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

IKEA Names II.

Posted 5 hours ago

Back in 2003 I posted about a site “explaining a few of the basic rules of IKEA’s often bizarre-sounding product names”; now that the internet has grown and matured, I can point you to a much more comprehensive site, The IKEA Dictionary by Lars Petrus: Part of what makes IKEA unique is their product names. Each name means something, often … [Link]

Seejiq Abstract.

Posted 24 hours ago

The Seejiq (called Seediq in Wikipedia) are a Taiwanese aboriginal people who speak an Austronesian language; I learned about them from Scott Simon’s article “Real People, Real Dogs, and Pigs for the Ancestors: The Moral Universe of ‘Domestication’ in Indigenous Taiwan,” forthcoming in American Anthropologist — or rather from the abstract, which is at the link. Why am I mentioning … [Link]

Omniglot blog

Polyglot Pathways

Posted 2 days ago

If you’re a polyglot who learns languages for fun, you might choose languages from a particular family or region, or languages that have contributed to your mother tongue. Or you might choose ones that are completely unrelated to one another in order to challenge yourself. These are possible pathways a polyglot might pursue. Another possible polyglot pathway that I came … [Link]

French and potatoes

Posted 4 days ago

I came across an interesting phrase in Scottish Gaelic today: Ith do bhuntàta beag mus dig na Frangaich!, which means “eat your small potatoes before the French come!” and it is apparently said to children picking at their food to encourage them to eat up [source]. Are there similar phrases in other languages, perhaps used in different contexts? What did … [Link]

Language Log

Freedom and flexibility

Posted 10 hours ago

Muriel Spark's memoir Curriculum Vitae antedates discourse-particle like to the early 1920s. And J.L. Austin, in his posthumous work Sense and Sensibilia, defends like as "the great adjuster-word, or, alternatively put, the main flexibility-device by whose aid, in spite of the limited scope of our vocabulary, we can always avoid being left completely speechless." Muriel Spark describes her reactions, in her … [Link]

Ways to say "China" that can circumvent the censors

Posted 13 hours ago

China's netizens are endlessly resourceful in coming up with clever terms to refer to almost anything that can evade the omnipresent censors — at least for awhile. We're all familiar with the "Grass Mud Horse" and the "Franco-Croatian Squid". Strange as it may seem (!), they sometimes feel the need to say something critical about China, but to do so … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day

And then i fucked her up the ass

Posted 18 hours ago

What you say when you're in the middle of a story and realize no one's listening. I'm sitting at the dinner table, telling my girlfriends family about how we met. As I'm getting to the funny part, i realize no one's listening, so i abruptly finish with "and then i fucked her up the ass!" [Link]

Didn't Do List

Posted 42 hours ago

When you get the great idea to start making ToDo lists at work, of which's items only a fraction get done. As the list grows after a few days, weeks, whatever, you begin to realize you've made a huge list of things you intended to do but never got done. Every morning at work, I add more things I should … [Link]

Why I dislike Bryan Garner

Posted 7 days ago

I don’t dislike the man. I’ve never met him. I’m sure he’s a very nice guy, and given a chance, we’d probably get along just fine. But I don’t like Garner’s Modern American Usage, an Orwellian usage guide published by Oxford University Press. Why don’t I like it? It’s not simply because it’s “prescriptivist.” I have no problem with giving … [Link]


Posted 16 days ago

Leech is a noun with two distinct meanings, or perhaps it is more accurately stated that leech is two separate nouns that are spelled the same and often conflated. The word is the name for a type of blood-sucking invertebrate, and it also is an archaic term for a physician or healer. The two senses are associated because physicians used … [Link]

Talk Wordy to Me

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

Posted 10 weeks 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 9 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]

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]

World Wide Words: Updates

New online: Bob's-a-dying

Posted 3 weeks ago

A once-common idiom, 'Bob's-a-dying', is traced to its origins. [Link]

New online: Binge-watching

Posted 3 weeks ago

'Binge-watching' is a newish term which Collins made its word of the year 2015. [Link]

the world in words

A bilingual seal of approval for high school graduates

Posted 12 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 12 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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