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Blog Profile / Language Log

Filed Under:Academics / Linguistics
Posts on Regator:4610
Posts / Week:13.2
Archived Since:February 24, 2008

Blog Post Archive

Rule of / by law

Because it has been very much in the news in recent days, the question of how to translate the Chinese term f?zhì ?? (lit., "law-rule / govern") has come up.  Should it be "rule of law" or "rule by law"? First of all, let's look at the numbers: 1. "rule of law"  6,080,000 ghits Quick […]

Embarrassing amnesia

[This is a guest post by David Moser] Part I I was giving a talk the other day, in Chinese, to Chinese students, about English pedagogy (go figure).  I wanted to mention something about the difficulty of remembering how to write Chinese characters, and I chose to use an example of the idiom ???? tao1guang1yang3hui4, […]

Etymology in the rain forest

"Scientist discovers puppy-sized spider in rain forest", ABC 11 Eyewitness News 10/20/2014: For all readers with arachnophobia, take a moment to collect yourself before proceeding further, because this spider will haunt your dreams.Show More Summary

Ebola fear stalks Bloomberg headlines

Bloomberg News is notorious for its bizarre, impenetrable headlines. There's a whole Tumblr blog devoted to strange Bloomberg headlines, and Quartz last year ran an article looking into "how Bloomberg headlines got to be so odd." Here's a new one, spotted by David Craig and Brett Wilson: Mark Liberman noted another Bloomberg specimen last January: […]

"German type sexual harassment"

From the German "Fun Pics und lustige Videos" website comes this hilarious photograph of a dish served at the Quansheng Hotel ????? (I think that it is in Changsha, Hunan): The Chinese says Dé shì xiánzh?sh?u ????? (German style "salted pig's knuckle / trotter"; cf. Schweinshaxe; Stelze in Austria). Xiánzh?sh?u ??? also has the […]

Death before syntax?

Ursula K. LeGuin, "Introducing Myself": What it comes down to, I guess, is that I am just not manly. Like Ernest Hemingway was manly. The beard and the guns and the wives and the little short sentences. I do try. I have this sort of beardoid thing that keeps trying to grow, nine or ten […]

The umbrella in Hong Kong

The whole world knows that, just as there was a "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world during the spring of 2011 and a "Sunflower Revolution" in Taiwan during the spring of this year, there is currently an "Umbrella Revolution" going on in Hong Kong. The most visually evident aspect of the Hong Kong democracy protest […]

Dumpling ingredients and character amnesia

A few nights ago I delivered the Watt lecture before an audience of over two hundred people at UBC. More than half the people in the audience were native speakers of Mandarin or another Chinese language, and everybody else present was familiar with at least one East Asian language. When I showed the famous jiaozi […]

Get the rope, Bill

It's been a while since we featured a Partially Clips comic — here's the most recent one:  


The headline above this page at says Warren inches away from Obama. And Bob Ayers, who pointed it out to me, was surprised that anyone would judge Elizabeth Warren to be that close to Obama on the issues, since they disagree quite a bit. I agree with Bob: I also read the sentence that […]

"Voiceprints" again

"Millions of voiceprints quietly being harvested as latest identification tool", The Guardian (AP), 10/13/2014: Over the telephone, in jail and online, a new digital bounty is being harvested: the human voice.   Businesses and governments...Show More Summary

Troublesome characters

The People's Daily microblog account posted this list over the recent National Day holidays: "Y? dú jiù cuò de 50 gè dìmíng ?????50???" ("Fifty place names you're sure to misread") It's a mix of relatively obscure characters and strange alternate readings for common ones. The list starts off: ????(lí)? Lishui in Zhejiang province; the ? is […]

More fun with Facebook: THE

The script that I used to make that course assignment about Facebook pronouns ("Sex, age, and pronouns on Facebook", 9/19/2014; "More fun with Facebook pronouns", 9/27/2014) can trivially be focused on any other words — so here's "the": And "this": Also "those": And "that" (though the determiner version is mixed with the complementizer): For some […]

For want of an apostrophe…

Via Lisa McClendon, aka Madam Grammar, comes this unfortunately punctuated headline currently on Drudge Report: The headline links through to an article from the UK tabloid The Mirror: "The Snappening: Thousands of kids, some as young as 10, could have nude photos posted online." ("The Snappening" is the name given by 4chan hackers of the […]

Intelligibility and the language / dialect problem

From Anschel Schaffer-Cohen: I'm an avid Language Log reader, and as an amateur student of language politics I'm always fascinated by your discussions of language vs. dialect vs. topolect, and the role played by mutual intelligibility. As such, I was fascinated to see this quote show up in my Facebook newsfeed: From the last sentence […]

Stronzio Bestiale, Galadriel Mirkwood, Crosley Shelvador, …

"The true story of Stonzio Bestiale", Parolacce 10/5/2014: Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. Yet, in 1987, professor Bestiale, supposedly a physicist in Palermo, Sicily, authored major papers in prestigious scientific peer reviewed journals such as the  Journal […]

X is the Y of Z: Infectious Death Cult Edition

The MedPage Today Tweet of the Week: This is the Katrina of ISIS analogies — Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) October 6, 2014 Some LLOG background: "X as the Y of Z", 7/28/2006 "X as the Y of Z, again", 3/25/2008 "Obama is the Y of Z", 11/5/2008 "X is the Y of Z: pop music […]

The magical fecundity of the Japanese verb suru ("to do") and verb ending -ru

The Agency for Cultural Affairs' annual survey on Japanese usage is out. This year's results as reported in the media: % of people who use chin suru ???? ("to 'nuke' something in the microwave") = 90.4% ("chin" is the sound your microwave makes to let you know your food is ready) cf. "Microwave display" saboru […]

Overtone singing

Anna-Maria Hefele: The fundamental frequency is about 273 Hz (which is a bit flatter than C#4), and as the spectrogram below shows, the "scale" that she sings picks out the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th harmonics (confusingly, these are the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th overtones, since the fundamental frequency […]

A black-belt crash blossom

Posted by Alex Bledsoe on Twitter: Copy editors…I miss them. — AlexBledsoe (@AlexBledsoe) October 9, 2014 The photo of the news article showed up on Imgur/Reddit a few days ago with the subject line, "That tumour has skills." But the article itself dates back to Dec. 27, 2013, when it appeared in the Daily […]

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