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1) A linguist walks into a bar. Gave me a chuckle. (Thanks, David!) 2) “20 Missouri Cities No One Knows How to Pronounce,” by Lindsay Toler. (Thanks, Bathrobe!) 3) “The Jargon Trap,” by David Tuller (from the NY Times’ Opinionator blog). Useful advice for specialists trying to write for the general public: My colleague Rachel […]

Wrecking a nice beach

Under the subject line "Things you never thought you'd get to say", Bob Ladd sent me this note yesterday: You are among the few people I know who will appreciate this anecdote:   It's been unusually cool, wet, and windy in many parts of the Mediterranean this summer, including our part of Sardinia.  On our […]

No dawn for ape-language theory

As you know, I serve Language Log as occasional film reviewer. I reported on Rise of the Planet of the Apes when it came out (see "Caesar and the power of No", August 14, 2011). So I naturally went to see the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to report on the way […]

Uncertain Mari etymologies

Among the folklore texts that Heikki Paasonen collected among the Eastern Mari in Bashkiria in 1900, there is one story of an old woman who rides off on an errand on a white mare, but along the way is convinced by passersby to successively trade that mare for an ox, then a ram, a goose, […] The post Uncertain Mari etymologies appeared first on Christopher Culver.


Well, Japan doesn't fall to deliver. I assume that this is meant as something like "individual," in the sense of "self-ish," but whether it's word play or misunderstanding is unclear: I'm not sure what kind of im?ji ???? (image") or nyuansu ?? ??? ("nuance") this store is trying to project, but I doubt that anyone […]

Please pee in the pool

Kenneth Yeh sent in this pair of signs from a restroom in China: The first sign is straightforward, jìnzh? x?y?n ???? …with the correct translation: NO SMOKING. It is odd, however, that the second sign declines to provide an English translation, giving only pinyin romanization: Qing xiao bian ruchi ????? With tones marked and correctly […]

Another British-to-English phrase book

"30 Things British People Say And What We Actually Mean" — worth adding to "Translated phrase-list jokes", 5/21/2011.  


[Warning: More than usually wonkish and quantitative.] In two recent and one older post, I've referred to apparent gender and age differences in the usage of the English filled pauses normally transcribed as "um" and "uh" ("More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "Fillers: Autism, gender, and age", 7/30/2014; "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005).  In […]

God in Four Letters.

I do love a good crackpot — excuse me, I mean premodern — etymology, and Poemas del río Wang has a doozy; the quote is from “the eleven-language dictionary of Calepinus, published in 1590 in Basle, which I happen to have here on my bookshelf” (“I found this bulky folio volume some thirty year ago […]

Grad students take note ...

Be sure to credit xkcd when you use this approach. (And check out the roll over.)

Learner driver or student driver?

Q: I see driver education cars with stickers reading “Learner Driver” rather than “Student Driver.” The phrase “Learner Driver” just doesn’t seem right to me. Is it? A: Like you, we find the phrase “student driver” more idiomatic than “learner driver.” But we may be in the minority here. It turns out that “learner driver”... ? Read More: Learner driver or student driver?


Carol from Old Mission asked about the word speakeasy. A speakeasy was the name given to a club or establishment that sold liquor illegally during Prohibition (1920 – 1933). The import of the word is harder to pin down. One theory is...Show More Summary

Caused For.

I pass along this disturbing news from the Log to forewarn the public that there are apparently a fair number of people (to judge from the comment thread there) who accept the following constructions as perfectly good English: “The accident caused for two lanes and one inbound express lane to be blocked.” “Philadelphia has been […]

More on UM and UH

A few days ago ("Fillers: Autism, gender, and age" 7/30/2014), I noted an apparent similarity between male/female differences in UM/UH usage, and  an autistic/typical difference reported in a poster by Gorman et al. at the IMFAR 2014 conference. Show More Summary

I want to / two fish

In the comments to "slip(per)" (7/22/14), we have had a very lively discussion on whether or not people would pronounce these two sentences differently in Mandarin: w? yào tu?xié ???? "I want slippers." w? yào tu? xié ???? "I want to take off my shoes." Of the more than two dozen individuals having native fluency […]

Men in Slips.

A couple of years ago I read and loved To the Lighthouse (LH post); now I’m reading the other of Woolf’s books that I think is generally acknowledged as a masterpiece, Mrs. Dalloway, and I’m just as enthralled as I remember being the last time I read it, decades ago. This time around, not only […]

Mistake or grammatical variation?

From reader B.D.: I ran across this sentence today on a news website and thought that you might find it interesting: "The accident caused for two lanes and one inbound express lane to be blocked." I was able to find a few other examples of "caused for" from news sites using Google News: "Philadelphia has […]

Seldom Is Heard a Discouraging Word

The wife has spent numerous hours planning the itinerary for a trip we’re going to take out west later this summer. She has tricks up her sleeve that I never would have thought of for finding the best prices for airfare, car rentals, and hotels, so I bow to her travel-savvy. But all our discussions […]

’lentil’ as a Romance loan into Common Slavonic

While reading Ronald O. Richards’ The Pannonian Slavic Dialect of the Common Slavic Proto-Language, where the author reconstructs Pannonian Slavic on the basis of loans in Hungarian, I was struck by the comparison Common Slavonic l?tja ‘lentil’ > Hu. lencse, as we must be dealing with a Romance loan in Common Slavonic. Show More Summary

Talking Like That.

Arthur Chu has a very interesting essay at NPR’s Code Switch site that begins by describing how he speaks English in a “Chinese accent” for a video and goes on to unpick the complexities of such an accent: Nearly every Chinese immigrant I’ve met does, in fact, “talk like that,” because it’s almost impossible not […]

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