I got an e-mail from Christian Purdy, Director of Publicity at Oxford University Press USA, with an appeal for the public to help find cites for an iinteresting class of words: To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, the OED is revising a set of vocabulary related to, or coined […]
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Q: Is a “rescue dog” one that rescues (like the fabled St. Bernard with a cask of brandy strapped under its neck) or one that is rescued (like an abused puppy that ends up in a shelter)? A: The phrase “rescue dog” has two meanings, according to the Oxford English Dictionary: “(a) a... ? Read More: Rescue dog: rescuer or rescuee?
Gloria Bien sent in the following photograph and asked what to make of the Chinese text in it, especially the unusual character ?, which is pronounced lè in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM; but see below for the Cantonese pronunciation and meaning). Wenlin says it's part of a name for Singapore, but not used alone, as […]
This fine instance of Saudinglish is found, together with other prime examples, in the following article: "Vous avez aimé le 'chinglish', vous allez adorer le 'saudinglish'!" Roger Allen has transcribed and translated the Arabic on the sign as follows: bay` al-dawaajin al-madhbuuhah (double vowels in English for elongated vowels in Arabic). the sale of slaughtered […]
John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun tells a wonderful story that may help explain why it’s so hard to convince people (journalists, in particular) “that some of their imagined rules and standard practices are without foundation”: After my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack in 1945, my father, Raymond McIntyre, undertook to make […]
Q: I know you’ve discussed the plural of “octopus” on the blog, but there’s one point I’ve never seen addressed anywhere. The word was adopted into English in the mid-18th century. So what did English speakers call the octopus before then? A: While the creature itself has been known since ancient times, the... ? Read More: An octopus by any other name
A Wordorigins post on the Mohawk origin of the toponym Toronto, deriving it from “tkaronto, meaning ‘trees standing in the water,’” led me to ask for an explanation of the morphology of tkaronto, i.e., how exactly it means ‘trees standing in the water.’ Since Dave Wilton didn’t know, I thought I’d see if any of […]
Last night at dinner, several Americans and a Canadian got into a discussion with an Irishman and an Australian about weekends. Since all of the participants were linguists, the discussion centered on prepositions: Were we having dinner on a weekend in February or at a weekend in February? The North Americans voted for "on", a choice that […]
Ray Girvan ("Ibong Adarna: Google Mistranslate", 3/17/2014) documents one of the more bizarre machine-translation oddities in recent years: Ibong Adarna is the title of a massively popular epic fantasy in the mythology and culture of...Show More Summary
For someone who doesn’t dance, I seem fated to spend a surprising amount of time investigating the names of (usually long-forgotten) dances. Back in 2011 it was the lipsi; last year it was the money musk, in its guise as monimaska (?????????); now, in reading Sollogub‘s best-known (if not best) work, ???????? (“The tarantass“), I […]
A couple of listeners asked about slang terms for a jail or jail cell. The select list below shows the year in which the word entered English with that particular meaning. The source is the Oxford English Dictionary. · bastille , from the name of the prison-fortress built in Paris in the 14 th century. Show More Summary
I’ve long been a fan of the Glaswegian dialect (see this post from 2003); EveningTimes (“Nobody knows Glasgow better”) has a post called “The Weegie Words: you help us list 100 words that prove you come from Glasgow,” starting with the opaque (if you’re not Glaswegian) “Happenin? You wint tae cum to ma bit cos […]
From the Scientific and Technical Achievements section of last week's Academy Awards: To Matt Pharr, Greg Humphreys and Pat Hanrahan for their formalization and reference implementation of the concepts behind physically based rendering, as shared in their book Physically Based Rendering. Show More Summary
An article of mine that's been in the pipeline for almost four years has finally come out: "Writing 'Shelha' in new media: Emergent non-Arabic literacy in Southwestern Algeria". I discuss the usage of non-Arabic languages (Berber and...Show More Summary
Mark's discovery of a mistitled Google Books entry—a book on experimental theater filed as a 2009 book on management—is entertaining but not that unusual. Like the other metadata mixups at Google books (involving authorship, genre classification and publication date, among other things) that I enumerated in a 2009 post "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck," […]
“Japanese is really freaking difficult.” “Japanese is really freaking vague.” “Japanese is really freaking illogical.” These statements have three things in common: They are widely believed by many would-be Japanese learners. They get...Show More Summary
Q: Why is a “cakewalk” something that’s easy to do? It doesn’t make sense. Or does it? A: The Dictionary of American Regional English says the term “cakewalk” originally referred to a contest among African-Americans in which “a cake was the prize awarded for the fanciest steps or figures.” Historians generally believe... ? Read More: Why is a cakewalk easy?
Charles J. (Chuck) Fillmore died last week. Lily Wong Fillmore asked me to prepare some brief remarks for the press. Here they are. Chuck Fillmore was one of the world’s foremost linguists. His career spanned more than half a century, during which he contributed a constant stream of original and influential ideas. One can only […]
Today's xkcd: Mouseover title: "I sympathize with the TPP protagonist because I, too, have progressed through a surprising number of stages of life despite spending entire days stuck against simple obstacles." Here's some of the context...Show More Summary