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Freedom Fries

On 1/23/2015, as part of a This American Life show on "What happens when the Internet turns on you?", Ira Glass took up an issue we've devoted a few posts to ("545: If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS — Act Two, Freedom Fries"). Recently, This American Life has been […]

Trask on Mama and Papa.

Larry Trask is a longtime LH hero (search results), and I was delighted when Faldage at linked to his brilliant essay “Where do mama/papa words come from?” (pdf). A nugget I plucked out and shared in the thread: “As always, lookalikes are a waste of time, and words that genuinely share a common […]

Meredith Tamminga on NPR

Dave Heller, "Why an actor from Brooklyn can't talk like a Philadelphian", Newsworks Tonight (WHYY), 2/2/2015: You may have trouble describing it, but you sure know it when you hear it — the unmistakable Philly accent. Meredith Tamminga, assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania makes it her work to make sense of […]

How “colonel” became KER-nel

Q: How did a “colonel” in the military come to be pronounced like a “kernel” on an ear of corn? A: The word for the military officer once had competing spellings as well as competing pronunciations. When the dust settled, it ended up being spelled in one way and pronounced in the other. The word... ? Read More: How “colonel” became KER-nel


In media reports, we often encounter titles like this: "China's Tibet to reward tips on 'terror attacks'" "China's Xinjiang to ban burqas in public" "Winter fishing kicks off in NW China's Xinjiang" "Scenery of Lake Namtso in China's Tibet" This type of title, with a place name preceded by "China's" is common, whether in domestic […]

Annual Review of Linguistics.

I got an e-mail notification about the launch of the Annual Review of Linguistics: The Annual Review of Linguistics, publishing in 2015, will cover significant developments in the field of linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and their interfaces. Show More Summary

"Faux-cul" and "vraie vulve"

Outsiders are probably somewhat puzzled by the narrative background of the Chris Christie PAC acronym story. I mean, LMFAO, fine, but what's a PAC? and who's Chris Christie? And why did American Bridge think it was funny to turn "Party Rock Anthem" into "Traffic Block Anthem"? Since I'm planning to spend some time in France this summer, I've […]

A message from Pat and Stewart

Dear readers, We could use a little help to keep the Grammarphobia Blog going, and we’re not too embarrassed to ask for it (well, Stewart is a bit). If you read the blog regularly, you may have noticed that something is missing—advertising. This is because we find ads just as annoying as you do. Something... ? Read More: A message from Pat and Stewart


The URL for Chris Christie's new political action committee has occasioned a certain amount of innocent merriment, because naturally suggests the acronym LMFAO, normally interpreted as "laughing my fucking...Show More Summary

Myopia in East Asia

[The following is a guest post by Dr. Ian Morgan of the Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia and Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China.  It is in response to "Chinese characters and eyesight" (11/12/14), which generated a lot of interest and discussion, and which references the work and views […]

Two Idioms.

I’ve recently had my attention drawn to two idioms, an ambiguous English one and an opaque Russian one: 1) Punching above one’s weight. Harley Cahen wrote me as follows: I just stumbled upon your remarkable and effective 2002 demolition of David Foster Wallace’s infamous Harper’s essay. At one point you write: “OK, even I am […]


Clarence found this in the January 31 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle: “Twice this month, the White House has publicly grappled with the politically fraught language of terrorism.” Clarence asked about the word fraught in that sentence. Show More Summary

mark.liberman.121 is not me

Earlier today, someone set up a Facebook account, with a version of my FB profile picture, and began communicating with people as if they were me. My actual FB page is, which I don't use much except to look at things that people tell me about. Show More Summary

Reports of the Death of Irish Have Been Exaggerated.

Or so says Nicholas Wolf, who teaches courses in Irish history at New York University, in this piece for the Irish Times; it starts off with some irrelevant stuff about how “speakers of Irish well into the nineteenth century held that the language possessed such a tremendous antiquity that it had been spoken by Adam […]

Attachment ambiguity of the day

Prepositional phrase attachment is one of the hardest things for English parsers to get right: if I hit a man with a bag of groceries, was that bag of groceries the instrument of my action, or was it just something the guy was carrying when I attacked him? And PP-attachment ambiguity is especially common in English-language headlines, since omitted forms of […]

Stories from India: Life at Palolem beach and the Taj

I just arrived in Melbourne, Australia after spending the last month and a half in India, and the last several months in Asia in general – mostly in more “rugged’ environments like Chiang Mai, Bali, and most recently Palolem beach in Goa. Show More Summary

Was the storm a shoo-shoo?

Q: I woke up in my Hell’s Kitchen apartment the other day, looked out the window expecting to see a storm-wracked New York, and thought, “Well, that was a shoo-shoo.” Growing up in New Orleans, we learned that an unexploded firecracker was a shoo-shoo. I wondered if this went beyond my hometown and I found... ? Read More: Was the storm a shoo-shoo?

change / shift gears

@arnoldgoldman has just suggested shift gears versus change gears for today's Twitter Difference of the Day. I've noticed this one before without being able to put my finger on which one belonged to which dialect. It turns out there's good reason for my confusion--you hear both in both dialects. Show More Summary

Language vs. Genetics.

I’m inherently skeptical of attempts to link linguistic history with genetic history, so I was glad to see this piece (thanks, Paul!) by Cathleen O’Grady reporting on Nicole Creanza, Merritt Ruhlen, Trevor J. Pemberton, Noah A. Rosenberg, Marcus W. Feldman, and Sohini Ramachandran, “A comparison of worldwide phonemic and genetic variation in human populations,” PNAS, […]

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