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A defiling moment

Q: In The Dark Defile, Diana Preston’s 2012 book about the First Anglo-Afghan War, the reputation of the British army is defiled in the defiles of Afghanistan. What can you tell us about this interesting word? A: As you point out, the title of that book about a 19th-century British military disaster can be read... ? Read More: A defiling moment

Menu Translations.

Emily Monaco writes for the always interesting Atlas Obscura about Why Menu Translations Go Terribly Wrong: When I first came to Paris, I was confronted with a strange problem: I couldn’t understand restaurants’ English menus, even when I knew the French dishes. From “chicken in her juice” to “chicken wok way” and “baba with old […]

Stuck in the Middle.

Stuck in the Middle: A Bilingual, Multicultural Comic Series by Ru Kuwahata is obvious LH fodder; I particularly like the suggested European responses to “How are you?”: French “It is what it is,” Dutch “I am terrible but such is life,” and Eastern European “We live, we die, so what.” (Obviously, these are not what […]


Nick Nicholas has a typically detailed, informative, and enjoyable post about an obscure medieval word that’s turned up in various modern Greek dialects as well as a much more unexpected place. I’ll let you discover the facts over at ????????????????; me, I couldn’t resist the following (clears throat, grabs mike): There’s this word that’s been […]

Learning Greek in Ohio.

Sarah Manavis has a nice piece at Prospect about “how immigration keeps old dialects alive”: Like most children of immigrants, I grew up speaking a half-and-half combination of languages. My Dad was the only immigrant in his family to become fluent in English; aside from him, I had an entirely and only Greek-speaking side. The […]

How Many Is a Couple?

Anne Curzan at Lingua Franca discusses an interesting phenomenon. To her, as to me, “a couple of” basically means two, but she had a revelation: While discussing language peeves in my introductory English linguistics course, one student, Katelyn Carroll, volunteered that it drove her nuts when people used the phrase a couple (of) to refer […]

Language vigilantism

In "The Eagle-Eyed Vigilantes Defending the Chinese Language:  As new lingo springs up and grammatical errors persist, one magazine is battling to maintain linguistic standards", Yin Yijun (Sixth Tone [1/19/18]) describes an unusualShow More Summary

AN column: “Free Speech” in Times of Conflict by Lise M. Dobrin and Eve Danziger

Lessons from Charlottesville Since the violent events that took place in Charlottesville, VA, this past August, when a white supremacist rally led to the killing of a peaceful counter-protester, there has been a lot of reflection inShow More Summary

AN column: The Storm after Maria by Sherina Feliciano-Santos

Puerto Rican Aftermath Puerto Ricans are US citizens. Puerto Rico is a colony. The tensions encompassed by these two facts were extremely clear in the federal response to Hurricane Maria. Eric Feliciano-Santos September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Show More Summary

Adam Hodges’s 2017 “Trumped Up Words” columns

Please see the following for an end-of-year index of Adam Hodges’s Trumped Up Words columns on the Anthropology News website. Adam assures us there are more to come in 2018!  As a reminder, you may wish to download any column you plan...Show More Summary

The lights of our lives

Q: Which “light” came first, the one that refers to illumination or the one that means not very heavy? Is one of them the source of the other? A: The “light” that shines and the one that’s easy to carry both appeared in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, but they aren’t etymologically related.... ? Read More: The lights of our lives


One of the pleasures of my editing work is that it occasionally introduces me to new words, and I’ve just run into one such: kriging. It’s a statistical term, equivalent to Gaussian process regression (whatever that is, and don’t bother trying to explain it to me because even if I understood it at the moment […]


Tom from Maple City asked about the word flop. He was particularly interested in its multiple meanings. Let’s start a little sideways. Flop is onomatopoeia, meaning that the word was formed to imitate a sound. In this case, it attempts to imitate something hitting the ground in a restrained way. Show More Summary

Indispensable condiment

Valerie Hansen gave me the following package: I was pleased that I could read the cursive script without hesitation: shuàn bùlí ??? Figuring out exactly what this expression means is another matter altogether. The last two characters are relatively easy:  "[can]not separate / be apart (from)". The first character is harder; it basically means "rinse; […]

Being Wrong about Sámi.

The last page of the TLS is the cheeky “NB” section, which discusses things like recent used-book purchases and mentions of the TLS in novels, movies, and the like. I generally enjoy it, but this bit from the Feb. 12, 2016 issue made me grind my teeth: Lesser-used languages of Europe, an occasional series. Niillas […]

How to Use Social Media for Instant Spanish Immersion

There’s no better way to learn Spanish than to immerse yourself in the language. And a great way to do this is to spend time in a Spanish speaking country. But what if this isn’t possible for you? Not enough time, not enough money, too many kids, … The good news is you can now create your own immersion environment with social media. Show More Summary

How to turn into a driveway

Q: If I “turn into” a driveway, am I located in the driveway or have I become the driveway? In other words, does a driver “turn into” or “turn in to” a driveway? I’ve found many conflicting answers on the Internet. A: A driver “turns into” a driveway. And no, that doesn’t mean he becomes... ? Read More: How to turn into a driveway

Putin in Russian, Mandarin, and English

I'm at Yale University attending a workshop on Tangut.  So you ask, "What is 'Tangut'?"  Relevant Wikipedia articles: Tangut people, an ancient ethnic group in Northwest China, not Tibetan people. Tangut language, the extinct language spoken by the Tangut people, not Tibetan language. Tangut script, the writing system used to write the Tangut language Western […]


Stephen Halliwell’s TLS review of Prosopography of Greek Rhetors and Sophists of the Roman Empire, edited by Pawe? Janiszewski, Krystyna Stebnicka, and Elzbieta Szabat, starts with two paragraphs explaining the term “sophist” that I thought were useful (and entertaining) enough to post here: In his extraordinary work On the Death of Peregrinus, which recounts with […]

Decreasing definiteness in crime novels

In a series of posts over the last few years, I've documented gradual declines in the frequency of the English definite determiner "the" in a wide variety of text sources: State of the Union addresses, Medline abstracts, the Corpus of Historical American English, Google Books (from both American and British sources), and so on. Both in […]

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