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Xi Jinping thought: watch for the possessive suffix

Ding Xueliang, a professor of PRC history and contemporary Chinese politics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has called attention to the difference between Máo Zéd?ng s?xi?ng ????? ("Mao Zedong thought") and Máo Zéd?ng de s?xi?ng ?????? ("Mao Zedong's thought") Similarly, there is a significant difference between Xí Jìnpíng s?xi?ng ????? ("Xi […]

Tech support says they’ll call back in 30 minutes but it’s been an hour and you’ve been in their shoes but you’re still like ?_? and ?_?.

Tech support says they’ll call back in 30 minutes but it’s been an hour and you’ve been in their shoes but you’re still like ?_? and ?_?. Tech support says they'll call back in 30 minutes but it's been an hour and you've been in their shoes but you're still like ?_? and ?_?. — […]

Glossing Africa.

Namwali Serpell at NYRDaily writes about an interesting topic that I haven’t seen much discussion of: Whenever African writers are on a panel together, we are asked about the continent as a whole—its literature, its future, its political woes and economic potential. Whenever African writers get together on our own, we talk about glossaries. These […]


Will Fitzgerald has asked me more than once to cover British use of the adjective sorted. It has made an appearance on the blog before, as part of an Untranslatable October. But that short bit on it does not really give it its due. In...Show More Summary

15 “So Bad They’re Amazing” Hilarious Spanish Puns

Humour is often hard to translate. This is especially true when the humour comes from wordplay; puns rarely work in more than one language. In this article, I’ll share and explain some Spanish puns that make no sense in English. WhyShow More Summary

Unintended consequences: What is a "clinical trial"?

More than 1,200 people have now signed this "Open Letter to NIH Director Francis Collins": We are writing to request that NIH delay implementation of its policy that sweeps basic science into a clinical trials framework until adequate feedback about its impact is obtained from the affected scientific community. We wholeheartedly agree with NIH’s goals […]

On sloth, human and arboreal

Q: Is the slow-moving sloth that lives in trees the source of our word for laziness? Or vice versa? A: Vice versa. The noun “sloth” (idleness, indolence, or laziness) is derived from the Old English adjective sláw (slow), according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Show More Summary

The Stoop.

The Stoop (to quote their website) “is a podcast about blackness, race, and identity in America, hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba.” I’m not much of a podcast person, but I was listening to my local NPR station, WFCR, and heard a snippet of what sounded like a really interesting episode, “The problem with […]

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The World at One.

I love discovering new poets who give me the same kind of thrill as my old favorites, and the latest is Kate Bingham, whose “The World at One” was published in the New Statesman last year: I lie in bed until The World at One, why should my heart go off with an alarm? The […]

Peripheral control

In various areas of Edinburgh there are signs that say "Peripheral Controlled Zone." What exactly would you do if you encountered one of these signs? What would mean to you? Not much? That's the hallmark of nerdview. For the traffic and parking control staff who work in the relevant department of the Edinburgh City Council, […]

Mrs. Elton’s ridicule

Q: Why did Jane Austen call Mrs. Elton’s handbag a “ridicule” instead of a “reticule”? Was it a mistake? Is that why many modern editions of Emma have changed “ridicule” to “reticule”? A: No, it wasn’t a mistake. Both words referred to a woman’s small handbag when Austen was writing the novel in the Regency... ? Read More: Mrs. Elton’s ridicule

The mind-numbing official-speak of the CCP

David Bandurski has done the world a great service by providing a point by point translation and valuable exegesis of the essentials of President Xi Jinping's "important speech" delivered in Beijing on July 26, 2017.  See his: "The Arithmetic of Party-Speak:  The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is just around the corner?—?and […]

A Novel of Cosmopolitan Alexandria.

Yitzhak Gormezano Goren writes about his 1978 novel Alexandrian Summer, described at the time as “An achievement and innovation in Hebrew Literature,” and its belated translation into English; I thought the last couple of paragraphsShow More Summary

Cuckoos and Choo Choos – Onomatopoeia for Learners of English

Anyone who has heard a cuckoo make its distinctive call or a steam train blow its whistle will have an idea what the word ‘onomatopoeia’ means. Put simply onomatopoeic words are words, which sounds like the thing they represent. If we look at our two examples above, a cuckoo’s...

Censored belly, Tibetan tattoo

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.] Imagine that a certain phrase could be potentially offensive to the authoritarian rulers of a country you would like to do business in. To promote that business, you intend to display images of certain professionals who work for you. One of these professionals has indelibly inscribed the […]

Google Noto.

This report by Patrick Burgoyne is a year old now, but has only recently come to my attention, and I thought I’d see what you people think (I’m sure those of you who know about typefaces have long been familiar with it): In what is being billed as one of the largest typeface projects in […]

Beyond the zombies: How we might get out of the science publication disaster

This is a guest post by Martin Haspelmath, building on our continuing coverage of Open Access in linguistics. By now, everyone knows that scholarly publication is serious trouble. The actual costs of disseminating content have plummeted drastically, and yet academic institutions are paying more and more to the commercial publishers. This feels deeply wrong — […]

24 Time Hacking Tips from Language Hacker Benny Lewis

For busy language learners, it can feel like your constant thought is “I don’t have enough time!” I’d like to share some simple shifts you can make in your life so you can manage your time - and have more time available for languageShow More Summary

That’s all, ffoulkes!

Q: Why do some British surnames begin with “ff”? Is this an Anglo-Saxonism? I find “ffoulkes,” “ffarington,” “ffolliott,” and others effing peculiar. A: No, the use of “ff” at the beginning of surnames didn’t originate in Old English, the Anglo-Saxon language spoken from roughly 450 to 1150. Show More Summary

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