Crib Notes – A Well-Planned History of 'Off the Cuff'", Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog, 2/20/2015, following up on "The 'off the cuff' mystery", 8/16/2012: The idiom, “off the cuff,” meaning “without preparation... as if from impromptu notes made on one’s shirt cuffs,” dates to the […]

Kids Today.

While I wait for my grandkids to grow up and start using the latest slang, I have to keep up as best I can via online sources, and Anne Curzan has a nice little piece called “Electronic Innovation >>>.” She’s writing about “the use of ‘>’ or ‘<’ in text as a way to compare […]

Enter here

From Bob Sanders comes this sign at a burger joint in the Melbourne, Australia airport: The Chinese says: q?ng zài c? sh?rù ????? ("please enter [text / account number / password / name] here") Here I give Google Translate a lot of credit, because it knows that you have to enter something after the transitive […]

Asian (con)fusion

Michael Robinson sent in the following photograph of a restaurant which I believe is in the Inner Richmond section of San Francisco: During the last few weeks, we've experienced a lot of befuddlement over just what animal symbolizes the lunar New Year — see: "Year of the ovicaprid" (2/15/15). I feel the same sense of […]

Braised double bacteria in abalone sauce

Tim Leonard sent in the following photograph of a curious menu item (via Reddit): For Chinglish specialists, this one is easy to explain: bàozh? shu?ngj?n ???? ("two kinds of mushrooms in abalone sauce") j?n ? means "fungus, mushroom, mold"; "bacterium" is translated into Chinese as xìj?n ?? (lit., "fine fungus"). The confusion between bacteria and […]

Comparative diglossia

In the comments on "From Bushisms to la langue François", there was some discussion of whether French is more diglossic than English — that is, whether the differences between (formal) writing and (informal) speech are greater. As I mentioned, it's not clear how and what to count — informal words and expressions, morphological and syntactic differences, categorically […]

English via Facebook

Q: Does Facebook use “via” incorrectly when your friend A forwards a link to you from his friend B? Facebook describes this as “From A via B,” but surely it should be the other way around, “From B via A.” A: You’re right—“via” has meant “by way of” since it came into English in the... ? Read More: English via Facebook

Bad Day? Try These 21 Crushing Curse Words in 6 Languages

This is an R-rated post. If you’d prefer something more family friendly about unusual words in other languages, you’ll likely enjoy our post on endearments from around the world. Rough day? There’s nothing like the satisfaction of throwing down a hearty swear word. Show More Summary

The Ode on Slate.

It’s been too long since we had any Mandelstam around here, so I thank Trevor for sending me Alistair Noon’s translation, with a very interesting introduction, of Mandelstam’s ?????????? ??? (Slate Ode; the link is bilingual, and for some reason calls it “Graphite Ode”). This has got to be one of the knottiest poems ever […]

Naples, Italy: A Trip Planning Guide

The historic port city of Naples bursts with a whirlwind of thrills for all of your senses. The tastes and smells of the food, the views of the art and architecture, and the sounds of mini operettas on the street corners, all of these and more will make a trip to Naples one of the most memorable trips of your life. Show More Summary

From Bushisms to la langue François

Remember the Bushisms industry? Something similar, mutatis mutandis, seems to be springing up in France. Stéphane Ratti, "De la langue française à la langue François", Le Figaro 2/14/2015: Pourquoi François Hollande s'acharne-t-il àShow More Summary

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Indo-Europeans from the Steppe.

Alexander Kim sent me a link to “Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe” by Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, et many al.; here’s the abstract: We generated genome-wide data from 69 Europeans who lived between 8,000-3,000 years ago by enriching ancient DNA libraries for a target set […]

When words change their spots

Q: I see that Merriam-Webster has caved to the misuse of “peruse,” which is now apparently an antonym to itself. It means, or so the dictionary says, to examine or read “in a very careful way” (the traditional usage) as well as “in an informal or relaxed way.” Are linguists creating a new type of... ? Read More: When words change their spots


Another quote from Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle (I’m glad I’ve already inspired at least one Hatter to start reading it!) that usefully elucidates the meaning of a Latin word and concept; at this point in chapter 2 he’s talking about how for the first half (roughly) of the fourth century, Christians, […]

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