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

It Made Most Sense in Greek.

Posted 19 hours ago

I have to pass along another quote from Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome (see this post); he’s been describing the series of church councils that were intended to reconcile differing positions but usually wound up creating better-organized heresies (the ecumenical council at Constantinople in 381 “paradoxically … caused ‘Arianism’ itself to crystallize as a worked-out religious system, in effect”), and … [Link]


Posted 39 hours ago

It occurred to me to wonder why the word nephew, which comes from French neveu, is written with -ph-, so I looked it up in the OED, which (though the entry was updated in September 2003) is uncharacteristically unhelpful — after listing over a hundred variant spellings (including neveaw, newowe, neuo, nephwoy, and nevvey) gives the following etymology: < Anglo-Norman nevou, neveu, nevew, nevu, newu and Old French, Middle French neveu (also in Old French as nevou, nevo, nevu, nepveu, etc.; French neveu), originally the oblique case of Old French nies, niers (c1100; 2nd half of the 12th cent. in sense ‘grandson’, c1500 as nepveux (plural) in sense ‘descendants’) < classical Latin nepōt-, nepōs, grandson, descendant, a prodigal (see sense 2c), a secondary shoot (see sense 5), in post-classical Latin also nephew (4th cent.), niece (13th cent.), cognate with neve n.1. Compare also nepote n. Which has some interesting information (I didn’t know about the OF nominative nies, niers, or the native Germanic form neve, parallel to German Neffe), but doesn’t address the spelling issue. Spellings with -p- go back way earlier than I would have guessed (?1456 Duke of York in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) II. 100 “To take possession and saisine, in the name and to þe vse of our ful worshipful nepueu th’Erl of Warrewic”); I realize it must be Latinizing, after nepōs, but it seems very odd — we write river, not riper or ripher, even though again French -v- is from Latin -p-. Does anybody know anything more about the history of this spelling change, and the concomitant spelling pronunciation with /f/ which is universal in the US and exists in the UK as well? Come to think of it, that’s another thing I’m curious about — I’ve long been aware of the UK pronunciation /ˈnɛvjuː/, but for some reason I had the impression it was antiquated; the OED, however, implies it’s the more common one: Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈnɛvjuː/, /ˈnɛfjuː/, U.S. /ˈnɛfju/ So I’ll ask you Brits: do you say it with /v/ or /f/, and do you think of the former as standard or old-fashioned? > [Link]

Omniglot blog

Language quiz

Posted 28 hours ago

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

Take the frog and run!

Posted 3 days ago

Yesterday I came across the interesting French word grenouiller, which literally means “to frog” and actually means “to indulge in shady dealings”, and seems to refer specifically to political intrigues, according to Le Dictionnaire. A related expression is manger / bouffer la grenouille (literally, “to eat the frog”) = to scoop the till; to clean out the till; to take … [Link]

Language Log

Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC)

Posted 14 hours ago

Michael Rank has an interesting article on Scribd entitled "Chinese telegram, 1978" (5/22/2015). It's about a 1978 telegram that he bought on eBay. Here's a photograph: A preliminary note before providing the transcription and translation of the text: Chinese telegrams are sent and received purely as four digit codes. The sender has to convert a character text to numbers and … [Link]

"Purple mist coming from the east" cake

Posted 44 hours ago

Here is an interesting picture that Francois Dube took today in a cakeshop in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui (Muslim) Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China: Francois comments: As usual in China, the menu introduces each cake with its name in Mandarin and in English (with plenty of mistranslations). But one cake was different: its very poetic name (紫气东来) … [Link]

You Don't Say

Moving on

Posted 3 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 3 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]

Talk Wordy to Me

Asking for a bit more help for Goofus

Posted 11 weeks 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]

Vegetarian chili with no onions or garlic

Posted 4 months ago

My pal Beth Wodzinski asked for a vegetarian chili recipe with no onions or garlic (due to an allium sensitvity), afterI posted my award-winning chili recipe. So here is one! Vegetarian chili I just made up right now but is probably great Serves 4-6 1 red bell pepper 1 green bell pepper 1 tbsp red New Mexican chile powder* 1 … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day

dick date

Posted 8 hours ago

When two guys hang out together in a non-romantic fashion over dinner or a show. Also referred to as a "man date". I was planning to take my wife out to see the Bostones with dinner beforehand. She bailed at the last minute, so I invited Eric and we went out on a dick date. [Link]

crappy ending

Posted 32 hours ago

The opposite of a happy ending when getting a massage. When you are so relaxed that you shit yourself during the massage. Dana: Dude, I just had a great massage just now but I need to tip the masseuse big.Eric: Why, happy ending?Dana: Nope. Actually, it was the polar opposite. I was so relaxed I shat myself at minute 45.Eric: … [Link]

World Wide Words: Updates

New online: Ilk

Posted 4 weeks ago

The phrase 'of that ilk' still bothers some language purists. [Link]

New online: Fowler's Modern English Usage, Fourth Edition

Posted 4 weeks ago

Review of the new edition of 'Fowler's Modern English Usage'. [Link]

Book Review: The Language Myth

Posted 11 days ago

Vyvyan Evans’s The Language Myth is something of a polemic. In the book Evans, a professor of linguistics at Bangor University in the UK, takes on the dominant paradigm of twentieth century linguistics, the universal grammar of Noam Chomsky, especially as popularized by Steven Pinker in books like The Language Instinct. Evans’s book is, to say the least, controversial, and … [Link]


Posted 13 days ago

The word Luddite presents an interesting case of a word. It’s a word that was used for over a century, albeit rather rarely, to refer to a specific historical series of events. Then, in the late 1950s use of the word’s exploded, but with a subtle shift in its original meaning. [Link]

the world in words

A bilingual seal of approval for high school graduates

Posted 5 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 6 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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