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4 language learning revelations from a Ms. World contestant (plus: want to work as a full-time language encourager?)

Quick aside: How would you like to have a location independent job as a language encourager? I get so many messages with language questions that I can’t possibly answer due to travels and time constraints, so I’m now hiring a full-time...Show More Summary

A zeugmatic crash blossom to torment Mets fans

As if New York Mets fans don't have to suffer enough, what with the five straight losing seasons and the embarrassing bullpen meltdown in yesterday's home opener, this headline (tweeted by Mark Fishkin) appeared in today's Wall Street Journal: One lucky fan, surely. #Mets — Mark Fishkin (@MarkFishkin) April 1, 2014 The online version […]

The Importance of Profanity.

Jesse Sheidlower has a superb op-ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times taking the US media in general, and the Times in particular, to task for its prudish avoidance of “bad words”: Our society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media […]

How diverse is diversity?

Q: I am helping promulgate the criteria for recruiting new members of a board of directors. At issue is “diversity.” I say it is now a code word for nonwhite or nonmale. That is, a white male, no matter how diverse his experience, doesn’t provide diversity. Others say “diversity,” without elaboration, could refer to... ? Read More: How diverse is diversity?

WaPo nixes midget

Yesterday brought new information about the Sunday comic strip I discussed in "Refreshing the S-word", 3/30/2014. We learned from Michael Cavna ("PEARLS BEFORE ‘NEIN’: Stephan Pastis finds irony in Post nixing strip about word choice…because...Show More Summary

Poor Folk I.

Last year I wrote about the experience of coming upon Pushkin via the back door of his own past rather than the usual front door opening onto the future; now I’m having the same experience with Dostoevsky. I’m pretty sure if I read his first work, ?????? ???? [Poor Folk], after having read, say, the […]

Critical thinking

David Cragin, who teaches risk assessment at Peking University, mentioned to me that there is sharp controversy among his colleagues over how to translate the term "critical thinking" into Chinese.  Dr. Zheng, the professor who runs the program David teaches for, was never happy with the traditional translation of "critical thinking", that is, p?pàn shì […]

Bullies and bulldogs

Q: I came across someone who wonders if “bullying” has something to do with “bulldogs.” Is there anything to this? Or is it just bull? A: It’s just bull, though the paths of the two words did cross at least once (more on this later). “Bullying” and “bulldogs” aren’t etymologically related. In... ? Read More: Bullies and bulldogs


Three years ago, we looked at the decline in handwriting skills, both in alphabetic languages and with characters:  "Cursive and Characters: Dying Arts".  See also "Japanese survey on forgetting how to write kanji ", "The esthetics of East Asian writing", and several posts on "Character amnesia". Before the advent of computers, cell phones, and other […]

Why Some Languages Sound More Beautiful.

This piece by Bernd Brunner may not have any particular conclusion to offer (“In the end, beauty in language is just one of those things”), but it’s always enjoyable to think about ineffabilities like “why do so many people think German sounds awful?” — and the fact that the author is German (it’s translated by […]

It's her personality man's looking at

I don't mind how my girl looks.. it's her personality man's looking at London English has a new pronoun. Young people living in multicultural areas of the inner city use man as an alternative to I. Sometimes the meaning could be indefinite:...Show More Summary

Refreshing the S-word

Today's Pearls Before Swine: The treatment of words for "stupid" has a been a serious problem for at least two millennia, as discussed here ten years ago ("The S-word and the F-word", 6/12/2004). It's interesting that three of the strip's four initial examples involve words for stereotypically female jobs. It's true that this has been […]


In today’s Boston Globe baseball preview section: “Jake Stahl (1912), Ed Barrow (1918), Terry Francona (2004), and John Farrell (2013) are the only Red Sox managers to win the World Series in their first season.” Hmm. Yeah. The Red Sox...Show More Summary


Linguists are generally scornful of "eye dialect", in both of the common meanings of that term: As an "unusual spelling intended to represent dialectal or colloquial idiosyncrasies of speech", like roight for right or yahd for yard;Show More Summary

More on Ninilchik.

Five years ago I posted about a dialect of Russian spoken in the Alaskan village of Ninilchik; here‘s an interview with Mira Bergelson, professor of linguistics at the Moscow University, that gives some background and continues the story: Andrei was making his survey of the Upper Kuskokwim language [in 1997], when, suddenly, we were approached […]

Free of Smoke

The following photograph was taken at Dolphin Discovery on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands: Bob Ackerman, who sent this to me, also provided these helpful notes: This is an odd sign in more respects than one. This is on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands (or, as they prefer, just the […]


Mike from Cadillac asked about the word Lent. In certain Christian circles, Lent is now the period including 40 weekdays extending from Ash Wednesday to Easter-eve, observed as a time of fasting and penitence. The early Church did not...Show More Summary

Random Darja notes

I'm currently on a short break in Dellys, which is providing many incidental opportunities for linguistic observation. Here are a few, randomly chosen and not guaranteed to interest anyone but me: - What kind of insufferable pedant "translates"...Show More Summary


My wife and I have begun watching Simon Schama’s BBC series The Story of the Jews, and I was quite taken aback when I heard him refer to the island of Elephantine (once inhabited by Jews) as “el-?-fan-TEE-nee.” All my life I’ve thought of it (when I had occasion to think of it, which was […]

Word of the year?

It’s been a helluva year so far. Three...Read more

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