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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

Teenage Teanga

A translated version of Avicii's "Wake Me Up" recently broke the record for highest number of views for an Irish language video. It's just the most popular example of the headline-grabbing music videos being made at Coláiste Lurgan, an Irish language summer school for teenagers. Their other popular videos include An tAdh 'Nocht (Get Lucky), Tóg Amach Mé (Wagon Wheel), Pompeii, and Amhrán na gCupán (When I'm Gone). Interview with the school's manager here, setting out his mission. See more songs on YouTube and Bandcamp.
posted by rollick on Sep 7, 2013 - 19 comments

Whoops...The correct answer was Double Dutch

How many languages can you recognise?
posted by fix on Sep 4, 2013 - 46 comments

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling

New fiction by Ted Chiang (previously)
posted by Artw on Aug 29, 2013 - 40 comments

Go home, Duolingo, you are drunk.

Weird Duolingo Phrases (SLTumblr). [more inside]
posted by Elementary Penguin on Aug 29, 2013 - 34 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

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn's Fake Accent

When Hollywood turned to talkies, it created a not-quite-British, not-quite-American style of speaking that has all but disappeared.
posted by brundlefly on Aug 8, 2013 - 93 comments

This might come in handy sometime...

A guide for classical radio announcers... and whoever else is interested.
posted by flapjax at midnite on Jul 28, 2013 - 28 comments

Tom Scott's Language Files

For several years now, Tom Scott, a young man in Britain, has mostly done silly, entertaining things on YouTube, things like, "Two Drums and a Cymbal Fall off a Cliff," "The Matt Gray High Five Face Off," "Robocoaster Challenge: Reciting Shakespeare while attached to a giant robot arm," "Google Glasses: A New Way to Hurt Yourself," and "Welcome to Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers" (previously). But recently, he's done a series of videos that are interesting more than they're silly: eight videos which introduce linguistic concepts like phonotactics, clusivity & evidentiality, and the contrast between descriptivism and prescriptivism (he's decidedly the former, fyi).
posted by ocherdraco on Jul 17, 2013 - 11 comments

"The alphabet? You'd better learn to listen, kid."

A clever bit of constrained writing in song from Matilda the Musical and Tim Minchin. [more inside]
posted by Gordafarin on Jul 16, 2013 - 5 comments

It's what the words mean.

The dictionary of the Global War on You
A first attempt to “rectify” American names in the era of the ascendant national -- morphing into global -- security state.
Secret: Anything of yours the government takes possession of and classifies.
posted by adamvasco on Jul 7, 2013 - 22 comments

The Banality of Evil: NSA Recruitment Edition

Madiha Tahir, a journalist and PhD candidate, presents a transcript of her interaction with NSA staff who came to recruit at the summer language program where she is studying. "I had intended to go simply to hear how the NSA is recruiting at a moment when it’s facing severe challenges," says Tahir. Recruiters apparently discussed their "fun" after work, doing karaoke, having costume parties, and getting drunk. One of their slides asked the language students at the event "Are you good at manipulating people?" In the Q&A, Tahir and other students held their feet to the fire over surveillance of Germany and other EU countries.
posted by gusandrews on Jul 3, 2013 - 179 comments

The Weirdest Language in the World

Idibon, a company that specializes in language processing, decided to rank the world's languages to see which had the most unusual features. The winner was Chalcatongo Mixtec, a language spoken by 6000 people in Mexico. The most normal language? Hindi. [more inside]
posted by Tsuga on Jul 2, 2013 - 95 comments

Racial Slur or Honorific?

The Other Redskins. 62 US high schools in 22 states currently use the name "Redskins" for one of their sports teams. 28 high schools in 18 states have dropped the mascot over the last 25 years. As public pressure continues to intensify on the Washington Redskins football team to change their name -- one many consider a racial slur that disparages Native Americans -- similar debates are being waged in towns across the country about their local high school teams.
posted by zarq on Jul 2, 2013 - 183 comments

EmPHAsis on the right sylLABle

How to pronounce Chicago street names. How to pronounce London street names. How to pronounce Austin street names. How to pronounce New Orleans street names (and a whole lot else). How to pronounce "Spuyten Duyvil," "Kosciuszko" and "Goethals." How to pronounce "Van Nuys," "Sepulveda," "San Pedro," and "Los Angeles." [more inside]
posted by Iridic on Jun 28, 2013 - 120 comments

Everyone is the main character in their own story

sonder - n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own (from the dictionary of obscure sorrows)
posted by desjardins on Jun 11, 2013 - 79 comments

Bears. And etymology!

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

Deciphering Maya

Maya Decipherment is a weblog devoted to ideas and developments in ancient Maya epigraphy and related fields. (via)
posted by Confess, Fletch on Jun 6, 2013 - 3 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

“Well, I guess we know which one you are.”

On "Geek" vs "Nerd"
posted by cthuljew on Jun 4, 2013 - 82 comments

Here comes a tall, thin, yellow human!

After more than 25 years of studying the calls of prairie dog in the field, one researcher managed to decode just what these animals are saying. And the results show that prairie dogs aren't only extremely effective communicators, they also pay close attention to detail.
posted by cthuljew on Jun 2, 2013 - 33 comments

"I love the idea of witnessing the birth of that word."

"In 1872 two men began work on a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India. Since its publication the 1,000-page dictionary has never been out of print and a new edition is due out next year. What accounts for its enduring appeal? Hobson-Jobson is the dictionary's short and mysterious title." [more inside]
posted by the man of twists and turns on May 27, 2013 - 10 comments

But where are you REALLY from?

Where are you from? Or, how I became a Pakistani? [more inside]
posted by threeants on May 25, 2013 - 95 comments

The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads

"What was most perplexing of all to me was that, although I was certain that the ads contained Chinese phrases and sentences, every Chinese person to whom I showed them emphatically maintained that they could not understand a single word."
posted by roll truck roll on May 18, 2013 - 56 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

The original Star Wars film to be dubbed in the Navajo language of Dine

The various Star Wars movies have been translated into at least 39 languages (as also seen here in a set of 16 international logos for Attack of the Clones), but the Navajo Nation is set to be the first Native American tribe to officially dub the original Star Wars film. [more inside]
posted by filthy light thief on Apr 28, 2013 - 18 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

The Complicated Chinese Family Tree: A Video Guide

The Complicated Chinese Family Tree - Cantonese Version! Or, if you like, the original in putonghua. (This previous post may be of some assistance.)
posted by milquetoast on Apr 23, 2013 - 6 comments

Iterated learning using YouTube

"What happens if you repeatedly run Kafka's Metamorphosis through YouTube's auto-transcription? Structure emerges!" via Sean Roberts
posted by knile on Apr 2, 2013 - 18 comments

Nothing is ungoogleable in Sweden

The Language Council of Sweden has been the semi-official arbiter of the Swedish language since World War II. It monitors "the development of spoken and written Swedish" and publishes a list of new words each year to ensure consistency of spelling and make sure that Swedish is a "complete language, i.e. [is] possible to use in all areas of society." This year, for the first time, the Council has taken a word off the list: ogooglebar, which literally meant "ungoogleable" but was defined as "a thing or person that does not produce relevant results when typed into a search engine." [more inside]
posted by Etrigan on Mar 26, 2013 - 43 comments

Mood Of The Times

The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books. March 20, 2013. Fear Factor Increases, Emotions Decrease in Books Written in Last 50 Years. 'We find evidence for distinct historical periods of positive and negative moods, underlain by a general decrease in the use of emotion-related words through time. Finally, we show that, in books, American English has become decidedly more “emotional” than British English in the last half-century, as a part of a more general increase of the stylistic divergence between the two variants of English language.' [more inside]
posted by VikingSword on Mar 21, 2013 - 6 comments

Compare and contrast, bits vs dead trees

As lexicographers revel in the capabilities of online dictionaries, one person notes the death of print encyclopedias.
posted by Brandon Blatcher on Mar 19, 2013 - 18 comments

Yo is a Pronoun, yo.

Check out yo down in Baltimore enriching American English.
posted by Mister_A on Mar 12, 2013 - 34 comments

Was Wittgenstein Right?

"I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is 'purely descriptive.'" --Wittgenstein. Apart from a small and ignored clique of hard-core supporters the usual view these days is that his writing is self-indulgently obscure and that behind the catchy slogans there is little of intellectual value. But this dismissal disguises what is pretty clearly the real cause of Wittgenstein’s unpopularity within departments of philosophy: namely, his thoroughgoing rejection of the subject as traditionally and currently practiced; his insistence that it can’t give us the kind of knowledge generally regarded as its raison d’être. [more inside]
posted by Golden Eternity on Mar 5, 2013 - 37 comments

Linguistic Time Travel

"The discovery advances UC Berkeley’s mission to make sense of big data and to use new technology to document and maintain endangered languages as critical resources for preserving cultures and knowledge. [...] it can also provide clues to how languages might change years from now."
posted by batmonkey on Feb 11, 2013 - 21 comments

Could be worse. Whatever.

How To Speak Minnesotan [slyt]
posted by cthuljew on Feb 10, 2013 - 45 comments

From Shag Point to Humptulips

Vaguely Rude Place Names of the World. [more inside]
posted by Horace Rumpole on Feb 10, 2013 - 58 comments

The bLogicarian

"The name "bLogicarian" may be one of the the most pretentious conglomerations of philhellenic puns I could concoct." A blog on language, poetry and translation. [more inside]
posted by frimble on Feb 5, 2013 - 1 comment

Like pornography, you know it when you see it ...

International Art English (IAE) with its pompous paradoxes and plagues of adverbs is not to be confused with actual English.
posted by philip-random on Jan 29, 2013 - 64 comments

METAFILTRVM: NOLI ILLEGITIMI CARBORVNDVM

We've all been there: you need a portentous motto for your new liberal arts college, crack military unit, or world-encompassing secret society, but you just don't speak Latin. No problēma! If the grand list of Latin phrases doesn't have what you're looking for, there's always the Latin Motto Generator. [more inside]
posted by Iridic on Jan 29, 2013 - 67 comments

A world accidentally full of triggers

Rhiannon Lucy Coslett, one of the women behind The Vagenda, writes on the phenomenon of the trigger warning.
posted by mippy on Jan 29, 2013 - 101 comments

Christ, What an Asshole: an NPR hour on a word they can't say on-air

To the Best of Our Knowledge does a program on assholes. Much bleeping/blanking ensues, along with a lot of use of "a-word" to describe both word and the persons it names. [more inside]
posted by Mngo on Jan 27, 2013 - 34 comments

"...an enormous erect phallus, and piles of lettuce in the background."

First noticed on tumblr but now available to all, Alex Clayden's paper "Same-Sex Desire in Pharaonic Egypt" which, among other things, tells you about the connection between lettuce and semen and the Ancient Egyptian for "You have a nice ass."
posted by The Whelk on Jan 25, 2013 - 26 comments

Now all they need is a replica of "The Wire"

"Almost a decade since the end of the hit American TV series Friends, the show — and, in particular, the fictitious Central Perk cafe, where much of the action took place — is enjoying an afterlife in China's capital, Beijing. Here, the show that chronicled the exploits of New York City pals Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey is almost seen as a lifestyle guide."
posted by vidur on Jan 23, 2013 - 37 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

Learn Korean Easy!

Learn Korean Easy!
posted by Blazecock Pileon on Jan 17, 2013 - 46 comments

“colorful etymologies...are almost always wrong".

The Whole Nine Yards: Seeking a Phrase’s Origin
When people talk about “the whole nine yards,” just what are they talking about? For decades the answer to that question has been the Bigfoot of word origins...But now two researchers using high-powered database search tools have delivered a confident “none of the above,” supported by a surprise twist: Before we were going the whole nine yards, it turns out, we were only going six.
(SLNYT)

posted by anazgnos on Jan 15, 2013 - 53 comments

How to talk Minnesota Nice

I grew up in Minnesota, home of a particular passive-aggressive communication style which is summed up nicely by this chart and subsequent comments. Of particular import is the difference between "that's different" and "that's sure different" (though there isn't mention of "that's real different," which I think means just about the same thing) and examples of Minnesota Enthusiastic Neutral. Also worth noting is the classic book by sometime A Prairie Home Companion regular Howard Mohr, How to Talk Minnesotan. [more inside]
posted by larrybob on Jan 13, 2013 - 170 comments

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