All Blogs / Academics / Linguistics / Popular


Get More Specific:

On holy days and holidays

(We’re repeating this post for New Year’s Day. It originally ran on Dec. 15, 2011.) Q: Happy holidays! Apropos of the holiday season, when did “holiday” become a word and when did it lose its holiness? I assume it was originally “holy day,” but I’ve never looked into it. A: The word “holiday” was... ? Read More: On holy days and holidays

Two Pronunciation Puzzles.

1) I happened on a mention of Wanaque, New Jersey, and of course wanted to know how to pronounce it. The Wikipedia article said “(/?w??n??kju?/ or /w??n?ki/)”; I thought “that can’t be right,” but it turns out both are correct. From the references: 19. Hanley, Robert. “Full and Not at All: The Difference Between 2 […]

New Year's Reflections and Resolutions

As we enter the second half of the 15th year since we started Language Log, we've been reflecting on the past and planning for the future. We should start by explaining what Language Log is, because by no means everyone who comes across the site understands this. Some think they can register to write posts […]

News program presenter meets robot avatar

Yesterday BBC's Radio 4 program "Today", the cultural counterpart of NPR's "Morning Edition", invited into the studio a robot from the University of Sheffield, the Michalbot, which had been trained to conduct interviews by exposure to the on-air speech of co-presenter Michal Husain. They let it talk for three minutes with the real Michal. (video […]

Wireless Robert Johnson

Looking for something else, I stumbled on this unexpected Google Books description of Peter Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson: The description of another edition is more plausible: And likewise this one: The "unprecedented growth in wireless applications" blurb actually seems to belong to I.J. Bahl, Lumped Elements for RF and Microwave Circuits, 2003:   I'll leave […]

Greasiness, awkwardness, slothfulness, despondency — Chinese memes of the year

Greasiness, awkwardness, slothfulness, despondency — Chinese memes of the year The first two conditions, along with eight others, are covered in this interesting Sixth Tone article: "An Awkward, Greasy Year: China’s Top Slang of 2017 " (12/28/17) article by Kenrick Davis: Davis's presentation is excellent, so let us begin this post with two montages accompanying his […]

The Influence of Translators.

Sam Leith interviews the publisher Christopher MacLehose, and has some good bits: In some cases an author acquires a translator-symbiote, so that it becomes near-impossible to read – or, to translate – Proust except through CK Scott-Moncrieff-shaped spectacles. Thanks to Scott-Moncrieff, for instance, Du côté de chez Swann is, pretty much indelibly, Swann’s Way in […]

Australian real estate wannabe polyglot

From Paul Sleigh: Apparently Raptis Real Estate sells property in “any language”, including “Indigenous Australian”. Pretty funny… Posted by Black Feminist Ranter – Celeste Liddle on Thursday, December 28, 2017 Paul remarks: I believe...Show More Summary

Pinyin in 1961 propaganda poster art

From Geoff Dawson: On display in a current exhibition at the National Library of Australia. The wording at the bottom reads as follows, in characters and in Pinyin: Dàji? dòngsh?u, dà bàn nóngyè, dà g?o fù shíp?n sh?ngch?n! ?????????????????? Here's the English translation on the label accompanying the poster: While the translation is not entirely […]

A Magical Muddle.

From Diane Purkiss’s TLS review of Brian Copenhaver’s The Book of Magic: Schemas are confounded by efforts to find a legitimacy for magic. The English word comes ultimately from Greek magike (in which the original Persian word is spliced with tekhne, “art”), while the Persian magos “one of the members of the learned and priestly […]

Teach Me German: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your First Month Learning German

You’ve decided you want to learn German. Sehr gut! With its absurdly long words and unusual grammar structure, learning German can seem a daunting task. I disagree. I believe German is a good choice for a foreign language for many reasons. Show More Summary

In line, on line, and online

Q: I’m curious about the origin of the New Yorkism “on line” for “in line,” and why this regionalism has persisted for so long when it’s not particularly correct. A: We’ve written twice about the usage on our blog—in 2007 and 2010—but we haven’t found any evidence indicating how the regionalism originated. In our 2010... ? Read More: In line, on line, and online

How Learning a Language Helped Me Overcome Postpartum Depression

People told me how to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth—what supplements to take, what foods to avoid, what exercises to do, how to breathe during delivery, and so forth. But nobody talked to me about what can come after having aShow More Summary

Proportion of dialogue in novels

For reasons not strictly relevant to what follows, Yves Schabes and I have been analyzing the novels of Agatha Christie. (For the not-strictly-relevant background, see Xuan Le et al., "Longitudinal detection of dementia through lexical and syntactic changes in writing: a case study of three British novelists", Literary and Linguistic Computing 2011, and Graeme Hirst […]

Veltman’s Misfortune.

I’ve finished Alexander Veltman’s last novel, ??????? ????????? [Good luck is bad luck/Fortune is misfortune] (1863), and once again I’m disappointed (see this post) — as a novel, it has virtually no interest. It’s basically an anecdote: Mikhailo Ivanovich, trained as a clerk, wants nothing more than to return to Bessarabia and live with his […]

Chinese pentaglot rap

A Shanghainese friend of a friend just sent him a link to a curious video, and he forwarded it to me.  It looks like a Nike-sponsored rap song with five different f?ngyán ?? ("topolects") and lots of English. My friend asked, "I wonder to what degree the Hànzì ?? ("Chinese characters") in the subtitles match […]

Corpus Avesticum Berolinense.

The Freie Universität Berlin’s Institut für Iranistik has exciting news: We are happy to announce that we have got today the confirmation that the German Research Foundation (DFG) has decided to fund our new project Corpus Avesticum Berolinense (CAB) for the next 12 years at the Institute of Iranian Studies, Freie Universität Berlin. This gives […]

Heroine and Heroin

Greg asked if there was a connection between heroin and heroine. My immediate reaction was, that doesn’t sound likely. I was wrong. Traditionally, a heroine is a woman who performs courageous and noble deeds. These days, of course, many people prefer to use the word hero to designate both male and female role models. Show More Summary

Running amok

Q: I just wanted to call your attention to an interesting article in the NY Times that says the phrase “running amok” originated in the Malay language. Have you ever written about this usage? A: No, we haven’t written about “running amok,” at least not until now. It does indeed come from Malay, a language... ? Read More: Running amok

Copyright © 2015 Regator, LLC