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How to Improve Your Listening Skills in a New Language

Listening comprehension has been one of the hardest skills for me to develop in language learning. It’s usually my worst result in a language exam (I recently struggled to make the grade with listening in a mock advanced French exam, and had similar issues in my real German and Spanish exams). Show More Summary

When Did Feminism Get So "Sneaky"?

Feminism has been sneaking around. Don’t believe me? A recent New York profile of TV host Katie Nolan hailed the “woman bringing a sneaky feminism to Fox sports.” A few days later, the New York Times went long on Amy Schumer’s boisterous...Show More Summary


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Pinyin without Chinese characters

Occasionally one encounters pinyin with no hanzi (Chinese characters); see at the bottom of this photograph taken by Randy Alexander at a small mall right across from the main entrance to Xiamen (Amoy) University: It looks like a strange contraption, but the picture on the side tells us that it has something to do with […]


I like books and I like movies, so it makes sense that I would like a short movie about books in movies, and I thought maybe you would too. I herewith preset Bibliophilia – Books in the Films of Wes Anderson: A video-essay by Luís Azevedo, a five-minute video accompanied by a brief essay explaining […]

Failing words in Myanmar

Thomas Fuller, "Those Who Would Remake Myanmar Find That Words Fail Them", NYT 7/19/2015: It’s the dawn of democracy in Myanmar. If only the Burmese had their own word for it.  As this former dictatorship opens to the world, language is a stumbling block.   For half a century, Myanmar was so cut off from […]

Out of the question

Q: Every once in a while an expression that I’ve heard all my life suddenly sounds strange. Why, for example, do we refer to something unthinkable or impossible as “out of the question”? A: When the word “question” showed up in English in the early 1200s, it meant (as it does today) something that’s asked... ? Read More: Out of the question

A decision entirely

Urgent bipartite action alert for The Economist: First, note that my copy of the July 18 issue did not arrive on my doormat as it should have done on Saturday morning, so I did not have my favorite magazine to read over the weekend; please investigate. And second, the guerilla actions of the person on […]

Saving N|uu.

David Smith has a story in the Guardian about an effort to save a dying language: Hanna Koper and her two sisters are thought to be the last remaining speakers of the San language N|uu, rated as critically endangered by Unesco. The San, also known as “bushmen”, were the first hunter-gatherers in southern Africa. N|uu, […]

A thousand things to say… Not!

It is not clear to me whether Chris Lonsdale, the managing shyster director at Chris Lonsdale & Associates, is a flagrant liar or merely has pork for brains and will believe arbitrary nonsense. But what is clear to me is that not enough people are paying attention to the conjecture I mention in one section […]

Annals of LID

Nice fucking try, Twitter: — Jim Henley (@UOJim) July 18, 2015 Brad DeLong's quote is of course from the start of Cicero's In Catalinam, which is surprisingly easy to adapt to modern uses: quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit […]

Fluency in six months

When it comes to linguistics, convincing, worthwhile presentations (such as those by John McWhorter and Steven Pinker) are rare on TED (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, and here). If that is true for TED, then I wouldn't expect better from TEDx.  Indeed, the one TEDx program on linguistics that I have seen, which was […]

What Exactly Is Universal Grammar?

“What exactly is Universal Grammar, and has anyone seen it?” (Front. Psychol., 23 June 2015), by Ewa D?browska, Professor of Linguistics at Northumbria University, begins “Universal Grammar (UG) is a suspect concept” and goes on to back that up in a thoroughgoing manner. As a sample, see this devastating paragraph from the Conclusion: Is it […]

Vocal gymnastics

Another Salut Salon video — Ievan Polkka: This version has closed captions giving the Finnish words with English translation: And of course there's the anime and  Hatsune Miku vocaloid versions. The first couple of verses: Nuapurista kuulu se polokan tahti The sound of a polka drifted from my neighbor's jalakani pohjii kutkutti. and set my feet […]

Than I or Than Me?

Shirley from Spider Lake asked which of the following is correct: John is taller than me. John is taller than I. This one has an answer that will satisfy few people. Given the right circumstances, both can be correct. A quick review: I is the subject form of the pronoun and meis the object form of the same pronoun. Show More Summary

Expletive deficits

Josh Marshall, "Obama on the Hoofbeats of History", TPM 7/17/2015 (emphasis added): As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama's fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give. He is […]


I can’t really say anything about this two-and-a-half-minute video by Reginald Pikedevant except: it’s funny, watch it! (One of my favorite bits is the po-faced spelling pronunciation of wagon-lit.) Thanks, Paul!

When Should You Use Come vs. Cum? It Depends What Kind of Sex You’re Describing.

A note on reading this post: Please assume that every double entendre you encounter is intentional, unless it is not funny, in which case get your mind out of the gutter, perv. “When it comes to the spelling of cum,” wrote sex columnist Maureen O’Connor a few days ago, “I defer to the Strunk and White of filth, the Vice style guide. Show More Summary

125 Ways to Start (and Maintain) a Conversation in English

Are you learning English and want to start real conversations with native English speakers? Or perhaps you’re learning another language, and would like ideas for how to get speaking practice. I know it can be scary to start a conversation with someone, or to join a group conversation – especially in your second language. Show More Summary

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