John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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Language Stuff

Almost everyone uses language, so inevitably almost everyone thinks they are an expert in it. I don’t consider myself an expert, though most of my work requires at least language competence and sometimes actual skill, but I do follow the blogs featured on this feeds page.

(If you are wondering where the translation-related feeds have all gone, I have put them on their own page.)

Most of the blogs represented here are in English, most of the time, but don’t be surprised to find other languages used. Go with the flow – I occasionally find myself pleasantly surprised at how much I can grasp in languages I have never seen before.

Language On the Net

trigger warning, trigger

Posted 16 days ago

Trigger warnings have been a focus of some rather highly charged discussion at universities across North America lately. A trigger warning is a notice posted at the beginning of material, such as that depicting rape or violence, that may act as a catalyst or trigger for those suffering post-traumatic stress, so that they can mentally prepare themselves to view the … [Link]

Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar

Posted 19 days ago

If you’re not familiar with McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, you should be. This particular column takes on the passive voice and other modes of ambiguous grammar. I particularly like the “past exonerative tense.” [Discuss this post] [Tip o’ the hat to Matt Sergi for pointing this one out to me.] [Link]

Talk Wordy to Me

That time I got accused of making a bomb in school but did not get fucking arrested

Posted 18 days ago

OK so by now you have probably heard about the 14-year-old in Irving, Texas, who was arrested cause he is a fucking genius who built a goddamn clock out of circuit boards and wanted his teachers to be proud of him but instead they were racist at him and he got hauled off by the fucking cops WHO ALSO THINK … [Link]

Asking for a bit more help for Goofus

Posted 7 months ago

2015-03-08 13.09.31 UPDATE: We’ve raised $1,560 this week. From Goofus, Lauren, and I, thank you so much for all of your help, you’ve gotten us out of the woods on this. I’ve taken down the Paypal donate button. Hey everyone. So earlier this year, we raised some money to help pay for some of the medical costs of getting two kitty sisters … [Link]

World Wide Words: Updates

New online: Gibberish

Posted 40 hours ago

A story connects 'gibberish' with an ancient Arabic writer. [Link]

New online: You snowing me?

Posted 40 hours ago

It's not the Inuit who have lots of words for snow but the Scots and English. [Link]

Omniglot blog

Language quiz

Posted 12 hours ago

Here’s a recording in a mystery language. Can you identify the language, and do you know where it’s spoken? [Link]

Language learning – better, easier, quicker

Posted 3 days ago

People who make language learning apps, online language courses and similar sometimes contact me asking me to review their apps/courses, and to link to them / promote them on Omniglot. This is often in exchange for free use of their courses for a certain period. This is exactly the kind of thing I hoped might happen when I set up … [Link]


Posted 33 hours ago

I was looking up something else in my American Heritage Dictionary when my eye fell on this entry: wight2 (wīt) adj. Archaic Valorous; brave. [Middle English < Old Norse vīgt, neuter of vīgr, able to fight; see weik-3 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.] My first thought was “That’s odd, I’ve never heard of such a word.” Immediately following came the thought “Why is such an odd word in the AHD? How did it survive the culling that takes place for every new edition?” I will probably never get an answer to that question (I’m guessing some highly placed editor simply liked the word and couldn’t bear to let it go), but of course I went straight to the OED (entry from 1924), where the earliest citations are from c1275 (▸?a1200) (Laȝamon Brut l. 10658 “Fif and twenti þusend. whitere monnen”) and the latest is from 1858 (W. Morris Def. Guenevere 108 “They ought to sing of him who was as wight As Launcelot or Wade”), by which time I presume it was long out of living use. At any rate, I probably wouldn’t have posted about it if I hadn’t scrolled to the end of the entry and found this: wight-wapping adj. [wap v.1] moving rapidly, or characterized by such movement. 1830 Scott Ayrshire Trag. i. 1, The weaver shall find room At the wight-wapping loom. “Wight-wapping”: what a wonderful word! It sounds like something Bugs Bunny Elmer Fudd would say. Bring it back, say I—we’ll get ’em all back! > [Link]

Where Is the Friend’s Home?

Posted 2 days ago

As I wrote here, for me, the gold standard of films about childhood has long been Abbas Kiarostami’s Where Is the Friend’s Home?, so I was pleased to find this Poemas del río Wang post (which I apparently missed back in 2009) which explains that the movie’s title is taken from a poem by Sohrab Sepehri, quotes the poem in … [Link]

Language Log

Drunk [on] US dollars

Posted 32 hours ago

On June 9, 2012, Clement Larrive wrote: I stumbled upon this sign while on a trip from Wuhan, Hubei to Shanghai. Do you have any idea about what it really means ? I apologize for letting this interesting query get lost in my bloated inbox for such an unconscionably long time, but am very happy that — by chance on … [Link]

So WHAT rolls to the UK again?

Posted 35 hours ago

Initially baffled by this BBC headline. Thought "ship" was a noun and "rolls" a verb. — Ralph Harrington (@ralphharrington) October 3, 2015 [h/t Ian Preston] [Link]

You Don't Say

Moving on

Posted 4 years ago

Today You Don’t Say relocates to a new Web address and new software. You will be able to find it at where … [Link]

A spell of rough weather

Posted 4 years ago

There was a mild dustup today on the Internet over, of all things, spelling.The rhubarb started when Anne Trubek flung down the gauntlet with a suggestion in Wi … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day

Drain the Poison

Posted 17 hours ago

An idiom for masturbation. Typically used for males who are "backed up" that can't get their mind off of sex and therefore cannot focus. Dude I can't think straight right now, all these females in leggings are messing with my head. I need to go home and drain the poison". [Link]


Posted 41 hours ago

Accidental explosive diarrhea caused by consuming a dairy product by a lactose intolerant person. – Yo Bob, where did you go? We searched everywhere for you at the party. – I had to change my pants man, had a little lactcident after downing two White Russians. [Link]

the world in words

A bilingual seal of approval for high school graduates

Posted 10 months ago

Peter Kuskie and Maria Regalado are students at Hillsboro High in Oregon and are on track to receive a new bilingual seal on their diplomas. (Photo: Monica Campbell) Read this post from Monica Campbell. Or listen to the podcast above. Let’s take a trip back to September 1995, when Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was talking about education on the campaign … [Link]

A Soviet-era storytelling game trains you to bluff, lie and sometimes tell the truth

Posted 10 months ago

A tense moment during a game of “Mafia” in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of the English Mafia Club of Kiev) Read this post from Alina Simone. Or listen to the podcast above. The storytelling parlor game “Mafia” crosses borders, transcends culture and bridges the language divide in ways you’d never expect. There are no game boards or joysticks involved in Mafia … [Link]


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