The birth of obscenicons

Back in 2010, I went in search of the earliest examples of cartoon cursing characters — those playful typographical symbols that have been called "grawlixes" (a term coined by "Beetle Bailey" creator Mort Walker) but which I prefer calling "obscenicons." I detailed my quest in two Language Log posts: "Obscenicons a century ago" and "More on the early days of obscenicons." (The posts were later adapted for Slate's Lexicon Valley blog: "How Did @#$%&! Come to Represent Profanity?") I was able to find obscenicons going all the way back to Dec. 14, 1902 in Rudolph Dirks' pioneering comic strip "The Katzenjammer Kids," followed shortly thereafter by Gene Carr's "Lady Bountiful" comic starting in Feb. 1903.

I was pleased to learn that my obscenicon posts inspired Phil Edwards of Vox to do his own searching on newspaper databases, and the results can be seen in an entertaining new video, "How #$@!% became shorthand for cursing." Turns out obscenicons can be pushed back even further, to 1901.

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Robotic copying

Since so much of learning to read and write Chinese characters depends upon mindless repetition, writing them countless times, some bright people in the age of AI have finally seized upon a way to escape from the drudgery:  training a robot to write the characters endlessly for them.

"Chinese schoolgirl shamed for using robot to write homework. Now everybody wants one"

Teen bought device online and was caught out by her mother when she completed her Lunar New Year assignments in record time

Media report alerts a wider audience to the robots, which can copy text and mimic your handwriting

Phoebe Zhang, SCMP (2/19/19)

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Penglin Wang’s response to David Marjanović’s comments

(The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang.)


Thanks to Professor Victor Mair’s organization of a series of informative postings, which share expertise in areas that I do not often get a chance to be a participant, I was happy to contribute material with which I am familiar. As I have a heavy teaching load of 13-15 hours per week plus other inevitable undertakings in the fall and winter quarters, I have no choice but to refrain myself from allocating time to extracurricular activities. By taking advantage of this relatively long weekend I went through the previous discussions and found my posting about the diffusion of the Germanic word for ‘hart’ in Tungusic and Mongolic ("Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions" [12/23/18]) commented on by David Marjanović (DM) and mentioned by some other esteemed colleagues. I wish to thank those of you who opined about my posting. In response to David Marjanović I have drafted the following notes.

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"Dear subscribed"

This morning's email brought a notice from Le Monde, to which I apparently subscribe:

Two things struck me about the salutation "Chère abonnée, cher abonné". The more obvious and less interesting one is that Le Monde is obviously not on board with "Écriture inclusive". The second, less topical thing: the English word "subscriber" implies that subscribing to a periodical is something that you do, while the French word "abonné(e)" implies that subscribing to a periodical is something that's done to you.

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Green New Singsong

Ever since Donald Trump sang his Emergency Song ("Emergency in B Flat", 2/17/2019), I've been hearing similar intonation patterns all over the place — in a line at the market where one shopper was telling another about someone's many excuses for not meeting her; on a sports talk radio program where the host was enumerating the many inconclusive reports about Bryce Harper's destination; and this morning on Radio Times, where Robinson Meyer was telling Marty Moss-Coane about climate change politics. In that last case, I made a note of the program and the time and found the podcast — so here's the passage:

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “arms”

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

This post on what arms means will follow the pattern of my post on bear. I’ll start by reviewing what the Supreme Court said about the topic in District of Columbia v. Heller. I’ll then turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for a look at how arms was used over the history of English up through the end of the 18th century, when the Second Amendment was proposed and ratified.. And finally, I’ll discuss the corpus data.

Justice Scalia’s majority opinion had this to say about what arms meant:

The 18th-century meaning [of arms] is no different from the meaning today. The 1773 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘[w]eapons of offence, or armour of defence.’’ Timothy Cunningham’s important 1771 legal dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.’’ [citations omitted]

As was true of what Scalia said about the meaning of bear, this summary was basically correct as far as it went, but was also a major oversimplification.

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Anti-anti

From today’s Financial Times:

I think they meant "anti-anti-Semitism ceremony".

[h.t. Donald Clarke]

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Massive borrowing

Some people freak out when early borrowings from one language into another are pointed out, as though it were an insult to the integrity of the recipient language, or that it somehow clashes with the sacred laws of linguistics.

When looked at dispassionately, borrowing among languages is both normal and pervasive.  In this post, I will demonstrate how widespread borrowing is in several representative, typical languages.

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Emergency in B flat

In his 2/15/2019 announcement about declaring a state of emergency on the southern border, President Trump used a striking sequence of fifteen singsong phrases:

So the uh the order is signed. And uh I'll f- I'll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office. And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, uh even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we'll get another bad ruling, and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court. Just like the ban, they sued us in the 9th Circuit and we lost, and then we lost in the appellate division, and then we went to the Supreme Court and we won.

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Japanese varia

First, as a slightly belated Valentine's present, onomatopoetic / mimetic chocolates:

"Chocolates That Represent Japanese Onomatopoeic Words To Describe Texture", by Johnny, Spoon & Tamago (1/16/15)

Here are the names of eight of the nine chocolates designed by Oki Sato of the Tokyo and Milan-based design studio Nendo:

ツブツブ (tsubu tsubu): a word for small bits or drops
スベスベ (sube sube): smooth edges and corners
トゲトゲ (toge toge): sharp pointed tips
ザラザラ (zara zara): granular like a file
ゴロゴロ (goro goro): cubic, with many edges
フワフワ (fuwa fuwa): soft and airy with many tiny holes
ポキポキ (poki poki): a delicate frame or structure
ザクザク (zaku zaku): makes a crunching sounds, like when you step on ice

You can see exceptionally clear photographs of the ingeniously designed 26x26x26mm chocolates in the article linked above.

[h.t. Becki Kanou]

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"Speech synthesis"

Ordinary language and technical terminology often diverge. We've covered the "passive voice" case at length. I don't think we've discussed  the fact that for botanists, cucumbers and tomatoes are berries but strawberries and raspberries aren't — but there are many examples of such terminological divergence in fields outside of linguistics. However, the technical terminology is itself sometimes vague or ambiguous in ways that lead to confusion among outsiders, and today I want to explore one case of this kind: "speech synthesis".

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Sinitic for "iron" in Balto-Slavic

[This is a guest post by Chris Button]

There are a couple of brief suggestions in Mallory & Adams' Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997:314;379) that the Lithuanian word geležis and Old Church Slavonic word želežo for "iron", which following Derksen (2008:555) may be derived from Balto-Slavic *geleź-/*gelēź- (ź being the IPA palatal sibilant ʑ), could possibly have a Proto-Sino-Tibetan association.

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"Hello" sung by a Kazakh

Here is Dimash Kudaibergen singing "Hello":

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