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The CIA is a prescriptivist scold

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manual:

Strunk & White, it turns out, were CIA sources. The authors of The Elements of Style, a classic American writing guide, are cited alongside Henry Fowler, Wilson Follett, and Jacques Barzun in the Directorate of Intelligence’s Style Manual & Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications, whose eighth edition (from 2011) was quietly posted online (pdf) by the legal nonprofit National Security Counselors a little over a year ago, following a Freedom of Information Act request. [more inside]
posted by moody cow on Jul 10, 2014 - 27 comments

Canadianisms

55 Canadianisms You May Not Know or Are Using Differently
A (non-scientific) survey providing a thorough & fascinating look at words in Canadian English [more inside]
posted by flex on Jul 1, 2014 - 245 comments

'Whoa… big brain huh… cool!'"

Lovatt reasoned that if she could live with a dolphin around the clock, nurturing its interest in making human-like sounds, like a mother teaching a child to speak, they'd have more success. - stories from the NASA- funded project to teach Dolphins to talk using LSD (among other methods. )
posted by The Whelk on Jun 29, 2014 - 37 comments

Reviving Lushootseed

Zalmai Zahir (ʔǝswǝli) talks about learning Lushootseed, the native language of Puget sound, and it's history: Quoting the Ancestors [more inside]
posted by nangar on Jun 29, 2014 - 2 comments

Learning languages with Muzzy, the clock-eating fuzzy alien

“Je Suis La Jeune Fille.” “Yes, that’s French they’re speaking. But no, these children aren’t French – they’re American!” If you grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, or watched children's TV programming from that era in the US or UK, no doubt you saw that commercial for Muzzy (formally titled Muzzy in Gondoland). The show was first produced by the BBC in 1986 to teach English as a second language, as seen in this playlist of five videos, and later expanded with Muzzy Comes Back in 1989 (six episode playlist). The shows were both translated in to French, German (playlist), Spanish (and the Spanish vocabulary builder), and Italian (Muzzy in Gondoland, Muzzy Comes Back).
posted by filthy light thief on Jun 28, 2014 - 32 comments

Why is gender ever a thing?

A Linguist on the Story of Gendered Pronouns. Gretchen McCulloch talks about why we have pronouns, why gender is a thing in English, and how gender is a thing in other languages. [more inside]
posted by clavicle on Jun 4, 2014 - 111 comments

"not far short of 50% have come into the language from French or Latin."

Borrowed words in English: tracing the changing patterns [more inside]
posted by the man of twists and turns on Jun 4, 2014 - 2 comments

I am right here.

Samantha Peterson slams her case for having a fat body in this world. No metaphor necessary. (SLHP)
posted by Sophie1 on Jun 4, 2014 - 185 comments

the snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me…

The Egyptian singer Nesma Mahgoub, in the song’s chorus, sings, “Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment!” and “I dread not all that shall be said! Discharge the storm clouds! The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me…” From one song to the next, there isn’t a declensional ending dropped or an antique expression avoided, whether it is sung by a dancing snowman or a choir of forest trolls. The Arabic of “Frozen” is frozen in time, as “localized” to contemporary Middle Eastern youth culture as Latin quatrains in French rap.
So Disney used to translate its movies into Egyptian Arabic but recently switched to Modern Standard Arabic, which is somewhat more formal.
posted by MartinWisse on Jun 4, 2014 - 19 comments

A story of miniature cryptography and a password protected home

Genius in a tiny mother bird, who learned to give her babies a password so they wouldn't die. A musical password. The Superb Fairy Wren sings to her eggs. The unborn baby birds, still in the egg, learn that musical password and sing it on being hatched.
posted by nickyskye on May 30, 2014 - 36 comments

How To Swear Like A Sailor

A Dictionary of Navy Slang Compiled From Various Sources 67 pages of history and hilarity.
posted by timsteil on May 26, 2014 - 35 comments

German animal names: Does it look like a pig? No? Are you sure?

A number of different languages utilize compounded words, but German has a number of fun examples in the animal kingdom: how to name animals in German (Compounding German words, previously)
posted by filthy light thief on May 22, 2014 - 77 comments

Humping a playmate during a romp...

Decades of scientific research suggests that beneath dogs' seemingly frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.
posted by gman on May 21, 2014 - 57 comments

The goat says "Meh"

Visualize a comic book, in your language, and imagine what would be written in the text balloon coming from the mouth of an animal. Now translate it. Derek Abbott of The University of Adelaide (previously) has compiled "the world’s biggest multilingual list" of animal sounds, commands, and pet names.
posted by Room 641-A on May 21, 2014 - 20 comments

The third-most spoken language in the U.S. overall? Chinese.

What language does your state speak?
posted by and they trembled before her fury on May 14, 2014 - 119 comments

Trump This!

The Three Languages of Arts and Cultural Funding : It is a truth universally acknowledged that the public funding of arts and culture will cause political strife. Reasonable people just do not agree on this, and can be surprisingly quick to accuse others of ideological warmongering. An Australian application of The Three Languages of Politics [interview: podcast and transcript] by Arnold Kling. Via The Conversation.
posted by michswiss on May 7, 2014 - 6 comments

Math or Maths?

Math or Maths? A few minutes with Dr Lynne Murphy (an American linguist in England) should clear this right up. Via Numberphile.
posted by R. Mutt on Apr 30, 2014 - 116 comments

“Pawnee is literally the best town in the country.”

A Browser Extension That Replaces "Literally" With "Figuratively". Built by a programmer named Mike Walker, it’s an extension for Google’s Chrome browser that replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively” on sites and articles across the Web, with deeply gratifying results. Previously.
posted by Fizz on Apr 22, 2014 - 119 comments

The Ket had seven souls, unlike animals, who had only one.

The Ket from the Lake Munduiskoye (2008, 30 min.) The Ket people are an indigenous group in central Siberia whose population has numbered less than two thousand during the past century. Although mostly assimilated into the dominant Russian culture at this point, a couple hundred of them are still able to speak the Ket language, the last remaining member of the Yeniseian language group. Recent scholarship has proposed a link between Ket and some Native American language groups.
posted by XMLicious on Apr 16, 2014 - 7 comments

Massacres, Toponymy, Inertia, Easter

In the Spanish province of Burgos, Castile y León, about 200 kilometers north of Madrid, is a tiny little village named Castrillo Matajudíos (pop. 60). The village is considering changing its name. [more inside]
posted by skoosh on Apr 12, 2014 - 37 comments

Notre professeur à pris sa retraite.

Dr. Pierre Capretz, who taught French at Yale University for several decades, passed away at the age of 89 on April 1st of this year, qu'il repose en paix. Capretz is best known for his 1987 PBS series of half-hour French-language lessons, French in Action, which combined language immersion using to a simple romantic-comedy narrative followed by a classroom-style review, featuring Professeur Capretz, of the narrative with emphasis on the concepts, vocabulary, and grammar. [more inside]
posted by Sunburnt on Apr 10, 2014 - 22 comments

Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

We may not speak with the butter-toned exchanges of the characters on “Downton Abbey,” but in substance our speech is in many ways more civilized.... We are taught to celebrate the idea that Inuit languages reveal a unique relationship to snow, or that the Russian language’s separate words for dark and light blue mean that a Russian sees blueberries and robin’s eggs as more vibrantly different in color than the rest of us do. Isn’t it welcome, then, that good old-fashioned American is saying something cool about us for once? - John McWhorter on colloquial American English (SLNYTIMES) [more inside]
posted by beisny on Apr 6, 2014 - 53 comments

"Nuh-uh, I talk *normal.*"

In Defense of Talking Funny: an examination of dialects and how people deal with them.
posted by flatluigi on Mar 8, 2014 - 60 comments

Next time won't you sing with me

Hip hop artist Mac Lethal recites the alphabet very fast. [more inside]
posted by growabrain on Mar 8, 2014 - 13 comments

THE LIFE OF A PEOPLE IS PICTURED IN THEIR SPEECH.

This book deals with the Dialect of the English Language that is spoken in Ireland. As the Life of a people—according to our motto—is pictured in their speech, our picture ought to be a good one, for two languages were concerned in it—Irish and English. ... Here for the first time—in this little volume of mine—our Anglo-Irish Dialect is subjected to detailed analysis and systematic classification.
P.W. Joyce's 1910 work, "English as We Speak it in Ireland," is a fascinating chronicle of a language's life, and no mistake. [more inside]
posted by MonkeyToes on Mar 6, 2014 - 8 comments

My Voice Is Bleach / I'm Only Fluent In Apologies

Hieu Nguyen, at the 2013 National Poetry Slam, on losing your language and your culture.
posted by Foci for Analysis on Mar 6, 2014 - 19 comments

Children of Music

Victor Wooten discusses being born into a musical family in a TED talk entitled Music as a Language. In contrast, Alex Lifeson as a teenager clashes with his parents about choosing music over school in an excerpt from the documentary Come On Children.
posted by mannequito on Mar 4, 2014 - 15 comments

The Philadelphia Accent

"[M]umbled Mandarin without the tonal shifts." SLNYT (and with diagrams and such)
posted by angrycat on Mar 2, 2014 - 55 comments

81 Cantonese proverbs in one image.

This cartoon by graphic designer and cartoonist 阿塗 (Ah To) contains 81 Cantonese proverbs and idioms in one image. It was originally published on the Hong Kong website Passion Times, and was inspired by a 1559 oil painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called Netherlandish Proverbs. [more inside]
posted by Corinth on Feb 26, 2014 - 17 comments

Your Ability to Can Even

A Defense of Internet Linguistics --because "sometimes “AODEHwhddhwdwebw” is far more eloquent than saying “I’m so overtaken with emotion, I can barely type so I smashed the keyboard with my forehead.” [more inside]
posted by warm_planet on Feb 24, 2014 - 35 comments

"These choices are unavoidably ideological"

"Finlayson’s attitude to language can be related to his politics. As an admirer and advocate of free market capitalism, he considers human society nothing more than the sum total of the actions of an aggregate of free and rational individuals. Just as these free and rational individuals are wholly responsible for their beliefs and choices, so they are entirely responsible for the meanings of the language they use. If there is any ambiguity in a piece of language, then this is the result of some individual’s failure to stop splitting infinitives, or breaking some other rule. " -- At Reading the Maps, Scott Hamilton rejects New Zealand's Attorney General and Minister of Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson's reductionist calls for "clear" language, in favour of the more complex approach to English as articulated by H. W. Fowler.
posted by MartinWisse on Feb 18, 2014 - 16 comments

May you lie in the ground and bake bagels

A list of the word's most imaginative insults
posted by rcraniac on Feb 14, 2014 - 39 comments

This is what Anglo-Saxon scholars do with their ancient knowledge

Hwæt sæġþ sē fox, ē?. (the original)
posted by MartinWisse on Feb 12, 2014 - 49 comments

The Made Up Words Project

The Made Up Words Project is an on-going undertaking by illustrator Rinee Shah (who you may remember from her Seinfood poster series.) The goal is to collect and catalog the made up words that we share with family and friends.
posted by BuddhaInABucket on Feb 10, 2014 - 56 comments

Early Indo-European Online

Learn how to read Sanskrit, Hittite, Avestan, Old Persian, Classical Greek, Latin, Koine Greek, Gothic, Classical Armenian, Tocharian, Old Irish, Old English, Old Norse, Old Church Slavonic, Old French, Old Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Albanian in ten lessons apiece.
posted by Iridic on Jan 27, 2014 - 26 comments

Future of the OED

The new chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary discusses its future. "My idea about dictionaries is that, in a way, their time has come. People need filters much more than they did in the past."
posted by anothermug on Jan 26, 2014 - 50 comments

Synonyms, paraphrases, equivalents, restatements, poecilonyms.

A thesaurus only lists adjectives. English Synonyms and Antonyms takes the time to explain the small distinctions of meaning and usage between, for example, example, archetype, ideal, prototype, type, ensample, model, sample, warning, exemplar, pattern, specimen, exemplification, precedent, and standard--or, at least, such distinctions as author James C. Fernald, L.H.D., perceived in 1896.
posted by Iridic on Jan 10, 2014 - 13 comments

Old words never die; they just wend their way to their just deserts.

12 Old Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms. We generally know what the idioms we use every day mean, but do we give much thought to the individual words that make them up, or why we rarely, if ever, see some of them out of that context? Maybe they're just plain outdated. [more inside]
posted by The Underpants Monster on Dec 29, 2013 - 52 comments

What is your generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage?

In 25 questions, it will tell you where you are from (in the US), using results from the Harvard Dialect Survey [prev, now closed]. Don't peek, but this is an answer key of sorts, showing the full results of the survey. Come for the highly accurate maps, stay for the interesting variations - apparently, over 6% of people call a sunshower "the devil is beating his wife," and a small group calls it a "fox's wedding." [more inside]
posted by blahblahblah on Dec 23, 2013 - 334 comments

Words of the Day

Please enjoy this smattering of Word of the Day sites and pages: OED (RSS), Wordsmith (RSS), Wordnik, The Free Dictionary (RSS), Merriam-Webster (RSS), WordThink (RSS), Urban Dictionary (RSS), Macmillan (RSS), NY Times Learning Network Blog (RSS), Scrabble, Wordsmyth (RSS), Easy Speak (Toastmasters), Wiktionary, Wiktionary "Foreign", OLDO (RSS: Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, all in OLDO), Arabic (RSS), Japanese (RSS), Nahuatl, ASL, History, Geology, Theology (RSS), and Sesame Street (not daily, unfortunately).
posted by cog_nate on Dec 13, 2013 - 11 comments

Eternal moral vigilance is no laughing matter.

The PLT Games are a monthly programming language competition. At the beginning of every month, a new theme is picked and developers begin work on a language that they think best fits the theme. At the end of every month, developers submit their projects and entries are submitted during the next month. [more inside]
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy on Dec 10, 2013 - 5 comments

full stop

When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive? (New Republic) “In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”
posted by salix on Dec 3, 2013 - 149 comments

May you meet a wizard that will mock your manly part

Curse your loved ones in Old Irish.
posted by rtha on Nov 29, 2013 - 26 comments

Why shout, when you can whistle? Whistled languages around the world

The Panamanian golden frog that lives near loud waterfalls and the people of both Kuşköy (a small village in Turkey) and La Gomera (an island off the coast of Morocco) have something in common: creative communication in challenging situations. Where the golden frogs communicate by waving, the people of Kuşköy and La Gomera overcome difficult terrain by whistling. The Turkish people call their language "kuș dili" or "bird langage," as it originated in Kuşköy, which itself means "bird village," and the Silbo Gomero language is so organized and thorough that every vowel and consonant can be replaced with a whistle. [more inside]
posted by filthy light thief on Nov 29, 2013 - 15 comments

ELECTRICAL ELUCIDATION OF THE THRICE-CURSED SEPULCHRAL IDIOM

Like other forms of English, Death Metal English is a tool kit.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot on Nov 23, 2013 - 24 comments

My name is Katniss Everdeen

A Textual Analysis of The Hunger Games (and Twilight, and Harry Potter)
posted by fearfulsymmetry on Nov 22, 2013 - 62 comments

You're reading this because procrastination.

English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet. The word "because," in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, "because" has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I'm reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I'm reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which "because" lends itself. I mention all that ... because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use "because." Linguists are calling it the "prepositional-because." Or the "because-noun."
posted by scody on Nov 19, 2013 - 163 comments

Rhabarberbarbarabarbabaren

A simple guide to how compound words work in German. (SLYT, rudimentary German makes it funnier but probably not essential)
posted by Artw on Nov 19, 2013 - 38 comments

The Debate over H: the 'istory of aitch

Why H is the most contentious letter in the alphabet is a quick overview of the letter H. Though the visual form of the letter has been pretty stable in Medieval writing, it's the pronunciation of the letter that has caused issues, from Catullus' poem mocking Arrius's addition of H's to words, to the Irish clash of Protestants and Catholics including how each group pronounced H. Such regional and generational shifts in pronunciation were of interest to the British Library, as documented in their Evolving English exhibit, which includes an online "mapped" catalog of sound clips (previously).
posted by filthy light thief on Nov 7, 2013 - 33 comments

"I didn't say I hate feminists; I said I hate feminist."

'I like the rhythm and intent of "pathetic prehistoric rage-filled inbred assclown," but that's a lot to ask of a hashtag.' Joss Whedon talks about the word feminist at an Equality Now dinner.
posted by billiebee on Nov 7, 2013 - 164 comments

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