Archive for Names

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:


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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Galbraith: the secret clue

Patrick Juola's guest post on identifying the authorship of The Cuckoo's Calling (now number 1 in the Amazon hardback bestseller list) is fascinating. But I seem to be the only person in the world who picked up the secret message that Joanne "J. K." Rowling sent when she picked the pseudonym under which she would publish her first crime novel. It is amazing that no one else picked up on it, but there we are: it was just me. I saw it as soon as… well, as soon as the Sunday Times revealed their discovery of the novel's pseudonymous nature, actually, which is not quite as good as seeing it before the story was all over the newspapers, but I still think I deserve a lot of credit for my penetrating intelligence. I can't imagine why I don't do crosswords; I'd probably win prizes.

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Nihon, Nippon, Japan

Students of Japanese often get confused about when to use "Nihon" and when to use "Nippon" as the name of the country.  In truth, there are many names for the "Land of the Rising Sun (a translation of Nihon / Nippon にほん / にっぽん / 日本), and sometimes the English name "Japan" gets thrown into the mix.  All of these variants came together in an incident that is recounted for us by Jim Breen.

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Ramps, chives, garlic, and other members of the Allium genus

Four days ago, I had never even heard of "ramps" (in the sense of a vegetable), but on Friday the 26th, I had a great revelation.  That morning I went up to the Swarthmore COOP to replenish my larder, which had been pretty much emptied out before I left on a trip to Kyrgyzstan and Turkey.  Right while I was standing in the produce section contemplating whether to buy kale, baby bok choi, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, or some other vegetable, a lanky Irishman (I could tell from his accent) brought in two big bags of greens, the likes of which I'd never seen before.

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If you like Japanese food, you are undoubtedly familiar with "teppanyaki", so you probably wouldn't be surprised to see a sign like this in your neighborhood, as did Jim Breen near his home in Melbourne:

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Celebrating "Kromowidjojo"

The winner of the women's 100-meter freestyle swimming event at the London Olympics is the wonderfully named Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. Her last name (pronounced /'kromowɪ'ʤojo/) has naturally attracted some attention, so I thought I'd offer an explainer for those interested in its origins.

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Bandersnatch Cummerbund: not a typo, not a cupertino

Earlier today, AFP photographer Alex Ogle posted on Twitter what looked like an outrageous typo in a column by Lisa de Moraes of the Washington Post: the name of Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC/PBS show Sherlock, got transmogrified into "Bandersnatch Cummerbund" on second mention.

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Boko Haram and Peggy burrito

From California, Julie Wei sends me "tidbits:  curious words":

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Novel illness name of the week

News is leaking out about DSM-5, the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the central reference book of mental illnesses for the psychiatric profession, due to be published in May 2013. Journalists who have been delving into the details of its proposed new listings (it is up for comment by the medical community at the moment) are finding rich pickings in jargon-encapsulated official names for new mental conditions. I think my vote for new illness name of the week has to go to disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. This would be the new DSM-5 term for temper tantrums. Is your child (or indeed, your domestic partner) sicker than you thought?

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