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Nominate 2014 Words of the Year!

While being interviewed today (which I'll let you know more about at some point), I was asked what the front-runners are for UK-to-US and US-to-UK Words of the Year. And I had no idea.So: what do you think? Nominations are open for both categories as of now:1. Show More Summary

Dostoevsky’s Landlady.

I took a break from Veltman to read one of Dostoevsky’s early stories, ??????? [The Landlady]. I fear Victor Terras is quite correct in calling it “perhaps the only outright failure Dostoevsky ever produced”; he sums it up very well: The story begins in a nervous, precariously balanced style, neither ironic nor stylized, just tense […]

The “c” word in fact and fiction

Q: In Colleen McCullough’s historical novel Fortune’s Favorites, one of the characters mentions the Latin term cunnus, which I found means vagina. So Latin is apparently the source of the dirtiest word in the English language, right? A: No, the word “cunt” is not derived from Latin—it came into English from ancient Germanic sources. Show More Summary

Uralic linguistics data on OpenStreetMap

I have used a great deal while travelling, and being a GPS anorak, I’ve added a great deal of previously unrecorded streets, shops and other points of interest. It has become my usual map reference, superior to Google Maps in its libre nature and its surprisingly richer coverage of certain areas. Show More Summary

Lenin’s Rathmines Accent.

An odd bit of historico-biographico-linguistic trivia, reported by Sam at Come here to me! (Dublin life & culture): Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, spoke with a Dublin accent. Well, according to Roddy Connolly, son of James, who said in a 1976 Irish Times feature that Lenin, more specifically, had a “Rathmines accent”. This was due […]


Adam at hmmlorientalia reminds me that I’ve always loved the exotic-sounding Manzikert, now more usually known as Malazgirt (though Adam uses the Armenian form Manazkert), famous for the Battle of Manzikert of 1071, which while not directly responsible for the destruction of Byzantine authority in Anatolia and the subsequent Turkification certainly opened the door for […]

Symbolist Zhukovsky, Acmeist Batyushkov.

I’ve gotten to the third chapter of The Cambridge History of Russian Literature (see this post), Mark Altshuller’s “The transition to the modern age: Sentimentalism and preromanticism, 1790–1820,” and I found this comparison unexpected and interesting enough to pass on: At Zhukovsky‘s hands the individual word in Russian poetry for the first time becomes multivalent, […]

Big announcement from Mr. Verb -- Career change

Dear readers,You should be the first to know. After literally decades of studying how language works and changes and what it tells us about the mind, I'm moving on. From this day forward, I'll be studying ancient mating habits.Yes, linguistics...Show More Summary


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Wearing a Mackinaw Coat in a Dearborn Carriage

Jeff from Gulliver asked about the Mackinaw coat and the Dearborn carriage and whether they had a Michigan connection. The answer is yes and no. The Mackinaw coat was born when a post trader named John Askin commissioned some local women to sew 40 woolen coats for a British Army post near the Straits of Mackinac. Show More Summary

Two Languages in Korea?

I’ve been following the discussion at the Log with great interest, and this long comment by Jongseong Park (all of whose contributions to the thread are well worth reading) is so informative I had to share it here: The literary language in Korea was Classical Chinese until the end of the pre-Modern Era, continuing long […]

Is it “shined” or “shone”?

Q: I use “shined” with an object and “shone” without one. But lately I’ve read a lot of books whose authors use “shined” in all contexts. Have you ever written on the difference between those two words? A: No, we haven’t written about the the verb “shine,” but thanks for giving us the opportunity. Standard... ? Read More: Is it “shined” or “shone”?

Speed dating to save minority languages

There’s a art collective in Belarus that is offering speed dating evenings on the condition that all participants speak Belarussian, that minority language in its own country and one not much loved by the authorities. This news footage...Show More Summary

Singlish: The Singaporean English creole [video interview]

For the next few days, I’m in Singapore to host a language lab to train people to speak their target language on day one, and to sign copies of my book. I’m also using this visit to a country that speaks English as an official language, to investigate its other unique linguistic opportunities. In this […]

Is Korean diverging into two languages?

Fearful that the languages of their countries are becoming mutually unintelligible, linguists from North Korea and South Korea are joining forces to create a common dictionary, as described in this article from the South China Morning Post:  "Academics try to get North and South Korea to speak same language" (11/3/14) In a comment on a […]

Betrayal of a Poet and His Greek.

A couple of years ago, at the end of a favorable review of Boris Gasparov’s Beyond Pure Reason, I complained bitterly about “the terrible proofreading and editing of this important scholarly book”; I am happy to see that the TLS has given over an entire page (subscriber-only, I’m afraid) to a similar complaint by the […]

"… go all __ on you …"

Geoff Pullum wrote ("Adverbing, verbing, and adjectiving", 11/5/2014): … for the most part what you get in the go all ____ on you [frame] is adjective-headed phrases … While I hardly ever disagree with Geoff, my intuition said otherwise in this case, so I checked. Searching Google for "go all on you", the first 50  results I […]

Moving house with military precision

I just moved house this week. (Had to. Lease unexpectedly terminated.) And colleagues and friends keep asking me how it went. I've decided on the right thing to say: "It was all executed like a military operation." The familiar simile (almost an idiom) always seems to be used with favorable connotations of tight organization and […]

Names for Nizhny Novgorod in Volga–Kama languages

Besides Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod was the closest major city for the peoples of the Volga–Kama region. I was amused some years ago when I discovered that historically it was known in Chuvash as ?ulxula ‘stone city’, which says something of the comparative poverty of Chuvash settlements. Show More Summary

Albanian Resources Online.

Christopher Culver has a post on Romanian–Albanian parallels and the location of the Proto-Albanian Urheimat that begins with links to a couple of useful resources for anyone who might take a linguistic interest in Albanian: Ranko Matasovi? has written a freely available grammatical sketch of Albanian for students of Indo-European. This is a useful resource […]

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