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Smoking cessation

Joseph Williams sent in the following photograph of a Japanglish sign that he took on a ferry traveling to the famous Itsukushima Shrine (also called Miyajima) in Hiroshima: We'll go through the four languages on the sign, one after another. Japanese kin'en ?? is a standard term for "no smoking; smoking prohibited" Confusion may arise […]

Ann Kjellberg on Brodsky’s Self-Translations.

It is a fact universally acknowledged, that Joseph Brodsky’s poetry in English, including his self-translations and the results of his browbeating others who tried to translate his poems under his supervision, is not that good. Understandably, Ann Kjellberg, his literary executor and the editor of his Collected Poems in English, disagrees, and she goes into […]

Headlines that do "absolutely not" scan well

At an event at Salem State University yesterday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed on stage by sportscaster Jim Gray; Gray used the opportunity to ask Brady about the just-released Ted Wells report on Deflategate, and to ask him if the scandal "tainted" the Patriots' Super Bowl win last year. The headline that appeared on […]

41 Brilliant Words & Expressions We Desperately Need in English

When you start studying a new language, one of the first things you’ll discover is that certain words and phrases in your new language have no English equivalent. This can be really frustrating. How are you supposed to learn a language...Show More Summary


In case you weren't paying attention, the UK had a general election yesterday, and the exit polls and final results were a surprise, given that the previous day's polls had indicated a much closer result. Because this is a language blog,...Show More Summary

She gave him the air

Q: In his 1955 recording of “Can’t We Be Friends?” Frank Sinatra sings “Why should I care though she gave me the air.” Am I right that to “give someone the air” comes from the telephone technology of the day? I picture a guy holding an old fashioned phone in one hand and asking “Where... ? Read More: She gave him the air

Dead and marching

Neil MacFarquar, "A Parade Hailing Russia’s World War II Dead and Marching Further From the West", NYT 5/7/2015. This should be easy, given the parallelism "hailing … and marching", but parallelism isn't always enough. Rick Rubenstein, who sent in the link, writes: I think what caused me so much trouble is that the (correct) reading […]

Contra Bellum.

Via Anatoly Vorobey, Egor Trubnikov’s poem ???? ‘To Ilya [Muromets]‘ (who arose from the oven on which he had been lying for decades and became a bogatyr). My apologies to non-Russian-speakers; I thought briefly of trying to translate it, but the press of work makes it impossible to even consider expending that much time and […]

Attachment ambiguity of the day

The first two panels of today's Scenes from a Multiverse:

The curious Mari word ???? šnuj ‘holy’

The first time I ever came across Meadow Mari ???? šnuj ‘holy’, I was quite struck by the word. It resembles nothing in Chuvash, Tatar or Russian, but the initial consonant cluster means that it cannot be a native Mari word. While used...Show More Summary

Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce

From Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy): As for menu item #47, your guess is as good as mine. #Berkeley @LanguageLog — Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy) May 4, 2015 Item 47 on the menu says simply: téngji?o ch?osh?u ???? ("wonton [with] Sichuan peppercorn") So where did all the rest of that come from? First of all, this is […]

Som ni see.

John Cowan writes: The good folks at Project Wombat have gotten a request for transcription and translation of Swedish text on the backs of some photographs, online here. So far, they’ve gotten this feedback: My best guesses: Olga Ernie har varit ute och fiskat ‘Olga [and] Ernie have been out fishing’ The start of the […]

A “sell-through” date

Q: Do you think “sell-through” should be hyphenated when it’s used as a marketing term? One of my associates argues that “sell-through” should only be hyphenated if it’s an adjectival phrase, not a noun phrase. A: The noun phrase “sell-through” is hyphenated in most dictionaries. And the hyphen is there whether the phrase is used... ? Read More: A “sell-through” date

Hipmunk City Love: A Guide to Miami’s Little Havana

If you’re planning a trip to Miami, you’re probably already planning to visit the Art Deco District along Ocean Drive to check out the numerous elaborate and colorful 1920s buildings, andLincoln Road Mall (known as the Fifth Avenue of the South) might be on your list for some high-end shopping. Show More Summary

bit back a snark and now I have the hiccoughs for life probably

bit back a snark and now I have the hiccoughs for life probably

“She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.”

“She had scratched through her skull during the night—and all the way into her brain.”


A John Cowan comment reminded me I wanted to post about the word obnoxious, which must surely be one of the most difficult words to deal with in reading old documents, since its meaning has changed so confusingly. I discovered this while reading Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle; in the course of […]

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