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Nae Nae, Nini, No-No, Noo-Noo

Soon after Mercer College’s amazing upset of Duke University in the NCAA March Madness tournament, both Slate and the New York Times published articles about a dance that the Bears’ team member Kevin Canevari was doing on live national TV while his teammates cheered. The dance, Slate explained, was the Nae Nae, a dance created […]

Butkov’s Attics.

Over six years ago I wrote about “an obscure mid-19th-century Russian writer called Yakov Butkov” (Russian Wikipedia), an ambitious, self-educated writer from Saratov who made his way briefly into the Saint Petersburg literary world but died young and poor; ever since then I’ve been wanting to read his best-known work, ????????????? ??????? [Petersburg attics], and […]

Present Indicative Counterfactuals

Commenting on my “If you’re Lance Armstrong …” post, Thony Gillies points out that this Hubie Brown-type conditional is a special case of the sportscasterese present indicative counterfactual conditional. As in (topical example fromShow More Summary

A current neologism in Taiwan

Michael Cannings sent in this photograph taken outside Taiwan's parliament, which has been occupied by students for three days and is now surrounded by demonstrators: The characters in big yellow squares on the wall above the entrance say: Zh?ngguó d?ng mài Tái yuàn ?????? ("Parliament of the Chinese Party for Selling out Taiwan") Zh?ngguó d?ng […]

Twitter mwitter

"'Mwitter' to replace Twitter in Turkey?", Hurriyet 3/20/2014: Only minutes after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an vowed to close down Twitter today, a new website was formed, either as a tribute from his followers or a mocking attempt from his critics: "Mwitter" Erdo?an had earlier said in Turkish: "Twitter, mwitter kökünü kaz?yaca??z," translated into English as: […]

I saw one thousand commenting and nobody listening

Sometimes I look at the informed and insightful comments below Mark Liberman's technical posts here on Language Log, and I find myself thinking: These people are smart, and their wisdom enhances the value of our site. Maybe I should try opening comments again myself. But then something awful happens to convince me never to click […]

Written Cantonese on a "Democracy Wall" at a University in Hong Kong

A Language Log reader in Hong Kong sent in the following photograph: Cantonese: 20?????????????????? Ji6 sap6 seoi3 gei3 nei5 zou6 gan2 me1? Toi4 wan1 daai6 hok6 sang1 zim3 ling5 gan2 lap6 faat3 jyun2. Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM)Show More Summary

If you’re Lance Armstrong, …

A line from an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “If you’re Lance Armstrong, why, exactly, do you feel the need to go for Tour de France title No. 6?” I cite this line here not because I am a fan — which I am — but because it’s a weird conditional set-up, which is actually quite common in sports reporting, I believe. Show More Summary

The grammar of "Abide with me"

On Tuesday at my mother's funeral we sang "Abide With Me". It's a popular hymn for funerals, possibly because people like the line "Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?"; but as we sang the fifth verse (you can see the lyrics here) I couldn't help noticing a syntactic point. No, don't be shocked […]


My wife asked me “How come Costello is an Irish name? It doesn’t sound Irish.” I had to agree that it didn’t, so I checked my go-to book for surnames, Rybakin’s ??????? ?????????? ??????? = A Dictionary of English Surnames (Moscow, 1986), where I found that it represented an Irish MacOisdealbhaigh, pronounced something vaguely like […]

“Languages shouldn’t be learnt, they should be lived” – Fluent in 3 Months in the media: BBC/Bloomberg/4 hour blog…

What a week! I’m still on a book launch buzz, before I can get back to “normal”, if there is such a thing for someone constantly travelling. And now that the book stuff is finally winding down, I can start focusing on what’s next onShow More Summary

When fewer is less

Q: You’ve written more than once about your preference for “less” over “fewer” in referring to percentages. In a recent comment on the New York Times’s After Deadline blog, Philip B. Corbett takes the opposing view. Your guidance feels better to me, but are we in the minority or the majority? A: We... ? Read More: When fewer is less


Bryan Van Norden sent in this photograph taken at the Hong Kong International Airport: Oracle is an American computer technology corporation that produces an object-relational database management system called Oracle RDBMS. The database takes its name from a project that founder Larry Ellison had worked on while employed at Ampex. Whoever came up with the […]

Once more on the present continuative ending -ing in Chinese

On "Savage Minds", Kerim has a new post entitled "How do you pronounce '??ing'?", which features this initially enigmatic photograph: The photograph shows Taiwanese historian and political activist, Su Beng (aka Shih Ming), in front of a banner that reads: Táidú ??, which is short for Táiw?n dúlì ???? ("Taiwan Independence") Quánmín gémìng ing ????ing […]


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Cellar Door.

I’m pretty sure I intended to post on this Grant Barrett “On Language” column about “the claim that cellar door is beautiful to the ear” (which has always intrigued me) when it came out a few years ago, but it seems to have slipped through the cracks in my brain. At any rate, it’s been […]

Taking a selfie

In front of a noted luxury candy store in Peebles, a small town about an hour's drive south of Edinburgh, an elderly American woman approached a gentleman they didn't know and, holding out a cell phone, asked: "Would you please take a selfie of my friend and I in front of this sweetie shop?" She […]

It’s a big ask

Q: When did “ask” become a noun? I first heard “a big ask” used at work for a difficult request. I considered it another annoying bit of industrialese, but I just heard a TV commentator use “a tough ask” this way. Is the usage now an acceptable idiom? A: You’d better sit down.... ? Read More: It’s a big ask

Compass Award: Tarkovsky.

I’ve gotten into the habit of posting about the International Translation Center/Cardinal Points annual Compass Award contest (2012, 2013), and I’m particularly happy to do so this year because it’s dedicated to the poetry of Arseny Tarkovsky, one of my favorite modern Russian poets (and one far too little known outside of Russia; I’ve written […]

Chineasy? Not

Last Friday, the following article appeared in The Wall Street Journal: "A New Way to Learn Chinese:  Entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh aims to bridge the gap between East and West by teaching Westerners how to read Chinese". The article is preceded by a video that begins with this note: Entrepreneur and author ShaoLan Hsueh has devised […]

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