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Awful book, so I bought it

A long time ago (it was 2010, but so much has happened since then) I noted here that Greg Mankiw recommended to his Harvard economics students not just the little book I hate so much (The Elements of Style), but also William Zinsser's book On Writing Well. About the latter, I said this: I actually […]

Schlump season

When I was a student at Dartmouth (1961-1965), from around mid-December to mid-March, we had roughly three feet of snow on the ground much of the time, but then came the big melt, and we called it the "schlump" season.  The paths across campus were so muddy that the buildings and grounds crew placed "duck […]

Coherence award for Stephen King

Jan Freeman, "Stephen King scores a grammar win", Throw Grammar from the Train, 3/20/2015: Stephen King, novelist and resident of Maine and (sensible man!) Florida, has refuted the Maine governor’s claim that King had left the state to escape oppressive taxes. "Governor LePage is full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green," the […]

"DNA-based prediction of Nietzsche's voice"

An interesting paper was recently brought to my attention: Flavia Montaggio, Patricia Montaggio, & Imp Kerr, "DNA-based prediction of Nitzsche's voice", Investigative Genetics, Spring 2015. The abstract is pretty good: This paper presents...Show More Summary

More on "duang"

A couple of weeks ago, we had an extensive discussion of Jackie Chan's famous expostulation about the wondrous effect of his shampoo that went viral on the Chinese internet. Isora?atheð Zorethan has some interesting things to add: Recently I have read your blog post on the word "du?ng", and it prompted me to do a […]

Don't eat the water

Sveinn Einarsson spotted this photograph of a scene at one of the refugee camps on the Chinese side of the China-Burma border on Tencent News: Although the sign looks professionally made by some kind of an official Chinese organization (perhaps the PLA), Sveinn wondered whether it "possess[es] an obvious linguistic mistake", namely, that ch?shu? ?? […]

Crash blossom roundup

"Crash blossoms" — those ambiguously phrased headlines that encourage absurd interpretations — are flourishing like never before. Here's a roundup of the latest specimens spotted in the wild. 1. "Matt Cassel trade a simple, cheap bandage for Bills QB problem" (CBS Sports, Mar. 4, 2015) It might be tempting to read "trade" as a verb, […]

Smoothies, schmoudees, smuuhsies, whatever

On Facebook, Bert Vaux posted about a fascinating bit of Danish loanword phonology. While watching the Danish show Borgen last night I noticed that Kasper, when talking about ordering a smoothie, first said [smu:di] and then later said [smu:ði]. The first form in particular but also the variation pleased me, so I asked Anna Jespersen […]

Hong Kong-specific characters and shorthand

Joel Martinsen found this photograph on the microblog of Wáng Dày? ???: It's an itemized receipt for a meal at a traditional Cantonese restaurant in Central Hong Kong. In Cantonese, the heading reads: Mak6 An1 wan4tan1 min6 sai3gaa1 ??????? Simplified characters: ??????? The MSM pronunciation would be: Mài ?n yúnt?n miàn shìji? English: Mak Ngan's […]

"English will not be longer problem for your!"

Yvonne Treis sent in this photograph of a sign at an “America English” language school in Addis Ababa/Ethiopia that she took in May 2009: Yvonne has been to Ethiopia a dozen times or more for linguistic fieldwork on two Ethiopian languages (Kambaata & Baskeet) and has some conversational competence in Amharic –- not very much, […]

Himba color perception

Below is an email message from Steve Mah, posted with his permission. It follows up on my post "It's not easy seeing green", 3/2/2015, about the experiment on Himba color perception shown in the 2011 BBC documentary "Do you see what I see?" (video available here).  I've also appended an earlier email from Jules Davidoff to Paul Kay, […]

Correctly English

Ben Zimmer called my attention to this book cover, via David Adger's Twitter account: You can read for yourself what the English says.  Let's see how well it matches the Chinese: bi?ozh?n ?? standard Y?ngwén sh?ngyè huìhuà b?irì t?ng ?? ???? ??? English commercial conversation; expert in a hundred days fù Zh?ngwén dúy?n ji?shì ??????? […]

Pekingese vs. Putonghua

John Rohsenow sent me a WeChat (a Chinese text and messaging service) post that compares Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM]) sentences with their equivalents in Pekingese.  The differences are stark, amounting to a translation from one language to another. The post offers a generous sampling of two dozen pairs of sentences.  Here I'll provide the […]


Art asked about the word pension, which in our day is an agreed-upon payment made to a retired employee. At various times since the 14 th century, it has meant · payment made to retain loyalty – almost a bribe; · payment made to an artist...Show More Summary


It’s time for another poll on the theme “how do you say this not-often-said word?” (Cf. re and the surprising pace ["Looking over the thread again, I am freshly astonished at how few people (only one or two, apparently) pronounce it the way I do, which I had foolishly thought was common if not universal"].) […]

Place Names in Jamaica.

The National Library of Jamaica has various interesting stuff on its website, notably including Place Names in Jamaica; I would treat the etymologies with a grain of salt, but they’re fun to read: “Danks” in Clarendon, was the name given to a property Sir Henry Morgan deeded to his German wife, who said, “danke”, meaning […]

Cities Less Traveled: A Non-Traditional Trip to Tucson

Tucson, with its fascinating historical and cultural background, has so many different attractions and sights that it can be hard to decide which ones to include in your travel itinerary. Some of them are well-known, including Reid Park Zoo and Mission San Xavier del Bac. Show More Summary

Lauren’s One Month Russian Update

How much of a new language can you learn in a month if you only study about 2 hours a day? It’s been a month since I started learning Russian, and I’m amazed at how quickly my brain and mentality have adapted to becoming a language learner. Show More Summary

Bragging rights

Q: I often use the phrase “brag on” when I speak of praising or boasting about my friends. One of those friends feels “brag on” is too slangy. What are your thoughts? A: Your use of “brag on” as a verb phrase meaning to praise or to boast about isn’t slang, but it’s considered an... ? Read More: Bragging rights

Hipmunk City Love: Planning a Trip to Amsterdam

Canals, bridges, bikes, and boats are some of the many things you will love in this amazing city that began its life in the thirteenth century as a fishing village. You can have a memorable and budget friendly trip to Amsterdam whenShow More Summary

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