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Curses! Foiled again.

Q: Did the defeated villain’s epithet “Curses!” originate as a euphemistic way of indicating curse words in comic books for younger readers? A: No on all counts. The usage didn’t originate as a euphemism or in comic books. The epithet “Curses!” began life as a melodramatic stage epithet that 19th-century dramatists put into the mouths... ? Read More: Curses! Foiled again.


A few days ago, Erik at XIX ??? posted some quotes from what sounded like a very interesting book, Joe Peschio’s The Poetics of Impudence and Intimacy in the Age of Pushkin. I took Amazon up on their offer to send a sample of the book to my Kindle, and I thought I’d quote this […]


Brian Hutchinson, "UBC student writes 52,438 word architecture dissertation with no punctuation — not everyone loved it", National Post 5/8/2015: There was Patrick Stewart, PhD candidate, defending his final dissertation before a handful of hard-nosed examiners at the University of British Columbia late last month. Show More Summary

How to remember numerals better

In all the debate around "Whorfian" effects of language on cognition, one relatively well-known case has received oddly little attention among linguists, despite being widely discussed by psychologists and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell: the effect of word length on short-term memory (Baddeley et al. Show More Summary


Nathan Hopson found this in a public bathroom at the Nagoya prefectural children's center last Monday: The label reads: gy?muy? sh?sh?zai ?????? ("commercial deodorizer") sh?sh?riki ??? ("deodorizing power") Notes: 1. I was surprised...Show More Summary

Throws or Throes?

Jamie from Elk Rapids wrote to complain of a misspelling that she thinks is becoming annoyingly frequent. She keeps seeing the word throws written in place of throes, as in the throws of winter or the throws of passion. It’s not unusual that homophones get misused by the careless or inattentive, but it is, indeed, annoying. Show More Summary

OMG! American English.

Victor Mair has a post at the Log on a remarkable American woman in China; it begins: “The star of this popular Voice of America program is Jessica Beinecke (Bái Jié ??). Her Mandarin is quite amazing; indeed, I would say that it is nothing short of phenomenal.” Having listened to a fair amount of […]

Forbidden Lawn

This afternoon at the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is around the corner from where I'm living for the next couple of months: The sign in the center right of the picture reads: It's interesting that the English and Spanish versions spell out precisely what you are authorized to do — though it's clear that lying […]


Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since. Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this […]


Chainsawsuit from 2/20/2015: [h/t Matt Treyvaud]

Smoking cessation

Joseph Williams sent in the following photograph of a Japanglish sign that he took on a ferry traveling to the famous Itsukushima Shrine (also called Miyajima) in Hiroshima: We'll go through the four languages on the sign, one after another. Japanese kin'en ?? is a standard term for "no smoking; smoking prohibited" Confusion may arise […]

Ann Kjellberg on Brodsky’s Self-Translations.

It is a fact universally acknowledged, that Joseph Brodsky’s poetry in English, including his self-translations and the results of his browbeating others who tried to translate his poems under his supervision, is not that good. Understandably, Ann Kjellberg, his literary executor and the editor of his Collected Poems in English, disagrees, and she goes into […]

Headlines that do "absolutely not" scan well

At an event at Salem State University yesterday, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was interviewed on stage by sportscaster Jim Gray; Gray used the opportunity to ask Brady about the just-released Ted Wells report on Deflategate, and to ask him if the scandal "tainted" the Patriots' Super Bowl win last year. The headline that appeared on […]

41 Brilliant Words & Expressions We Desperately Need in English

When you start studying a new language, one of the first things you’ll discover is that certain words and phrases in your new language have no English equivalent. This can be really frustrating. How are you supposed to learn a language...Show More Summary


In case you weren't paying attention, the UK had a general election yesterday, and the exit polls and final results were a surprise, given that the previous day's polls had indicated a much closer result. Because this is a language blog,...Show More Summary

She gave him the air

Q: In his 1955 recording of “Can’t We Be Friends?” Frank Sinatra sings “Why should I care though she gave me the air.” Am I right that to “give someone the air” comes from the telephone technology of the day? I picture a guy holding an old fashioned phone in one hand and asking “Where... ? Read More: She gave him the air

Dead and marching

Neil MacFarquar, "A Parade Hailing Russia’s World War II Dead and Marching Further From the West", NYT 5/7/2015. This should be easy, given the parallelism "hailing … and marching", but parallelism isn't always enough. Rick Rubenstein, who sent in the link, writes: I think what caused me so much trouble is that the (correct) reading […]

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