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Put the Pumpkin in the Boat.

Leon Neyfakh reports on a new dictionary of prison slang: Before they set about compiling a dictionary of prison slang, the inmates at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri, used words like viking (meaning a prisoner with poor personal hygiene) and Cadillac (meaning a cup of coffee with cream and sugar) […]

#lots #of #hashtags #look #like #gnawed #chicken #bones #inaburnedoutstairwell

#lots #of #hashtags #look #like #gnawed #chicken #bones #inaburnedoutstairwell #lots #of #hashtags #look #like #gnawed #chicken #bones #inaburnedoutstairwell — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) July 13, 2015

Panaeva’s Talnikov Family.

My patient crawl through nineteenth-century Russian literature has brought me another unexpected reward, Avdotya Panaeva‘s ????????? ??????????? [The Talnikov family]. It’s an account of a girl’s very difficult childhood, apparentlyShow More Summary

Macdonald's Minionese: WTF?

As a tie-in with Minions the movie, Macdonalds is giving out a dozen different Minions toys with Happy Meals. Like the Minions in the movie, the toys speak the invented language "Minionese" — though you have to bump or hit the toys to get them to respond. The response to this marketing initiative has been dominated […]

Bad newspaper prose (yes, with passives)

Those who want a clear example of truly dreadful prose, dreadful in large part because of the use of the much-loathed agentless passive, should look at examples like this, from the UK Daily Mail website on Sunday, July 12: The medical director of NHS England has disclosed that up to one in seven hospital procedures […]

The Art of the Paragraph.

A nice little piece by Elisa Gabbert for The Smart Set about paragraphs; I like it because it pushes back against the terminally boring essay style they teach you in school (“first I’ll tell you what I’m going to say, then I’ll say it, then I’ll tell you what I said”) and it has some […]

Mr. Finch

No, not Atticus — this is Zebra Finch #2702, courtesy of Ofer Tchernichovski. He sounds like this: Your browser does not support the audio element. Or, slowed down by a factor of four: Your browser does not support the audio element. This came up because I'm working on a project with Ofer and Didier Demolin, […]

@DebAmlen I waaaant that chicken. ????????????????????

@DebAmlen I waaaant that chicken. ???????????????????? @DebAmlen I waaaant that chicken. ???????????????????? — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) July 10, 2015

You putting “quick question” in the subject has no relationship to how long it takes me to come up with an answer.

You putting “quick question” in the subject has no relationship to how long it takes me to come up with an answer. You putting "quick question" in the subject has no relationship to how long it takes me to come up with an answer. — Grant Barrett (@GrantBarrett) July 10, 2015

Bathroom ambiguity

Any self-respecting copywriter has a decent mastery of ambiguity. It’s a staple of advertising, but it takes some skill. It’s not that ambiguous language is difficult to find or construct—on the contrary, it would be no easy task to avoid using language that contains potential ambiguity. The trick is to use ambiguous language in such […]


It occurred to me to wonder where the name Pamela came from, so I went to my Dictionary of First Names (by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges), where I found this entry: Pamela (f.) English: invented by the Elizabethan pastoral poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86), in whose verse it is stressed on the second syllable. […]

Six Life Lessons from Being a Blogger for Six Years

Today, July 10th, is my 33rd birthday and my twelve year travel anniversary (that’s 12-years of non-stop travel since I graduated university and hit the road). Since I’ve already contemplated the lessons I’ve learned from years of travel before, today I’ve decided to look at another important life achievement. Show More Summary

Up and at ’em

Q: The phrase “up and at ’em” is older than you suggest—at least in Spanish. Is it borrowed? The Spaniards who conquered the New World used arriba y a ellos as a battle cry. A: Although “up and at ’em” has a Spanish equivalent—arriba y a ellos—we’re doubtful that the English expression came from Spanish.... ? Read More: Up and at ’em

Inexplicably unproposed Uralic etymologies

There are resemblances between some Mari and elsewhere-Uralic items that are extremely blatant and yet, to my knowledge, have gone uncommented. That’s not to say that an etymological link is tenable, but one would expect the UEW or other...Show More Summary

Open Letter to Terry Gross

Sameer ud Dowla Khan, a phonetician at Reed College, has written an open letter to Terry Gross, which starts like this: While I am a loyal fan of your program, I’m very disappointed in your interview of David Thorpe and Susan Sankin from 7 July 2015. As both a phonetician who specializes in intonation, stress patterns, and […]

(Socio-) Phonetics in the news

The Fresh Air interview of David Thorpe and Susan Sankin makes me look forward to Thorpe's film, "Do I Sound Gay?" But Sankin's suggestions that women and young people's speech is pathological leads me to re-read Robin Lakoff, Deborah Cameron, and Nelson Flores.

No Georgia in Georgia.

Another interesting passage from Kotkin’s Stalin (see this post): In 1879, the year after Jugashvili had been born, two Georgian noblemen writers, Prince Ilya Chavchavadze (b. 1837) and Prince Akaki Tsereteli (b. 1840), had founded the Society for the Spread of Literacy Among Georgians. Show More Summary

Grammar Sticklers and Illegal Parkers, Rejoice!

An Ohio woman and hero to all has successfully wiggled her way out of a summons on the peculiar grounds of absentee punctuation. While many a linguist (including John McWhorter in Slate) would argue that commas don’t matter much, toShow More Summary

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