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My wife and I are approaching the end of Hearing Secret Harmonies, the twelfth and final volume of Anthony Powell’s series of novels A Dance to the Music of Time (begun last November, and contrary to Christopher Culver’s warning in June, we have not found a “drastic decline in quality with the last two volumes,” […]

Gwynne again

John McIntyre, "What to say to peevers", Ba9/3/2014: A recent article in the Boston Globe by Britt Peterson, "Why we love the language police," along with comments it has prompted on Facebook and other venues, shows that some people have become dangerously overstimulated by the publication of N.M. Gwynne's Gwynne's Grammar. I think I can speak for […]

Economic Success Drives Language Extinction.

Tatsuya Amano, Brody Sandel, Heidi Eager, et al. have a paper in Proc. R. Soc. B 22 of obvious LH interest; the abstract begins: Many of the world’s languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction […]

¿Cómo Aprender Inglés Sin Haber Ido Antes a Estados Unidos? (15 divertidos tips para aprender un nuevo idioma)

Llevo 5 años escribiendo en este blog y todos los artículos son en inglés… hasta hoy. Sé que muchos de mis lectores no son nativos del inglés y que muchos están aprendiendo inglés todavía. Por eso, vamos a ver qué tal si comparto algunos artículos que no estén escritos en inglés, como el de hoy. Conocí […]

Is that officer a police?

Q: I just finished reading a book that uses such statements as “I am a police” and “He is a police.” I‘ve been a court reporter for about 20 years, and this stopped me each time I read it. Is this correct? It seems very awkward. A: This usage was new to us, too, but... ? Read More: Is that officer a police?

The paucity of curse words in Japanese

In "Ichiro Suzuki Uncensored, en Español:  Between the Lines, Japanese Star Is Known as a First-Class Spanish Trash Talker", via Andy Cheung, the Yankees outfielder is quoted thus:  "…we don't really have curse words in Japanese, so I like the fact that the Western languages allow me to say things that I otherwise can't." What?  […]

Database of Cross-Linguistic Colexifications.

This is wonderful: CLICS is an online database of synchronic lexical associations (“colexifications”, see here for more information) in currently 221 language varieties of the world. Large databases offering lexical information on the world’s languages are already readily available for research in different online sources. Show More Summary


I just finished Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives (thanks, bulbul!), and I enjoyed it greatly, barring some moral concerns about using the Holocaust as a plot mechanism for a light-hearted fantasy/sf/spy thriller with a touch of romantic comedy (because I am a tiresome old fart). Stross has fun mingling terms from modern computer geekery and […]

The paucity of two-letter words

The number of possible two-letter lower-case strings over the English alphabet (not including the apostrophe) is 2626 = 676. This morning I ran a script to test which two-letter sequences show up as words included in the standard 25,143-word list of words supplied with many Unix-derived systems (usually at /usr/share/dict/words). I found it was almost […]

Calculus class

Q: I was listening to a radio interview and heard the host ask a guest for “your calculus” on something or other. She was using the word in place of “calculation.” It sounded so pretentious and wrong. Did she use the word incorrectly or am I wrong? A: In British as well as American usage... ? Read More: Calculus class

Technicality Club

The first panel of the most recent SMBC: Turns out that Technicality Club is really Natural Language Semantics. Or maybe Statutory Interpretation, I'm not sure: The AfterComic: [Note for those without a classical education...]

Metaphors and the brain: check it out

"Your Brain on Metaphors", at the The Chronicle of Higher Education's site, is interesting non-technical reading for anyone interested in the idea of experimentation on metaphors, idioms, and the way the brain processes them. I recommend reading the whole thing.

Translations of the Stalin Epigram.

Ian Probstein has a post at Jacket2 presenting Mandelstam’s notorious “Stalin Epigram” in the original Russian and three translations, including his own, and discussing various aspects of the poem and problems of rendering it into English verse, which of course is intensely interesting to me. We discussed the poem a few years ago, but only […]


When I started this blog, I wrote short little posts about things I noticed in British and American English. Few read them, and I usually managed to write three a week. Since then, many more readers and commenters have appeared ([AmE] howdy! thank you!). Show More Summary

Text analytics applied to applications of things like text analytics

South by Southwest (SXSW) uses a web-based voting method to choose panels, and so Jason Baldridge took a look at the titles submitted for Phil Resnik's "Putting a Real-Time Face on Polling" session,  to … see whether some straight-forward Unix commands, text analytics and natural language processing can reveal anything interesting about them. He describes the results […]

Can you spell "bus"?

I have commented before on the psycholinguistics of signs painted on roads: in the USA it is apparently assumed that drivers will read the words in the order in which their front wheels reach them, so that what appears to be a display with "ONLY" above "LANE" above "BIKE" is supposed to be read as […]

Tips for Learning Non-European Languages

Now that the summer has wrapped up, it’s time to dive back into language learning, and let’s start with some thoughts on non-European languages! For that, my hyperpolyglot friend Judith Meyer is back and has written up this excellent post for us. I met in Esperanto gatherings and always see her busy answering Quora questions, […]


Yesterday I was skimming the digital New York Times and clicked on the second-from-the-right item in the panel below, without noticing the "paid post" superscript: This took me to an article about a new smartphone app called Somebody: Here’s how Somebody works: when you send your friend or loved one a message through the app, […]

More on tonal variation in Sinitic

In a number of posts, we have discussed departure from stipulated tonal configurations in speech, e.g.: "Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin " "When intonation overrides tone" "Where did Chinese tones come from and where are they going?" In this post, we will focus on the wide variation of tone in names […]

Latvian as Code and Oddly Named Parisians.

I’ve finished Dominic Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars; Lieven not only covers the whole period from the 1812 invasion (and its origins) to the Allied entry into Paris in 1814, he is apparently the first English-language historian to do so using the rich Russian […]

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