kottke.org posts about language

Five word usage tips from David Foster WallaceApr 10 2014

Farnam Street is featuring a handout given by the late David Foster Wallace to his fiction writing class in 2002. It's titled YOUR LIBERAL-ARTS $ AT WORK and covers five common usages gotchas.

2. And is a conjunction; so is so. Except in dialogue between particular kinds of characters, you never need both conjunctions. "He needed to eat, and so he bought food" is incorrect. In 95% of cases like this, what you want to do is cut the and.

Former trademarksApr 10 2014

From Wikipedia, a list of former trademarks and brands that have become generic terms. Some surprises: Heroin, Videotape, Zipper, Laundromat, Kerosene, Dry Ice, and Escalator.

A tour of the accents of the British IslesApr 07 2014

Using Google Earth, dialect coach Andrew Jack gives a tour of the accents of Great Britain and Ireland.

The audio is originally from this BBC program. See also Peter Sellers doing various English accents. (via devour)

Always. Be. Knolling.Mar 19 2014

You've probably seen instances of knolling without knowing there was a word for it. Knolling at the Apple Store:

Knolling Apple

Knolling the contents of your bag:

Knolling Bag

Knolling a recipe for a book:

Knolling Food

Knolling the parts of a machine:

Knolling Motorcycle

Knolling is the practice of organizing objects in parallel or at 90° angles. The term has been popularized by artist Tom Sachs; he picked it up from Andrew Kromelow when both were working at Frank Gehry's furniture fabrication shop. Gehry was designing chairs for furniture company Knoll, and Kromelow would arrange unused tools in a manner similar to Knoll furniture. Hence, knolling.

Knoll Sofa

Fit to print?Mar 10 2014

Fit To Print is a Tumblr blog tracking the sometimes absurd instances of profanity avoidance in the NY Times. Like so:

Mr. Lee blasted a dictionary's worth of unprintable words at developers who fluff gritty neighborhoods with glossy names ("East Williamsburg" for Bushwick, for instance), and at the "Christopher Columbus syndrome" of gentrifiers who were sweeping into the largely black neighborhood of his youth with little regard for "a culture that's been laid down for generations."

I have already been on record about the Times' dumbass profanity policy, especially when it gets in the way of actually performing journalism.

Update: Language expert Jesse Sheidlower in a NY Times opinion piece:

When language can play such a hot-button role in our society, what we need is more reporting, not less. Some publications have loosened the restraints. The New Yorker has noticeably done so, British and Australian newspapers often print offensive words in full, and The Economist's style guide reads: "if you do use swear words, spell them out in full, without asterisks or other coynesses."

Beyonce emojiMar 04 2014

Jesse Hill made a music video for Beyonce's Drunk in Love entirely out of emoji. Fantastic work.

Fist Eggplant! Poo! Surfbort! Oh man, that was fun.

The opening lines of famous novels, diagrammedFeb 28 2014

Pop Chart Lab has produced a print of grammatical diagrams of the opening lines of notable novels. Here's Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea:

Hemingway Sentence Diagram

There are also sentences from DFW, Plath, and Austen. Prints start at $29.

Trend: people naming their kids after gunsFeb 21 2014

While they still represent a small overall number, the popularity in the US of naming children after guns (Colt, Remington, Ruger, Gunner, Beretta) is up in recent years.

In 2002, only 194 babies were named Colt, while in 2012 there were 955. Just 185 babies were given the name Remington in 2002, but by 2012 the number had jumped to 666. Perhaps the most surprising of all, however, is a jump in the name Ruger's (America's leading firearm manufacturer) from just 23 in 2002 to 118 in 2012. "This name [Ruger] is more evidence of parents' increasing interest in naming children after firearms," Wattenberg writes. "Colt, Remington, and Gauge have all soared, and Gunner is much more common than the traditional name Gunnar."

Bar talkFeb 19 2014

I don't care if all of this vocabulary of NYC's best bars is made up (it sure sounds made up), I still loved reading it. You can totally tell which places are about the drinks, which are about hospitality, which are bitchy, and which are all about the benjamins.

Sipper: A small pour (typically Mother's Milk) gifted to a colleague, loved one, regular, etc.

Amuse-booze (experimental term): A tiny sipper to acknowledge a guest an reassure them they will be served soon.

The Cousins: Affectionate term for other cocktail bars (after the British secret service's name for the CIA in Le Carre's Smiley novels).

Even if it's fake, it's real.

The Great Language GameFeb 06 2014

Think you can distinguish between 80 of the world's most spoken languages? Play the Great Language Game and find out. (Oof, I am bad at this.)

Emoji rebus puzzlesJan 09 2014

Rebus And Emoji

Using pictures to represent words dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese pictographs. But in the 1500s in France, a particular format of picture writing called the rebus was invented. A rebus is a word puzzle which uses pictures to represent words (or parts of words). The rebus became very popular in Europe and elsewhere. Here's a French rebus from 1592:

French Rebus

Alice in Wonderland's author, Lewis Carroll, was fond of rebuses...here's the first page of a letter he wrote in 1869:

Lewis Carroll Rebus

Compare the rebus with the use of emoji on mobile devices and social media, like this emoji version of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song:

Emoji Rebus

The speech accent archiveJan 09 2014

George Mason University's speech accent archive collects English speech samples from all over the world. Each speaker is asked to say the same snippet of text:

Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.

An audio map of US dialectsNov 26 2013

You've likely seen the various dialect maps of the US...the Coke/soda/pop maps. The Atlantic Video team did a wonderful thing with them...they called native speakers around the country and asked them to pronounce some of the words featured on these maps.

It's one thing to read the difference between the pronounciations of "route", it's another thing entirely to hear them. I haven't lived in the Midwest since 2000 and I have since transitioned from "pop" to "soda", "waiting in line" to "waiting on line", and am working on switching to "sneakers" from "tennis shoes" (or even "tennies"). But I was surprised to learn that I still pronounce "bag" differently than everyone else!

God fave the Queen!Sep 25 2013

While researching the etymology of the word "fave", a noun that's in the process of being verbed1, I noticed that, according to Google's ngram viewer, the word was much more popular in the 1600-1700s than it is now.

fave etymology

A bit of investigation reveals that Google's book-scanning software is at fault; it can't recognize the long s commonly used in books prior to the 1800s. So each time it encounters "save" with a long s, it sees "fave":

Fave Us

Fave Us 02

Fave Us 03

Fave Us 04

[1] "Fave" (n., adj.) is slang for "favorite", a usage that started in the US in the 1920s, as in "Teddy Roosevelt was totally my fave President". Recently, "fave" (v.) has come to mean liking or marking an item as a favorite on social media services like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Stellar, etc. (IMPORTANT: It's "fave", not "fav". Let's get this one right, people.)

Legend of the Black PerlSep 23 2013

Black Perl is a poem written in valid Perl 3 code:

BEFOREHAND: close door, each window & exit; wait until time.
open spellbook, study, read (scan, select, tell us);
write it, print the hex while each watches,
reverse its length, write again;
kill spiders, pop them, chop, split, kill them.
unlink arms, shift, wait & listen (listening, wait),
sort the flock (then, warn the "goats" & kill the "sheep");
kill them, dump qualms, shift moralities,
values aside, each one;
die sheep! die to reverse the system
you accept (reject, respect);
next step,
kill the next sacrifice, each sacrifice,
wait, redo ritual until "all the spirits are pleased";
do it ("as they say").
do it(*everyone***must***participate***in***forbidden**s*e*x*).
return last victim; package body;
exit crypt (time, times & "half a time") & close it,
select (quickly) & warn your next victim;
AFTERWORDS: tell nobody.
wait, wait until time;
wait until next year, next decade;
sleep, sleep, die yourself,
die at last
# Larry Wall

It's not Shakespeare, but it's not bad for executable code.

The Shaq baby boomSep 17 2013

When Shaquille O'Neal entered the NBA in 1992 after starring at LSU, people had already begun naming their children after him. 20-something years later, some of those kids are starting to play college basketball themselves. Ken Pomeroy is tracking the Shaq babies as they show up in their schools' line-ups and offers a look at the future of children named after NBA stars.

We can never know those reasons for sure, but we can say that since 1997, Kobe has been the name of choice for parents opting to name their children after basketball players. (Lebron has yet to crack the top 1000.) From this we can be confident we'll see the first-ever college basketball player named Kobe sometime in the 2016 to 2018 seasons. And while the supply of Shaqs will peter out right quick, Kobe's name will be appearing on college basketball rosters well into the 2030's. Kobe Bryant may have skipped college, but Kobe will be playing college basketball for many, many, many years to come.

(via http://marginalrevolution.com/)

Shakespeare with its original pronounciationSep 09 2013

Speaking of inexpensive time travel, listen as David and Ben Crystal perform selections from Shakespeare in the original accent, as it would have been heard at the Globe in the early 1600s.

(via @KBAndersen)

The Saturn V rocket, simplifiedJul 31 2013

Randall Munroe of XKCD drew the Saturn V rocket (aka Up Goer Five) annotated using only the 1000 most common English words.

Up Goer Five

See also Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity In Words of Four Letters or Less.

Regex crossword puzzlesJul 16 2013

This is a surprisingly helpful activity for learning about regular expressions. (via @bdeskin)

Anagram map of the London UndergroundJul 10 2013

Otter Bends, Queer Spank, Frog Innard, and Lob Horn are some of the stations on the anagram map of the London Underground.

Anagram London Tube Map

Maps of US linguistic patternsJun 06 2013

Joshua Katz has been studying American dialects and has made more than 120 maps of some of the differences in American speech. Here are a few examples:

Us Dialects Map 1
 

Us Dialects Map 2
 

Us Dialects Map 3

(thx, everyone)

Update: As he notes on the site, Katz's maps are based on the research and work of Bert Vaux...Vaux's maps of the same data can be found here. (thx, molly, margaret, & nicholas)

"You my Midga"Apr 04 2013

I'm reading back through my archive of stuff written by and about Roger Ebert and I realized I've never written about my favorite piece of his: Dwarfs, Little People and the M-Word. It's nothing particularly earthshattering or insightful, but the piece demonstrates what I really liked about Ebert: humanist, happy to be corrected when in the wrong, not afraid to poke fun at himself, and a lover of both language and knowledge.

I had no idea the word "midget" was considered offensive, and you are the only person who has ever written to me about it. In my mind it is a descriptive term, like "dwarf." "Little People" has seemed to me to have a vaguely condescending cuteness to it. If I am now informed that "midget" is offensive, I will no longer use it. What is your feeling about "dwarf?" Is "Little Person" always the preferred term? Our newspaper's style book, based on Associated Press, does not consider "midget" or "dwarf" to be offensive terms, but perhaps we have not caught up.

The world championship of punsMar 06 2013

Your endurance challenge for today: see how much of this video of the final round of the 2012 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship you can watch before flinging your computing device across the room.

For bonus points, see if you can get through some of the comments...they are PUNishing. (Gah, I've been infected.)

The secret language of sommeliersFeb 19 2013

For the NY Times, Ben Schott compiles an extensive list of wine-related jargon.

WHALE . PLAYER . BALLER . DEEP OCEAN
A serious drinker who will regularly DROP more than $1,000 on a single bottle. When on a furious spending spree, a WHALE is said to be DROPPING THE HAMMER. BIG WALES -- or EXTRA BIG BALLERS (E.B.B.) -- can spend more than $100,000 on wine during a meal.

Schott expanded on this list in a companion blog post:

But, vocabulary aside, the central thing I learned from these talented people is that if you are dining in a restaurant which employs a Sommelier, you should never, ever order your own wine.

If you know little or nothing about wine, they will guide you to a bottle far more interesting and suited to your food than you could possibly pluck from the list.

And if you are a wine aficionado, you will not know more than the Somm about their list - or what they are hiding off-list in the cellar.

See also What Restaurants Know (About You)

An analysis of gender on TwitterFeb 13 2013

A study of 14,000 Twitter users was published recently (pdf) by a trio of linguists and computer scientists (Bamman, Eisenstein, Schnoebelen) that looks at the gendered expression of language online.

Female markers include a relatively large number of emotion-related terms like sad, love, glad, sick, proud, happy, scared, annoyed, excited, and jealous. All of the emoticons that appear as gender markers are associated with female authors, including some that the prior literature found to be neutral or male: :) :D and ;). [...] Computer mediated communication (CMC) terms like lol and omg appear as female markers, as do ellipses, expressive lengthening (e.g., coooooool), exclamation marks, question marks, and backchannel sounds like ah, hmmm, ugh, and grr.

Swears and other taboo words are more often associated with male authors: bullshit, damn, dick, fuck, fucked, fucking, hell, pussy, shit, shitty are male markers; the anti-swear darn appears in the list as a female marker. This gendered distinction between strong swear words and mild swear words follows that seen by McEnry 2006 in the BNC. Thelwall 2008, a study of the social networking site MySpace produced more mixed results: among American young adults, men used more swears than women, but in Britain there was no gender difference

I don't want to draw too many conclusions from a single study especially one that, in my opinion, makes some questionable methodology choices (people who follow or are followed by more than 100 people are excluded from the study?) but the results point to an interesting evolution in conversational, public speech.

Update 2: Tyler Schnoebelen, one of the study's authors reached out to clarify. The study says "we selected only those users with between four and 100 friends", with friends being defined not as people you follow, people who follow you, or even mutual follow backs. They poll accounts and if you and someone else mention each other with a separation of at least two weeks (to eliminate one-off convos with strangers), then for the purposes of the study you and the other person are defined as friends. And they're looking to isolate people who have between 4 and 100 of those friend connections.

Now that that's clarified, that seems a really reasonable way to try to determine friendships on Twitter.

Update 1: David Friedman reminded me of a post he did on telegraph operators in 1890 and how female operators have a different and identifiable transmission style.

It is a peculiar fact also that an experienced operator can almost invariably distinguish a woman's sending from a man's. There is nearly always some peculiarity about a woman's style of transmission. it is not necessarily a fault. Many women send very clearly and make their dots and dashes precisely as they were intended to be made. It is impossible to describe the peculiarity, but there is no doubt of its existence. Nearly all women have a habit of rattling off a lot of meaningless dots before they say anything. But some men do that too. A woman's touch is lighter than a man's, and her dots and dashes will not carry so well on a very long circuit. That is presumably the reason why in all large offices the women are usually assigned to work the wires running to various parts of the cities.

Commander Riker lorem ipsumJan 03 2013

This is perfect...Riker Ipsum is lorem ipsum dummy text from Commander Riker's dialogue on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Our neural pathways have become accustomed to your sensory input patterns. Computer, belay that order. The game's not big enough unless it scares you a little. When has justice ever been as simple as a rule book? What's a knock-out like you doing in a computer-generated gin joint like this? Did you come here for something in particular or just general Riker-bashing?

(via ★interesting)

"Gun safety", not "gun control"Dec 18 2012

James Fallows suggests talking about "gun safety" and not "gun control".

I will henceforth and only talk about "gun safety" as a goal for America, as opposed to "gun control." I have no abstract interest in "controlling" someone else's ability to own a gun. I have a very powerful, direct, and legitimate interest in the consequences of others' gun ownership -- namely that we change America's outlier status as site of most of the world's mass shootings. No reasonable gun-owner can disagree with steps to make gun use safer and more responsible. This also shifts the discussion to the realm of the incremental, the feasible, and the effective.

AOL's history as told by NY Times crossword cluesDec 06 2012

Over on Quartz, Zach Seward takes a neat look at the 14 year rise and fall of AOL through the zeitgeist-y lens of clues for that short, double vowel word being used in the New York Times crossword.

Mar. 29, 1998: Netcom competitor
Jun. 17, 1998: Chat room inits.
Oct. 4, 1998: Part of some E-mail addresses

(via ★faketv)

White whale mimics human speechOct 24 2012

NOC is a white whale that, for a period of four years, could make human speech-like sounds. Take a listen:

"The whale's vocalizations often sounded as if two people were conversing in the distance," says Dr. Sam Ridgway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. "These 'conversations' were heard several times before the whale was eventually identified as the source. In fact, we discovered it when a diver mistook the whale for a human voice giving him underwater directions."

As soon as the whale was identified as the source, NMMF scientists recorded his speech-like episodes both in air and underwater, studying the physiology behind his ability to mimic. It's believed that the animals close association with humans played a role in how often he employed his 'human' voice, as well as in its quality.

Perhaps instead of the machines taking over as with Skynet in the Terminator movies, we should be worried about Seanet: talking whales, dolphins, and octopuses working together to fight humanity. (via @DavidGrann)

A video pronunciation guide to ScotchOct 04 2012

Actor & Scotsman Brian Cox pronounces the names of different kinds of Scotch, including Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, An Cnoc, Auchentoshan, and Lagavulin.

Of course, this is how you really pronounce Laphroaig, courtesy of Pronunciation Manual.

(via @benhammersley)

The best word everSep 20 2012

Over the past two months, Ted McCagg has been running a contest on his blog to find the best word ever. A winner was recently announced.

Best Word Ever

(via @bobulate)

Generational warfare in the 2010s: :) vs :-)Sep 20 2012

According to research done by Stanford University's Tyler Schnoebelen, the type of smiley you use is determined in part by your age.

Emoticons with noses are historically older. Since it is words that unite and distinguish clusters, this means that people who use old-fashion noses also use a different vocabulary -- nose users don't mention Bieber or omg.

I am obviously a non-noser because I am down, as we kids say, with Beibler and Carly Mae and Gandgum Style and Skillet. :) (via the atlantic)

English phrases common only to IndiaJul 27 2012

In response to this question on Quora -- What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere? -- Pushpendra Mohta offers up a story with many examples.

As it turns out, the manager there is also my college batchmate. You can use my connection there. Just give your good name. We were both backbenchers but he was actually rusticated for ragging and bunking. The final straw was when he was caught eve-teasing the dean's daughter. But, he did some jugaad and palm greasing, and got himself a license to manufacture Indian-made foreign liquor. Rags to riches story. Now he is a mover and shaker. For a while he was under the scanner of the IT authorities and they chargesheeted a disproportionate-asset case against him. I think he may have been doing some hawala transactions. The whole official machinery was after him. He tried to file a grievance but there was no redressal mechanism for such cases. Ultimately, he went on an indefinite fast.

My favorite term from the rest of the thread is "prepone", which means to move something ahead in the schedule, i.e. the opposite of postpone. (via @ftrain)

Why isn't the sky blue?Jul 23 2012

This segment of the most recent episode of Radiolab about color is super interesting. It seems that people haven't always seen colors in the same way we do today.

What is the color of honey, and "faces pale with fear"? If you're Homer--one of the most influential poets in human history--that color is green. And the sea is "wine-dark," just like oxen...though sheep are violet. Which all sounds...well, really off. Producer Tim Howard introduces us to linguist Guy Deutscher, and the story of William Gladstone (a British Prime Minister back in the 1800s, and a huge Homer-ophile). Gladstone conducted an exhaustive study of every color reference in The Odyssey and The Iliad. And he found something startling: No blue! Tim pays a visit to the New York Public Library, where a book of German philosophy from the late 19th Century helps reveal a pattern: across all cultures, words for colors appear in stages. And blue always comes last.

It's worth listening to the whole thing...the bit at the end with the linguist's daughter and the color of the sky is especially cool.

Language X is essentially language Y under conditions ZJul 19 2012

A large collection of expressions compiled by John Cowan in which languages are explained in terms of other languages. Like so:

English is essentially a half dozen other languages locked in a small room. They fight.

Icelandic is essentially Norwegian spoken with an American accent.

English is what you get from Normans trying to pick up Saxon girls.

Spanish is what happened when Moors tried to learn Latin and said "screw it."

Dutch is English spelt funny and spoken in a Klingon accent.

English is essentially French converted to 7-bit ASCII.

(thx, rasmus)

How colors get their namesJul 04 2012

On this day full of red, white, and blue in the US, it's interesting to note that, in a large number of languages, when colors start getting their own words, red is usually the first color defined after black and white (or light and dark), and that blue and green are often not defined individually, at least at first. Those facts and more in this super long/interesting article about color and language and how colors got their names and and and...just read it already. Here's part 2.

The figure above is really telling a story. What it says is this. If a language has just two color terms, they will be a light and a dark shade - blacks and whites. Add a third color, and it's going to be red. Add another, and it will be either green or yellow - you need five colors to have both. And when you get to six colors, the green splits into two, and you now have a blue. What we're seeing here is a deeply trodden road that most languages seem to follow, towards greater visual discernment (92 of their 98 languages seemed to follow this basic route).

Also note the Wikipedia entry for "distinguishing blue from green in language." (via The Millions)

Food trucks in Paris and they going gorillasJun 04 2012

The food truck trend has invaded Paris, where young people use the phrase "très Brooklyn" to denote food that combines "informality, creativity and quality".

On a bright morning last month at the Marché St.-Honoré, a weekly market in an elegant residential section of Paris, several sleekly dressed women struggled to lift the thick burgers to their mouths gracefully. (In French restaurants, and sometimes even fast-food joints, burgers are eaten with utensils, not hands.) A few brave souls were trying to eat tacos with a knife and fork. "C'est pas trop épicé," said one, encouraging a tentative friend -- "It's not too spicy," high praise from the chile-fearing French.

Street food itself isn't new to France. At outdoor markets like this one, there is often a truck selling snacks like pizza, crepes or spicy Moroccan merguez sausages, cooked on griddles and stuffed into baguettes.

But the idea of street food made by chefs, using restaurant-grade ingredients, technique and technology, is very new indeed.

Anachronisms that aren't actually anachronisticMay 30 2012

This thread at Ask MetaFilter contains several examples of English words and phrases that sound current but actually aren't.

"Fly" mentioned above is one of my favorites (though it's considered dated by youngsters today -- they'll basically only use it ironically), but one not mentioned so is "crib" (also a bit dated) which has meant something like "house" or "home" since 1600. OED: "A small habitation, cabin, hovel; a narrow room; fig. a confined space. In N.Z. now esp. a small house at the seaside or at a holiday resort."

I particularly liked this early example of the maternal insult from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus:

Demetrius: "Villain, what hast thou done?"
Aaron: "That which thou canst not undo."
Chiron: "Thou hast undone our mother."
Aaron: "Villain, I have done thy mother."

Hunting for anachronisms in Mad Men and Downton AbbeyMay 14 2012

Prochronism analyzes word usage in shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey to hunt down anachronisms...like "a callback for" and "pay phone" from a recent episode of Mad Men.

Prochronism

The big one from the charts: Megan gets "a callback for" an audition. This is, the data says, a candidate for the worst anachronism of the season. The word "callback" is about 100x more common by the 1990s, and "callback for" is even worse. The OED doesn't have any examples of a theater-oriented use of "callback" until the 1970s; although I bet one could find some examples somewhere earlier in the New York theater scene, that may not save it. It wouldn't really suite Megan's generally dilettantish attitude towards the theater, or the office staff's lack of knowledge of it, for them to be so au courant. "call-back" and "call back" don't seem much more likely.

(via waxy)

Cockney rhyming slang ATMApr 30 2012

A number of banking machines in London offer Cockney rhyming slang as a language option. Operating the machine is simple...just insert your barrel of lard and punch in your Huckleberry Finn to get your sausage and mash.

Cockney ATM

The company has also been responsible for introducing cash machines which only dispense £5 notes -- fivers as they are colloquially named or Lady Godivas in cockney.

It also allows people to withdraw a pony -- which is £25 to non-cockney folk.

"I was talking to Andrew Bailey, the chief cashier of the Bank of England, and he said they were trying to get more £5 notes into circulation," Mr Delnevo reflects.

He came up with the idea that, rather than putting £5 notes in as one choice, it would be better to have £5-note only cash machines.

"We were getting to the state where we were a £20 note society - handing over £20 for an item which cost £4.50 and handed back enough metal to act as an anchor for the aircraft carrier Ark Royal," he says.

See also ATMs in Latin. (via @nrturner)

A tale of two RockefellersApr 30 2012

New essay from Errol Morris in the NY Times, What's in a Name? In it, he talks about the two Rockefellers that appeared in the newspapers a few years ago...one an imposter and one real.

Clearly, the name was also responsible for the attention he was getting in the newspaper. Clark is not just any impostor; he is a Rockefeller impostor. And as such he becomes more important, more significant. It is as if the name gives him some of the stature and allure of a real Rockefeller. A perfect example of this is the importance given to Clark in both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. He even managed to outshine Barack Obama and Joseph Biden during the week that Obama picked his running mate. Obama and Biden get a little picture at the bottom of the right-hand side of the front page. Clark gets a photo spread -- one big picture and four little ones -- at the top of the left-hand side. He also got more column inches in the newspaper than Clayton, the real Rockefeller. It's impressive.

Vatican City ATMs use LatinApr 26 2012

ATMs in the Vatican City have Latin as one of the language options:

Latin ATM

Anyone know what that means? Google Translate spits out a bunch of jibberish... (Photo by Seth Schoen)

Update: Lots of slightly different answers as to what this says, but this email from a Ph.D. candidate in Classics at Columbia is representative of the spread:

Anyhow, a super-literal translation would be something like this:

I ask that you insert [your] card in order that you come to understand the method needing to be used.

But more colloquially, we can do this:

Please insert your card to learn the instructions.

or even (although I'm really getting into sloppy translation territory here):

Please insert your card for instructions.

(thx, charles)

Update: And it may be more accurate to say that Vatican City ATMs previously offered a Latin option. According to @johnke, "they removed the Latin option with a software update sometime in late 2010/early 2011".

Blog skisFeb 22 2012

Atomic sells a ski called the Blog.

The Blog is ideal for freeskiers who refuse to compromise on airs and tricks in the backcountry.

(via meg)

1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar TongueFeb 21 2012

From Project Gutenberg, Francis Grose's Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue was published in 1811 and gives the reader a full account of the slang, swears, and insults used at the time.

FLOGGING CULLY. A debilitated lecher, commonly an old one.

COLD PIG. To give cold pig is a punishment inflicted on sluggards who lie too long in bed: it consists in pulling off all the bed clothes from them, and throwing cold water upon them.

TWIDDLE-DIDDLES. Testicles.

TWIDDLE POOP. An effeminate looking fellow.

ROUND ROBIN. A mode of signing remonstrances practised by sailors on board the king's ships, wherein their names are written in a circle, so that it cannot be discovered who first signed it, or was, in other words, the ringleader.

A modern copy is available on Amazon.

How to pronounce things hilariouslyJan 31 2012

The Pronunciation Book channel on YouTube shows you how to say various words in American English in a straightforward fashion. Here's how to say Zegna, the men's clothing brand:

This is not to be confused with the Pronunciation Manual channel, which does the same thing in the same format but much funnier and more incorrect.

I could have embedded a dozen more...I have no idea why I think these are so funny but I just cannot stop laughing at them. Ok, one more:

And this one! Make it stop!!

Is that what she said or not?Jan 12 2012

This is a node.js module that determines if a sentence can be replied to with "that's what she said". You can use either a naive Bayes or k-nearest neighbor algorithm. This totally paves the way for a Michael Scott auto-replying Twitter bot. (via @kellan)

Dubtrot: My Little Pony dubstepJan 06 2012

You've probably seen the NY Times correction that everyone's talking about. Ok, not everyone, just everyone who works in media. Anyway, here it is:

An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children's TV show "My Little Pony" that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

Here is said article. Jim Romenesko talked to Amy Harmon, the reporter who wrote the article, and uncovered this magical tidbit:

I was accompanying Kirsten to school, taking notes on my laptop as she drove. She was listening to music on her iPod known to Pony fans as "dubtrot," -- a take-off on "dubstep,'' get it? -- in which fans remix songs and dialogue from the show with electronic dance music.

Dubtrot! And leave it Urban Dictionary to gild the lily.

Dubstep music relating to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Often created by bronies, dubtrot can include dubstep remixes of songs from the show and original pieces created as homage or in reference to the show.

Bronies! Defined as:

The term used to describe the fan community(usually of the older group, males and females) of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Anyway, would you like to listen to some dubtrot? Of course you would: Rainbowstep, Rainbow Dubtrot, and fluttershymix.

Nigel Richards, Scrabble's Bobby FischerDec 06 2011

In an outtake from his 2001 book Word Freak, author Stefan Fatsis introduces us to Nigel Richards, perhaps the best Scrabble player in the world.

If Nigel has a weakness, it's that his wide-open, high-scoring style often leaves him vulnerable to counterattack by opponents who also have prodigious word knowledge. And Nigel is regarded as having a less-than-proficient endgame, which is variously attributed to his lack of interest in strategic play or his reluctance to study board positions. Indeed, Nigel doesn't record his racks, doesn't review games, rarely kibitzes about particular plays. The other top experts, particularly the Americans, talk disdainfully about this gap in Nigel's ability, how it makes him an incomplete player. Naturally, Nigel doesn't care.

According to Wikipedia, Richards has continued his winning ways since 2001...he's a two-time World Championship winner and has won the U.S. National Scrabble Championship three out of the last four years.

The world's rudest hand gesturesSep 22 2011

The middle finger and the British "up yours" don't make the abbreviated list, but if you want to know how to piss people off in their native land without talking, this is a nice little guide. From a book called Rude Hand Gestures of the World.

Samuel L. IpsumSep 21 2011

I don't know if Samuel L. Ipsum is better than Hipster Ipsum, but the name is great.

Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show's called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show they decide if they're going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don't, become nothing. She starred in one of the ones that became nothing.

Who else has a good lorem ipsum name? Lorem Bacall? Buddy Ipsum? Anthony Lorem Hall? Lorem Fishburne? Loremington Steele?

The world's funniest analogiesSep 15 2011

Well, I don't know about that, but as an analogy enthusiast, I did enjoy reading through this list. Some favorites:

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

That first one...I can't decide if it's bad or the best analogy ever.

The speed and density of languageSep 08 2011

Different languages are spoken at varying speeds but thanks to correlated differences in data-density, the same amount of information is conveyed within a given time period.

For all of the other languages, the researchers discovered, the more data-dense the average syllable is, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second -- and the slower the speech thus was. English, with a high information density of .91, is spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, was the spoken slowpoke at 5.18 syllables per second. Spanish, with a low-density .63, rips along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82. The true speed demon of the group, however, was Japanese, which edges past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49. Despite those differences, at the end of, say, a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.

(via @mulegirl)

Hipster lorem ipsumAug 12 2011

Need some "artisanal text filler" for your latest project? Hipster Ipsum provides dummy text in two great flavors: "Hipster w/ a shot of Latin" and "Hipster, neat."

Organic sustainable lomo, +1 irony McSweeney's skateboard Portland PBR tattooed farm-to-table Terry Richardson Williamsburg. Organic farm-to-table wolf, next level shit put a bird on it freegan American Apparel Williamsburg chambray gentrify viral you probably haven't heard of them keffiyeh Cosby sweater. Pitchfork photo booth fuck, DIY cardigan messenger bag butcher Thundercats tofu you probably haven't heard of them whatever squid VHS put a bird on it. Thundercats fixie Williamsburg, photo booth synth vinyl dreamcatcher Wes Anderson cliche. You probably haven't heard of them DIY mlkshk biodiesel McSweeney's raw denim. Skateboard Pitchfork Etsy, photo booth messenger bag artisan raw denim beard Tumblr retro Austin. Wes Anderson sustainable keffiyeh, blog lomo craft beer cliche brunch homo skateboard biodiesel fanny pack Pitchfork you probably haven't heard of them Stumptown.

(via ★dansays)

KWHA-sohn or crah-SONT?Jul 18 2011

Julian Dibbell quotes H.W. Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage on the correct pronounciation of French words while speaking English.

To say a French word in the middle of an English sentence exactly as it would be said by a Frenchman in a French sentence is a feat demanding an acrobatic mouth; the muscles have to be suddenly adjusted to a performance of a different nature, & after it as suddenly recalled to the normal state; it is a feat that should not be attempted; the greater its success as a tour de force, the greater its failure as a step in the conversational progress; for your collocutor, aware that he could not have done it himself, has his attention distracted whether he admires or is humiliated.

I think that's what Feynman was getting at here in his discussion with Murray Gell-Mann, although, in typical Feynman fashion, not in so many words.

Richard Feynman, Gell-Mann's chief competitor for the title of the World's Smartest Man but a stranger to pretension, once encountered Gell-Mann in the hall outside their offices at Caltech and asked him where he had been on a recent trip; "Moon-TRAY-ALGH!" Gell-Mann responded in a French accent so thick that he sounded as if he were strangling. Feynman -- who, like Gell-Mann, was born in New York City -- had no idea what he was talking about. "Don't you think," he asked Gell-Mann, when at length he had ascertained that Gell-Mann was saying "Montreal," "that the purpose of language is communication?"

The language of Harry PotterJul 15 2011

Worknik has a fun post up about the language of the Harry Potter books & movies.

Characters' names are often also common words. A dumbledore is a bumblebee. Snape is a ship-building term that means "to bevel the end of (a timber or plank) so that it will fit accurately upon an inclined surface." Hagrid is the past participle of hagride, which means "to harass or torment by dread or nightmares." Skeeter is a term for an annoying pest, and not just Rita Skeeter, blood-sucking journalist. Mundungus is "waste animal product" or "poor-quality tobacco with a foul, rancid, or putrid smell," a good name for a sneaky thief.

(via @djacobs)

Keeping language alive through textingJul 05 2011

Young people in Chile, the Phillipines, and Mexico are using endangered regional languages to communicate and express themselves online and via text messaging.

Herrera also discovered teens in the Phillippines and Mexico who think it's "cool" to send text messages in regional endangered languages like Kapampangan and Huave. Almost as soon as text messaging exploded on the world stage as a means to reach anyone, anywhere, and anytime, young people began to find a way to scale it back, make it more exclusive and develop their own code or doublespeak to use on the widely used devices.

(via @tcarmody?)

The world's 100 best Unicode charactersJun 30 2011

Using a Hot or Not style interface, Daniel Temkin is trying to crowdsource a list of the world's top Unicode charaters. (via @cory_arcangel)

Oxford Writing and Style Guide no longer recommending the Oxford commaJun 29 2011

What the hell? Is the sky still blue?

As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write 'a, b and c' not 'a, b, and c'. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used -- especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by 'and'.

The kottke.org style guide still advocates the use of the Oxford comma, but take that with a grain of salt; I also misuse semicolons, use too many (often unnecessary) parentheses -- not to mention m-dashes that are actually rendered as two n-dashes in old-school ASCII fashion -- use too many commas, and place punctuation outside quotation marks, which many people find, in the words of Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted "Theodore" Logan, "bogus". Oh, and in another nod to the old-school, I also use "dumb quotes" instead of the fancier and, I guess, technically more correct "smart quotes". (via, who else?, @tcarmody (or should that be "whom else?"))

Update: The document I linked to above is from a branding style guide for Oxford University. It recommends against using the Oxford comma in most cases. The Oxford Style Manual, meant for the general public and last published in 2003 by Oxford University Press, "a department of the University of Oxford", recommends using the Oxford comma in all cases. So basically, Oxford is telling us to use the Oxford comma but isn't going to use it internally. Oxford gone schizo, y'all! (thx, @rchrd_h)

Update: Further clarification comes in the form of this official statement from Oxford University Press...they are definitely in favor of the Oxford comma.

A brief history of profanity in The New YorkerMay 31 2011

At The Awl, Elon Green chronicles the first instances of various profanities in the pages of the New Yorker.

motherfucker
First used: 1994, Ian Frazier, "On the Floor"
It sounded like a chorus of high-pitched voices shouting the word "motherfucker" through a blender.

How giving 110% is actually possibleMay 04 2011

Quantitative pedants always wince whenever anyone -- usually an athlete -- rattles off a phrase like "we gave 110% out there tonight."

"It's impossible to give more than 100%," they'll say. "That's what 'percent' means."

But of course percentages greater than 100 are possible. That's how Google's Android Market can grow by 861.5% in year-over-year revenue, just to pick one example.

It all depends on what your baseline is -- x percent of what. But it's usually easier for tongue-clicking know-it-alls to just assume athletes are dumb than to try to actually figure out what it is they might be talking about.

Here's actually a more serious (and more mathematically precise) way to look at this. Economist Stephen Shmanske has a new paper in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports titled "Dynamic Effort, Sustainability, Myopia, and 110% Effort" that actually brings some stats and benchmarks to bear to figure this out in the context of the NBA.

For Shmanske, it's all about defining what counts as 100% effort. Let's say "100%" is the maximum amount of effort that can be consistently sustained. With this benchmark, it's obviously possible to give less than 100%. But it's also possible to give more. All you have to do is put forth an effort that can only be sustained inconsistently, for short periods of time. In other words, you're overclocking.

And in fact, based on the numbers, NBA players pull greater-than-100-percent off relatively frequently, putting forth more effort in short bursts than they can keep up over a longer period. And giving greater than 100% can reduce your ability to subsequently and consistently give 100%. You overdraw your account, and don't have anything left.

I haven't dived into the paper (it's behind a subscription wall, natch), but doesn't this seem like a rough-but-reasonable analysis of what athletes and other people mean when they use language this way? Shouldn't we all calm down a little with rulers across the fingers, offering our ready-made "correct" use of the rhetoric of percentages?

(Via @pkedrosky.)

Molecules with silly or unusual namesApr 29 2011

Paul May keeps track of the dozens of molecules that have unusual names. Like moronic acid, betweenanene, and draculin:

Draculin is the anticoagulant factor in vampire bat saliva. It is a large glycoprotein made from a sequence of 411 amino acids.

(via prosthetic knowledge)

A tower defense word gameApr 08 2011

That's how Clockwords bills itself...you try words containing the available letters to shoot badguys coming your way. More fun than it sounds, especially for Boggle/Scrabble nerds.

What's the longest English word?Jan 21 2011

Ok smartypants, put your hand down. It's antidisestablishmentarianism, right? Maybe not. Robert Krulwich explains.

Science writer Sam Kean, in his book The Disappearing Spoon, worked really hard on this and after much sleuthing, he landed on a word that comes not from dancing English nannies but from virus-hunting scientists. It's a protein, found in a virus, but this is a very dangerous, economically important virus, the first ever discovered.

Compare with the Wikipedia entry on long words, which contains this glorious non-word: Twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun. (via @bobulate)

Horoscopes: all the sameJan 20 2011

As you can see in this visualization created by Information is Beautiful, the most commonly used words in horoscopes are amazingly consistent across the twelve different signs. As part of the analysis, they also created a meta-horoscope reading for use anytime during the year:

Ready? Sure? Whatever the situation or secret moment, enjoy everything a lot. Feel able to absolutely care. Expect nothing else. Keep making love. Family and friends matter. The world is life, fun, and energy. Maybe hard. Or easy. Taking exactly enough is best. Help and talk to others. Change your mind and a better mood comes along...

What a crock. (via @dens)

No "nigger" in new edition of Huck FinnJan 05 2011

A new edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn replaces occurrences of "nigger" in the text to "slave".

The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with "slave" when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the "n" word ("My mother said it's only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people") and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. "My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it."

I wonder how many times that word was used in songs appearing on Billboard's Hot 100 chart last year? Or perhaps nigga != nigger.

North American English dialect mapDec 28 2010

Massive and detailed dialect map of North America. (via @brainpicker)

Word LensDec 17 2010

This is just flat out magical...you hold your iPhone running Word Lens up to some text in, say, Spanish, and you'll automatically see it translated into English.

!!! No, like !!!!!

The Antarctic dictionaryDec 06 2010

The world's most isolated continent has spawned some of the most unusual words in the English language. In the space of a mere century, a remarkable vocabulary has evolved to deal with the extraordinary environment and living organisms of the Antarctic and subantarctic.

The first entry in the dictionary is "aaaa, aaaaah, aaahh See ahhh". The entry for "ahhh" reads:

'Halt', a sledge dog command, usually softly called

The book is listed on Amazon but "temporarily out of stock".

Google BeatboxNov 30 2010

The latest big thing from Google: beatboxing. Just go to this page on Google Translate and press "Listen". I laughed out loud. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Lying phrasesNov 23 2010

There are some phrases -- like "I hate to say it", "with all due respect", and "it's not about the money, but..." -- that sound honest but signify that the speaker is actually lying.

The point of a but-head is to preemptively deny a charge that has yet to be made, with a kind of "best offense is a good defense" strategy. This technique has a distinguished relative in classical rhetoric: the device of procatalepsis, in which the speaker brings up and immediately refutes the anticipated objections of his or her hearer. When someone says "I'm not trying to hurt your feelings, but..." they are maneuvering to keep you from saying "I don't believe you -- you're just trying to hurt my feelings."

See also the non-apology apology.

In the Nightclub by One-Half of One DollarNov 16 2010

A translation of 50 Cent's hit single In Da Club into the Queen's English.

When I arrive in my Mercedes-Benz
I find the nightclub is full of actors
Basically, a lot of different people want to have sex with me
And I mean A LOT
I fear change
Xzibit is preparing a marijuana cigarette
I am very good at interpretive dance
Gunshot injuries have had no effect on my gait

(via @dansays)

Kim Jong-il's special titlesNov 03 2010

Wikipedia has a list of all the ridiculous titles that have been used in the North Korean media to refer to Dickhead-in-Chief Kim Jong-il. A sampling:

Superior Person
Sun of Communist Future
Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love
Beloved and Respected General
Invincible and Iron-Willed Commander
World's Leader of The 21st century
Glorious General, Who Descended From Heaven

(via @matthiasrascher)

Shakespeare in the original pronunciationOct 25 2010

Quite a bit is known about how English was spoken back when Shakespeare wrote his plays but productions of his plays using the original pronunciation (OP) are quite rare. Now a University of Kansas theater professor and his students are putting on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the OP.

"American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels," Meier said. "The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater."

Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that "haven't worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595."

"The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as 'dialect fossils.' And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries."

Here's a sample of what to expect:

(via the history blog)

Gangsta lorem ipsumOct 20 2010

For all your dummy text needs, the Snoop Double Dizzle version of lorem ipsum:

Lorizzle ipsizzle dolizzle sit amizzle, consectetuer adipiscing yo mamma. Nullam sapien velizzle, its fo rizzle volutpizzle, suscipit for sure, brizzle vizzle, its fo rizzle. Pellentesque we gonna chung tortizzle. Sed eros. Stuff fizzle dolor dapibus turpizzle tempizzle shizznit. pellentesque nibh et turpizzle. Vestibulum izzle tortor. Gangsta mammasay mammasa mamma oo sa rhoncus fo shizzle. Izzle the bizzle habitasse bow wow wow dictumst. Dang dapibizzle. I'm in the shizzle we gonna chung urna, pretizzle eu, mattis mah nizzle, eleifend phat, nunc. Stuff suscipizzle. Integer sempizzle velit sizzle mofo.

Useful, funny, racist, or just culturally insensitive...you decide!

Google lateris nescisOct 01 2010

Google Translate now does Latin. (Did I save Latin?) Let's see what it does with lorem ipsum:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Integer ultricies mi nec elit pretium porta. Ut pellentesque mollis magna et molestie. In elementum nulla vel augue tempor non ultrices mauris semper. Vestibulum nulla augue, volutpat at bibendum id, interdum ut ante. Pellentesque vestibulum erat suscipit nisl placerat pharetra. Maecenas a metus eros, non feugiat metus. Phasellus fermentum felis eu leo sagittis pellentesque. Mauris quis felis eu nibh bibendum dignissim vel et tortor. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque a ante eget erat accumsan volutpat. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Nunc pretium iaculis diam, non ullamcorper urna viverra quis. Mauris egestas lorem eu magna tempus egestas. Sed ac lorem ac quam lacinia rutrum sed a metus. Ut diam sem, elementum rutrum dapibus ut, dictum nec turpis. Fusce tempor, arcu quis bibendum porta, massa leo scelerisque eros, nec convallis lacus lorem in nunc. Vestibulum fringilla dictum scelerisque. Donec eget elit ac magna placerat suscipit. Morbi tempor nisl eu est ultrices vehicula.

translates to:

Hello world! Is here to cancel meals. Fresh troops the avenging can take the price of the gate elit. That beating you soften large and less trouble. In the fireball there is no element of time will not be avenging Moors, always. Product Sample no, the volutpat But to drink in that, at times as before. Show your little was Nisl undertakes to please a quiver. Maecenas from the fear of eros, which does not fear feugiat. Phasellus to leaven good lion Felis arrows beating. Smartphone EU nibh dignissim or to drink in your family is. Hello world! Is here to cancel meals. Each one a was before eget accumsan Community. Beating, inhabit the sad old age and disease, spanned, and the advising hunger and the ugly need. Darts now the price of the goddess, the urn is not ullamcorper viverra any man. We want the Moors EU poverty for a long time. But, and flowers and attendants deal with than fear, but of the Rutrum. That prefix meaning half in diameter, the element of Rutrum Welcome to that, it was said, nor what is discreditable. We time, by the bow any man to drink in the gate, the mass crime eros a lion, nor the valley lakes Testing "is now. Entrance, the frangible crime has been said. Until can develop it to please and so great to raise up. Please note that Joomla disease is avenging carriages.

Linguistics puzzlesAug 27 2010

The puzzles are ordered from easiest to hardest...the hard ones seem impossible.

thought / music = language (on the radio)Aug 13 2010

The brand-new Radiolab episode "Words" is characteristically terrific; I tweeted this after listening to just the opening section:

I love hearing @JadAbumrad's voice fill my room, but @wnycradiolab's "Words" is fucking me up right now. You've made a grown man cry. Shit.

There's also an accompanying video, made by Will Hoffman, Daniel Mercadante, and Keith Kenniff:

Also, it's not the VERY best section of the program, but there is a very nice exploration of Shakespeare's inventive use of language that word/history nerds like me will especially enjoy. (I'm using inventive in its proper dual sense of innovative inventory, making new use of material already at hand. It's easy to overstate how many words Shakespeare "actually" "invented.")

Now "Words" is mostly about the relationship between language and our ability to make conceptual distinctions to connect or distinguish between different things. The 2006 episode "Musical Language" traces the other path words take to the brain, through our ears. (Note: I still think this is the greatest episode of Radiolab of ALL TIME. Story, reporting, production - just note and letter perfect.)

This show starts out by introducing a random earworm so insistent and amazing, it would wreck everything if I were to give it away. Instead, I'll just give you the summary of the historically-tasty middle of the show, and let you take it away from there:

Anne Fernald explains our need to goochie-goochie-goo at every baby we meet, and absolves us of our guilt. This kind of talk, dubbed motherese, is an instict that crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries. Caecilius was goochie-goochie-gooing in Rome; Grunt was goochie-gooing in the caves. Radio Lab did our own study of infant-directed speech, recording more than a dozen different parents. The melodies of these recordings illustrate Fernald's findings that there are a set of common tunes living within the words that parents all over the world intone to their babies.

Then, science reporter Jonah Lehrer takes us on a tour through the ear as we try to understand how the brain makes sense of soundwaves and what happens when it can't. Which brings us to one particularly riotous example: the 1913 debut performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Jonah suggests that the brain's attempt to tackle disonant sounds resulted in old ladies tackling each other.

What are you waiting for? Go! Listen to them both!

How Swearing WorksAug 02 2010

Everything you always wanted to know about swearing, but were too fucking afraid to ask. A nice companion to this.

(Via Holy Kaw)

Inflationary languageJul 30 2010

Comedian and entertainer Victor Borge used to do a bit where he'd muse about the application of economic inflation to language.

See, we have hidden numbers in the words like "wonderful," "before," "create," "tenderly." All these numbers can be inflated and meet the economy, you know, by rising to the occcassion. I suggest we add one to each of these numbers to be prepared. For example "wonderful" would be "two-derful." Before would be Be-five. Create, cre-nine. Tenderly should be eleven-derly. A Leiutenant would be a Leiut-eleven-ant. A sentance like, "I ate a tenderloin with my fork" would be "I nine an elevenderloin with my five-k."

Here's the whole routine:

(via bobulate)

How to swear in English if you're KoreanJul 29 2010

You wouldn't think a Korean man teaching his class how to swear in English would be so funny.

I love his mannerisms when he says the swears in English; he channels Goodfellas-era Joe Pesci a little bit during his discussion of "fucking". (via mike industries)

Gag me with a spoonJul 26 2010

Video of a Valley Girl contest that took place in Encino, CA in 1982.

The footage is from a show called Real People, which was a big hit with adolescent Jason (although I loved That's Incredible more). If you want to learn more about Valley Girls -- sure you do! -- Wikipedia has almost too much info. (via lowindustrial)

I have RAS syndromeJul 23 2010

My use of the phrase "ATM machines" in a post the other day had my inbox buzzing. I've become more lax in my language use recently...I just don't have the energy to be pedantic about grammar and usage anymore. (Or perhaps I'm thinking more about writing and less about editing.) Anyway, there's a name for using terms like "ATM machine" and "PIN number": RAS syndrome:

RAS syndrome stands for redundant acronym syndrome syndrome and refers to the redundant use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism with the abbreviation itself, thus in effect repeating one or more words. Usage commentators consider such redundant acronyms poor style and an error to be avoided in writing, though they are common in speech. The term "RAS syndrome" is itself a redundant acronym, and thus is an example of self-referential humor.

My name is Jason Kottke and I have RAS syndrome. (via @tylercowen)

Not your father's style manualJul 16 2010

The Chicago Manual of Style addresses some recent questions about citation, grammar, and even fashion.

Q. Hi there! For a sign for bachelorette parties, would the phrase "Bachelorette Out of Control" be more appropriate than "Bachelorette's Out of Control"? The question is one of contraction, because I don't see how "Bachelorette's Out of Control" can be correct without "The" prefacing it. Thank you!

A. Out-of-control bachelorettes who require appropriate signage aren't very convincing, but the first version is better.

I think they punted a bit on the "how to cite a tshirt" question.

Periodic table of swearingJul 15 2010

I would be fucking remiss in my duties here if I didn't inform you of this bloody awesome periodic table of swearing, you bunch of stupid old wankers.

Periodic Table Swearing

There's goddamned prints available. (via clusterflock)

The jumper colonJul 14 2010

Over at The Millions, Conor Dillon notes the increase in use of colon in contemporary journalism, including a new kind of colon called the jumper colon, "the Usain Bolt of literature".

For grammarians, it's a dependent clause + colon + just about anything, incorporating any and all elements of the other four colons, yet differing crucially in that its pre-colon segment is always a dependent clause.

For everyone else: its usefulness lies in that it lifts you up and into a sentence you never thought you'd be reading by giving you a compact little nugget of information prior to the colon and leaving you on the hook for whatever comes thereafter, often rambling on until the reader has exhausted his/her theoretical lung capacity and can continue to read no longer.

Bottom line: the 140 character limit of Twitter and general move towards concision in online writing is credited for the rise of the jumper colon.

Where did "soccer" come from?Jul 08 2010

It's not an Americanism:

"Soccer," by the way, is not some Yankee neologism but a word of impeccably British origin. It owes its coinage to a domestic rival, rugby, whose proponents were fighting a losing battle over the football brand around the time that we were preoccupied with a more sanguinary civil war. Rugby's nickname was (and is) rugger, and its players are called ruggers-a bit of upper-class twittery, as in "champers," for champagne, or "preggers," for enceinte. "Soccer" is rugger's equivalent in Oxbridge-speak. The "soc" part is short for "assoc," which is short for "association," as in "association football," the rules of which were codified in 1863 by the all-powerful Football Association, or FA-the FA being to the U.K. what the NFL, the NBA, and MLB are to the U.S.

Collective nouns illustratedJun 24 2010

A really nice collection of prints** of collective nouns. This is a hush of librarians:

Hush Of Librarians

I also like the seemingly empty room of ninjas, but more for the term than the illustration. Several other great ones here, like:

a wunch of bankers
a deutschbag of nazis
a fixie of hipsters (coined here, actually)
a knot of string theorists
an array of geeks

**Wait, what's the collective noun for prints? A charming of prints?

Manute Bol, RIPJun 21 2010

Former NBA player, shot blocker extraordinaire, and humanitarian Manute Bol died over the weekend at age 47. He died of a rare skin condition caused by a medication he took while in Africa.

"You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he's so tall and awkward," Charles Barkley, a former 76ers teammate, once said. "But I'll tell you this -- if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it's a world I'd want to live in."

According to Language Log, Bol may also have originated the phrase "my bad".

Ken Arneson emailed me to say that he heard the phrase was first used by the Sudanese immigrant basketball player Manute Bol, believed to have been a native speaker of Dinka (a very interesting and thoroughly un-Indo-Europeanlike language of the Nilo-Saharan superfamily). Says Arneson, "I first heard the phrase here in the Bay Area when Bol joined the Golden State Warriors in 1988, when several Warriors players started using the phrase." And Ben Zimmer's rummaging in the newspaper files down in the basement of Language Log Plaza produced a couple of early 1989 quotes that confirm this convincingly:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 10, 1989: When he [Manute Bol] throws a bad pass, he'll say, "My bad" instead of "My fault," and now all the other players say the same thing.

USA Today, Jan. 27, 1989: After making a bad pass, instead of saying "my fault," Manute Bol says, "my bad." Now all the other Warriors say it too.

Update: As a recent post on Language Log notes, several people picked up on this and kinda sorta got rid of the "may have" and the story became that Bol absolutely coined the phrase "my bad". Unfortunately, the evidence doesn't support that theory (although it doesn't entirely disprove it either). The internet is so proficient at twisting the original meaning of things as they propagate that Telephone should really be called Internet.

The Dictionary of Obscure SorrowsJun 09 2010

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a collection of imagined definitions for useful contemporary phrases. My two favorite recent entries are the McFly effect:

n. the phenomenon of observing your parents interact with people they grew up with, which reboots their personalities into youth mode, reverting to a time before the last save point, when they were still dreamers and rascals cooling their heels in the wilderness, waiting terrified and eager to meet you for the first time

and especially contact high-five:

n. an innocuous touch by someone just doing their job -- a barber, yoga instructor or friendly waitress -- that you enjoy more than you'd like to admit, a feeling of connection so stupefyingly simple that it cheapens the power of the written word, so that by the year 2025, aspiring novelists would be better off just giving people a hug.

(thx, john)

What to think about when thinking about sewingMay 28 2010

Erin McKean on What I Think About When I Think About Sewing:

6. Visualization. Where will I wear this dress? Who will be there? Will I wear it once, or over and over again? Will I blog it?

7. Shoes. Which ones? Do I already own them? Would this dress require shoes that do not, in fact, actually exist? (E.g., every pair of boots I've ever wanted.) Do I have a pair of shoes in a weird color that I need to make a dress to match? Am I looking for an excuse to buy a new pair of shoes in a weird color? (Lather, rinse, repeat for "Coat" and "Bag".)

McKean is perhaps better known as a lexicographer...I like her McKean's Law:

Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.

MadonnaspeakMay 13 2010

Madonna uses a surprising number of cliches and figures of speech in this interview (conducted by Gus Van Sant).

his Girl Friday
talks the talk
walks the walk
lots of ways to skin the cat
he's got a fire under his ass
a bee in his bonnet
a trip down memory lane
turn my lemons into lemonade
clotheshorses
so far, so good
reinvent the wheel

The interview itself may not be worth looking at unless you're already a Madonna, GVS, or cliche fan.

Moon script preceded Braille systemMay 11 2010

A raised lettering system and alphabet developed by William Moon in the mid-1800s was based more closely on the Roman alphabet than the Braille alphabet.

Moon script

Frustrated by the quality of the embossed reading systems he tried, and eager to improve worldwide literacy and access to the Bible, he set about developing his own system based on roman lettering. Moon's system was easy to master, particularly for those who had learned to read before they lost their sight, and it became very successful.

Hebrew logo translationsApr 28 2010

IANAHRSYMMV**, but here are some well-known English language logos redesigned and translated into Hebrew language logos. Nice student work from a class taught by Oded Ezer.

Hebrew logos

** I am a not a Hebrew reader so your mileage may vary.

How many words did Shakespeare know?Apr 15 2010

In his collected writings, Shakespeare used 31,534 different words. 14,376 words appeared only once and 846 were used more than 100 times. Using statistical techniques, it's possible to estimate how many words he knew but didn't use.

This means that in addition the 31,534 words that Shakespeare knew and used, there were approximately 35,000 words that he knew but didn't use. Thus, we can estimate that Shakespeare knew approximately 66,534 words.

According to one estimate, the average speaker of English knows between 10,000-20,000 words.

Globish: a simple global EnglishMar 31 2010

Globish is a "decaffeinated English" that is increasingly becoming a widely used international language.

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre described how, waiting for a flight from Delhi, he had overheard a conversation between a Spanish UN peacekeeper and an Indian soldier. "The Indian spoke no Spanish; the Spaniard spoke no Punjabi. Yet they understood one another easily. The language they spoke was a highly simplified form of English, without grammar or structure, but perfectly comprehensible, to them and to me. Only now," he concluded, "do I realise that they were speaking 'Globish', the newest and most widely spoken language in the world."

More info at Wikipedia and the NY Times...it's soon to be a book as well.

Baby names for sale, never usedMar 16 2010

Before Minna was born, we didn't know if she was a boy or a girl, so we had a bunch of names picked out for both genders. Since we are so so (SO!) done having kids, I thought I'd share our list in case someone else finds any of them useful.

Girls:
Beatrix
Greta
Coralie

Boys:
Milton
Emory
Milo
Emmett
Max/Maximilian
Hugo
Nico
Oscar
Finn
Sam
Ford

Of the girls names, Minna was my frontrunner from when we first heard it. Meg favored Beatrix for a long time but I finally convinced her of Minna's intrinsic correctness. Milo was the clear frontrunner had Minna been a boy.

The salmon, a fish apartMar 12 2010

Over the course of their lives, salmon are known first as alevins and then fry, parr, smolts, grilse, and finally kelt.

'Smolt', 'grilse': as Richard Shelton observes, salmon are spoken of in a 'stained-glass language' of their own, their life stages marked by an ichthyological lexicon unchanged since Chaucer's time. Born in a 'redd', a shallow, gravel-covered depression dug by the female in the days before spawning, newly hatched salmon begin life as 'alevins', tiny, buoyant creatures with their yolk sacs still attached.

Be there in a jiffyFeb 10 2010

A "jiffy" actually has a formal definition. More than one, in fact.

In electronics, a jiffy is the time between alternating current power cycles, 1/60 or 1/50 of a second in most countries.

In astrophysics and quantum physics a jiffy is the time it takes for light to travel one fermi, which is the size of a nucleon.

In computing, a jiffy is the duration of one tick of the system timer interrupt. It is not an absolute time interval unit, since its duration depends on the clock interrupt frequency of the particular hardware platform.

Crash blossomsFeb 03 2010

Those funny double-meaning headlines -- like "Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts" or "McDonald's Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers" -- now have a name: crash blossoms. (thx, paolo)

The history of typography in the OEDJan 21 2010

Over at Bygone Bureau, Nick Martens puts on his palaeotypography hat and plunges into the Oxford English Dictionary to learn about the history of typography.

To beat fat, 1683, "If a Press-man Takes too much Inck with his Balls, he Beats Fat."

Me and you and oursJan 13 2010

From the Wikipedia page about the .me domain, the top-level domain for Montenegro:

The dot-ME top level domain replaced the dot-YU (Yugoslavia) domain previously used by Serbia and Montenegro. In addition to declaring .me independent of .yu, a new .rs domain was deployed for Serbian use.

Lemme get this straight...when me was subtracted from you, what's left over is ours?

Where the streets have your nameJan 12 2010

Stephen Von Worley wrote a nifty little web app for looking up US streets that share your (or your kid's or your spouse's) name. For instance, here are all the streets named Ollie and the streets named Meghan.

David Foster Wallace grammar challengeDec 04 2009

From a nonfiction workshop taught by David Foster Wallace at Pomona College, a 10-question grammar worksheet that is titled:

IF NO ONE HAS YET TAUGHT YOU HOW TO AVOID OR REPAIR CLAUSES LIKE THE FOLLOWING, YOU SHOULD, IN MY OPINION, THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUING SOMEBODY, PERHAPS AS CO-PLAINTIFF WITH WHOEVER'S PAID YOUR TUITION

Here are the answers and explanations. I think I got 0/10 and am preparing my lawsuit.

Word of the decade?Nov 24 2009

The American Dialect Society has put its annual call out for nominations for the 2009 word of the year *and* also for the word of the decade.

What is the word or phrase which best characterizes the year or the decade? What expression most reflects the ideas, events, and themes which have occupied the English-speaking world, especially North America? Nominations should be sent to woty@americandialect.org. They can also be made in Twitter by using the hashtag #woty09.

What do kids call Lego pieces?Nov 04 2009

Giles Turnbull convened a kiddie focus group and asked them what they call all the different Lego pieces.

Every family, it seems, has its own set of words for describing particular Lego pieces. No one uses the official names. "Dad, please could you pass me that Brick 2x2?" No. In our house, it'll always be: "Dad, please could you pass me that four-er?"

Don't miss the chart at the end.

How to write badly wellOct 26 2009

Writer Joel Stickley keeps a blog about how best to write badly. Here's a snippet from a recent entry titled "Describe every character in minute detail, taking no account of narrative pacing":

Terrence Handley shifted his weight, the weight that had been steadily increasing for the last ten years and showed no sign of diminishing, at least while his wife Marie continued to excel as she did at the design and production of delectable gourmet meat pies, and shuffled his feet restively as he waited.

Schott covers Single Serving SitesOct 26 2009

Schott's Vocab blog covers Single Serving Sites today.

Bad words in the dictionaryOct 02 2009

Over the centuries, vulgar words like fuck and cunt have been included dictionaries, then cast out, then in again, then out, in, out, and so on.

One major problem dictionary editors face in defining sexual terms is deciding how explicit to be. Defining coitus as "an act of sexual intercourse" but leaving sexual intercourse undefined, for example (on the grounds that a reader could figure it out from the definitions of sexual and intercourse), would be a problem, not only because it makes the reader do too much page-flipping but also because the definitions probably still won't be sufficiently clear.

The rest of the article, by Jesse Sheidlower, the editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is deliciously vulgar and informative so be wary if you're easily offended and don't like information.

HyperforeignismSep 15 2009

Hyperforeignism is the mispronunciation of words borrowed from foreign languages...but it's actually a sort of an over-pronunciation, so correct that it's circled back around to incorrect again.

The noun octopus is often made plural in English as octopi, originally from the mistaken belief that all Latin nouns ending in -us take -i to form their plural. However, this is only correct for Latin masculine nouns of the second declension. For Latin fourth-declension nouns, such as manus, the singular and plural forms both end in -us. For third declension nouns such as octopus, the plural is less regular. The noun octopus in Latin is a third-declension noun borrowed from the Greek. Although octopuses is generally considered correct in modern English, its plural in Latin is actually octopodes.

An easier example of this is prix fixe. The common mispronunciation is something like "pricks ficks" but the hyperforeign version is "pree fee", which is how one might presume the French would pronounce it. The correct pronunciation is actually "pree ficks". See also gyros. (via clusterflock)

Small batch businessesSep 09 2009

A few weeks ago, Matt Linderman asked the readers of 37signals' Signal vs. Noise blog for suggestions for a word or phrase to describe a certain type of small, focused company.

Sometimes I'm looking for a word to describe a certain kind of company. One that's small and cares about quality and is trying to do something great for a few customers instead of trying to mass produce crap in order to maximize profit. A company like Coudal Partners or Zingerman's.

Boutique was deemed too pretentious...small, indie, and QOQ didn't cut it either. Readers offered up craftsman, artisan, bespoke, cloudless, studio, atelier, long tail, agile, bonsai company, mom and pop, small scale, specialty, anatomic, big heart, GTD business, dojo, haus, temple, coterie, and disco business, but none of those seems quite right.

I've had this question rolling around in the back of my mind since Matt posted it and this morning, a potential answer came to me: small batch. As in: "37signals is a small batch business." The term is most commonly applied to bourbon whiskey:

A small batch bourbon is made for the true connoisseur, every sip a testament to the work and love that has gone into each handcrafted bottle.

but can also be used to describe small quantities of high quality products such as other spirits, baked goods, coffee, beer, and wine. When starting a small company that makes high quality web sites (Wikirank) and apps (Typekit), some friends of mine in San Francisco even picked the phrase for their company's name: Small Batch, Inc.

Must Pop WordsAug 24 2009

Boggle + Tetris/Snood = Must Pop Words. This is difficult for poor typists like me. (via vsl)

Would-be collective nounsAug 21 2009

Culled from Twitter, a list of collective nouns that may or may not be in the dictionary. Some favorites:

a conspiracy of theorists
an array of geeks
a melancholy of goths (more here)
a pratfall of clowns
an argument of lawyers
a tantrum of 2 year olds
a fondling of vicars
a meta of collective nouns

Update: And I'd completely forgotten about the perfection of a fixie of hipsters.

Update: An Exaltation of Larks is a book chock full of collective nouns written by James Lipton (yes, that James Lipton). (thx, david)

Twitter = tunnel is in oreAug 03 2009

Regarding the previous post on Twitter and the telegraph, eagle-eyed kottke.org reader Mark spotted this gem on page 401 of the telegraphic code book:

Twitter Telegraph

I heard that "tunnel is in ore" was @jack's first name for the service; that it was shortened to Twitter makes a lot of sense now. (thx, mark)

Twitter and the telegraphAug 03 2009

Ben Schott on the similarities between the telegraph and Twitter:

The 140-character limit of Twitter posts was guided by the 160-character limit established by the developers of SMS. However, there is nothing new about new technology imposing restrictions on articulation. During the late 19th-century telegraphy boom, some carriers charged extra for words longer than 15 characters and for messages longer than 10 words. Thus, the cheapest telegram was often limited to 150 characters.

Schott also shares about 100 words from The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code, a code book that reduced long phrases into single words in order to cut down on telegraphic transmission costs. The full book is available for reading on Google and it includes over 27,000 code words on 460 pages!

Twitter Telegraph

Historical Thesaurus of The Oxford English DictionaryJul 15 2009

The folks at Oxford University Press have finally finished their Historical Thesaurus of The Oxford English Dictionary after more than 40 years of effort. The book contains 4448 pages and nearly every word in the English language (according to the OED). I like that the synonyms are listed chronologically but this thing is crying out to be put online (or in some electronic format)...what a boon it would be for period novelists to able to press the "write like they did in 1856" button. Available for pre-order at Amazon for $316. (via long now)

Update: There will be an online version of the thesaurus...at some point.

Consider the gyroJul 15 2009

Those spinning meat cylinders and the sandwiches that emerge from them...where did they come from? From something like this factory in Chicago.

The process starts with boxes of raw beef and lamb trimmings, and ends with what looks like oversized Popsicles the shade of a Band-Aid. In between, the meat is run through a four-ton grinder, where bread crumbs, water, oregano and other seasonings are added. A clumpy paste emerges and is squeezed into a machine that checks for metal and bone. ("You can never be too careful," Mr. Tomaras said.) Hydraulic pressure -- 60 pounds per square inch -- is used to fuse the meat into cylinders, which are stacked on trays and then rolled into a flash freezer, where the temperature is 20 degrees below zero.

But forget how they're made...how do you pronounce the damn word? The article gives what I would guess is the proper pronounciation of gyro: YEE-ro. I've ordered gyros using this pronounciation and have sometimes gotten confused looks in return. Alternate pronounciations that have worked in various situations include YUR-o, GEE-ro, JI-ro, and GUY-ro. The last pronounciation somehow seems the least correct to me but yields the best results. Somehow tzatziki is a lot easier.

You should follow me on TwitterJul 15 2009

Using a link to his Twitter account from his blog, Dustin Curtis tested the effect of language on clickthrough rates.

Making the phrase more direct and personal by adding the words "you should" increased the clickthrough rate by 38% to 10.09%.

Curtis started out with "I'm on twitter" and eventually increased the clickthrough rate by more than double by changing the wording to "You should follow me on Twitter here." (And Jesus, gorgeous site design too.)

When it's your kid, it's not babysittingJun 26 2009

New father Paul Drielsma thinks that the language around fatherhood needs to change.

Scour the parenting forums on the Internet and you'll find the common lament that "DH" (darling husband) expects a medal whenever he "babysits" junior for a few hours. I have little sympathy for DH in these cases, but maybe a step in the right direction would be to stop using language that suggests hired help -- to stop referring to DH's job in the same terms as somebody who could legitimately stick his hand out at the end of his shift and demand a tip. DH isn't babysitting, he's parenting, and just changing that one word changes, for me at least, all sorts of connotations.

Language shapes thoughtJun 24 2009

Lera Boroditsky shares some recent studies which show that language shapes the way we think.

How does an artist decide whether death, say, or time should be painted as a man or a woman? It turns out that in 85 percent of such personifications, whether a male or female figure is chosen is predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist's native language. So, for example, German painters are more likely to paint death as a man, whereas Russian painters are more likely to paint death as a woman.

One of my favorite examples of this is something that Meg told me about years ago. In English, you might say something like, "I lost the keys" whereas in Spanish you could use a reflexive verb and say something more like "the keys lost themselves". Her guess was that difference makes Spanish speakers somewhat less likely to take responsibility for their actions...e.g. I didn't knock that vase over, it knocked itself over. (thx, david)

Update: Boy, the old inbox is humming on this one. People, including several linguists wrote in objecting to two main points. First, some said that it is far from certain that the research shows that language shapes thought; a couple people even went so far as to say that what Boroditsky wrote was just plain wrong. So there's certainly some debate there.

The second batch of posts took issue with what my wife Meg said about Spanish speakers. Let me try to clarify and explain what she was getting at without sounding like I'm a racist who thinks the Spanish and Mexicans are irresponsible klutzes (which I don't, if it wasn't COMPLETELY FUCKING OBVIOUS from the subject and tone of everything else I've ever written on this site, but thanks for going there anyway). Instead of what I wrote above, let's try this instead:

In my wife's experience as a fluent speaker of Mexican Spanish and who lived in Mexico for a year, she observed that when people misplaced their keys (and this is just one of many possible examples), they are far more likely to say something like "the keys lost themselves" than "I lost the keys" whereas in American English, you would never say "the keys lost themselves". In fact, she says that this sort of formulation is one of the quick ways to tell who speaks Mexican Spanish as a native and who doesn't. A reader says this is called the accidental se (scroll to the bottom). So with Spanish, there's a sense that these inanimate objects have some say in their actions, that they are "alive" and the speaker is in fact the victim. Those michevious keys lost themselves and now I'm late for work, that crazy glass tipped itself over and now I need to clean it up, etc.

In English, you could certainly say "the keys are lost" when deflecting responsibility for their loss (something everyone does, regardless of race or culture or language) but that's clearly not the same as the keys losing themselves...that's the real difference. I'll let Boroditsky explain what effects this difference might have on how Spanish speakers think, if any, lest I get any more angry emails. (thx, everyone, esp. kyle)

Beautiful wordsJun 17 2009

Are these the 100 most beautiful words in the English language?

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