Archive for Names

Moth onomastics: Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)

"Chinese character" is the name for a moth in this Wikipedia article.  At first when I read the article, I thought that there must have been an error.  But when I started to check around, I discovered that the same English name for Cilix glaucata occurred all over the place.

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Biemlfdlkk

Dan Levin has a nice article, "Adidos and Hotwind? In China, Brands Adopt Names to Project Foreign Flair" (NYT, 12/27/14).

Be sure to watch the slide show.  Here's one of my favorites:

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Now it's cows that use names (sigh)

According to a sub-headline in Full-Time Whistle, new scientific research has shown that "Cows and their calves communicate using individualised calls equivalent to human names."

How interesting. Cows have enough linguistic sophistication to employ the high-level device of personal naming? Let us delve into the details just a little, without moving away from the article itself.

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Lap Sangsouchong

You probably know it as Lapsang Souchong.  It is one of the most vexed and poorly understood of all English names for teas from China, many of which are notoriously difficult to figure out because they arose over a period of several hundred years and derived from numerous different Sinitic topolects.

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"It depends on where you are in the spectrum"

Martin Heymann writes (Tue, 2 Dec 2014 22:26:55 +1100):

Tonight, I was watching the Australian federal Minister of Education interviewed on TV.  He was discussing a senator called Dio Wang (see also here), and got in a bit of a scrap with the interviewer about how to pronounce the surname.

According to the Minister, "it depends on where you are in the spectrum" as to how the surname is pronounced.  Here's the clip (it's quite hilarious, especially because the recording keeps repeating in a loop).

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Troublesome characters

The People's Daily microblog account posted this list over the recent National Day holidays:

"Yī dú jiù cuò de 50 gè dìmíng 一读就错的50个地名" ("Fifty place names you're sure to misread")

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A "Japanese" supermarket at Peking University

Gianni Wan sent in this photograph of a sign on the front of a popular convenience store at Peking University:


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Tasty Chinese

Jen Cardelús writes:

I live in a primarily Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley (near LA) and don't yet speak any Chinese.  I've been wonderfully bemused by the restaurant naming conventions in the area, and was wondering if you have any insight into how Chinese people name restaurants, and what (if any) particular words are presumably being translated to reach the strange/humorous results.  In particular, "tasty" is used in the names of countless area restaurants. (My favorite is the lamentably-named Thousands Tasty, but there are also Tasty Garden, Tasty Dessert, Tasty Dining, Tasty Choice, New Tasty, Tasty Food, Tasty Noodle House, Tasty Duck, Beijing Tasty House, etc.)  Obviously, "Garden" is another word often used in Chinese restaurant names that would never be used for a non-Asian restaurant in the US.  Are these same sorts of restaurant names also seen in China, or are these patterns specific to Chinese restaurants in the US?  As a sidenote, it is amazing to me that so many immigrants opening restaurants must not know anyone with a reasonable command of English to run their proposed restaurant names by (e.g. Qing Dao Bread Food).

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No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has begun to refer to Hong Kong as Xianggang, the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation of the name.

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The return of Batman bin Suparman

Back in 2008, an image got passed around the blogosphere showing the Singaporean identity card of one Batman bin Suparman. I broke down the name in a Language Log post (my first after the great LL changeover). Since then, I hadn't thought much of young Batman, but today brought the sad news that he had been jailed on theft and drug charges.

That gave me an excuse to return to the 2008 post and freshen it up a bit for Slate's Lexicon Valley blog, so head over there for the latest. As part of Language Log's partnership with Lexicon Valley, some past LL posts have been featured on the Slate blog with minor updates. (I've contributed a few other golden oldies, including posts on meh, WTF, and early obscenicons.)

[Update: BBC News has picked up the story, quoting me.]

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Hsigo, the imaginary flying monkeys of Chinese mythology

If you do a web search for "Hsigo", you will find thousands of references and hundreds of images.  I won't give specific references, because they're all complete and utter nonsense, but you can read detailed descriptions of these fake, mythical Chinese monkeys — including pseudo-learned discussions of their name — in works like the following:  Erudite Tales, Creepy Hollows Encyclopedia, Mythical Creatures Guide, Encyclo, Societas Magic, Monstropedia, etc., etc.  Hsigo are supposedly flying monkeys with bird-like wings, the tail of a dog, and a human face.

There's even a very brief Wikipedia entry for Hsigo, but I know a top Wikipedia editor who is endeavoring to liquidate that totally fictitious article as a first-step toward eliminating "Hsigo" lore from the Web and hopefully from circulation elsewhere as well.

It all started with a typo. See "'Hsigo', the viral OCR typo".  This detective article is really quite entertaining and edifying.  It ends with a reference to what our Language Log colleague, Geoffrey Nunberg, calls "the 'metadata train wreck' of Google Books".

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


H O
P E

And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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Dolphins using personal names, again

As we have frequently noted here on Language Log, science stories on the BBC News website are (how to put this politely?) not always of prize-winning standard with respect to originality, timeliness, reliability, or attention to the relevant literature. In fact some of them show signs of being written by kids in junior high school. Way back in 2006 Mark Liberman commented on a BBC News story about the notion that dolphins have and use "names" for each other. He expressed skepticism, but the BBC forged ahead without paying any heed, and today, more than seven years later, we learn from the same BBC site once again that Dolphins 'call each other by name'. Yes, it's the same story, citing the same academic at the University of St Andrews, Dr Vincent Janik. (Mark's link in 2006 was unfortunately to a Google search on {Janik, dolphins}, which today brings up the current stories rather than the ones he was commenting on then.) And you don't need to leave the BBC page to see that the story contradicts itself.

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