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

Translations of the Stalin Epigram.

Posted 85 minutes ago

Ian Probstein has a post at Jacket2 presenting Mandelstam’s notorious “Stalin Epigram” in the original Russian and three translations, including his own, and discussing various aspects of the poem and problems of rendering it into English verse, which of course is intensely interesting to me. We discussed the poem a few years ago, but only in the context of the … [Link]

Latvian as Code and Oddly Named Parisians.

Posted 25 hours ago

I’ve finished Dominic Lieven’s Russia Against Napoleon and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars; Lieven not only covers the whole period from the 1812 invasion (and its origins) to the Allied entry into Paris in 1814, he is apparently the first English-language historian to do so using the rich Russian sources. As he says, Russians … [Link]

Language Log

Text analytics applied to applications of things like text analytics

Posted 5 hours ago

South by Southwest (SXSW) uses a web-based voting method to choose panels, and so Jason Baldridge took a look at the titles submitted for Phil Resnik's "Putting a Real-Time Face on Polling" session, to … see whether some straight-forward Unix commands, text analytics and natural language processing can reveal anything interesting about them. He describes the results in "Titillating Titles: … [Link]

Can you spell "bus"?

Posted 6 hours ago

I have commented before on the psycholinguistics of signs painted on roads: in the USA it is apparently assumed that drivers will read the words in the order in which their front wheels reach them, so that what appears to be a display with "ONLY" above "LANE" above "BIKE" is supposed to be read as "BIKE LANE ONLY". In the UK, … [Link]

Talk Wordy to Me

My (getting to be) annual St. Patrick’s Day post

Posted 6 months ago

So three years ago, I had an op-ed in the Philly Inquirer on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s about my family, and the movie Hunger. I’m pretty proud of it. (Linking to it on my blog and not the Inky, because it seems to appear and disappear there.) Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and slainte! [Link]

Open for business!

Posted 9 months ago

Aside from the logo, the Talk Wordy to Me redesign is complete. I’ve added a page with information about my editing services and another with links to fiction I have written (not much at the moment but that will change!). I built the blog in my first WordPress self-install (it used to be hosted on with the Genesis Framework … [Link]

Urban Word of the Day

Case of the Muesdays

Posted 19 hours ago

After a holiday on Monday, going back to work on Tuesday feels like a Monday. You will have a case of the Muesdays. I have a case of the Muesdays. I need a nap. Or a muffin. [Link]

Labor Day

Posted 43 hours ago

Every day that I have to drag my lazy ass out of bed and go to my shitty job. Goddamnit, it's 6 am. I've got to get up for work. Another Labor Day! [Link]

World Wide Words: Updates

New online: Footloose and fancy free

Posted 4 days ago

Despite claims, 'footloose and fancy free' has nothing to do with chain gangs. [Link]

New online: Raparee

Posted 4 days ago

A 'raparee' was an Irish irregular soldier and robber. [Link]

The Problem of Defining Genocide

Posted 2 days ago

Stéphanie Giry has an article in the New York Review of Books, The Genocide That Wasn’t, discussing the application of the term genocide to the case of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Giry outlines the problem that occurs when the generally accepted definition of a term clashes with the legal one and points out that genocide has become the ultimate … [Link]


Posted 2 days ago

Genocide is a rare case of a word where we know who exactly coined it, a lawyer and law professor named Raphael Lemkin. Lemkin formed the word from the Greek word γένος (genos, race or tribe) and -cide (killing). Lemkin used the word in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, defining it as “the destruction of a nation … [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]

Omniglot blog

Language quiz

Posted 3 days ago

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

Churches and Cells

Posted 4 days ago

Today I discovered that the Welsh word llan (church, parish), which is used mainly in place names, such as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, has cognates in the other Celtic languages: lann in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Manx, and lan in Breton. These words all come from the Proto-Indo-European root *lendʰ- (land, heath) [source]. Another word church-related word that is used mainly in … [Link]

the world in words

The man who claimed to be a whaler, and other online dating adventures of Anya Ulinich

Posted 7 days ago

Photo: Mike Licht via Flickr Here’s a post from New York-based writer Alina Simone. Never has the art of finding love been more entwined with the art of writing. And the potentially life-changing issue of who you attract and how you attract them comes down to one key document: your profile. Writing, dating and love are central themes in Anya Ulinich’s … [Link]

India’s new leader favors the Hindi language, which is a problem for the country’s 50 million Urdu speakers

Posted 13 days ago

Indian street sign in four languages: Hindi, English, Punjabi and Urdu. (baklavabaklava via Flickr) Here’s a post from California-based reporter Sonia Paul. I spent several months in Lucknow, India, studying Urdu. I knew that it would be a daunting task. But I had a leg up — it wasn’t going to be completely new. Several years ago, I’d studied Hindi, which … [Link]


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