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I Went Looking For “The Good Ol’ Days.” It Took Me Back 5,000 Years.

This essay is adapted from the Pessimists Archive podcast, a show about technology and the history of unfounded fears. Subscribe on iTunes, or listen to the full audio version. Why Donald Trump won will be debated for generations, but we can all agree on one thing: Nostalgia is powerful. Show More Summary

"Arrival" gets the wug treatment

Linguists have been having a field day with the movie "Arrival" (see: "'Arrival' arrives"). From Ollie Sayeed on Facebook, here's a playful take on the shot of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) holding up a whiteboard with the word "HUMAN" for the aliens' perusal. If you're unfamiliar with Jean Berko Gleason's famous "wug test," check out […]

Language Learning via Robot.

Brett Henebery reports for The Educator (Australia) about a remarkable innovation: NAO robots, developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French robotics company, have been used for research and education purposes in schools and universities worldwide. Show More Summary

Some Dellys etymologies via Andalus

Looking through Corriente's etymological dictionary of Andalusi Arabic, I keep coming across explanations for obscure Dellys words whose origins had been a mystery to me. Corriente's etymologies are not always to be trusted - I've found...Show More Summary

choirs and preaching to them

I'm feeling a bit of pressure to put nice pictures at the start of my blog posts because the new homepage layout features whichever picture is first. Corpus tables make boring pictures, so I am using this as an excuse to share with you a delightful animation, Choir Tour: CHOIR TOUR from Atom Art on Vimeo. Show More Summary

The history of Trumpian "big league" (now even bigger league!)

Donald Trump, as we have discussed a few times now, is fond of using big league as a post-verbal adjunct, though it's often misheard as bigly. (See: "Bigly," 2/26/16; "The world wants 'bigly'," 5/5/16; "Don't let 'bigly' catch on," 10/18/16.)...Show More Summary

The making of a cinematic linguist's office

Ever since the first trailer for the upcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival" came out back in August, we here at Language Log Plaza have been anxiously awaiting more glimpses of Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called upon to communicate with aliens after they arrive on Earth. The final trailer of the film has […]

Why Do People Keep Talking and Joking About Humans?

If you have a favorite human, the latest in GIF technology now allows you to let him or her know it in no uncertain terms. The “YOU ARE MY FAVORITE HUMAN” GIF delivers an all-caps message that shimmers over a disembodied alien head in stars. Show More Summary

Get Ready to Travel and Master the Basics of a Language in Just 7 Days

True story: on a trip to France I walked into a coifferie believing that it would be a coffee shop A coifferie is not a coffee shop. It’s a hair salon. Boy did I feel silly. And a little guilty about my lack of French skills. Have you...Show More Summary

"Ni hao" for foreigners

A video titled "The Chinese tourists accused of bad behaviour in Thailand | Channel 4 News" was posted to YouTube on 2/22/15, but it has been recirculated in this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about Chinese travel abroad during the recent National Day holiday:  "With Its Tourists Behaving Badly, China Embarks on Some Soul-Searching" (NYT, […]

B flat Trump

The opening phrase of Donald Trump's speech in Mannheim PA, 10/1/2016, was sung on a single well-controlled pitch: Your browser does not support the audio element. The fundamental frequency of this monotone chant is about 238 Hz, to which the closest tempered pitch class, at concert A=440, would be the B flat below middle C […]

"No telling is neither complete nor accurate"

Emily Yahr, "Read George W. Bush’s speech at the African American Museum, 13 years after signing the bill to build it", Washington Post 9/24/2016: Your browser does not support the audio element. Our country is better and more vibrant because of their contributions and the contributions of millions of African Americans. No telling of American […]

When Uptalk Went Viral

This is a guest post by Cynthia McLemore, following up on Ben Zimmer's post on "'Uptalk' in the OED", 9/12/2016. Twenty three years after James Gorman coined a word for “those rises” in the New York Times and unleashed a viral phenomenon associated with my name, and on the occasion of the OED's latest entries, […]

Hokkien in Singapore

[This is the second in a series of four planned posts on Hokkien and related Southern Min / Minnan language issues.  The first was this:  "Eurasian eureka" (9/12/16).] Ryan of Singapore writes: Just a few days ago, Singapore's Ministry of communications and information released a set of TV programs, aimed at seniors. It is halfway […]

Alien encounters

The blurb for the movie Arrival, due to open in November: When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team, lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and […]

Is “bumblebee” a buzz word?

Q: I am working on a discussion of bumblebees, and looking for the origin of the “bumble” portion of the word. What I haven’t been able to figure out is if “bumble” refers to the buzzing/humming noise or the clumsy flying. Any thoughts? A: The “bumble” that means to buzz or hum (the one we... ? Read More: Is “bumblebee” a buzz word?

Horribles and deplorables

Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" is destined to become one of the lasting catchphrases of the campaign season. Clinton's use of the phrase (which she says she now regrets) appeared in a speech delivered at a fundraiser on Friday night: You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what […]

How tolerant is tolerance?

Q: The word “tolerance” seems to suggest something at least one step short of acceptance. To me, it carries the connotation of a superior agreeing not to actively work against someone clearly not regarded as an equal. Has the meaning changed or am I simply a curmudgeonly stickler or could both be true? A: Most... ? Read More: How tolerant is tolerance?

Die Relinge.

My (excellent) local NPR radio station, during their afternoon classical program, announced Telemann’s Violin Concerto in A major, nicknamed “The Frogs”… or “Die Relinge” in the original. Huh? thought I: isn’t the German for ‘frog’ Frosch? So it is, but the Grimm dictionary has an entry describing it as a kind of toad: reling, m. […]

Total Sausage Party: How 20th-Century Meat-Lovers' Dinners Became Bro-Fests

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing. As far as strong language goes, sausage party is hardly spicy. It’s a mild slang term for a social gathering in which men greatly outnumber women, usually expressed with a sense of bro-ish disappointment by its male members, er sausages. Show More Summary

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