John McWhorter responds

Some clarifications about my Wall Street Journal article, which seems to have led to some misunderstandings among Language Log’s readers (as well as over at Languagehat). Since the readers here are the most well-informed audience that piece will ever reach outside of professional linguists, I thought it’d be useful to clarify what I based the observations in that piece on.

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Everywhere, anywhere

From Duncan Smith, by way of William Gibson on Twitter (ultimately from Lee Unkrich):

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If Scotland win

Outside a pub near my office in Edinburgh on the day of an important soccer fixture between Germany and Scotland there was a sign saying: "Free pint if Scotland win!"

Those with an eye for syntax will focus like a laser beam on the last letter of the last word. Should that have been "if Scotland wins"?

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McWhorter on the global linguascape of 2115

John McWhorter has an ambitious article in the Wall Street Journal for 1/2/15: "What the World Will Speak in 2115:  A century from now, expect fewer but simpler languages on every continent." The article covers a lot of ground and includes much daring prognostication along the way.  I won't attempt to summarize everything in this rich essay, but — so far as Mandarin goes and so far as one is willing to make predictions about the future based on current circumstances, trends, and available data — I think that McWhorter is right on the mark.

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Error-laden phishing attempts

Phishers trawling for email account names are generally smart enough to pull all sorts of programming tricks, forging headers and obtaining lists of spammable addresses and setting up arrangements to capture login names and passwords obediently typed in by the gullible; but then they give themselves away with errors of grammar and punctuation that are just too gross to be perpetrated by the authorized guys at the communications and technology services unit.

I received a phishing spam today that had no To-line at all (none of that "undisclosed recipients" stuff, and no mention of my email address in it anywhere). It looked sort of convincing in its announcement that webmail account holders would have to take certain steps to ensure the preservation of their address books after being "upgraded to a new enhanced Outlook interface". (My own university has, tragically, been induced to do an upgrade of this kind to its employee email services.) But the linguistic errors in the message begin with the 13th character in the From line (that second comma is wrong). I reproduce below the raw text of what I received, stripping out only the locally generated receipt and spam-checking headers (and by the way, this message—spam though it is—succeeded in getting a spam score of 0).

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Moth onomastics: Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)

"Chinese character" is the name for a moth in this Wikipedia article.  At first when I read the article, I thought that there must have been an error.  But when I started to check around, I discovered that the same English name for Cilix glaucata occurred all over the place.

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Look correct

From reddit, a road sign in Leopardstown that translates English "Look right" to something like Irish "Look at correct":


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The humanities in an alternate universe

A couple of months ago, I got a copy of The Chronicle Review with a cover story by Arthur Krystal called "Neuroscience is ruining the humanities".

Actually there are two semi-falsehoods in that sentence.

In the first place, I actually got the physical publication in the mail about a week ago, even though the issue is dated November 28, and the online article is dated November 21. That's because I live in a university residence, and my university apparently picks up the mail from the post office from time to time, sends it somewhere to be sorted at leisure, and then delivers it to its various destinations by occasional caravan.

The second misleading statement concerns the article's title: the online version is now called "The shrinking world of ideas". Since the URL is still "https://chronicle.com/article/Neuroscience-Is-Ruining-the/150141/", we can guess that the online article's title was changed after the fact. Thereby hangs a tale, though I can only guess what it is.

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Nervous cluelessness and getting there first

An email correspondent working for someone who is (evidently) a clueless would-be grammar purist appealed to me recently for help:

I am working with a client who insists that it is grammatically incorrect to use Get There First as a tag line. For the life of us, we cannot figure out what is grammatically incorrect about this phrase. Can you shed any light on our mystery?

Of course I can! Here at Language Log we solve half a dozen grammar mysteries of this sort before breakfast. I can not only finger the client's reaction as classic nervous cluelessness; I think I can identify the etiology of the mistake.

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Biblical Philology: An Exhaustive Treatment

From Joshua Tyra:

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All ADJ and shit

Howard Oakley ("Birth of a new English phrase", 1/23/2015) was struck by the phrase "all proper and shit", in the context of a tweet by Christopher Phin noting that "[choice of printing mode] makes my writing seem all proper and shit". So Howard investigated the history of that four-word sequence by means of various web search tools.

I strongly support the combination of linguistic curiosity and empirical methods, but in this case, I'm puzzled by the fact that Howard saw the phrase as novel. As far as I can see, "all proper and shit" is a syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically compositional combination of two constructions that have existed in English for hundreds of years.

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The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously.

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"The theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution"

From Missouri House Bill No. 486, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 13, 2015  (emphasis added):

The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, superintendents of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution. Such educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.

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