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More on Chinese telegraph codes

John McVey was rooting around in Language Log for recent posts about telegraphic codes, and stumbled upon this: "Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC)" (5/24/15) What we learned there is that the CTC consists of 10,000 numbers arbitrarily assigned to the same amount of characters, one number per character. John calls our attention to a different kind […]

If only Donald Trump had a British accent...

... he wouldn't just sound different, the meaning would change... to a freakish extent. (Via Language Log.)

CodeSOD: Log of String

The English language contains words with multiple and often contradictory meanings. A dress, for example, is only one of many items you could put on while dressing yourself. Meanwhile, if you want to wear pants instead, you should avoid...Show More Summary


Over a decade ago, Mark Liberman posted at the Log about a garbled account of a “magical sounding gibberish language”; I won’t confuse you with the details, which turned out to be irrelevant, but the upshot was that the actual term was grammelot, which seems to have been invented by Dario Fo. A followup post […]

Butterfly Redux.

Back in 2003 I posted about the many and varied words for ‘butterfly’ in the world’s languages; I’m pleased to see the subject has come up again in Victor Mair’s latest Log post. Mair starts off by mentioning an absurd attempt to make butterfly equal “butter” + “shit” (as I started off with an absurd […]

Inching toward digraphia, with a note on the universality myth

The subject of digraphia in China often comes up in our discussions about the Chinese writing system on Language Log (always be sure to check the comments on the posts, because much good material is often added in them), e.g.: "Digraphia and intentional miswriting " (3/12/15) "Substituting Pinyin for unknown Chinese characters " (12/3/13) "Creeping […]

Chinese proverbs

A frequent topic of our Language Log posts has been about how best to learn Chinese, e.g.: "How to learn to read Chinese " (5/25/08) "How to learn Chinese and Japanese " (2/17/14) "The future of Chinese language learning is now " (4/5/14) Two things I have stressed:  1. take advantage of properly parsed Pinyin […]

Spoken Sanskrit.

A post by Victor Mair at the Log discusses the phenomenon of Sanskrit as a spoken language. I was surprised that this “astonished” Mair, but I have an old friend who spent time in India learning the language that way, so I have long been aware that it has as widespread a spoken tradition as, […]

Both Chinese and Japanese; neither Japanese nor Chinese

An ad for a new product of a Hong Kong cake shop went viral for taking pseudo-Japanese to the extreme: It is my custom in Language Log posts always to provide Romanized transcriptions of writing in hanzi / kanji / hanja, but in this instance I will forgo the Romanizations for the simple fact that, […]

Is it necessary to invent a new Chinese character for "ivory"?

In a recent post, we discussed the creation of hitherto unknown Chinese characters: "How to generate fake Chinese characters automatically" (12/30/15) In that post and in other Language Log posts, we have mentioned how artists and language enthusiasts sometimes make completely new characters, whether out of whimsy or out of a genuine felt need (as […]

Character building is costly and time consuming

I would like to call the attention of Language Log readers to an extraordinary article by Nikhil Sonnad: "The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font " (Quartz, 12/18/15) I knew that Nikhil was writing this article, because I helped him with the part about the historical development of the script […]

Kanji of the year 2015

Our Language Log post on "Kanji of the year 2014", zei ? ("tax"), was rather extensive, so it should suffice to give an indication of how the selection is made and the nature of the ritual surrounding the public unveiling of the choice.  I won't attempt to duplicate such a full treatment for the kanji […]

Zombie Lingua Recruitment

My sources say that Elsevier is now actively trying to recruit scholars for the editorial team of Zombie Lingua (see these Language Log posts for the background: "Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!", Lingua Disinformation"). Here's a redacted sample of what they are sending to people: Subject: Editorial Position Opportunity Dear Professor […] First please let me introduce […]

watchOS 2.1 software update is now available for the Apple Watch

2 months agoTechnology / Apple : 9 to 5 Mac

‘There’s a new software update awaiting Apple Watch owners. watchOS 2.1 is now available through the Watch app on iPhone. The update includes Arabic language support for Siri plus other bug fixes and improvements. Full change log below. To update Apple Watch to watchOS 2.1, first update your iPhone to the new iOS 9.2 update released […]

Bad sex writing: really really bad

I'm pleased to be able to announce on Language Log the winner of the Literary Review's 2015 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The award went to the singer Morrissey for his debut novel List of the Lost. And it seems to have been honestly earned. The judges cited this sentence: Eliza and Ezra rolled together […]

Local language

From Bob Bauer: A couple of days ago I discovered one of your Language Logs from last year that had a very interesting and very long back-and-forth discussion on the distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong's Chinese language. I commenter with initials HL mentioned some particularly interesting things about the use of the term Punti […]

Ask Language Log: -er vs. -or

From Matthew Yglesias: A few of us at work were talking about why it's adviser and protester but professor and and auditor and after bullshitting around for 10 minutes I thought "maybe I should ask a linguist." Have you ever blogged on this? I don't think that we have, though you can find well-informed discussions […]

PHP: Calling Methods on Non-Objects - Lorna Mitchell

PHP has subtly changed the wording of this error between various versions of the language, which can trip up your log aggregators when you upgrade so I thought I'd give a quick rundown of the changes around the "call to member function...Show More Summary

Monkey wrench

Peter Reitan, previously involved in "Solving the mystery of 'off the cuff'" (2/21/2015), has now pointed us to an improved history of monkey wrench. His email: Your Language Log post of March 22, 2009 about "Monkey Wrench" mentioned the traditional folk-etymology associated with the term; namely that it was widely believed to have been invented by a […]

Baby tracks down a nurse

Several people sent me links to this headline. One submitter wrote "I’ve enjoyed many ambiguous headlines in my few years of following Language Log. Today I ran across this one, which I read entirely wrong at first (how does a baby track down a nurse?):" "Women burned as baby tracks down nurse who cared for […]

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