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Stephen Fry on the Joys of Swearing.

Everybody likes Stephen Fry, right? Well, I do (see this 2008 post), and thanks to Bathrobe I can now favor you with a brief (two and a half minutes) video clip of him on one of my favorite subjects: “It would be impossible to go through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing.” Enjoy!

Iron Crotch

Here on Language Log, we have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the terminology related to kungfu: "Kung-fu (Gongfu) Tea" (7/20/11) See also Ben Zimmer's masterful article on Visual Thesaurus: "How 'Kung Fu' Entered the Popular Lexicon" (1/17/14) Now we have documentation for another type of kungfu that has hitherto eluded us: This #KungFu […]

Patton Oswalt on Trump, Obama, David Lee Roth, and Rutgers linguistics

At the Writers Guild of America Awards on Sunday night, host Patton Oswalt predictably made some Trump jokes in his opening monologue. What wasn't so predictable was an extended analogy involving '80s hard rocker David Lee Roth and the linguistics department at Rutgers University. The key line: "Donald Trump taking Obama's job would be like […]

Annoying voices and gender stereotypes

During the 2016 presidential campaign, there was a lot of negative commentary about Hillary Clinton's voice. Some examples from across the political spectrum are compiled and discussed here, and even-the-liberal-The-Atlantic published on "The Science Behind Hating Hillary's Voice". Show More Summary

How to Say “My Love” in French (Plus 28 More Romantic French Words and Phrases)

Is Paris a romantic city? Is French a romantic language? If you had asked me a few years ago, I would’ve answered “Nope!” But that was then. Things have changed quite a bit for me since my first experience living in the City of Light, trying to learn la belle langue. Show More Summary

Look at me

In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinz? Abe, President Trump received contradictory instructions about where to look. Pres. Trump and Japanese PM Abe meet, shake hands in the Oval Office More Summary

Portuguese in 3 Months Mission: 1 Month Update

This an update to Holly’s Portuguese in 3 Months mission. How did I get on after one month of learning to speak Portuguese? If you read my previous mission updates, you’ll remember that my mission is to reach a B1 level in Portuguese in three months. Show More Summary

Ask Language Log: Turnbull, Trumble, ?

Graeme Orr asks: This relates to US-Australian relations, thrown into mirth if not disarray by a now infamous phone call. Afterwards, Mr Spicer mistook our PM's surname twice in a press conference. Australian social media heard Spicer as calling our PM Turnbull 'Trumble'. But I distinctly hear it as 'Trunbull', a simple transposition error of […]

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

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

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 […]

Needs must when the devil drives

Q: What is the grammar of “needs must,” as in “needs must when the devil drives”? I’ve seen online discussions of the etymology, but not the grammar. A: The word “needs” here is a very old adverb meaning “of necessity,” “necessarily,” or “unavoidably.” It’s considered obsolete now except in the idiomatic expression “needs must” (or... Show More Summary

Slow-talking the inaugural

Before Donald Trump's speech yesterday, I wondered whether he would turn the political world upside down by delivering an improvised riff in the style of his campaign rallies. But no — his speech was scripted and read verbatim as written, although it featured several of the signature lines from his rallies, as well as the first use of […]


I occasionally take a whack at dumb, prejudiced, or ill-informed items relating to language, but it’s a side dish at LH. To the redditors at badlinguistics, it’s the whole menu, so if you have a hankering for mockery of things like “Italian is dying because people are using loanwords and not the subjunctive” or “A […]

How Adults Learn: 6 Important Things to Know

“I’ll never learn to run with the stamina of Paula Radcliffe, so why bother training for a marathon?” “I’ll never win a Nobel Prize in maths, so what’s the point of studying it at all?” “I’ll never play cello like Yo-Yo Mah, so I shouldn’t...Show More Summary

"Nothing could be further than the truth"

The linguistic highlight of Steven Mnuchin's confirmation hearing: Your browser does not support the audio element. The context: Your browser does not support the audio element. I'm eager to share with you why I believe I will serve well as America's next secretary of the treasury. But first I want to correct the record about […]

"Do I not like that"

Graham Taylor has died at the age of 72, after a long and varied career as a manager and coach of English football teams. But this is Language Log, not English Football Log, and so we'll leave the obsequies to others and focus on Mr. Taylor's best known quotation, "Do I not like that": Your […]

MLK day: Pitch range

In honor of MLK day, I've replicated something that Corey Miller did for a term paper in an introductory phonetics course in the early 1990s. The point of the exercise is that any given speaker can exhibit a wide variety of different pitch ranges. 25 years ago this was a somewhat complicated business, involving digitization of tape recordings, […]

Portuguese in 3 Months Mission: Day 0 Video

This an update to Holly’s Portuguese in 3 Months mission. In my last article, I introduced my three-month Portuguese mission. In this article, I’ll share the “Day Zero” video I made to kick off this project, as well as the first fewShow More Summary

Manchu film

Xinhua claims "Y?ngg? l?ng chuánqí ?????" ("Legend of Yingge Ridge") to be the first film in the Manchu language. I could only find this trailer for it on Tudou (Manchu speaking appears to start around 2 minutes in). The Tudou link doesn't work well, has too many intrusive ads, and requires Flash.  Use this YouTube […]

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