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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 Maybe they're just plain outdated.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

Words are weapons

"Unspeak is language that deliberately loads the dice. War on Terror. Weapons of mass destruction. Climate change. Failed asylum seekers. File sharing. Austerity measures. Oil spill. Erectile dysfunction. Once we tune in to unspeak we start seeing and hearing it everywhere" -- UK journalist Steve Poole's book Unspeak has been turned into a six part interactive documentary series by Dutch new media group Submarine Channel, narrated by Poole himself. [more inside]
posted by MartinWisse on Oct 31, 2013 - 37 comments

A Pledge to My Readers

I’ve always written high-quality sentences, prepared with the finest grammatical ingredients. In the coming year, I’m raising the bar even higher: I’ll be offering only artisanal words, locally grown, hand-picked, minimally processed, organically prepared, and sustainably packaged... - by Michael Erard, reprinted at Medium
posted by jim in austin on Oct 29, 2013 - 24 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

jIyIntaHvIS not qajegh

Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," performed in Klingon.
posted by brownpau on Oct 16, 2013 - 21 comments

Penis Beaker

Mumsnet, the popular social network of (mainly UK) parents, suffered traffic load issues today due to a post-coital hygiene question. [more inside]
posted by Wordshore on Oct 9, 2013 - 231 comments

Now that's a fast dog.

Momoko: Is it good?
Paulo: Oh, yes! Please try it.
(and other insane Japanese textbook doodles from Twitter user 茶んた). [more inside]
posted by JHarris on Oct 4, 2013 - 15 comments

"fucking world_cup metal fuckin war album shave"

The words and phrases that distinguish men and women on Facebook. A word cloud visualization taken from a new study exploring personality, gender and age in language used on social media, published in PLOS ONE. [more inside]
posted by dontjumplarry on Sep 30, 2013 - 94 comments

Ranzgia, Gauschin, Dunazz

Here are a glossary and alphabet for the Lingua Ignota, the secret language created by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century abbess, seer, doctor, and composer.
posted by Iridic on Sep 30, 2013 - 6 comments

What *do* you call a drive through liquor store?

In 2003 there was the 2003 Harvard dialect survey. (Previous) which was taken up by Joshua Katz for a PhD project looking at regional dialect variation in the continental US (previous). Now he has created a quiz that takes this data and tells you where in the continental US they speak like you. For the ambitious, there's also the full 140 question version.
posted by MartinWisse on Sep 28, 2013 - 171 comments

Hab SoSlI' Quch! (Your mother has a smooth forehead!)

Are Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki and Na'vi real languages?

Dictionaries: Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki [pdf] and Na'vi
Phrases: Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki and Na'vi
posted by desjardins on Sep 27, 2013 - 41 comments

This Place Is Not A Place Of Honor

How do you communicate "DANGER!" to the very far future?
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI on Sep 19, 2013 - 65 comments

Hello World Quiz

Guess the programming language by "Hello World" snippet.
posted by Artw on Sep 11, 2013 - 62 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

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

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