Stanford remembers Ivan Sag
Sept. 28, 2013
As reported earlier this month by Arnold Zwicky, the world of linguistics lost Ivan Sag after a three-year fight against cancer.
Did Stalin really coin “American exceptionalism”?
Sept. 25, 2013
The phrase “American exceptionalism” has been much in the news ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an op/ed piece in the New York Times taking issue with President Obama’s statement that America’s foreign policy “makes us exceptional.”
Colorless milk ports flap furiously
Sept. 5, 2013
On the Wall Street Journal’s Emerging Europe blog, Emre Peker reports on a case of linguistic chicanery, with none other than Noam Chomsky as its victim.
Language Log partners with Lexicon Valley on Slate
Sept. 4, 2013
For the past year and a half, Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield have been co-hosting the excellent Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, covering many Language Log-friendly topics (and interviewing a few Language Loggers in the process).
Getting worked up over “twerk”
Aug. 28, 2013
Perfect lexicographical storms don’t come along like this very often. On Sunday night, Miley Cyrus egregiously “twerked” at MTV’s Video Music Awards, in a performance that quickly became National Conversation #1 (even outpacing Syria).
Aug. 24, 2013
Here are two anniversarial tweets that appeared Friday evening. The first is from the WhiteHouse.gov Technology account, celebrating the anniversary of the release of the source code for We the People
Aug. 22, 2013
Bradley Manning, just recently sentenced for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, has released a statement announcing, “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.” Manning also gave instructions on his-now-her preferred personal pronouns.
The New York Post goes verbless
Aug. 19, 2013
On Headsup: The Blog, FEV (Fred Vultee) notes a remarkable confluence of nouns (and one adjective) on the front page of Sunday’s New York Post.
Frances Brooke, destroyer of English (not literally)
Aug. 15, 2013
I don’t have much to say about the latest tempest in a teapot over the non-literal use of “literally.”
The “-bag” of “slutbag”
July 31, 2013
In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Barbara Morgan, spokeswoman for New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, called former Weiner intern Olivia Nuzzi all sorts of names after Nuzzi publicly criticized the campaign.
Rowling and “Galbraith”: an authorial analysis
July 16, 2013
The Sunday (UK) Times recently revealed that J.K. Rowling wrote the detective novel The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
No justice, no peace
July 15, 2013
J.P. Villanueva writes: “I’ve been seeing the old ‘No justice, no peace’ chant lately after the Zimmerman trial.”
Snowden’s United States: singular or plural?
July 1, 2013
Today Wikileaks posted a statement from Edward Snowden, time-stamped Monday July 1, 21:40 UTC.
New WSJ column: Word on the Street
June 28, 2013
For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a language column for The Boston Globe (and before that for The New York Times Magazine). Now I’m starting a new language column for The Wall Street Journal, called “Word on the Street.”
June 27, 2013
Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the DOMA decision had some harsh words, to say the least, for the majority opinion. But the word everyone has been fixated on is rather light-hearted: argle-bargle.
About those dialect maps making the rounds…
June 6, 2013
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already seen Business Insider’s “22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other.”
Parsing entertainment headlines
June 1, 2013
Here are two entertainment news headlines that are difficult to parse without knowing in advance what they’re reporting on.
A reprieve for DARE
May 8, 2013
A month ago, I posted an “SOS for DARE,” detailing the impending financial threat faced by the Dictionary of American Regional English, a national treasure of lexicography.
Offensive crash blossom
May 7, 2013
Steve Kleinedler spotted this crash blossom on the home page of the New York Times today: “G.O.P. Critics of Immigration Bill Plan Offensive.”
Obama’s “is is” redux
Apr. 30, 2013
Betty Ann Bardell tweets: “.@bgzimmer For those who missed the score from today’s W.H. Press Conf.: ‘is, is’ 5 – ‘as best as they can’ 1.”
Anatomy of a spambot
Apr. 23, 2013
We’ve often had occasion to wonder how spammy blog comments are linguistically constructed.
Cupertinos in the spotlight
Apr. 18, 2013
About seven years ago, in March 2006, I wrote a Language Log post about “the Cupertino effect,” a term to describe spellchecker-aided “miscorrections” that might turn, say, Pakistan’s Muttahida Quami Movement into the Muttonhead Quail Movement.
Attachment ambiguity in “Frazz”
Apr. 12, 2013
Today’s “Frazz” (via Ed Cormany on Twitter).
New NPR blog: Code Switch
Apr. 9, 2013
NPR has launched an engaging new blog called Code Switch.
SOS for DARE
Apr. 7, 2013
Many Language Log readers are no doubt familiar with the Dictionary of American Regional English, which I hailed in a Boston Globe column last year as “a great project on how Americans speak — make that the great project on how Americans speak.”
John J. Gumperz, 1922-2013
Apr. 2, 2013
John J. Gumperz, the Berkeley sociolinguist who, among his many contributions, introduced “the speech community” as a unit of linguistic analysis, died on Friday at the age of 91.
Calvert Watkins, 1933-2013
Mar. 29, 2013
The great Indo-Europeanist Calvert Watkins passed away in his sleep on the evening of March 20.
The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks
Feb. 7, 2013
On Daring Fireball, John Gruber noticed something interesting about David Pogue’s New York Times review of the Surface Pro: what he calls “the use of bounding asterisks for emphasis around the coughs.”
Infant involved in crash blossom
Jan. 24, 2013
A commenter on FARK noted this headline on the website for KMOV St. Louis: “Infant pulled from wrecked car involved in short police pursuit.”
Remembering Aaron Swartz (and Infogami)
Jan. 14, 2013
There have been many online remembrances of Aaron Swartz, the brilliant young programmer and Internet activist who killed himself on Friday at the age of 26.
Snow words in the comics
Jan. 13, 2013
Coincidentally, two syndicated comic strips running today riff off of the old “Eskimo words for snow” canard.
ADS Word of the Year: “hashtag”
Jan. 5, 2013
The American Dialect Society (meeting in Boston in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has chosen its Word of the Year for 2012: hashtag.
On letting one’s guard (and pants) down
Nov. 11, 2012
Mark Liberman noted (as did Neal Whitman on his Literal-Minded blog) a case of syllepsis in an Atlantic piece by Conor Friedersdorf: “What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for [Jennifer] Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election.”
“We are all the other now”
Nov. 8, 2012
Writing recently for the online Ideas section of Time, Jeffrey Kluger took on the “We are all X (now)” trope, or as it’s called in these parts, a snowclone.
“Too much Obama vote”
Nov. 7, 2012
For the linguistically sensitive, one of the burning questions stemming from last night’s election-night coverage was, “When did vote become a mass noun?”
Don’t be discouraged from not voting
Nov. 6, 2012
Ben Yagoda spotted a nice case of overnegation on NPR’s “Morning Edition” earlier today, when Renee Montagne interviewed political science professor Michael McDonald about early voting.
The he’s and she’s of Twitter
Nov. 6, 2012
My latest column for the Boston Globe is about some fascinating new research presented by Tyler Schnoebelen at the recent NWAV 41 conference at Indiana University Bloomington.
“Oppan Chomsky Style”
Oct. 27, 2012
Somehow, Language Log has yet to take notice of the international sensation that is “Gangnam Style,” the deliciously weird Korean pop video that currently has more than 560 million views on YouTube.
Newborn searches for crash blossom
Oct. 20, 2012
Amy Reynaldo spotted this crash blossom currently featured on the home page of the Chicago Tribune.
A new chapter for Google Ngrams
Oct. 18, 2012
When Google’s Ngram Viewer was launched in December 2010 it encouraged everyone to be an amateur computational linguist, an amateur historical lexicographer, or a little of both. Today, the public interface that allows users to plumb the Google Books megacorpus has been relaunched, and the new version makes it even more enticing to researchers, both scholarly and nonscholarly.
Bipartisanship (the bad kind)
Sept. 30, 2012
Some news about the presidential debates from Politico, as reported by Dylan Byers: “Philips Electronics has dropped its sponsorship of the 2012 presidential debates, citing a desire not to associate itself with bipartisanship, POLITICO has learned.”
Panel on Digital Dictionaries (MLA/LSA/ADS)
Sept. 26, 2012
Eric Baković has noted the happy confluence of the annual meetings of the Linguistic Society of America and the Modern Language Association, both scheduled for January 3-6, 2013 at sites within reasonable walking distance of each other in Boston.
Ambiguity watch: failing families, killing New Yorkers
Sept. 17, 2012
Here are two items of ambiguity in advertising, one intentional and one not. First the apparently unintentional ambiguity: a new commercial from the Romney presidential campaign entitled “Failing American Families.”
A cautionary vision of things to come
Sept. 14, 2012
Randall Munroe’s latest xkcd strip.
Sounding the alarm on the subjunctive
Sept. 11, 2012
From the After Deadline blog of Phil Corbett, style guru at the New York Times, comes this 1924 letter to the editor calling for a Congressional investigation into the imperiled state of the English subjunctive
Remembering Neil Armstrong and his “one small step”
Aug. 26, 2012
Since the death of Neil Armstrong on Saturday, many remembrances have told the story about his famously flubbed first words on the moon.
Rendering “Pussy Riot” in Russian
Aug. 18, 2012
With the international attention given to the trial and conviction of members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot on charges of “hooliganism,” many have wondered online whether Pussy Riot is a translation of a Russian name.
The return of the “next president” flub
Aug. 11, 2012
Introducing Paul Ryan as his running mate this morning, Mitt Romney made a gaffe that was remarkably similar to one that Barack Obama made four years ago when he introduced Joe Biden as his running mate.
Aug. 3, 2012
The winner of the women’s 100-meter freestyle swimming event at the London Olympics is the wonderfully named Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands.
“Would you repeat that in Yiddish and Vietnamese and French?”
Aug. 2, 2012
Today, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on H.R. 997, the “English Language Unity Act of 2011″ sponsored by Rep. Steve King [R-IA].
Stewart on “You didn’t build that,” Colbert on “Anglo-Saxon heritage”
July 26, 2012
The late-night shows on Comedy Central both took a linguistic turn last night.
Artistic touristic linguistics
July 18, 2012
Andrew Spitz and Momo Miyazaki, students at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, posted this charming video of their cross-linguistic art project:
Another unfortunate crash blossom
July 17, 2012
“KOMO headline editor, your phrasing needs work,” tweeted CJ Alexander regarding this deeply regrettable crash blossom (KOMO North Seattle News, July 11, 2012).
Diving deeper into the metaphorical molasses
July 15, 2012
My column in Sunday’s Boston Globe is on a popular topic here at Language Log Plaza: the multitudinous metaphors spun to explain the Higgs boson discovery to a non-scientific audience.
Tawking the tawk, wawking the wawk
July 8, 2012
Matt Flegenheimer, “A Voice of New York’s Streets, Saying That It’s Safe to Wawk” (New York Times, 7/7/2012).
The broccoli horrible
June 29, 2012
I was first struck by the expression “parade of horribles” back in April 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama used it to describe testimony by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker about what might happen if U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq too hastily.
“U.S. Supreme Court says upholds health care mandate”
June 28, 2012
That was the tweet sent out this morning by Reuters, which got the news out about the Supreme Court decision at 10:07:43 Eastern Daylight Time, evidently just 12 seconds after Bloomberg beat them to it.
Personal electronic deDeputys
June 10, 2012
On the heels of the notorious Nooking of War and Peace, Shane Horan sends along “a priceless search-and-replace error on the rules page of an Irish secondary school.”
“It was as if a light had been Nookd…”
June 1, 2012
Here on Language Log we’ve often talked about unfortunate search-and-replace miscorrections, which now seem to be infecting poorly edited e-reader texts. The latest example, via Kendra Albert on Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet blog, is a doozy.
The New Yorker vs. the descriptivist specter
May 29, 2012
Readers of The New Yorker might be getting the impression that the magazine has it in for a nefarious group of people known as “descriptivists.”
Translinguistic taboo avoidance: Arabicizing “Ayrault”
May 17, 2012
Bloomberg reports (rather delicately) that the name of France’s new prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is causing a bit of problem when it is transliterated into Arabic: “When spoken, his family name is colloquial Arabic in many countries for the third-person singular possessive form of the male sex organ.”
A sentence more ambiguous than most
May 15, 2012
On Facebook, Fahrettin Şirin shared this special card for linguists and other lovers of ambiguity.
Bandersnatch Cummerbund: not a typo, not a cupertino
May 8, 2012
Earlier today, AFP photographer Alex Ogle posted on Twitter what looked like an outrageous typo in a column by Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post: the name of Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC/PBS show Sherlock, got transmogrified into “Bandersnatch Cummerbund” on second mention.
May 2, 2012
For the past couple of years, Google has provided automatic captioning for all YouTube videos, using a speech-recognition system similar to the one that creates transcriptions for Google Voice messages.
Rapper 50 Cent converted into Malaysian currency
Apr. 20, 2012
Making the rounds today, from Andrew Bloch’s Twitter feed.
The first “asshole” in the Times?
Apr. 16, 2012
In “Larkin v. the Gray Lady,” Mark Liberman credits a Language Log reader with pointing out that “the NYT printed asshole for the first time a couple of weeks ago” (“Race, Tragedy and Outrage Collide After a Shot in Florida”, 4/1/2012).
Apr. 11, 2012
A correction from The New York Times on Damon Darlin’s article, “Economic Theory Plots a Course for Good Food” (4/10/12 online, p. D3 in the 4/11/12 print edition).
Three scenes in the life of “meh”
Feb. 26, 2012
When I first posted here in 2006 about the indifferent interjection meh (“Meh-ness to society”) I never imagined that this unobtrusive monosyllable would provide such rich linguistic fodder for years to come.
“Downton Abbey” anachronisms: beyond nitpickery
Feb. 13, 2012
I’ve been taking advantage of the rabid interest in “Downton Abbey” lately to report on some verbal anachronisms that have cropped up in the show’s second season (originally broadcast on ITV in the UK late last year and now wrapping on PBS in the US).
A multilingual book trailer
Feb. 10, 2012
These days, newly published books often get promoted with video trailers, and there’s one that just came out for Michael Erard’s Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.
Nominees for 2011 Word of the Year
Jan. 6, 2012
The American Dialect Society (meeting in Portland in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has selected nominees in the various categories for the 2011 Word of the Year.
Green’s Dictionary of Slang: An Appeal
Dec. 31, 2011
In the April 3, 2011 issue of the New York Times Book Review, I appraised Jonathon Green’s wonderfully comprehensive three-volume reference work, Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS to its friends).
Transitive “disappear”? Not in this country!
Dec. 22, 2011
The latest installment of Ruben Bolling’s political cartoon “Tom the Dancing Bug” takes the form of a satirical information sheet, “So… You’ve Been Indefinitely Detained!”
Another Newt “not”
Dec. 11, 2011
Once again on the Newt negation watch… In last night’s Republican debate in Iowa, Gingrich defended his previous support of an individual mandate for health care insurance.
Newt’s not not engaging
Dec. 11, 2011
ABC is proving itself to be the Newt not network. Earlier this month, Newt Gingrich provided a puzzling (but technically correct) instance of negation in an interview with Jake Tapper of ABC News.
The Beeb’s latest crash blossom
Dec. 8, 2011
BBC News is a reliable source for the misleading headlines we know as crash blossoms.
Dec. 2, 2011
Geoff Pullum is, of course, right on the money when he points out that our frequent difficulties in interpreting multiple negations indicate that we are all “semantic over-achievers, trying to use languages that are quite a bit beyond our intellectual powers.”
The “Word of the Year” need not be a word
Nov. 23, 2011
My colleague Geoff Pullum has objected to the selection of squeezed middle as Oxford Dictionaries’ 2011 Word of the Year on the grounds that “the ‘Word of the Year’ should be a word.” Allow me to provide a counterpoint to this view.
“Don’t you know it’s not just the Eskimo”
Nov. 14, 2011
Last month, in the post “‘Words for snow’ watch,” I reported that Kate Bush’s new album (out Nov. 21) is called 50 Words for Snow.
Another milestone for “eggcorn”
Nov. 3, 2011
Eggcorn, that most successful of Language Log’s neoLogisms, has entered another major dictionary.
On the front lines of Twitter linguistics
Oct. 30, 2011
I have a piece in today’s New York Times Sunday Review section, “Twitterology: A New Science?”
“Chinglish” hits Broadway
Oct. 27, 2011
Tonight is the opening night for a new Broadway play called “Chinglish.”
Lightning strike crash blossom
Oct. 27, 2011
Josh Fruhlinger sends along a sublime crash blossom from BBC News: “Dog helps lightning strike Redruth mayor.”
Censoring “Occupy” in China
Oct. 24, 2011
Last weekend I was on the NPR show “On the Media” to talk about how the word occupy has evolved since the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement in mid-September.
“Words for snow” watch
Oct. 14, 2011
It’s been a while since we’ve rounded up public appearances of the old “Eskimo words for snow” myth. Here are a few recent examples that have been sent in to Language Log Plaza.
“So what if/that…”
Oct. 8, 2011
From the AP wire… ARLINGTON, Texas (AP)—So what that the Texas Rangers won their only game this season against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Who Put the X in AXB: Snowclone Follies of 1912
Oct. 2, 2011
Inspired by Mark Liberman’s post, “Putting the X in AXB,” I spent some time trying to find the origin for this venerable snowclone.
The elusive triple “is”
Sept. 25, 2011
Last month (“Xtreme Isisism”, 8/13/11), Mark Liberman analyzed a TED talk by Kevin Slavin, a speaker who is particularly prone to copula-doubling (“the point IS IS that…”, “the reality IS IS that…”, etc.)
Sequoyah’s syllabary, from parchment to iPad
Sept. 21, 2011
In a great use of comic art, Roy Boney Jr. has created a graphic feature for the magazine Indian Country Today about the history of the Cherokee syllabary developed by Sequoyah in the early 19th century.
Shel Silverstein’s hot dog and the domain of “everything”
Sept. 20, 2011
A posthumous collection of Shel Silverstein’s poems and drawings has just been published, with the title Every Thing On It.
Annals of “needs washed”
Sept. 9, 2011
Grammar Girl (aka Mignon Fogarty) has posted a podcast today about the “needs washed” regionalism, which is mostly associated with the North Midland dialect region of the U.S.
The Mock Spanglish of @ElBloombito
Aug. 29, 2011
If nothing else, Hurricane Irene leaves us with the legacy of a fine fake-Twitter account, @ElBloombito (aka “Miguel Bloombito”), which takes satirical aim at the Spanish-language announcements that New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg appended to the end of his many hurricane-related press conferences.
Microsoft tech writing noun pile blog post madness!
Aug. 4, 2011
Fans of noun piles will enjoy the recent blog post by Mike Pope, a technical editor at Microsoft, “Fun (or not) with noun stacks.” Mike shares a few of the lovely compound noun pileups he’s encountered on the job.
The idiom police, if you will
July 2, 2011
Today’s “Candorville,” by Darrin Bell.
The pleasures of recursive acronymy
June 28, 2011
The latest xkcd.
“Speaks Mandarin Chinese, and Hokkien… whatever that is.”
June 21, 2011
Jon Huntsman, formerly the governor of Utah and ambassador to China, announced he was running for the Republican presidential nomination at a campaign kickoff event today at Liberty State Park in fair Jersey City.
Gil Scott-Heron’s old-fashioned ghetto code
May 28, 2011
Gil Scott-Heron died yesterday at the age of 62 — a remarkable performer whose politically charged combination of music and poetry had an enormous influence on the development of hip-hop culture.
“You want punched out?”
May 25, 2011
Today’s political buzz is all about the win by Democrat Kathy Hochul in New York’s 26th congressional district, encompassing suburbs northeast of Buffalo and west of Rochester.
Unsucking the suck
Apr. 19, 2011
On The New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, Eileen Reynolds writes about a site called “Unsuck It” that translates corporatese: “You type in a particularly odious word or phrase—’incentivize,’ say—and ‘Unsuck It’ spits out the plain-English equivalent, along with a sentence for context.”
She’s got two sibilants, no bilabial plosives
Apr. 17, 2011
Time for some pop-music phonology! Erin McKean directs our attention to a video for “Saskia Hamilton,” a song by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby from their 2010 album Lonely Avenue. The video is performed by Charlie McDonnell, known on YouTube as “charlieissocoollike.”
Incomprehensible Shouting Named Official U.S. Language
Mar. 5, 2011
From The Onion News Network.
Now on The Atlantic: The corpus in the court
Mar. 4, 2011
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in FCC v. AT&T that corporations are not entitled to a right of “personal privacy,” even if corporations can be construed as “persons.”
Popular Linguistics, Issue 2
Feb. 22, 2011
The second issue of Popular Linguistics Magazine, a new online venture edited by DS Bigham, has hit the intertubes.
Could Watson parse a snowclone?
Feb. 17, 2011
Today on The Atlantic I break down Watson’s big win over the humans in the Jeopardy!/IBM challenge.
How Mubarak was told to go, in many languages
Feb. 13, 2011
In the New York Times Week in Review this weekend, I have a piece looking at the clever linguistic strategies that Egyptian protesters used to tell President Hosni Mubarak that it was time to go.
Correction of the Year?
Feb. 7, 2011
This is almost too good to be true. Via The Media Blog, here’s a correction that ran in Australia’s Morning Bulletin.
LanguageLoggingHeads: SOTU edition
Jan. 26, 2011
Last September, the folks at Bloggingheads.tv brought John McWhorter and me together for a spirited dialog (sorry, diavlog) on a range of language issues.
Gov. Cuomo and our poor monkey brains
Jan. 21, 2011
My latest reader response for The New York Times Magazine’s On Language column tackles a turn of phrase that has come up on Language Log many times: cannot be underestimated.
Introducing: Popular Linguistics Magazine
Jan. 16, 2011
A new online venture has just been launched: Popular Linguistics Magazine.
Nominees for 2010 Word of the Year
Jan. 7, 2011
The American Dialect Society (meeting in Pittsburgh in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America) has selected nominees in the various categories for Word of the Year.
On “culturomics” and “ngrams”
Dec. 23, 2010
I’m still mulling over the blockbuster “culturomics” paper published in Science last week and ably addressed here by Geoff Nunberg and oMark Liberman.
Dec. 1, 2010
Today’s Dilbert (12/01/10): Here, the -itute of prostitute is serving as a blend component, but could it end up becoming what Arnold Zwicky has helpfully dubbed a “libfix” (a “liberated” word part that yields new word-forming elements)?
Nov. 20, 2010
Earlier today, the homepage of CNN.com featured the headline, “Chile miners take in sites across L.A.”
Nov. 19, 2010
Via The Economist’s Johnson blog comes this entertaining video of the young stars of the “Harry Potter” movie franchise trying to sound American.
Kiwi crash blossom
Nov. 11, 2010
The crash blossom of the day comes to us from Rebekah Macdonald via Twitter. This headline appeared on the New Zealand news site Stuff.co.nz: Police chase driver in hospital.
Obama’s Indonesian: the grand finale
Nov. 10, 2010
At the end of his abbreviated trip to Indonesia (cut short because of the volcanic eruptions of Mt. Merapi), President Obama gave a half-hour address at the University of Indonesia that finally showed off his skills in the Indonesian language, a subject we’ve been examining.
Obama’s Indonesian pleasantries: now with food!
Nov. 9, 2010
In January 2009, soon after President Obama was sworn in, we had our first video evidence of his conversational skills in Indonesian, based on an exchange he had with a State Department staffer.
Nov. 5, 2010
Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed continues to attract a mind-bogglng amount of international media attention, most recently for the act of “favoriting” a tweet from Ann Coulter, which contained a photograph of a church sign with inflammatory things to say about President Obama.
Oct. 27, 2010
Back in 2003, Mark Liberman recounted a line attributed to Roman Jakobson when asked if Harvard should give Vladimir Nabokov a faculty position: I do respect very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of Zoology?
Five years of “truthiness”
Oct. 15, 2010
My latest On Language column for The New York Times Magazine celebrates the fifth anniversary of Stephen Colbert’s (re)invention of “truthiness” — a word we began tracking here on Language Log soon after it appeared on the premiere episode of “The Colbert Report.”
Bloggingheads: Language and Thought
Oct. 11, 2010
A few weeks after John McWhorter and I participated in a “diavlog” on Bloggingheads, the site is hosting another language-y conversation between Joshua Knobe of Yale and Lera Boroditsky of Stanford.
R.I.P., Mock Obituaries
Oct. 1, 2010
On September 30, 2010, a journalistic genre passed away: the mock obituary marking the purported demise of a linguistic phenomenon. According to the coroner’s report, the cause of death was rampant overuse.
MacArthur Fellowships for two linguists
Sept. 28, 2010
Of the 23 recipients of the 2010 MacArthur Fellowships (the so-called “genius grants”), two are linguists: Jessie Little Doe Baird, program director of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, and Carol Padden, a professor in the Communications Department at the University of California San Diego who specializes in sign languages.
Meta-snowclones for gastro-geeks
Sept. 23, 2010
The granddaddy of all snowclones has often been expressed here at Language Log Plaza as a formula with variables: If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have Y words for Z.
Sept. 23, 2010
We’ve often seen how pop-Whorfian depictions of linguistic difference rely on the facile “no word for X” trope — see our long list of examples here.
Sept. 16, 2010
Bloggingheads, home of the “diavlog,” is now featuring a discussion that I had with fellow Language Logger John McWhorter about a whole range of linguistic issues, from lexical chunking to pop-Whorfianism to Obama’s Indonesian skills to the language of Mad Men. Something for everyone!
“Eggcorn” makes the OED
Sept. 16, 2010
This is an auspicious moment: a Language Log-ism has been entered into the Oxford English Dictionary. The latest quarterly update for the online revision of the OED includes this note.
Sept. 12, 2010
Geoff Pullum was rightly baffled by Simon Heffer’s recent pronouncement that sentences like The Prime Minister has warned that spending cuts are necessary are ungrammatical, since the verb warn, Heffer imagines, must always be transitive.
The ventious crapests pounted raditally
Aug. 22, 2010
The comments on my recent post, “Making linguistics relevant (for sports blogs)” meandered into a discussion of linguistic example sentences that display morphosyntactic patterning devoid of semantic content.
Making linguistics relevant (for sports blogs)
Aug. 21, 2010
The popular sports blog Deadspin isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a lesson in inflectional morphology. So it was a bit of a surprise to see the recent post “Learn Linguistics the Latrell Sprewell Way,” featuring this shot of a linguistics textbook.
“Pure” Inuit language, and bucking the snow-word trend
Aug. 12, 2010
The Guardian has an article today entitled, “Linguist on mission to save Inuit ‘fossil language’ disappearing with the ice,” about a forthcoming research trip by University of Cambridge linguist Stephen Pax Leonard to study Inuktun, an endangered Polar Inuit language spoken by the Inughuit community of northwest Greenland.
Dictionary daftness, Dan Brown style
Aug. 10, 2010
Perhaps you saw the outrageous headline from The Daily Telegraph last week: “Secret vault of words rejected by the Oxford English Dictionary uncovered”!
“Bohemian Rhapsody”: Bismillah or… Mitch Miller?
Aug. 2, 2010
The Associated Press obituary for Mitch Miller includes this highly questionable tidbit: “Miller’s square reputation in the post-rock era brought his name and music to unexpected places… During Queen’s nonsensical camp classic, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ the group chants ‘Mitch MILL-uh!’ as if to affirm the song’s absurdity.”
Lou Gehrig’s crash blossom
July 31, 2010
Arijit Guha spotted this remarkable crash blossom on the CNN website: “Lou Gehrig’s victim: Kill me for my organs.”
July 27, 2010
If you haven’t quite yet gotten your fill after last week’s refudiate-fest, I return to the Palinism in my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus.
More on the early days of obscenicons
July 24, 2010
Last week I posted about the early history of cartoon cursing characters, aka grawlixes, aka obscenicons. I had managed to unearth examples of obscenicons on comics pages going back to 1909, from Rudolph Dirks’ “The Katzenjammer Kids.”
The language of “Mad Men” and the perils of self-expurgation
July 22, 2010
My latest “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine (along with a followup Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus) takes an in-depth look at the language of “Mad Men,” the critically acclaimed AMC show that begins its fourth season on Sunday.
Obscenicons a century ago
July 17, 2010
Mark Liberman recently asked, “What was the earliest use of mixed typographical symbols (as opposed to uniform asterisks or underlining) to represent (part or all of) taboo words?” The use of such symbols appears to have originated as a comic-strip convention.
Capping off the spill with a crash blossom
July 16, 2010
While we’re on the subject of grammatically ambiguous oil spill headlines, Larry Horn sends along a nice crash blossom (via the American Dialect Society mailing list).
Oops: a listening guide
June 28, 2010
The latest installment of WNYC’s show Radiolab is entitled “Oops,” and it’s about how we so often get tripped up by the unintended consequences of our actions. Hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad brought me in to the studio to share some classic word-processing Oops-es.
A treat for fans of eggcorns and crosswords
June 27, 2010
If you have even a passing interest in crosswords, you may know the legendary name of Merl Reagle, whose syndicated Sunday puzzle appears in many major newspapers (the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, etc.).
Fashionably many Icelandic words for snow
June 25, 2010
Spotted by Jonathan Lighter on a recent trip to Iceland: “A big ad for 66°North fashions, prominently displayed at Keflavik Airport, telling passengers everywhere that ‘There are over [a] 100 words for snow in Icelandic. Only one for what to wear.’”
Manute Bol and the “language experts”
June 22, 2010
Five years ago, Geoff Pullum wrote a post here entitled, “Pick-up basketballism reaches Ivy League faculty vocabulary,” about the spread of the apologetic interjection “my bad.”
“The small people” = “den lilla människan”?
June 17, 2010
BP’s chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has been taken to task for a statement he made to reporters after a meeting with President Obama and other White House officials: “I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don’t care, but that is not the case in BP, we care about the small people.”
Terwilliger bunts one
May 20, 2010
Earlier I posted a video of UK football commentator (and former Hull striker) Dean Windass recapping some play in a Premier League match between Everton and Portsmouth.
At the cutting edge of broadcasting
May 20, 2010
A video from Today’s Big Thing, under the headline, “Soccer Reporter Invents New Kind of English.”
Fanboys: the techie put-down and the bogus acro-mnemonic
May 19, 2010
In my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, I take a look at Harry McCracken’s excellent historical analysis of the word fanboy, from something of an in-joke among underground cartoonists in the ’70s to an all-purpose techie put-down in the ’00s.
وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر leads the non-Latin charge
May 6, 2010
The first Internet domain names using non-Latin characters are being rolled out, a plan put into motion after approval from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Combating the monolithic tree mushroom stem squid
May 3, 2010
The New York Times reports on efforts by Shanghai officials to crack down on Chinglish, but the prospects are daunting.
Crash blossom du jour, from the Beeb
Apr. 28, 2010
The top headline in the Business section of BBC News currently reads: Greece fears batter markets again.
Feline ambulation and volcanic nomenclature
Apr. 22, 2010
From The Oatmeal… As Kate notes in the comments, Geoff Pullum evoked the “kitten on the keyboard” image a week ago.
Revenge, literally speaking
Apr. 8, 2010
The latest xkcd: (For more on non-literal literally, see here, here, and here.)
40 words for “next”
Apr. 2, 2010
This is from an actual job listing on BusinessWorkforce.com, advertising a position at the “marketing innovations agency” Ignited.
Mangling the prostidude
Mar. 28, 2010
The Associated Press reports: “Brothel owner Jim Davis said Friday his Shady Lady Ranch had parted ways with the nation’s first ‘prostitude.’” Prostitude? Really?
How Language Log helped jump-start a subculture
Mar. 24, 2010
Arika Okrent, author of the wonderful book In the Land of Invented Languages, has a new article on Slate about the burgeoning community of Avatar fans who have become obsessed with the movie’s alien language, Na’vi.
The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes
Mar. 9, 2010
The crash-blossom-y headline that Geoff Pullum just posted about, “Google’s Computer Might Betters Translation Tool,” has been changed in the online edition of the New York Times to something more sensible.
Sorry, Sgt. Sarver
Mar. 4, 2010
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver has filed a lawsuit against the makers of the film The Hurt Locker, claiming that screenwriter Mark Boal based the film’s central character on him after Boal was embedded in Sarver’s bomb squad unit in Iraq.
Annals of opaque sports metaphors
Feb. 21, 2010
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” this morning, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty grasped for a baseball metaphor in this exchange with David Gregory (see the end of this video clip).
Feb. 20, 2010
Here is one of today’s top headlines on the AP wire: “GOP’s 2012 hopefuls crowd town they loves to hate.”
Hopey changey… or changing?
Feb. 11, 2010
Via Talking Points Memo comes this correction from the Los Angeles Times: “In some editions of Sunday’s Section A, an article about Sarah Palin’s speech to the National Tea Party Convention quoted her as saying, ‘How’s that hopey, changing stuff working out for you?’”
Odium against “podium” revisited
Feb. 6, 2010
Four years ago I wrote a Language Log post looking into the use of podium as a verb at the Winter Olympics in Torino — and the often extreme reactions that the usage evoked.
Jan. 24, 2010
Over the weekend, one of the guests on the NPR Show “Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen” was the Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi, who managed to convert YouTube buzz into an indie recording contract and a well-received debut album.
Of Pogue and plosives and palates
Jan. 22, 2010
New York Times tech columnist David Pogue went 1 for 2 on his phonetic terminology in his latest article, “Packing a Series of Pluses.”
An ursine crash blossom
Jan. 20, 2010
Via Wonkette and The Raw Story comes this shocking political headline from Reuters: “White House Says Bears Part Of Blame For Senate Loss.” One can only imagine what Stephen Colbert will have to say about this.
“My friends thou hast defriended”
Jan. 19, 2010
The winner of the 2009 Dutch Word of the Year, as selected by an online poll conducted by the Van Dale dictionary group and Pers newspaper, was ontvrienden, a social networking verb equivalent to English unfriend or defriend.
The “Team X” meme
Jan. 12, 2010
Fans of Conan O’Brien, who announced he wouldn’t accept NBC’s plan to move “The Tonight Show” to midnight, have flooded Twitter with the #teamconan hashtag.
“Tweet” Word of the Year, “Google” Word of the Decade
Jan. 8, 2010
The results are in: the American Dialect Society has selected tweet as the Word of the Year for 2009, and google (the verb) as Word of the Decade for 2000-09.
Expurgating the Facebook fugitive
Jan. 8, 2010
Adrian Bailey passes along an interesting bit of editorial expurgation that appeared in a Washington Post article about Craig “Lazie” Lynch, who recently escaped from prison in Suffolk, England.
Nominees for ADS Word of the Year (and Decade)
Jan. 8, 2010
Last night, the American Dialect Society (meeting in Baltimore in conjunction with the Linguistics Society of America) selected the final nominees for Word of the Year (2009) and Word of the Decade (2000-09).
Leading the league in snowclones
Dec. 28, 2009
Snowclones, in Geoff Pullum’s early formulation, were defined as “some-assembly-required adaptable cliché frames for lazy journalists.”
Vowel chart body art
Dec. 26, 2009
Before I had even met American Heritage Dictionary supervising editor Steve Kleinedler, I knew about his tattoo. A 2005 New York Times article about the young Turks of American lexicography revealed that Steve “has a phonetic vowel chart tattooed across his back.”
Some highlights of Na’vi
Dec. 18, 2009
James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster Avatar opens this weekend with much fanfare. As has widely been reported, Cameron enlisted a linguist, Paul Frommer of USC’s Marshall School of Business, to create the Na’vi language, spoken by the the inhabitants of the alien world Pandora.
Palin and her elk
Dec. 10, 2009
Via Nancy Friedman’s Twitter feed comes this lovely eggcorn, in a comment on the New York Times Opinionator blog: “NOW and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women’s issues.”
Nov. 23, 2009
From “Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception?” by Anand Giridharadas (New York Times/International Herald Tribune, 11/21/09): “Wall Street has gone quant, with financial models automating trading — sometimes brilliantly, sometimes disastrously.”
Happy Web Day!
Nov. 12, 2009
In my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus, I consider the enormous linguistic impact of an internal memorandum published at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) on November 12, 1990.
The Cadillac of snowclones
Nov. 9, 2009
In Sunday’s “On Language” column in The New York Times Magazine, I use the recent discussion in Congress about “Cadillac health plans” as a news hook to consider the transferred usage of Cadillac in general.
Horn on personal datives
Nov. 5, 2009
Mark Liberman’s post, “On beyond personal datives?”, has generated quite a bit of discussion in the comments section, much of it related to Larry Horn’s paper, “‘I love me some him’: The landscape of non-argument datives.”
The Gubernator’s acrostic mischief
Oct. 28, 2009
Via The Swamp, the Chicago Tribune’s political blog, comes news of an awesome (if spiteful) bit of gubernatorial wordplay from the office of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Oct. 15, 2009
Stephen Colbert on Olympia Snowe (Colbert Report, Oct. 14): “We are now one step closer to a nightmare future where everyone has health insurance. And I will tell you who I blame. Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, the only Republican who voted in favor of the bill.”
“Annoying word” poll results: Whatever!
Oct. 8, 2009
Proving once again that peevology is the most popular form of metalinguistic discourse in the US, the media yesterday was all over a poll from the Marist Institute of Public Opinion, purporting to reveal the words and phrases that Americans find most annoying.
Further thoughts on the Language Maven
Oct. 5, 2009
In this Sunday’s “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine (already available online here), I take a look back at the legacy of the column’s founder, William Safire.
BBC signals crash blossom threat
Oct. 4, 2009
Josh Fruhlinger sends along today’s entry in the “crash blossom” sweepstakes, a headline from the BBC News website: “SNP signals debate legal threat.”
William Safire, 1929-2009
Sept. 27, 2009
William Safire has passed away, and it is no small measure of his impact that even linguabloggers who were most critical of his “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine (Languagehat, Mr. Verb, Wishydig) have been quick to post their sincere condolences.
WTF? No, TFW!
Sept. 24, 2009
The comments on my post “The inherent ambiguity of WTF” drifted to other possible expansions of WTF, like the World Taekwondo Federation. That reminded me of something I saw back in July on the blog Your Logo Makes Me Barf, mocking the abbreviatory logo of the Wisconsin Tourism Federation.
The inherent ambiguity of “WTF”
Sept. 24, 2009
I’d like to echo Arnold Zwicky’s praise for the third edition of Jesse Sheidlower’s fan-fucking-tastic dictionary, The F Word.
Crash blossom du jour
Sept. 23, 2009
A crash blossom, you’ll recall, is an infelicitously worded headline that leads the reader down the garden path. Here’s a fine example from today’s Associated Press headlines: “McDonald’s fries the holy grail for potato farmers.”
Sept. 16, 2009
Following up on Mark’s post about William Safire’s latest On Language column, “Bending the curve,” I wanted to share some of the citational history of this particular idiom, as I’ve been able to piece it together.
Goo goo goo joob, coo coo ca-choo, boop-oop-a-doop
Sept. 8, 2009
Just in time for the rollout of the Beatles remasters and the “Beatles: Rock Band” video game, my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus takes on “goo goo goo joob” (that’s how it appears in the Magical Mystery Tour lyric sheet), “coo coo ca-choo,” and, for good measure, “boop-oop-a-doop.”
Aug. 26, 2009
From John McIntyre: You’ve heard about the Cupertino. You have seen the eggcorn. You know about the snowclone. Now — flourish by trumpets and hautboys — we have the crash blossom.
Bloggingheads: Of Cronkiters and corpora, of fishapods and FAIL
Aug. 22, 2009
My brother Carl, a science writer who blogs over at The Loom, has a regular gig on Bloggingheads.tv, interviewing science-y folks for “Science Saturday.”
Aug. 17, 2009
Chris Waigl, keeper of the Eggcorn Database, brings to our attention a paper that was presented at CALC-09 (Workshop on Computational Approaches to Linguistic Creativity).
Fry’s English Delight: So Wrong It’s Right
Aug. 11, 2009
Stephen Fry — British comedian, quiz show host, and public intellectual — has just started a new series of his BBC Radio 4 program on the English language, “Fry’s English Delight.”
The “moist” chronicles, continued
Aug. 8, 2009
People’s aversion to the word moist has attracted our attention for a while now (most recently in this post — see also the links in this one).
Aug. 5, 2009
It started off, simply enough, as a comment by Language Log reader Lugubert, who questioned a linguafactoid reported in the Associated Press obituary for Walter Cronkite.
July 31, 2009
As I reported here earlier this week, I used my most recent Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus to debunk a widely circulated myth about Walter Cronkite.
On “Cronkiters” and “Kronkiters”
July 26, 2009
It was widely reported in Walter Cronkite’s obituaries that “Swedish anchors are known as Kronkiters; In Holland, they are Cronkiters.”
Walter Leland Mr. Cronkite
July 17, 2009
When a big news story is breaking, like the passing of Walter Cronkite, it’s not surprising that reporters and editors might be a little hasty in getting the word out.
The living history of Palin’s “dead fish”
July 8, 2009
In two recent posts, Mark Liberman has investigated the religious echoes in expressions from Sarah Palin: “I know that I know that I know” and “If I die, I die.”
Birth of a euphemism: “Hiking the Appalachian trail”
July 1, 2009
Here at Language Log Plaza, we’ve been following the linguistic angles of the Gov. Mark Sanford story ever since he mysteriously went “out of pocket.”
June 30, 2009
It’s not quite as ineffably koan-like as “The biggest self of self is self,” but Gov. Mark Sanford delivered another parsing puzzler in his latest comments to the Associated Press.
Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa
June 26, 2009
Ever since Michael Jackson’s unexpected death yesterday, his music has been omnipresent.
Slang affixation: it’s all mystery-y-ish-y
June 24, 2009
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Michael Adams’ new book, Slang: The People’s Poetry, well, what are you waiting for?
The first proposal for “Ms.” (1901)
June 23, 2009
It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to report on an important linguistic discovery: the earliest known proposal for Ms. as a title for a woman regardless of her marital status.
More linguistic numismatics
June 18, 2009
Samuel Johnson has been commemorated on a special 50p coin, as Geoff Pullum notes, but he’s not the only linguist (or linguistically inclined scholar) that has been pictured on currency.
Richard Allsopp, 1923-2009
June 5, 2009
Via the Society for Caribbean Linguistics comes news of the passing of the great linguist and lexicographer Richard Allsopp. He died on June 4 in Barbados at the age of 86.
Word aversion and attraction in the news
May 18, 2009
Language Log readers who have been following our recent posts on word aversion and word attraction will want to check out Kristi Gustafson’s article in the Albany Times Union, “Words we love, words we hate.”
Popular perceptions of lexicography: MADtv edition
Apr. 28, 2009
Last December, an episode of Comedy Central’s “Sarah Silverman Program” revolved around fanciful neologisms, culminating in a scene where the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary anoint their latest entries in a “Word Induction Ceremony.”
Forbes on neologisms, and the return of the million-word bait-and-switch
Apr. 23, 2009
Forbes.com is running a special report on neologisms — a rather peculiar topic for Forbes, I suppose, but they put together a pretty decent lineup of contributors.
Mobile morphology: UNwrong’D or just plain wrong?
Apr. 14, 2009
A new advertising campaign by the cellphone company Boost Mobile is a real head-scratcher, in large part due to its creative (possibly too creative) experimentations in English morphology.
Billy Bob, non-Gricean
Apr. 8, 2009
Billy Bob Thornton gave a bizarre interview today on CBC Radio that could serve as a case study for Paul Grice’s conversational maxims and how to violate them.
X is the Y of Z: pop music edition
Apr. 4, 2009
Continuing today’s snowclone theme… For snowclone collector Mark Peters, the phrasal template “X is the Y of Z” is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Oh no, it’s ngmoco:)
Mar. 20, 2009
Apple previewed iPhone OS 3.0 earlier this week, and they conveniently posted a video of the event on their website. I was grateful to be able to watch the video, mostly because I wanted to hear how the folks at Apple pronounce the name of the iPhone-centric game designing firm ngmoco:).
Cupertino Creep hits DC GOP
Mar. 13, 2009
When I was interviewed for Spiegel Online earlier this week about the dastardly Cupertino effect, I was asked if I thought spellchecker-enabled miscorrections would eventually vanish as spellchecking technology becomes more accurate in predicting potential errors.
Mar. 12, 2009
Spiegel Online, Germany’s biggest news website and a sister publication of the weekly Der Spiegel, has just run an article on one of our favorite topics: the Cupertino effect, the phenomenon whereby automated spellcheckers miscorrect words and inattentive users accept those miscorrections.
The crisis-(danger)-opportunity trope, de-Sinicized
Mar. 7, 2009
It’s been a while since we’ve seen our old friend, the crisis-(danger)-opportunity trope. In its canonical form, the trope asserts that the Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”
Castro on Emanuel
Feb. 16, 2009
Fidel Castro is evidently alive and well — and writing rambling, incoherent columns on political onomastics.
Senator Lu Tian Na
Feb. 14, 2009
President Obama’s ability to exchange basic Indonesian pleasantries may render him more bi-courteous than bilingual, but New York’s new junior senator appears to have significantly more proficiency in another Asian language: Mandarin Chinese.
Putting on Ayres
Feb. 13, 2009
Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of Death by Leisure by Chris Ayres, a British journalist who reported on Hollywood for the (UK) Times, contains this puzzling passage.
Lincoln vs. Darwin in the OED
Feb. 12, 2009
On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, let’s stop to ponder their contributions to the English lexicon.
Shamockery and shank-a-potamus
Feb. 6, 2009
Two items on the pop-cultural neologism front.
Oh boy, that’ll be the day to rave on and not fade away
Feb. 3, 2009
Today’s the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, and I’ve commemorated the event in a Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus by considering lyrics from four of his most famous songs.
The lexical richness of Bostonian one-upmanship
Feb. 1, 2009
In the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Billy Baker has an article exploring the cultural significance of the local expression salted, a popular put-down among Boston’s schoolkids.
Obama’s Indonesian pleasantries: the video
Jan. 23, 2009
Just last week I reported on a couple of accounts describing Barack Obama’s conversational skills in Indonesian, a language he learned living in Indonesia from age six to ten.
Rectifying the oath flub
Jan. 21, 2009
When Chief Justice John Roberts and Barack Obama made a hash of the presidential oath of office on Tuesday, most early commentators — including me — assumed it didn’t really matter what they said.
The last Bushism?
Jan. 21, 2009
The “Bushisms” industry, mined so thoroughly by Slate’s Jacob Weisberg for eight long years, is now a thing of the past.
Adverbial placement in the oath flub
Jan. 20, 2009
Chief Justice John Roberts’ administration of the presidential oath to Barack Obama was far from smooth.
Obama’s Indonesian redux
Jan. 15, 2009
Back in July, Bill Poser noted that “Barack Obama is reported to speak Indonesian as result of the four years, from age six to age ten, that he spent in Indonesia.”
Consider the X
Jan. 13, 2009
Over on The Loom, the blogging home of my brother Carl Zimmer, a discussion about bad science writing was sparked by a particularly noxious Esquire article.
ADS Word of the Year: Bailout
Jan. 9, 2009
Reporting live from San Francisco, where the American Dialect Society is holding its annual meeting in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America.
The return of “the boss of me”
Jan. 5, 2009
When I jotted off a Language Log post in October 2007 about searching for early occurrences of the expression “You’re not the boss of me,” little did I know that I’d eventually be supplying fodder for a New York Times article about Google Book Search.
The “million word” hoax rolls along
Jan. 3, 2009
Gullible reporters keep falling for a self-aggrandizing scam perpetrated by Paul J.J. Payack, who runs an outfit called Global Language Monitor.
The Rosa Parks of Blogs
20 Dec 2008
Snowclones, those endlessly flexible phrasal templates, have already spawned their own database, launched by Erin O’Connor in March 2007.
15 Dec 2008
Geoff Pullum argues that the bleeping of Rod Blagojevich shields him from a full public appreciation of his foul-mouthedness.
10 Dec 2008
In its article on Google’s year-end “Zeitgeist” listings of the most searched terms, BBC News reports…
Ozay, dot-nose, kangamangus
4 Dec 2008
The latest episode of Comedy Central’s “Sarah Silverman Program” (first aired Dec. 4, check your local listings for repeats) is sure to warm the hearts of neologophiles.
The “meh” wars, part 2
24 Nov 2008
Last week a truce was brokered in the great Philadelphia Alt-Weekly Battle over Meh. But fresh fighting has broken out on the webcomic front.
Atlas of True(?) Names
21 Nov 2008
As reported by Der Spiegel and picked up by the New York Times blog The Lede, two German cartographers have created The Atlas of True Names, which substitutes place names around the world with glosses based on their etymological roots.
The “meh” wars
20 Nov 2008
The announcement that the next edition of Collins English Dictionary will be including the indifferent interjection meh (having beaten out other submissions from the public) has set off a bit of a squabble between Philadelphia’s two alt-weeklies.
Fry on the pleasure of language
7 Nov 2008
After I saw a Youtube clip of British comedian and quiz show host Stephen Fry pedantically insisting that none requires a singular verb, I was sincerely disappointed that this intelligent man evinced exactly the kind of “linguistic martyrdom” that Thomas Lounsbury ridiculed a century ago.
There will be passives
7 Nov 2008
It’s time once again for our semi-regular feature, “Mr. Payack Bamboozles the Media.”
Google lawsuits settled
28 Oct 2008
Rumors had been percolating for a while now, and today it was finally announced: Google has reached a settlement with U.S. authors and publishers who had filed lawsuits challenging the massive digitization project of Google Book Search.
A brief history of hubristic drape-measuring
25 Oct 2008
In Thursday’s Washington Post, Richard Leiby digs into the background of a political cliche: “measuring (for) drapes.”
“Green behind the ears”: the untold story
15 Oct 2008
In my Word Routes column over on the Visual Thesaurus website, I recently took a look at a peculiar turn of phrase used by Barack Obama in the Oct. 7 presidential debate.
1 Oct 2008
Ever wonder what Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” would look like overlaid with electronic text markup?
1 Oct 2008
Sarah Palin’s accent has elicited a great deal of curiosity, and now Slate has posted a well-researched analysis by the OED’s Jesse Sheidlower.
Fun and funnerer
23 Sep 2008
Today saw the release of the anxiously awaited T-Mobile G1, the first phone to use Google’s Android software. On T-Mobile’s website, the first ad for the phone was unveiled, and it’s packed with jocular comparative adjectives: smarterer, connecteder, funnerer.
Linking the linguistic Lounsburys
21 Sep 2008
In a post last February I wrote about Yale professor of language and literature Thomas R. Lounsbury (1838-1915), whose 1908 book The Standard of Usage in English bucked the priggish prescriptivism of the era.
Shattering the illusions of texting
18 Sep 2008
In my capacity as executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus, I recently had the opportunity to interview David Crystal about his new book, Txtng: The Gr8 Db8, a careful demolition of the myths surrounding text messaging.
All hail the Hathi Trust
16 Sep 2008
Anyone who has ever tried to use Google Book Search for serious historical research has had to grapple with its highly frustrating limitations.
Jottings on the “Jamaica” joke
13 Sep 2008
Mark Liberman’s post on a recent xkcd strip unleashed a flurry of comments about jokes that follow the template, “X-er? I hardly know ‘er!”
Adheeding, part two
1 Sep 2008
Ray Nagin has some company. Late last week, as Mayor Nagin was warning of a potential mandatory evacuation of New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Gustav, he said: “I think most people will adheed [æd'hid] to that.”
30 Aug 2008
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city in preparation for Hurricane Gustav. He had warned that such a move might be necessary on Thursday night, at a press conference with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Silent in a thousand languages
26 Aug 2008
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on Barack Obama’s half-Indonesian half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. There’s a difference of opinion about how to pronounce her name, or at least the Ng part.
RIP, Larry Urdang, Logophile
26 Aug 2008
The New York Times carries an obituary today for lexicographer Larry Urdang, who was the managing editor of the first edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language and the founding editor of the language quarterly Verbatim.
Maya Soetoro-Ng: what’s in a name?
25 Aug 2008
Tonight is the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, and the headliner is Michelle Obama. I’m actually more interested to hear from another speaker who will be brought out to “highlight Barack’s life story,” as the Convention schedule says.
World’s fastest linguist?
6 Aug 2008
If you’re watching track and field events in the coming Olympics, keep an eye out for British runner Christine Ohuruogu, competing in the women’s 400m race (she’s currently the World Champion in the event).
Shia crushed his hand?
5 Aug 2008
Here are two snippets from news items about the actor Shia LaBeouf, who was recently involved in a car accident.
Botswaner and Louisianer
22 Jul 2008
BBC News Online’s Magazine recently asked their (British) readers to call in with their best American accents, and all I can say is that I have new respect for British actors like Hugh Laurie of House who can convincingly sound American.
Now presenting… Muphry’s Law
21 Jul 2008
Success has many fathers, the old saying has it, and the same goes for a well-turned maxim.
16 Jul 2008
On BoingBoing, someone sent in this photo of an AT&T store in downtown Manhattan: iPhone temporally out stock. “Perhaps it’ll be available last year,” Mark Frauenfelder wryly notes.
Belgium’s frictious alliance
14 Jul 2008
The prime minister of Belgium, Yves Leterme, has tendered his resignation after his government failed in its attempt to grant greater autonomy to the country’s Dutch- and French-speaking regions.
14 Jul 2008
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, and he got some press attention for his stated willingness to serve as an energy and environment czar in a hypothetical Obama administration.
The serenity meme
14 Jul 2008
As reported in the New York Times and Time Magazine, Yale law librarian and quotation-hunter extraordinaire Fred Shapiro has uncovered evidence undermining the long-held attribution of “The Serenity Prayer” to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
Times bowdlerizes column on Times bowdlerization
12 Jul 2008
A column in the Sunday New York Times from the newspaper’s public editor Clark Hoyt is essential reading for anyone concerned with modern journalistic practices of taboo avoidance.
Of pasties and pastries
9 Jul 2008
On his “Freakonomics” blog on the New York Times website, Stephen J. Dubner has just learned the perils of the Bierce/Hartman/McKean/Skitt Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation (corrections of linguistic error are themselves prone to error).
U.S. sprinter undergoes search-and-replace
30 Jun 2008
As has already been the subject of much blogospheric mirth, news about sprinter Tyson Gay’s record time in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials was reported in peculiar fashion by the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow site.
“Skadoosh” and the case of the schwa
29 Jun 2008
In today’s Boston Globe it’s my honor to pinch-hit for a vacationing Jan Freeman, who writes a fantastic weekly column called “The Word.”
Facebook phases out singular “they”
27 Jun 2008
As Eric Bakovic described here last year, Facebook uses they as a singular pronoun when the gender of the user is not known, leading to news feed items like: “Pat Jones added Prince to their favorite music.”
High flatulent language
4 Jun 2008
Christopher A. Craig sends along a gem of a Cupertino (our term for a spellchecker-induced miscorrection), from today’s “Washington Wire” blog on the online Wall Street Journal.
Cupertino yearbook tragedy!
2 Jun 2008
Will nothing stop the wanton destruction of the Cupertino Effect? The latest victims of exuberant spellchecking are high school students in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
“Chad” back in the news
30 May 2008
Most of us haven’t thought much about the word chad since the 2000 presidential recount in Florida.
Superdelegates, round two
26 May 2008
Back on April 15, Robert Beard posted an entry on “Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog” about the word superdelegate, writing that “the US press is pushing a new word into our collective vocabulary in an apparent attempt to tilt the US elections in the direction it prefers.”
Presidential pronoun watch
20 May 2008
Early last week, Hillary Clinton had a bit of pronoun trouble, as Daffy Duck would say.
Operatic IPA and the Visual Thesaurus
14 May 2008
In my new capacity as executive producer for the Visual Thesaurus (a job title Mark Liberman had some fun with), I’m responsible for editing the content of the website’s online magazine and also for creating some of it.
Latest stock market casualty: consumer dictionary companies?
10 May 2008
A recent Associated Press wire story about the declining stock market contained an optimistic note from Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors.
“Ghoti” before Shaw
23 Apr 2008
One of the sturdiest linguistic canards is that George Bernard Shaw facetiously proposed spelling fish as ghoti, with gh pronounced as in laugh, o as in women, and ti as in nation.
“Superdelegates”: a not-so-novel concoction
19 Apr 2008
Back in January 2004 Mark Liberman engaged with Dr. Robert Beard, then doing business as “Dr. Language” on yourDictionary.com, on the politics of pronunciation.
Horribles and terribles
13 Apr 2008
Recently the news has been full of horrible and terrible things — or, to be more precise, horribles and terribles.
Batman bin Suparman: behind the name
8 Apr 2008
A scanned image of a Singaporean identity card has been making the rounds online, recently turning up on the widely read techie blog Gizmodo.
An infuriating Cupertino
4 Apr 2008
Audrey Devine-Eller writes in with the latest entry for the Cupertino files. This spellchecker-induced gem is from the Student Personnel Services page on South Brunswick (NJ) High School’s website.
Saying it wrong on porpoise
3 Apr 2008
Grant Barrett is now doing a weekly language column for the Malaysia Star, and this week he talks about saying things the wrong way on purpose — intentional errors like the Internets and coinkydink.
Ernie Banks gets apostrophized
2 Apr 2008
When the Chicago Cubs unveiled a statue of beloved player Ernie Banks outside Wrigley Field earlier this week, there were murmurs of horror among the enemies of apostrophe abuse.
1 Apr 2008
With the Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania still three weeks away, political reporters have a lot of column inches to fill and are no doubt looking for creative ways to combat the campaign trail’s proverbial fear and loathing.
A grammatical Cupertino?
21 Feb 2008
On the American Dialect Society mailing list, Ron Butters notes an unusual sentence appearing in today’s Orlando Sentinel.
Searching for (un)clarity in the OED
11 Feb 2008
Geoff Pullum recently brought us up to speed on the case of Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who has been credited by the British media with the idea that the adoption of shari’a law in Britain “seems unavoidable.”
Romney can’t compete with Senator Moccasin
7 Feb 2008
Today’s big political news story was Mitt Romney’s announcement that he was suspending his presidential campaign. When a major event like this occurs, everyone’s anxious to get the news out quickly, so it’s tailormade for… the Cupertino effect!
Lounsbury on linguistic martyrdom and the transience of slang
7 Feb 2008
My latest column on OUPblog takes a lead-a-horse-to-water approach to two usage points that are among the favorite bugaboos of peevologists.
Incorrections in the newsroom: Cupertino and beyond
1 Feb 2008
Many of the journalistic “incorrections” we’ve noted here recently, from the “Muttonhead Quail Movement” to “GOP cell phones,” can be blamed on the inattentive use of spell-checkers, otherwise known as the Cupertino effect.
Nanoblahblah in The New Scientist
30 Jan 2008
The latest edition of The New Scientist includes an article by Jim Giles entitled “Word nerds capture fleeting online English.”
More on misplaced spellings
29 Jan 2008
I’m just a humble collector of Cupertino curiosities, but Thierry Fontenelle of the Microsoft Natural Language Group is deep in the orthographic trenches, tinkering with the algorithms used by the Microsoft Office spellchecker so that users get the spelling suggestions they deserve.
Cupertino, Part Deux: I read it on misplace
25 Jan 2008
Continuing the Cupertino theme… Michael Covarrubias and Mike Pope both noted a fine example of spellchecker miscorrection from the Associated Press last week.
Depending on the kindness of spellcheckers
25 Jan 2008
From the Cupertino mailbag comes a note from Charles Belov, who writes in with a spellchecker-induced slipup that made its way into a work of literary criticism from a major American publisher.
Fighting against (fighting against) women
11 Jan 2008
Hot on the heels of last month’s “GOP cell phones,” here’s another shocking Associated Press headline hosted by Google News.
ADS Word of the Year: Subprime
4 Jan 2008
Greetings from Chicago, where the American Dialect Society has just held its annual Word of the Year voting. And the winner for 2007 is… subprime, an adjective much in the news this past year to describe risky loans to unqualified borrowers.
Catherine Tate to bovver America
28 Dec 2007
The American Dialect Society’s vote for Word of the Year is fast approaching, bringing an end to the WOTY season here in the States. In the UK, a Word of the Year is selected annually by Susie Dent, word expert on the popular game show Countdown and author of The Language Report.
Christmas and “politically correct(ed)ness”
25 Dec 2007
As in past years, this holiday season has featured numerous gripes about the “politically correct” avoidance of the word Christmas.
More on the early days of “eggnog”
24 Dec 2007
Just in time for the holiday season, Heidi Harley wrote here on the discovery of an early citation for eggnog, apparently antedating the first OED cite of 1825 by about fifty years.
Couric on the primaries: too close to call, tight as a tick
20 Dec 2007
As the early rounds of presidential primaries and caucuses approach, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric has been emphasizing just how close the races are.
17 Dec 2007
After five and a half years of prolific (yet always thoughtful) linguablogging, our esteemed colleague Languagehat has finally divulged his “real-life” identity to the world in a recent post.
Contrition, conditionally speaking
16 Dec 2007
After his name turned up in the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte issued the sort of non-apology apology we’ve come to expect from baseball stars, from Pete Rose to Ozzie Guillen.
Trope-watch, Oslo edition
10 Dec 2007
With dreary inevitability, Al Gore dusted off his favorite language-related trope for his speech accepting the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
GOP cell phones?
4 Dec 2007
Here’s a rather startling headline for a recent Associated Press article, as hosted by Google News:.
Suggestive blending with Satchel and Bucky
2 Dec 2007
This past week in the comic strip “Get Fuzzy,” Satchel Pooch and Bucky Katt explored the pleasures and perils of neologization through blending, and they managed to get banned by the Chicago Tribune (and perhaps other newspapers) for their efforts.
Might would have
19 Nov 2007
You don’t get to hear a finely turned double modal from a major presidential candidate very often these days.
19 Nov 2007
“Pardon My Planet,” (Nov. 14): Brett Reynolds posted this on his English, Jack blog, with a note: “I wonder if Shatner ever felt that he was hyphenating his words. Likely this is more of a cartoonist’s thing.”
17 Nov 2007
One of the latest YouTube sensations is, surprisingly enough, a metalinguistic exploration of the speech patterns of northeastern Pennsylvania.
14 Nov 2007
Faithful reader Andrew Glines has created what might be the first-ever Language Log mashup.
Locavore vs. localvore: the coiner speaks
13 Nov 2007
As I announced yesterday, locavore (‘one who endeavors to eat only locally produced foods’) has been selected as the New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year.
Great moments in antedating, part 2: all nine yards of goodies
12 Nov 2007
Back in June I reported on a newly discovered citation for the expression “the whole nine yards” from April 1964, two years earlier than what had previously been the first known appearance of the phrase.
Locavore or localvore?
12 Nov 2007
One of the more enjoyable duties I have as an editor at Oxford University Press is working with OUP’s lexicographers to select the Word of the Year.
The Muttonhead Quail Movement
1 Nov 2007
Today on OUPblog I delve into a topic I’ve discussed on several occasions on Language Log (here, here, here, and here): the modern phenomenon of spellchecker-induced slipups, a.k.a. “the Cupertino effect.”
Taboo avoidance in translation: kros words
29 Oct 2007
Deborah Cameron’s new book The Myth of Mars and Venus continues to draw press attention in Britain, the latest coming from a column by Damian Whitworth in the Life & Style section of the Times.
Statured pitchers, statured scientists
29 Oct 2007
Continuing the baseball theme… Super-agent Scott Boras announced last night that Alex Rodriguez would opt out of his contract with the New York Yankees and declare free agency.
It’s a made-up word used to trick students
24 Oct 2007
Geoff Pullum warned us a few years back about “the coming death of whom,” and last week’s episode of The Office provides ample evidence that whomever is similarly on its last legs.
Adding insult to injury: the power of “a”
22 Oct 2007
Sunday’s New York Daily News sports section reveals a bizarre case of lawyers making mincemeat of conversational implicature.
Pinker’s almer mater
2 Oct 2007
The September 22 issue of The Guardian featured a long profile of Steven Pinker by Oliver Burkeman. It’s worth reading, especially if you want to know about some of the extreme reactions that Pinker’s work in linguistics and evolutionary psychology has provoked.
Have another think
28 Sep 2007
Mark wonders why the OED claims “have another thing coming” is derived from “have another think coming,” and yet provides a first citation of the former from 1919 and of the latter only from 1937.
Mukasey weighs in on clear writing and light beer
24 Sep 2007
Newspapers have been running profiles of Judge Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee to succeed Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, and he is revealed to have a number of surprising qualities, at least compared to some of Bush’s past choices for Cabinet positions.
The prehistory of emoticons
20 Sep 2007
There’s been a fair amount of press coverage this week for the 25th anniversary of a momentous event in the history of online communication.
Snowclone collectors, call your offices
16 Sep 2007
Eagle-eyed reader Josh Kamensky points out a phrasal formula that has popped up in the headings of three separate Language Log posts.
Reuters says guilty of elliptical headlines
27 Aug 2007
When the news hit the wires last Friday that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was pleading guilty to charges involving illegal dogfighting, the Reuters headline read: NFL’s Vick says guilty in dogfighting case.
The allure of eggcorns
24 Aug 2007
It came up a few days ago on the American Dialect Society mailing list, but I had to see it to believe it. In the September issue of the women’s magazine Allure (with Britney Spears on the cover) eggcorns and other language errors share the same page with a picture of Jessica Simpson and Eva Longoria.
Define this, you nitwits
6 Aug 2007
Snopes, the foremost online repository of urban legends, reports that the following email is making the rounds.
5 Aug 2007
In today’s Boston Globe, Michael Erard pinch-hits for “The Word” columnist Jan Freeman and gives a preview of his new book, Um… Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.
The ecology of peevology
26 Jul 2007
Over on OUPblog I write today about the use of the word carbon to generate new eco-buzzwords like carbon-neutral and carbon footprint.
Eggcorns on OUPblog
12 Jul 2007
A couple of weeks ago Mark Liberman was kind enough to announce my new blogging venture on OUPblog, the official blog of Oxford University Press.
The right to do process
4 Jul 2007
This Fourth of July, I’ve been thinking about those “unalienable Rights” that the signers of the Declaration of Independence felt were so self-evident.
BBC approves “shite” and “gobshite” (in moderation)
22 Jun 2007
In case you were wondering, it’s apparently okay to call someone a shite, a gobshite, or even a bogshite on the airwaves of Northern Ireland.
Great moments in antedating
20 Jun 2007
In the search for the early history of common words and phrases, sometimes a discovery that pushes back the documentary record just a few years can be quite momentous indeed.
Calling all Chicagoland neologizers
13 Jun 2007
I’m off to the sixteenth biennial conference of the Dictionary Society of North America, which gets underway tomorrow on the campus of the University of Chicago.
Contrastive focus reduplication in the courtroom
11 Jun 2007
So far today we’ve had a post about contrastive focus reduplication and another one relating to linguistic evidence in jury trials. In a bit of Language Log synchronicity, today’s news contains a wire story that combines these two themes.
English declared “national language” (again)
7 Jun 2007
Last night the Senate voted to approve Sen. James Inhofe’s amendment to the immigration reform bill declaring English the “national language.”
Hablador de la Casa
4 Jun 2007
There’s a long piece by David Montgomery in Sunday’s Washington Post about the pragmatic choice made by presidential candidates and other politicians to communicate with voters in Spanish, even among those who strongly support the primacy of English.
Punctuation, now with heightened indifference!
23 May 2007
Proposals to supplement the arsenal of English punctuation have historically been about as successful as proposals for epicene pronouns — which is to say, not successful at all, despite the enthusiasm of the proposers.
18 May 2007
In his appeal for linguist macros, Mark Liberman writes…
T(w)angy eggcorns from Globe readers
13 May 2007
Last month Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe issued an appeal for readers to send in their favorite eggcorns, “those verbal misunderstandings that produce erroneous yet logical new terms,” as Freeman describes them.
Never tell the Queen you’re pleased to meet her
18 Apr 2007
Want your daughter to marry an heir to the British throne? Make sure you never utter the word “toilet” or “pardon?” and for heaven’s sake don’t say “Pleased to meet you” to the Queen.
Third time’s a charm
3 Apr 2007
And now the latest chapter in the saga of President Bush’s “Democrat(ic)” problem.
Gingrich’s “ghetto” talk
2 Apr 2007
A Mar. 31 AP article about a speech by Newt Gingrich before the the National Federation of Republican Women has circulated widely over the past few days.
The EU and “Islamic terrorism”: other voices
2 Apr 2007
Bill Poser’s post earlier today, “Political Correctness, Linguistic Incorrectness,” has sparked some trenchant critiques elsewhere in the linguablogosphere.
The bubbled-in president
31 Mar 2007
Matthew Dowd, President Bush’s chief strategist during the 2004 campaign, has some not-so-nice things to say about his former boss in today’s New York Times.
Crisis = danger + opportunity: The plot thickens
27 Mar 2007
It’s a favorite rhetorical device of public figures across the political spectrum, from Al Gore to Condoleezza Rice: the Chinese word for “crisis” (we are told again and again) consists of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”
26 Mar 2007
The funniest moments on “Saturday Night Live” these days are very often the satirical cartoons featured on Robert Smigel’s “TV Funhouse,” and last Saturday’s episode was no exception.
Stop him before he tropes again
22 Mar 2007
Al Gore hauled out one of his favorite factoids while testifying about global warming before two different congressional committees yesterday.
Beware of sleeping idioms
14 Mar 2007
As part of its “offbeat” news offerings, the Associated Press reports on a cigarette ad campaign in Indonesia that has angered the national police force, so much so that the manufacturer PT Djarum now faces possible legal action.
The perils of comic-strip lead time
24 Feb 2007
According to the “Doonesbury” FAQ, Garry Trudeau has to deliver his weekday strips ten days ahead of time, while the Sunday strip must be submitted a whopping six weeks ahead of time.
24 Feb 2007
There’s a pre-Oscars article from the Associated Press making the rounds, all about how to pronounce the name of one of the Best Picture contenders, Babel.
Diapers, diapers, and more diapers
21 Feb 2007
My post last week about the word diapers generated far more heated discussion than I would have guessed. (Seems like anyone who’s ever had to change diapers has an opinion about them.)
Rankled by “ankle”
17 Feb 2007
On Opinion L.A, the daily blog of the Los Angeles Times Opinion Section, Matt Welch sounds seriously peeved by a bit of Hollywood-speak.
Awwa, meh, feh, heh
16 Feb 2007
Ben Yagoda has a terrific article in Slate today entitled “Pardon the Interjection.”
Astronaut drives 900 miles wearing…
15 Feb 2007
When NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested on Feb. 5 and charged with the attempted murder of her romantic rival, we were treated to nonstop media coverage of the bizarre story.
Old habits die hard
14 Feb 2007
You may recall that just a couple of weeks ago President Bush was congratulating the “Democrat majority” in his State of the Union address — deviating from the text on the teleprompter, which had “Democratic majority.”
14 Feb 2007
My post about the fake controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s first name has brought in some thought-provoking email.
A zero tolerance approach to parody
13 Feb 2007
Jan Freeman takes note of a recent article in The Independent about the latest bee in Lynne Truss’s bonnet: parodies of her best-selling book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.
Whatever happened to the millionth word?
13 Feb 2007
The commemoration of Language Log’s ten millionth page view reminds me of another decimalized milestone that was supposed to be forthcoming.
The barrage against “Barack”
12 Feb 2007
Sen. Barack Obama has already faced tiresome media scrutiny about his last name (“Obama” evokes Osama!) and his middle name (“Hussein” evokes Saddam!), so it was only a matter of time before his first name got the once-over.
Parents will never be cool
4 Feb 2007
The parent-child interaction observed by Mark Liberman in the comic strip “Stone Soup” struck me as awfully familiar.
2 Feb 2007
Sometimes it feels as if our perpetual complaints about the Eskimo snow-word myth — and its attendant snowclones — are nothing more than empty howls echoing across the tundra.
Snow-word progress: glacial at best
29 Jan 2007
Geoff Pullum did his best to sound optimistic a few weeks ago when a reader sent in a reasonably well-informed treatment of the “Eskimo snow words” myth from the Holland Herald, the in-flight magazine of KLM Airlines.
19 Jan 2007
Time Magazine recently revamped its online presence, relaunching Time.com with a host of new features. One of them is a daily news aggregator summarizing top stories from newspapers and blogs.
A Guardian editor’s bitterest embarrassment
15 Jan 2007
Back in November, I noted a Guardian column by reader’s editor Ian Mayes, in which Mayes unquestioningly accepted a reader’s absurd assertion that the “correct” superlative form of bitter is most bitter and never bitterest.
Is it down cigar head can pull out necessary?
10 Jan 2007
The Language Log bat signal can be sent out from anywhere… even from an automobile work-light in northern Ghana.
Pluto got plutoed, but it still won WOTY
5 Jan 2007
Breaking news from Anaheim, where the American Dialect Society is holding its annual meeting: the winner of the 2006 Word of the Year vote is (drum roll, please)… plutoed.
On the trail of “the new black” (and “the navy blue”)
28 Dec 2006
In our occasional roundups of those phrasal formulae we call snowclones, one of the most fertile templates has been “X is the new Y.”
28 Dec 2006
The BBC may be continuing to peddle its nonsense about cow dialects, but at least one comic strip character has rightly decided not to worry about this factitious factoid.
27 Dec 2006
Geoff Nunberg is right to point out the semantic novelty of surge in the sense of “a prolonged deployment of additional troops in Iraq,” as the Bush administration and others have used the term in recent weeks.
The Verbing Man
27 Dec 2006
Mark Liberman’s recent triptych on denominal verbs reminds me of a bit of light verse I discovered while doing research in the Proquest Historical Newspapers archive — proof positive that the rampant verbing of nouns was already ripe for satirization 120 years ago.
ADS WOTY: Make your nominations
24 Dec 2006
The American Dialect Society’s annual “Word of the Year” selection is rapidly approaching.
Truthiness wins another one
20 Dec 2006
As boldly predicted here two weeks ago, the Stephen Colbert-ism truthiness followed up its resounding win as Merriam-Webster’s 2006 Word of the Year with a similar victory in the Dictionary.com competition.
15 Dec 2006
One small footnote to Geoff Pullum’s fond remembrance of Ahmet Ertegun.
One way to get a word in the dictionary
13 Dec 2006
On his Comedy Central show last night (video here), Stephen Colbert triumphantly announced that “truthiness” had been selected by Merriam-Webster as their 2006 Word of the Year.
Spanish on the Senate floor: the great non-debate
10 Dec 2006
A few days I posted about the new “Stop Martinez” website, set up by the lobbying group English First to oppose President Bush’s choice of Sen. Mel Martinez as the next chairman of the Republican National Committee
Another year of truthiness
8 Dec 2006
Merriam-Webster has announced its Word of the Year, and it’s our old friend truthiness. We’ve been tracking the word’s progress ever since Stephen Colbert introduced it on the first episode of his Comedy Central show back in October.
Apocalypto: Raising linguistic hackles
7 Dec 2006
After months and months of anticipation, Mel Gibson’s Mayan epic Apocalypto is finally upon us.
“Mel Martinez is Spanish for Harriet Miers”
7 Dec 2006
Andrew Leonard at Salon reports that the linguistic nationalists at English First are in an uproar over President Bush’s selection of Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) to take over the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
Singular “their”: public health edition
2 Dec 2006
Yesterday, as the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko began to broaden into a wider radiation scare, Great Britain’s Health Protection Agency released the following statement.
Yet another epicene pronoun: Hu are we kidding?
28 Nov 2006
On his excellent “Web of Language” site, Dennis Baron writes of the latest effort to introduce a non-gender-specific (or “epicene”) singular third-person pronoun into English.
Cyber Monday vs. eDay
26 Nov 2006
As countless media reports are informing us, tomorrow is “Cyber Monday,” the day that supposedly kicks off the online holiday shopping season.
22 Nov 2006
On the feminist blog Echidne of the Snakes (via Wonkette), a guest-blogger using the handle “olvlzl” suggests an ethnopoliticolinguistic “reason to be thankful” this Thanksgiving.
Bitterest battles in the war on error
19 Nov 2006
A peculiar feature of linguistic prescriptivism is that the most passionate assertions of rightness and wrongness often occur in precisely those areas of the language where there is the most ambivalence among native speakers.
Madonna in Malawi: distinguished white lady?
3 Nov 2006
It’s a fair bet that most Americans were unaware of the existence of the poverty-stricken African nation of Malawi before Madonna decided to fund an orphanage there and adopt a Malawian child.
Yale and the persuasive words: the final nail in the coffin
13 Oct 2006
Just in case anyone is still holding on to the notion that Yale researchers really did uncover the twelve most persuasive words in English, let’s hear from an actual Yale researcher.
Persuasive words: the early years
11 Oct 2006
The list of the most persuasive (or powerful) words in the English language — variously attributed to researchers at University of California, Yale University, and Duke University — is actually a musty bit of lexical lore long predating the Internet.
Chomsky killed by interpreter?
9 Oct 2006
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spoke approvingly of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, resulting in a massive uptick in sales for the book.
6 Oct 2006
In the Oct. 5 edition of “Post Politics Hour,” the Washington Post’s online chat with the newspaper’s political reporters, this week’s host Peter Baker fielded the following reader comment.
Malaysia cracks down on “salad language”
5 Oct 2006
The Associated Press reports that Malaysia’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, Rais Yatim, has announced a crackdown on the misuse of the national language of Malay.
Eggcorns in the Grauniad
5 Oct 2006
We’re happy to report that the term eggcorn — a Language-Loggian coinage to describe orthographic or phonological reshapings that seem to make semantic sense — continues to worm its way into the public consciousness, thanks to some enlightened souls in the media.
The Cupertino effect strikes again
2 Oct 2006
On the American Dialect Society mailing list, Joel Berson recently noted this perplexing item from the police log of the Arlington (Mass.) Advocate (Sept. 28, 2006).
Spreading the faith by the sword, and vice versa
15 Sep 2006
Pope Benedict XVI has incited a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world by relying on an obscure medieval polemic to illustrate a point about religion and violence.
Taxonation without representation
14 Sep 2006
Arriving a bit late to the Pluto pity party is Bill Amend’s nerdy comic strip “FoxTrot” (Sept. 14).
R.I.P. King Tupou IV, Tongan language reformer
10 Sep 2006
Today’s New York Times carries an obituary for the King of Tonga, Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV, who died at the age of 88 after serving as his nation’s powerful leader (and heir to the last remaining Polynesian monarchy) for 41 years.
The shrimp did what to the cabbage?
10 Sep 2006
Welcome, BoingBoing readers. A few Language Log posts have been linked in a recent BoingBoing discussion about the mysterious appearance of the word fuck in Chinese menus seeking a translation-equivalent for GAN ‘dry’ (干).
The surreptitious history of -licious
4 Sep 2006
The year 1992, as Arnold Zwicky observes, was a high-water mark for the jocular suffix -(V)licious.
31 Aug 2006
An addendum to Bill Poser’s post about the fellow who couldn’t fly out of JFK because he was wearing a T-shirt with an Arabic slogan.
26 Aug 2006
Though the journalistic silly season may give rise to even-worse-than-average science reporting, at least there are some redeeming qualities.
Make Very Excellent Mnemonics: Just Start Using Noggin!
25 Aug 2006
As Interplanetary Linguistics Week continues here at Language Log, let’s return to Geoff Pullum’s post about planet mnemonics back on Sunday, when it appeared that the International Astronomical Union might add three new planets to the current lineup.
New planetary definition a “linguistic catastrophe”!
25 Aug 2006
Owen Gingerich, chairman of the International Astronomical Union’s Planet Definition Committee, is quite distressed about the resolution passed by the IAU’s General Assembly in Prague yesterday.
Obscenicons in the workplace
24 Aug 2006
Here’s the latest example of cartoon meta-commentary on cursing characters (let’s call ‘em obscenicons).
Mutating netlore, from “fuck” to “snakes on a plane”
24 Aug 2006
That Indian spiritual figure Osho may have known how to work a crowd, but his grammatically questionable lecture on the utility of the word fuck is nothing more than a bit of musty netlore.
Quantifier domain restriction and gel-filled bras
20 Aug 2006
As Mark Liberman noted, security expert Bruce Schneier had some fun with this line from the Transportation Security Administration’s byzantine list of prohibited carry-on items.
How to baffle Welsh cyclists
18 Aug 2006
By law, road signs in Wales must be printed in both English and Welsh. But let’s hope the highway authorities generally do a better job with creating bilingual signs than they did with this unfortunate example between Penarth and Cardiff.
Makaku, macaco, macaque, macaca…
15 Aug 2006
By now everyone’s no doubt heard about Virginia Senator George Allen’s unfortunate appellation for S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old of Indian descent working for Allen’s Democratic opponent James Webb.
Overnegation as obfuscation
9 Aug 2006
We’ve observed many times (most recently here, here, and here — see also the list of links here) that multiple-negation constructions often seem to overload the parsing circuits of our poor brains.
Boston’s irreconcilable council(l)ors
7 Aug 2006
Boston’s City Council is hopelessly deadlocked over a grave matter: Should council(l)or be spelled with one L or two?
It’s hard not to read this and not do a double-take
31 Jul 2006
Here’s the latest dispatch on the overnegation front… Over on Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes on Mel Gibson’s “Jew-hatred,” observing that Gibson has never disowned his father’s anti-Semitic comments.
Cracking down on the Hezbollians
19 Jul 2006
When President Bush was overheard telling Tony Blair, “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it’s over,” everyone latched on to Bush’s use of a naughty, naughty word.
Taking shit from the President
18 Jul 2006
Repercussions from the sh-t heard round the world continue to be felt. Unlike most other media sources, the New York Times and the Washington Post decided not to censor President Bush’s pithy solution for peace in the Middle East.
Presidential expletive watch
17 Jul 2006
You’d think President Bush might have learned his lesson back in 2000, when a live microphone picked up his rude comment to Dick Cheney, calling New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a “major-league asshole.”
More “self” talk, from country crooners to city slickers
15 Jul 2006
Back in November I wondered in two posts about the origins of the jocular expression of self-address, “So I said to myself, ‘Self…’”
Air quotes and non-apologies
4 Jul 2006
In his discussion of Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s use of the word fag to describe a despised reporter, Arnold Zwicky missed an interesting aspect of Guillen’s subsequent defense.
Everybody’s going meta
23 Jun 2006
“Beetle Bailey” isn’t the only comic strip featuring meta-commentary on cursing characters these days. Here’s a “Mother Goose & Grimm” strip that ran on May 6th.
Time after time after time…
21 Jun 2006
The Oxford English Corpus, a lexicographical research project on 21st-century English, has generated a surprising amount of copy for news organizations lately.
A stricter prescriptivism
20 Jun 2006
Here’s a piece of mail we recently received at Language Log Plaza, from a correspondent who shall remain nameless so as not to inflame the ire of his already ireful boss.
Feeling hitterish with Diz and the Babe
18 Jun 2006
During the broadcast of today’s game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals on the YES network, announcer Michael Kay had this to say about Alfonso Soriano (once a Yankee, now a National).
10 Jun 2006
If you’ve been following the controversy over Barry Bonds’ alleged steroid use, you may have heard of Kimberly Bell, the ballplayer’s ex-girlfriend.
Go and synergize no more
9 Jun 2006
If, as Geoff Pullum reminds us, “people who are clueless about English grammar shouldn’t be trying to humiliate others over grammar,” then by the same token people who don’t know how to use a dictionary shouldn’t try to appeal to lexicographical authority to advance an argument.
Meh-ness to society
8 Jun 2006
In today’s Star-Ledger (a daily newspaper from northern New Jersey), television critic Alan Sepinwall responds to readers’ comments about the HBO series “The Sopranos.”
“Redux” in flux
7 Jun 2006
News flash from the Associated Press… The Senate has rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But the more momentous news from Language Log’s perspective comes in this sentence from the AP report: The House plans a redux next month, said Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
French in Maine: Louis XIV lives?
4 Jun 2006
After decades of stigmatization, French language use is experiencing a revival in the state of Maine, according to the New York Times.
How do you spell “xenophobia”?
2 Jun 2006
Blogospheric reactions to last night’s results from the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in which Catharine Close of Spring Lakes, NJ vanquished Finola Hackett of Tofield, Alberta, have tended toward the facetiously jingoistic.
“Big” in Japan (and Bali)
2 Jun 2006
Matt of No-sword, an excellent blog on all matters Japanological, recently brought up an interesting case of lexical borrowing across multiple languages.
Tutoyer, koine, tmesis, Ursprache
2 Jun 2006
Sure, most Language Log readers know those words (or should), but what about seventh and eighth graders?
Tensions between a singular and plural nouns
29 May 2006
New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein has a provocative column about the Senate vote to declare English the “national language,” contrasting the legislation with the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.
I have stress! You have stress! Not resolved!
25 May 2006
The latest “viral video” to become a global sensation via the Youtube website is a six-minute clip from Hong Kong called “Bus Uncle” (or “Uncle Bus,” as Wikipedia currently renders it).
Attorney General caught in linguistic snare!
20 May 2006
Confusion reigned on Friday over the Senate vote on separate amendments to the immigration reform bill declaring English the “national language” on the one hand and the “common and unifying language” on the other.
19 May 2006
As Mark Liberman notes in an update to his post, “Request for action from the AAA,” Inside Higher Ed now reports that the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has rebuffed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s proposal to cut (or at least drastically deprioritize) social science funding in the NSF budget.
English: official, national, common, unifying, or other?
19 May 2006
Has the United States Senate really voted for “official English,” as Bill Poser writes?
Pulling (to) within: the paper trail
15 May 2006
Last week I wrote about the peculiar sports expression “pull (to) within N” meaning ‘narrow a differential of points, runs, etc. to exactly N’.
Mock Spanish or Mock Mock Spanish?
12 May 2006
When the news broke that Cingular Wireless had revoked a cell-phone ringtone featuring Mock Spanish in a poorly conceived joke about border-crossing, I rattled off a post that suspected “racist intent” at work behind the ringtone.
10 May 2006
Here’s an easy bet. Tune in to an upcoming NBA playoff game — say, tonight’s matchup between the New Jersey Nets and the Miami Heat — and wait for one team to fall behind by a significant margin.
Mock Spanish in the cellular age
10 May 2006
In a 1995 paper, the linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill argued that the register of “Mock Spanish” serves as “a site for the indexical reproduction of racism in American English.”
A racy WTF coordination
10 May 2006
Joe Gordon spotted a headline that is both off-color (erotically so) and off-kilter (grammatically so) on Drew Curtis’ Fark.com, a popular website where users comment on a variety of weird and wacky news articles.
Cartoon roundup, “Nuestro Himno” edition
6 May 2006
Every once in a while a linguistic issue dominates the national discourse: think of the “Ebonics” dispute of 1996, or the debate over California’s initiative to curtail bilingual education in 1998.
Whorf in a bottle
5 May 2006
Courtesy of Grant Barrett (who in turn credits fellow lexicographer Erin McKean), here’s a naively Whorfian advertisement spotted along Fifth Avenue in New York.
Busting he(a)ds at the Express-News
3 May 2006
We’ve complained in the past about inane punning headlines in newspapers and magazines, but now one editor is doing something about it.
Bush saved by his own bi-ignorance?
3 May 2006
The “Nuestro Himno” imbroglio continued today, with the Washington Post reporting on a tidbit that would seem to undercut President Bush’s stated opposition to “The Star-Spangled Banner” being sung in a Spanish translation.
Oxford English Corpus: infested with eggcorns!
2 May 2006
The billion-word Oxford English Corpus continues to make news, though thankfully no longer under the farcical headline, “English Language Hits 1 Billion Words.”
30 Apr 2006
Here’s yet another complaint of apostrophe abuse in comic-strip form, this time from Steve Breen’s Grand Avenue.
Ma Ferguson, the apocryphal know-nothing
29 Apr 2006
Eric Bakovic recently invoked the famous saying attributed to Texas Governor Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson: “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”
The multilingual anthem
29 Apr 2006
In the Washington Post’s reporting on the “Nuestro Himno” controversy, David Montgomery wrote: At least 389 versions have been recorded, according to Allmusic.com, a quick reference used by musicologists to get a sense of what’s on the market.
A million words here, a billion words there…
26 Apr 2006
It looks like 2006 is going to be a banner year for misinformed reporting on the English language.
25 Apr 2006
Jim Gordon recently complained (in an update to a post on pronouncing sauna) about how the New York Times crossword puzzle elides diacritical marks from foreignisms even when this results in a different word in the relevant language.
Adventures in celebrity onomastics
22 Apr 2006
When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announced the birth of their daughter on Tuesday, celebrity-watchers were eager to find out what to call TomKat’s offspring (besides TomKitten, of course).
Ali G in the land of colorless green ideas
21 Apr 2006
If you’ve had enough of linguists talking about Ali G (the fake purveyor of Jafaican), why not watch Ali G talking about linguistics?
Heated words about “sauna”
20 Apr 2006
In the Apr. 14 installment of Jef Mallett’s comic strip “Frazz,” the title character (an enlightened school janitor) argues over the proper pronunciation of the word sauna with Caulfield (a young student at the school).
MLA Language Map enters new territory
19 Apr 2006
Back in June 2004, the MLA website rolled out an interactive language map of the United States, displaying the number of speakers per county or zip code for 37 languages, based on 2000 census data.
My name is Hare and I know nothing
14 Apr 2006
A happy Pesach, Paschal Triduum and Easter for all who celebrate. Here’s an Easter-related translational oddity just in time for Holy Week.
A brief history of “spaz”
14 Apr 2006
Tiger Woods landed in hot water after he made this comment in a post-round interview with CBS at the Masters Tournament.
Pronominal perplexity at the AP
13 Apr 2006
Looks like the Associated Press today had a little bit of what Daffy Duck memorably called “pronoun trouble.”
11 Apr 2006
A few months ago Mike Pope of Evolving English II brought to our attention an employment website called Jobdango, which grafted the last two syllables of fandango onto job to create its domain name.
A fishapod called Tiktaalik
10 Apr 2006
The big news these days in evolutionary biology is the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a fossil fish dating back to the Late Devonian era, some 375 million years ago.
WTF coordination in the bullpen
7 Apr 2006
Here’s another gem from Ball Four by Jim Bouton, who clearly has a keen ear for ballplayer-talk.
The discreet charm of French orthography
7 Apr 2006
Francophones can be just as peevish about spelling, grammar, and usage as Anglophones, but at least they can have fun with their linguistic foibles rather than descending into murderous rage.
Linguists ‘have different brains’
7 Apr 2006
That’s the headline for a recent BBC report from the frontiers of neuroscience.
How innovative is that!
5 Apr 2006
One more for the baseball files… The game of baseball has provided many obvious contributions to the English lexicon, particularly via metaphorical extensions to other fields of human endeavor.
5 Apr 2006
Here’s a little something for all the new readers sent our way from Baseball Prospectus.
“Thinking specifically about the F-word…”
2 Apr 2006
To round out a week of posts on profanity (most recently Roger Shuy’s droll April Fool’s Day spoof), let’s consider a new Associated Press poll on the subject conducted by the market research company Ipsos.
The straw dog of amnesty
31 Mar 2006
The debate over a Senate bill to legalize illegal immigrants has devolved into squabbling over the word “amnesty,” Dana Milbank reports in today’s Washington Post.
30 Mar 2006
If the researchers for a BBC-commissioned study can only find 28 rude words in British English, then they’re really not looking very hard.
Dakota Scrabble, anyone?
28 Mar 2006
Via Patrick Hall’s Blogamundo comes news of Scrabble being used to promote the learning of Dakota Sioux.
Of silos and stovepipes
28 Mar 2006
The Mar. 27 Wall Street Journal has an article filling its readers in on the very latest business buzzwords (available online here, but only for subscribers).
Word rage on the witness stand
24 Mar 2006
A hundred years ago, we had cartoons depicting orthography-inspired violence. Now, thanks to PartiallyClips, we have a comic strip about punctuation-inspired terrorism.
Further thoughts on “The Affect”
22 Mar 2006
As Mark Liberman notes, the recent New York Observer article on “The Affect” presents “a very mixed bag of phenomena” supposedly characterizing the speech of young upper-middle-class New York women.
18 Mar 2006
Daniel Handler, better known to kids everywhere as Lemony Snicket, apparently doesn’t agree with adverb-haters Elmore Leonard and Stephen King (“The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” King once wrote).
Instilling linguistic anxiety in Raachester
17 Mar 2006
For a scholarly work with the formidable list price of $620, the Atlas of North American English (by William Labov, Sharon Ash and Charles Boberg) has been getting some nice press attention since its launch earlier this year.
A pirated Barbie-ism
11 Mar 2006
Veteran Wikipedian Leflyman sends along an intriguing early variation on the popular expression attributed to Teen Talk Barbie: Math is hard, let’s go shopping! (later snowcloned into X is hard, let’s go shopping!).
11 Mar 2006
Illustrations of fractured English, particularly from East Asian countries, get passed around quite a lot online. There are even entire websites devoted to collecting absurd examples.
The Cupertino effect
9 Mar 2006
It turns out that the modern affliction of spellcheckers wreaking havoc on unsuspecting documents has been given a name.
8 Mar 2006
When Crash upset Brokeback Mountain at the Academy Awards, the entertainment blog Gawker added fuel to the anti-Crash fire by claiming, “Google Can’t Hide Its Oscar Disappointment.”
Mel’s Mayan mischief
6 Mar 2006
On last night’s Oscar broadcast, we finally learned what Mel Gibson meant when he said he wanted to make Mayan languages “cool again.”
Stumbling across the linguistic divide
6 Mar 2006
Via Language Hat comes another tale of spellchecking run amok.
Pioneers of word rage
5 Mar 2006
A few months ago Mark Liberman remarked on a phenomenon that seems peculiar to the English-speaking tradition: “word rage” — that is, disgust over non-normative language use accompanied by imagined physical harm to the transgressor.
The entire United States wept
3 Mar 2006
I recently came across an article in the Mainichi Daily News describing how Tokyo police officers have compiled a glossary of juvenile jargon to help them decipher what Japanese teenagers are saying.
Playing for the Dominican, skiing in Czech, working in Saudi
3 Mar 2006
New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez is nursing a sore toe, so he has opted against playing for the Dominican Republic in this month’s inaugural World Baseball Classic.
Tracking snowclones is hard. Let’s go shopping!
2 Mar 2006
Michael Kaplan recently offered up a snowclone in need of investigation: X is hard. Let’s go shopping!
On not emerging unscathed
2 Mar 2006
Soon after ABC News posted a transcript of Elizabeth Vargas’s breezy (and often vapid) interview with President Bush, bloggers were quickly picking apart every “um” and “ah” faithfully rendered by the network’s transcribers.
27 Feb 2006
Three scholars in social psychology (Barry Schwartz, Hazel Rose Marks, and Alana Conner Snibbe) contributed a column to the Sunday New York Times Magazine under the headline, “Is Freedom Just Another Word for Many Things to Buy?
en language log splitter
26 Feb 2006
Anyone who has used a blog search engine or set up a blog feed knows that spam has thoroughly infested the blogosphere.
No snowclone left behind
25 Feb 2006
“On rare occasion, a political phrase becomes a template for a variety of causes,” writes William Safire in his Sunday “On Language” column.
A phonographic phony
23 Feb 2006
There’s a Belgian video clip (in French) that’s been making the rounds, purporting to show an amazing new archaeological find.
Linguistic enforcement, Canadian style
22 Feb 2006
When the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie wanted to ensure that French was strictly implemented as one of the official languages of the Winter Olympics, they dispatched just the right type of person to do the job.
The nesting of clauses that lay in the sentence that Cheney said
16 Feb 2006
“Well, ultimately, I’m the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry.” When I heard Dick Cheney’s admission to Brit Hume on FOX News, my first thought was: “Why is Cheney snowcloning ‘The House That Jack Built’?”
Odium against “podium”
15 Feb 2006
Based on my previous Olympic-y posts I’ve received two independent queries from readers wondering, “What’s the deal with these Olympics people using podium as a verb?”
“Torino” rolls along
15 Feb 2006
Confusion still reigns over NBC’s decision to refer to the Italian city hosting the Olympics as Torino rather than the traditional English name of Turin.
Feeling all Olympic-y
14 Feb 2006
The Winter Olympics is looking more and more like the trendy X Games, with new sports like snowboarding contributing to the “extreme makeover” of the Olympic Games.
How to countr orthographic offendrs
7 Feb 2006
David Giacalone of f/k/a takes a break from his efforts to eradicate the word “blawg” to alert us to a new linguistic menace: the creeping conversion of the agentive suffix “-er” to “-r” in trendy online names.
986120 words for snow job
6 Feb 2006
The subject of the Language Log final exam, loyal readers will recall, was a peculiar article in the New York Times real estate section on the power of buzzwords in the New York housing market.
Commercial hybridity, Super Bowl edition
4 Feb 2006
I was intrigued to read the news that one of the high-profile commercials running during the Super Bowl on Sunday would be bilingual, mixing English and Spanish.
Annals of animalistic analogies
3 Feb 2006
Here’s one of those odd coincidences. Earlier today I read Mark Liberman’s post about Vladimir Nabokov’s prophetic vision of emoticons, which links back to a post Mark wrote back in 2003 about Nabokov.
Tong-maker the Kong-maker, and other translational follies
2 Feb 2006
I recently read the news about an online English-Malay translation tool that promises “real-time translation and searching of the whole Internet in Malay.”
Jeopardy! strikes the wrong tone
31 Jan 2006
The game show Jeopardy! has something of a mixed record when it comes to language-related clues.
The cran-morphing of -dango
29 Jan 2006
On his blog Evolving English II, Mike Pope (aka “WordzGuy”) reflects on the name of a new job-searching website for the Pacific Northwest: Jobdango, evidently inspired by the movie ticketing service Fandango.
The dissing of hiphop linguistics
29 Jan 2006
On the anthroblog Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman takes note of a recent press release from the University of Calgary under the title “Hip hop and linguistics: you ain’t heard no research like it”.
Surprising crocodile kin
27 Jan 2006
It’s great having a brother who’s a noted science writer, especially one who’s a fellow blogger. Today Carl Zimmer’s blog (“The Loom”) has an entry about his New York Times article describing a fascinating new paleontological discovery.
Blawgs, phonolawgically speaking
24 Jan 2006
Mark Liberman commented last week on some complaints lodged against the neologism blawg, meaning ‘a law-related blog.’ David Giacalone of f/k/a dismissed the term as “an insider pun by a popular lawyer-webdiva (which should have been passed around and admired briefly as a witty one-off).”
Wordplay’s big splash at Sundance
23 Jan 2006
A couple of months ago we were pleased to bring you the news that Patrick Creadon’s documentary Wordplay had been accepted into competition at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Truthiness: a flash in the pan?
19 Jan 2006
Has the golden era of truthiness already passed? The above graph, generated by BlogPulse, suggests that inhabitants of the blogosphere are already losing interest in Stephen Colbert’s term for faux truth.
The birth of truthiness?
16 Jan 2006
Last week’s great truthiness debate is still raging in some corners, despite the fact that both the American Dialect Society and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Show” have probably milked about as much publicity out of the spurious squabble as can be expected.
Forensic linguistics, the Unabomber, and the etymological fallacy
14 Jan 2006
It’s often been noted here at the Language Log that mass-media reporting on linguistic topics very often turns out to be frustratingly simplistic or misleading.
The truthiness wars rage on
12 Jan 2006
It was round two of Colbert vs. Adams Thursday night.
The evolution of “birdflu”
12 Jan 2006
Two headlines from today’s Reuters wire…
The [sic]ing of the President
11 Jan 2006
In November, when the White House Press Office sought to change transcripts of a briefing by Scott McClellan (who either thought that it was “accurate” or “not accurate” that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were known to have had conversations about Valerie Plame), liberal bloggers were quick to invoke the usual dystopic Orwellian imagery.
Colbert fights for truthiness
9 Jan 2006
On Friday the American Dialect Society chose as its 2005 Word of the Year Stephen Colbert’s sublimely silly neologism truthiness.
Nias, Komodo, and “Kong”
8 Jan 2006
I have yet to find three hours to devote to Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, but I did catch the original 100-minute version on Turner Classic Movies over the holidays.
The wordanistas have spoken
6 Jan 2006
Back in October, when Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert kicked off his faux-news show The Colbert Report, he promoted a new word that nailed the malleability of “truth” in today’s mediascape.
4 Jan 2006
Another legal brouhaha, another celebratory blend. Last year we had Fitzmas and Kitzmas. This year kicks off with Abramoffuk(k)ah, commemorating Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty plea earlier today.
From Nabisco to NaNoWriMo
30 Dec 2005
In my post yesterday critiquing Kevin Roberts’ coinage of sisomo (an acronymic blend of “sight, sound, and motion”), I stated that “extracting the first two letters from each word in a series is not a productive source of English neologizing.”
Does sisomo have sisomomentum?
29 Dec 2005
Sometimes it’s easy to spot neologisms that are bound to fail. But there can be a multitude of reasons why a freshly minted word or phrase turns out to be a nonstarter.
Kenzi, Camerair, and other hybrid beasts
27 Dec 2005
The recent outbreak of blends combining famous names — from Brangelina to Scalito — was notable enough to merit inclusion in the New York Times’ annual roundup of buzzwords.
“60 Minutes” doomed to repeat itself
24 Dec 2005
About halfway through the fourth quarter of the NFL matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks, one of the announcers for the CBS telecast delivered the standard rat-a-tat promo for upcoming shows on the networ
Negation, over- and under-
21 Dec 2005
Anything amiss in Monday’s installment of “Hagar the Horrible”? Well, other than the fact that — in the words of Josh Fruhlinger at The Comics Curmudgeon — “Hagar and Lucky Eddie are Odin-revering pagans and wouldn’t care about this so-called ‘Christmas’ anyway”?
20 Dec 2005
Two months ago it was Fitzmas. Now the blend du jour is Kitzmas, and the occasion is the decision handed down today in Kitzmiller vs. Dover, the case regarding a Pennsylvania school board that tried to enforce the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in its science curriculum.
Snowclones hit the big time
5 Dec 2005
The humble study of snowclones, pursued in this space intermittently over the past two years, may be getting a significant boost in attention.
Neologism-tracking down under
2 Dec 2005
The monitoring of newly coined English words and phrases is, of course, not strictly an American activity, though it tends to be centered in the US since that’s where so much of the neologistic action is these days.
Wordplay Watch #1: Cruciverbalism on the silver screen
1 Dec 2005
What Spellbound did for spelling bees and Word Wars did for Scrabble, a new documentary hopes to do for the world of crossword puzzling.
Wordplay Watch #2: The hunt for the ten-square
1 Dec 2005
In other word-wrangling news, the Times of London has published an article on progress towards constructing a special kind of crossword called a word square, in which entries read the same across as down.
29 Nov 2005
After the Indianapolis Colts beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy was asked about the Colts being called a “f****** team.”
29 Nov 2005
How was your Cyber Monday? In case you missed out on the avalanche of hype, online retailers promoted yesterday as “Cyber Monday,” a brand-new coinage.
28 Nov 2005
In case you missed that odd annual Thanksgiving ritual, the presidential turkey pardon, Bruce Reed provides a sarcastic blow-by-blow on Slate today.
Waiter, there’s a metaphor in my soup!
27 Nov 2005
Mark Liberman wonders about the origins of the expression in the soup, meaning “in great difficulty,” noting that an animal (or human) would prefer to be out of the soup than in it.
Churchill vs. editorial nonsense
27 Nov 2005
For a while I’ve been on the trail of a saying usually attributed to Winston Churchill: “This is the sort of arrant nonsense up with which I will not put” (or some variation thereof).
25 Nov 2005
American political discourse may have spawned Scalito, Fitzmas, and Miered, but it looks like Italy is way ahead of the US in the neologizing game.
Life in these, uh, this United States
24 Nov 2005
It’s Thanksgiving, the high holy day of the American civil religion, and as good a time as any to reflect on the terms America and the United States.
Further adventures in “self” expression
22 Nov 2005
I’ve received a number of interesting responses to my recent post on the expression, (So) I say(s) to myself, “Self…”, which has still only been documented since the 1980s, surprisingly enough.
Alphabet wars: an update
21 Nov 2005
When it was first revealed that an abecedary from the 10th century BCE had been unearthed near Tel Zayit, Israel, initial coverage in the New York Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (as well as a follow-up from the Chicago Tribune wire service) suggested that a major scholarly conflict over the artifact’s interpretation was looming.
So I says to myself, “Self, what’s up with these Googlecounts?”
20 Nov 2005
In my recent post on the difficulties of Googlinguistics, I heeded Mark Liberman’s warning to be suspicious about the reliability of Googlecounts much greater than 100000.
Googlinguistics: the good, the bad, and the ugly
16 Nov 2005
Language Log popped up rather unexpectedly today in an entry on Peter Suber’s Open Access News, an informative blog collecting reports on the open access movement.
Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones, part 2: the early years
15 Nov 2005
In our last installment we catalogued the efflorescence of the “X eats, drinks, and sleeps Y” snowclone in its multitudinous forms, culled from a century or so of American newspaper appearances.
Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones
15 Nov 2005
In an attempt to parse the Tom Paine quote “It sleeps obedience,” Eric Bakovic ended up chasing a tangent, but what a very interesting tangent it is.
13 Nov 2005
Controversy has been brewing since last week’s announcement that a team of archaeologists had discovered an ancient alphabetic inscription on a stone unearthed near Tel Zayit, Israel.
12 Nov 2005
Mark Liberman exposes a new victim of the “Law of Prescriptive Retaliation” — the Murphy-esque principle that corrections of linguistic error are themselves inevitably prone to error.
11 Nov 2005
On her Abecedaria blog, Suzanne E. McCarthy draws our attention to the title of a new film adapting Jane Austen’s most famous work: Pride & Prejudice.
“I don’t think that’s accurate”? I don’t think that’s accurate
10 Nov 2005
The official transcripts archived at the White House website tend to be relatively trustworthy representations of public speaking by President Bush and other officials.
Disentangling the entanglements
9 Nov 2005
The announced “retirement” of Judith Miller from the New York Times helps to resolve a couple of loose ends from my Oct. 24 post, “Semantic entanglements.”
The oldest Hebrew alphabet?
8 Nov 2005
The New York Times reports on a fascinating archeological discovery made in Tel Zayit, southwest of Jerusalem: a stone dated to the 10th century BCE inscribed with an abecedary (the letters of the alphabet written in their traditional order).
Making Yucatec Maya “cool again”
7 Nov 2005
Back in July we heard the intriguing news that Mel Gibson’s next film project, Apocalypto, would be shot entirely in “Mayan.”
5 Nov 2005
On Friday, in the waning days of a nasty gubernatorial race in New Jersey, Democratic candidate Jon Corzine was confronted by reporters about allegations of an extramarital affair with one of his former staffers.
There ain’t no sanity clause…
3 Nov 2005
So saith the renowned legal scholar Chico Marx. There is, however, a “liberty clause.”
Squabbles over “Scalito”
2 Nov 2005
The original round of reporting on Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court introduced us to the nickname Scalito, interpreted as either a blend of Scalia and Alito or a diminutivization of Scalia (or both).
Language Log talks, Paper of Record listens
1 Nov 2005
I think we’re getting some solid results from the New York Times. First, Maureen Dowd’s crocheted/croqueted mixup was resolved, albeit with no mention of the correction. Now Alessandra Stanley’s truthiness/trustiness gaffe has finally been rectified.
Literally: a history
1 Nov 2005
Yet another usage bugaboo decried as the death of English turns out to have a long and venerable history. This time it’s literally used not so literally.
A perilous portmanteau?
31 Oct 2005
It remains to be seen if the new Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito, will earn an eponymous verb like Bork, Souter, and Miers. But he’s already responsible for a somewhat dubious contribution to the lexicon.
31 Oct 2005
Fascinating. The “orange croqueted halter dress” that originally appeared in Maureen Dowd’s piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine has magically changed to “orange crocheted halter dress” in the online edition.
Needling the Times
30 Oct 2005
On the subject of spellchecker artifacts in the New York Times, the Boston Globe’s Jan Freeman emails the following oddity from Maureen Dowd’s piece in the Sunday Magazine, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?”
The first “Fitzmas”
30 Oct 2005
Tracking neologisms in American English has a long and distinguished tradition. An early master was Dwight Bolinger (1907-1992), who began keeping tabs on the latest words and phrases in 1937 with his regular column “The Living Language” in the journal Words.
The longue duree is not our forte
28 Oct 2005
An article about English usage by Candace Murphy in the Oct. 25 edition of “Inside Bay Area” (a publication of the Oakland Tribune) underscores the pitfalls of the “Recency Illusion.”
Miered in doubt
27 Oct 2005
Now that she has withdrawn her name from the Supreme Court nomination process, what will the linguistic legacy of Harriet Miers be?
Artifacts of the spellchecker age
26 Oct 2005
The New York Times has yet to issue a correction for the joke-ruining error in its Oct. 25 review of “The Colbert Report.”
Truthiness or trustiness?
25 Oct 2005
The New York Times has bigger headaches to deal with right now, but they blew the punchline to some linguistic humor that appeared in last week’s premiere of “The Colbert Report.”
24 Oct 2005
Lately it seems as if everywhere you look there are practitioners of what Deborah Cameron has called “verbal hygiene.”
24 Oct 2005
Back in July, Mark Liberman wrote that “the Valerie Plame story is all about referential opacity and felicity conditions for speech acts and other issues in philosophy of language.”
Tingo and other lingo (guest post)
27 Sep 2005
A burgeoning new field in pop linguistics consists of gathering together words and phrases in the world’s languages that are deemed “untranslatable” into English (or at least lack a tidy lexical translation-equivalent).
Who is this exalted parrot? (guest post)
22 Sep 2005
Geoff Pullum and Mark Liberman have bemoaned the pernicious Strunkism averring that the plural of person should only be persons and never people.
“Grammar cranks” of the right (guest post)
29 Aug 2005
Linguistic persnicketiness is certainly not restricted to any particular political ideology. But prescriptivist gripes are sometimes grounded in a conservative distaste for loosey-goosey moral relativism and the like.
A misattribution no longer to be put up with (guest post)
14 Dec 2004
The earliest citation of the story that I’ve found so far in newspaper databases is from 1942, without any reference to Churchill.