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Learn French in 3 Months: A Step-by-Step Guide

So you want to learn how to speak French? Très bien ! French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, being official in 29 countries. These include Canada and Haiti in North America, French Guiana in South America, more...Show More Summary

In a swirl of synonyms and grammar terms, calling a noun a noun

Dan Barry's recent article in The New York Times is headed: "In a Swirl of ‘Untruths’ and ‘Falsehoods,’ Calling a Lie a Lie." And pretty soon, he is of course reaching for the dread allegation of writing in the "passive". Does he know what that charge means? No. Like almost everybody who has been to […]

“Mammalogy” or “mammology”?

Q: I’m perplexed by the spelling of “mammalogy.” Shouldn’t it be “mammology” or “mammalology,” as per “biology,” “neurology,” and other subjects of study with an “-ology” suffix? A: You’re not the first person to question the legitimacy of “mammalogy.” People began complaining about it soon after the word showed up in English in the 19th... Show More Summary

The temperature is struggling

I commented back in 2008 on the ridiculous vagueness of some of the brief weather forecast summaries on BBC radio ("pretty miserable by and large," and so on). I do sometimes miss the calm, scientific character of American weather forecasts, with their precise temperature range predictions and exact precipitation probabilities. In recent days, on BBC […]

Partial negative concord

Steven Hsieh, "Joking Around: We spoke with that Carlsbad city councilor with the sexist Facebook post", SF Reporter 1/24/2017 [emphasis added]: Carlsbad City Councilor JR Doporto drew widespread criticism today after KOB 4 highlighted...Show More Summary

What’s a Woggin?

Cara Giaimo has a fascinating investigation of a whaling mystery in Atlas Obscura: On December 20, 1792, the whaling ship Asia was making its way through the Desolation Islands, in the Indian Ocean, when the crew decided to stop for lunch. According to the log keeper, the meal was a great success: “At 1 PM […]

Caucasian words for tea

In Appendix C of The True History of Tea, a book that I wrote with Erling Hoh, I showed how all the words for "tea" in the world except two little-known Austro-Asiatic terms can be traced back to Sinitic.  The three main types of words for tea (infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves) may be characterized […]

We've got the best wishes in the Netherlands

I'm in Groningen for the celebration of the the 30-year anniversary of Alfa-Informatica. So this is appropriate:

On Dropping Apostrophes.

Geoff Pullum has a typically witty and provocative post about the CIA report-writing style guide, Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications. There’s other stuff of interest (for instance, the CIA uses the Oxford comma), but what I want to highlight here is this passage: Before I go on, though, I wonder if you […]

Tracing lexical trends in Google searches

Google has released a fun data visualization tool that shows changes in search interest over time for a variety of trending words, particularly new slang terms. In "The Year in Language 2016," you can see how frequently people searched for the definitions of words, in queries such as "selfie definition" or "define selfie." By this […]

Tigre between ejectives and pharyngealization

There is some debate over the original pronunciation of the "emphatic" consonants (Arabic ? ? ? ? ?) in Semitic and more generally in Afroasiatic: were they ejective as in Amharic, or pharyngealized/uvular as in Arabic? For a numberShow More Summary

Why the racket sport is “squash”

Q: I know “squash,” the food name, comes from a Native American word that sounded like that to the Pilgrims. How did “squash,” the sport, get its name? A: We’ve written on the blog about the “squash” that’s a vegetable and the “squash” that means to crush. As we say in a 2012 post, the... ? Read More: Why the racket sport is “squash”

Ottoman Turkish.

Two links on an interesting topic: 1) When Turkish was written in the Greek, Armenian and even Syrian script, by Michael Erdman: The two largest allographic communities were the Armenians and the Greeks. Armeno-Turkish – a rendering of Ottoman Turkish in Armenian letters – gave rise to a vibrant publishing industry and cultural community. The […]

The Best Way to Learn a Language: What the Science Says

“What’s the best way to learn a language?” “What’s the quickest way to learn new words?” “How can I sound like a native speaker?” “Do I really have to study grammar?” Language hackers ask themselves these kinds of questions all the time. We...Show More Summary


"Slow-talking the inaugural" was just reposted in Significance, a a statistics magazine published by the American Statistical Association and the Royal Statistical Society. Or following their logo, which I guess can be rendered via Unicode as SIGNIFICANC?. Show More Summary

No way to curse in Japanese?

John Berenberg writes: An article by Joan Acocella in the February 9, 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books makes a 'no word for X' claim about Japanese and goes even further by quoting a native speaker who happily reports that learning to swear in English and Spanish allows him to say things […]

Variations of the Name for a Fire Pit.

Elif Batuman has a story in last week’s New Yorker, “Constructed Worlds,” that appeals to me greatly. It’s an evocation of what it’s like to find yourself immersed in the college experience that is often laugh-out-loud funny (I did in fact laugh out loud, and even kept reading bits to my wife even though she […]

Creeping English in Chinese

Many years ago, I predicted that — due to the exigencies of technological change and the increasing tempo of life — China would willy-nilly gravitate either toward romanization of Mandarin (and the other Sinitic languages) or the gradual adoption of English for many aspects of written communication (e.g., business, science, medicine) because they are perceived […]

A Japanese English portmanteau that failed

Sign on a store front in Nagasaki: JEWECOLOGY characterizes itself as an "eco style jewelries recycle store". The Japanese are inordinately fond of portmanteau words: "Japan: crazy over portmanteaux" (7/26/16) "What's in a name — Pikachu,...Show More Summary

Editing wars at London Bridge Street

As of the time of writing, you only get one hit if you ask Google to show you all the pages on the web containing the word sequence in order legally to minimise. That lone hit leads you to an anonymous leader in The Times (there is a paywall) in which this sentence occurs: Companies […]

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