149 posts tagged with language and english.
Displaying 1 through 50 of 149. Subscribe:

English is not normal

English is not normal. "No, English isn’t uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language." (Aeon via Longform).
posted by pravit on Nov 15, 2015 - 103 comments

“This was a brilliant innovation,”

Unfinished story… [The Guardian] [more inside]
posted by Fizz on Oct 23, 2015 - 4 comments

correctness rests upon usage; all usage is relative

"What of those grammar rules that were entirely dreamt up in an age of moral prescriptivism, reflecting nothing of historical or literary usage, to encourage the poor English language to be more like an entirely different (and entirely dead) language, namely Latin? Wait, which rules are those? It seems pretty crazy but the popular grammar rules familiar to most of us may in fact be completely fake and have no basis in linguistic reality. The English language didn't change to make those rules obsolete, they were simply fictional from the start." || Dear Pedants: Your Fave Grammar Rule is Probably Fake, by Chi Luu.
posted by divined by radio on Aug 25, 2015 - 170 comments

The Many Origins of the English Language

An Interactive Visualization.
posted by lemuring on Aug 8, 2015 - 11 comments


The International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) is a free, online archive of primary-source dialect and accent recordings of the English language. Founded in 1997 at the University of Kansas, it includes hundreds of recordings of English speakers by natives of nearly 100 different countries. To find an example of an accent or dialect, use the Global Map, or select a continent or region at the Dialects and Accents page. [more inside]
posted by zarq on Jul 27, 2015 - 15 comments


From plitter to drabbletail: a few writers choose the words they love. [The Guardian] [Books]
Dialect terms such as yokeymajig or whiffle-whaffle; all-time favourites like cochineal, clot or eschew; antiquated phrases such as ‘playing the giddy ox’ … leading writers on the words they cherish.
[more inside] posted by Fizz on May 29, 2015 - 32 comments

"No, yes", "No, totally", and the "no" prefix as conversational element

"At first blush, 'no' does not appear to be the kind of word whose meaning you can monkey with." Kathryn Schulz dissects the use of "no" at the beginning of conversational turns, and discusses how it may be a reaction to the loss of our previous "four-form system of negation and affirmation" that included "yea" and "nay".
posted by brainwane on Apr 7, 2015 - 61 comments

If you can read this sentence, you can talk with a scientist.

Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost?
posted by standardasparagus on Mar 15, 2015 - 45 comments

There Is No ‘Proper English’

There Is No ‘Proper English’. From Oliver Kamm of The Times:
It’s a perpetual lament: The purity of the English language is under assault. These days we are told that our ever-texting teenagers can’t express themselves in grammatical sentences. The media delight in publicizing ostensibly incorrect usage. A few weeks ago, pundits and columnists lauded a Wikipedia editor in San Jose, Calif., who had rooted out and changed no fewer than 47,000 instances where contributors to the online encyclopedia had written “comprised of” rather than “composed of.” Does anyone doubt that our mother tongue is in deep decline?
Well, for one, I do. It is well past time to consign grammar pedantry to the history books.
[more inside] posted by Richard Holden on Mar 14, 2015 - 81 comments

Ye truth is yt ys might surprise you!

So where exactly did "ye olde" come from? (SLYT)
posted by Blue Jello Elf on Mar 4, 2015 - 31 comments

Consider The Clinkerbell, The Daggler, and The Shuckle

Robert Macfarlane says we are losing the best descriptive words for our landscape. This matters, he says, "because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted. To quote the American farmer and essayist Wendell Berry – a man who in my experience speaks the crash-tested truth – “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”"
posted by purplesludge on Feb 27, 2015 - 23 comments


Um, here’s an, uh, map that shows where Americans use 'um' vs. 'uh.' "Every language has filler words that speakers use in nervous moments or to buy time while thinking. Two of the most common of these in English are 'uh' and 'um.' They might seem interchangeable, but data show that their usage break down across surprising geographic lines. Hmm." And these lines may give evidence of the so-called Midland dialect. [more inside]
posted by wintersweet on Feb 8, 2015 - 44 comments

The OED in two minutes

The OED in two minutes is a visualisation of the change and growth of the English language since 1150, showing the frequency and origin of new words year by year. Notes and explanations about the project. [more inside]
posted by dng on Jan 8, 2015 - 18 comments

Living on the Hyphen

Spanglish is not random. It is not simply a piecemeal cobbling-together, a collecting of scraps of random vocabulary into a raggedy orphan of a sentence. It has logic and rules, and more interestingly and importantly, it embodies a constantly shifting and intimate morphology of miscegenation. It is the mix of my husband’s innate Mexicanness and my innate Americanness, of my adaptive Mexicanness and his adaptive Americanness, in Spanish and English morphemes that come neatly together and apart like so many Legos into new and ever-changing constructions.
posted by ellieBOA on Nov 2, 2014 - 23 comments

Well I'll Go To The Foot Of Our Stairs

British subtitles
posted by The Whelk on Aug 20, 2014 - 32 comments

but without italics we don't know when spaghetti was still exotic

Daniel Older explains why you shouldn't italicise Spanish words in English.
posted by MartinWisse on Aug 14, 2014 - 69 comments

Dialect isn’t just people talking funny

My project today is replacing all the dialogue spoken by Antiguan characters in Of Noble Family with dialogue rewritten by Antiguan and Barbudan author Joanne Hillhouse.

Let me explain why I’m doing this.
Mary Robinette Kowal talks about why she hired somebody else to help her with the Caribbean dialects for her next novel.
posted by MartinWisse on Aug 6, 2014 - 38 comments

When Dutch and English Collide

Dunglish Kind of like Engrish. Only from the Netherlands. [more inside]
posted by Michele in California on Jul 30, 2014 - 43 comments

Broken English

Jamila Lyiscott: 3 ways to speak English [SLYT] [more inside]
posted by divined by radio on Jul 18, 2014 - 4 comments

Fear and Loathing of the English Passive

Geoffrey Pullum talks about the passive voice [pdf]. (via) [more inside]
posted by nangar on Jul 10, 2014 - 37 comments


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

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

"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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

A Lackadaisy Air

From the New-York Mirror of February 24, 1883:
“. . . a new and valuable addition has been made to the slang vocabulary. … We refer to the term “Dood.” For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. … The Dood is oftenest seen in the lobbies of our theatres on first-nights. He puffs cigarettes or sucks his hammered-silver tipped cane in the entr actes, and passes remarks of a not particularly intellectual character on the appearance and dresses of the actresses. His greatest pleasure lies in taking a favorite actress or singer to supper at Delmonico’s or the Hotel Brunswick—places he briefly calls ‘Dels’ and the ‘Bruns’—where he will spend his papa’s pelf with a lavish hand. … ”
[more inside] posted by mannequito on Oct 26, 2013 - 40 comments

A History of Meh, from Leo Rosten to Auden to The Simpsons

The problem with tracing meh over time, as with so many fleeting interjections, is that it’s terribly underrepresented in the linguistic and lexicographical literature. [more inside]
posted by whyareyouatriangle on Sep 8, 2013 - 13 comments

Speaking in foreign tongues

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has spent the last few months in Paris specifically studying French. His latest dispatch, "Or Perhaps You Are Too Stupid to Learn French," looks at how hard it is to apply the rules of new language in real time, while fighting with one's perceptions and limitations (Other dispatches are here).

Washington Post writer Jay Matthews asks if learning a foreign language is worth it and recounts his own struggles studying Chinese. Another WaPo writer, Elizabeth Chang, recalls her experience in learning Arabic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher on Aug 22, 2013 - 200 comments

Frances Brooke literally destroyed the English language

A sentence from her novel History of Emily Montague is the earliest OED citation for "literally" used to mean "figuratively." Frances Brooke may be responsible for negatively impacting the English language by actioning a disconnect between a word's definition and its usage. Google was called a traitor to the English language for recognizing this use. Others are suggesting that since we've totally busted the English so much we probably shouldn't even use the word "literally" anymore.
posted by ChuckRamone on Aug 15, 2013 - 141 comments

Bears. And etymology!

An animated history of the word "bear"
posted by moxie_milquetoast on Jun 7, 2013 - 27 comments

Mischievous or Mischievious?

Interactive map of pronunciation and use of various words and phrases differs by region in the US. Based on Bert Vaux's online survey of English dialects, the program allows you to see results for individual cities, as well as nationwide (though inexplicably it does not include Alaska or Hawaii).
posted by Cash4Lead on Jun 5, 2013 - 133 comments

English and Dravidian

Many languages have "high" and "low" layers of vocabulary. But in most other languages, the two sets are drawn from the same source. By contrast, contact between Old English and French, Dravidian languages and Sanskrit, Japanese and Chinese, Persian and Arabic, and other pairings around the world have created fascinatingly hybrid languages. These mixed lexicons are, for linguistic and social historians, akin to the layers of fossils that teach paleontologists and archaeologists so much about eras gone by. Some people even think English is descended from Latin, or Kannada from Sanskrit. That’s frustrating not only because it’s wrong, but also because the reality is far more interesting. - The Economist, Unlikely parallels (via)
posted by beisny on May 15, 2013 - 31 comments

International Art English

"The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated. " - Triple Canopy magazine on why do artists' statments and press releases sound so utterly odd and confusing.
posted by The Whelk on Apr 26, 2013 - 45 comments

Is this a new conjunction slash what is its function?

Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore - Anne Curzan writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a new slang word that she learned from her undergraduate students in a History of English course slash analyzes how it fits with traditional parts of speech.
posted by codacorolla on Apr 25, 2013 - 79 comments

I help students learn how to study all types of rocks.

Complex scientific concepts explained using only the thousand most used words in the English language. In the spirit of xkcd's Up-Goer Five comic. (Previously.) Use the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to make your own contributions.
posted by Cash4Lead on Jan 18, 2013 - 108 comments

You Can't Say That In English

Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language, and 470 million to over a billion people speak it as a second language (to varying degrees). Even so, there are some words that do not exist in English, even with new word entries periodically being added to the Oxford Dictionary. 25 words that do not exist in English. [more inside]
posted by anya32 on Jan 10, 2013 - 134 comments

"There are many species in the asshole kingdom."

"So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?" -- The Chronicle talks to two professors, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and philospher Aaron James, about their recent work on, well, assholes. [more inside]
posted by bardic on Jan 6, 2013 - 71 comments

Suspiciously familiar...

Y est-ce deux dés? (not exactly what it says on the tin) [more inside]
posted by BungaDunga on Nov 25, 2012 - 24 comments

Wet your whistle on these

What ho, dearest cousins in the Western Colonies. You appear to be increasingly using the vernacular of the mother country. Splendid! [more inside]
posted by Wordshore on Oct 17, 2012 - 180 comments

His tooth was pulling out

...it's true that the progressive passive first appeared in the English language in the second half of the 18th century, replacing what historians of English grammar call the passival.
via Slate
posted by ancillary on Jun 3, 2012 - 18 comments

False Fronts in the Language Wars

"Not since Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella thundered against conserving natural racehorses and protecting endangered feces has a polemicist been so incensed by her own misunderstandings." - Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker responds to Joan Acocella's New Yorker piece, The English Wars [more inside]
posted by beisny on Jun 1, 2012 - 60 comments

As she is spoked

The myth of English as a global language One would have to say that English, far from being a pure maiden, looks like a woman who has appeared out of some distant fen, had more partners than Moll Flanders, learned a lot in the process, and is now running a house of negotiable affection near an international airport
posted by infini on May 26, 2012 - 76 comments

A Database of Metaphor

The Mind is a Metaphor. A database of thousands of metaphors organized by category, like 18th century, Liquid, or Jacobite. It's maintained by University of Virginia English Professor Brad Pasanek.
posted by shivohum on Mar 27, 2012 - 19 comments

Page: 1 2 3