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Keep on -inging

Jeff DeMarco writes: From a Facebook post (timeline) by a young woman in HK: ??ok ing ……???????? GT deftly translates it as karaoke ing. That's an interesting construction (where "k?l? ??" is a transcription for "kara"). My results with Google Translate differed: ??ok ing –> Karaoke (though it did list "Kara ok ing" as an […]

Mnozil Brass speak Mandarin

Listen to these Austrian fellows introduce themselves in Mandarin (from around :50 to around 2:00): All they say is "W? jiào X", but they mix up the tones in so many different ways, and their attempts to pronounce their Austrian names in a Mandarin fashion are so cute that the audience erupts in laughter again […]

Headline puzzle of the week

Vic Marks, "No Stokes is not no Ashes hope if England stick together in Australia", The Guardian 10/29/2017. Taking into account the Guardian's headline register, and decoding the article to some extent, I conclude that the intended analysis ain't no negative concord. Rather, the structure is [[No Stokes] is not [no Ashes hope]] [if England […]


Carina del Valle Schorske, a writer and translator and a doctoral candidate in comparative literature, has an interesting piece in today’s NY Times Magazine about the struggles of translation: It’s telling that the Puerto Rican poet I’m drawn to most — Marigloria Palma — is known for her mystery. Here is my translation of Norma […]

Butterfly-collecting: the history of an insult

Chomsky's barb about butterfly-collecting has echoed in the ears of descriptive linguists for decades, and is sometimes blamed for the withering away of field linguistics over the late 20th century. The earliest published version I could track down via Google is: "You can also collect butterflies and make many observations. Show More Summary

Emojis and Unicode.

Michael Erard (of whom LH has long been a fan, and whose first appearance here in 2003 also concerned Unicode) has written a typically well-informed piece for the New York Times Magazine, “How the Appetite for Emojis Complicates the Effort to Standardize the World’s Alphabets.” He leads off with a timely reference to an obscure […]

Translatable but Debatable.

Translatable but Debatable is a series of posts at Elephant featuring Hebrew words which don’t translate well into English, e.g. ??? stam, by Mark L. Levinson: […] Guy Sharett’s Streetwise Hebrew site provides a podcast that not only explains some meanings of stam, and pronounces it for you, but also demonstrates the vocal intonations used […]

Is there a practical limit to how much can fit in Unicode?

A lengthy, important article by Michael Erard recently appeared in the New York Times Magazine: "How the Appetite for Emojis Complicates the Effort to Standardize the World’s Alphabets:  Do the volunteers behind Unicode, whose mission is to bring all human languages into the digital sphere, have enough bandwidth to deal with emojis too?" (10/18/17) The […]

International Pig Latin: 7 Funny Word Games from Languages Around the World

Most native English speakers are familiar with "Pig Latin", a silly word game played by children (and occasionally adults). It's probably the best known example of a language game in English, sometimes called a "ludling" or "argot". So,...Show More Summary

I came, I seen, I conquered

Q: Greetings from the OC, where “I seen” is a fairly common regionalism among people of all ages, socioeconomic levels, and walks of life. As in, “I seen him in concert.” I even heard it in a radio commercial. Has “I seen” gone mainstream? A: The use of “seen” for “saw” isn’t just an Orange... ? Read More: I came, I seen, I conquered

Blue Cell Dyslexia

An article about dyslexia appeared last week in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society B (“The [British] Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the fast publication and worldwide dissemination of high-quality research”).  A week is a long time in blog-years, I know, but impact of the article is rippling far and wide. […]


David Munns at Aeon tells the story of the once ubiquitous suffix –tron: In contemporary usage the term actually springs from ancient Greek, with the invention of the first vacuum tube or ‘kenotron’ around 1904; its creator came up with the name by combining the Greek words for ‘empty’ (keno) and ‘tool’ (tron). Subsequently, the […]

Iona Opie, one of my favorite examples of a quiet scholar doing great work, has died.

Iona Opie, one of my favorite examples of a quiet scholar doing great work, has died. Iona Opie, one of my favorite examples of a quiet scholar doing great work, has died. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) October 26, 2017


Tim from Old Mission Peninsula asked about the word fraught. It is often used in an ominous sense: fraught with danger or fraught with anxiety. On the other hand, a situation can be fraught with possibilities. The word is related to freight, and it shows up in a maritime context. Show More Summary


Short but sweet; courtesy of Grant Barrett’s Facebook feed, I present this snippet from James McQuade’s The Cruise of the Montauk to Bermuda, the West Indies and Florida (1890): But everywhere we hear the insufferable abbreviation of “pants” for pantaloons. Abbreviated pantaloons are breeches. Then it is not a solid English word, but an Italian […]

Mother, can I?

Q: God only knows how many times my parents corrected me for using “can” instead of “may” to ask permission. I probably corrected my own children just as often, but I finally gave up. I assume this is a lost cause. A: Yes, it’s a lost cause, as you learned from struggling with your children,... ? Read More: Mother, can I?

Varieties of Mandarin

Speakers of Northeastern / Dongbei topolect and Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin) speaking very common equivalent expressions and holding up cards with the written forms of what they are saying: More Summary

You need to know something

I'm happy to see that Google Translate is still turning (many types of) meaningless character sequences into spoken-word poetry. Repetitions of single hiragana characters are an especially reliable source — here's "You need to know something": And "I feel a strange feeling": And "Stay free to leave": Repeated combinations also often work — here's repetitions […]

Siwi on Wikipedia

I am not a big fan of Wikipedia, despite its usefulness. To contribute good material to it - and there is a lot of wonderful material there - is to make an article look reassuringly reliable. That appearance of reliability then makes...Show More Summary

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