Archive for Language play

Similes for quality of computer code

I must admit to having enjoyed the series of savage similes about quality of computer program code presented in three xkcd comic strips. They show a female character, known to aficionados as Ponytail, reluctantly agreeing to take a critical look at some code that the male character Cueball has written. Almost at first sight, she begins to describe it using utterly brutal similes. In the first strip (at http://xkcd.com/1513) she announces that reading it is "like being in a house built by a child using nothing but a hatchet and a picture of a house." But Ponytail is not done: there is more bile and contempt where that came from.

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Secret bilingual language

My wife and I used to have a private language that was full of bilingual, cryptic references such as the following:

Yáo Shùn Yǔ 尧舜禹 (the names of three ancient, wise, Chinese rulers) || sānmíngzhì 三明治 ("three wise rulers"), the Chinese transcription of English "sandwich".

Thus, if we wished to ask each other, "Do you want to eat a sandwich?", we might say "Nǐ yào bùyào chī yī ge Yáo Shùn Yǔ? 你要不要吃一个尧舜禹?".  That sort of word play was usually just for fun or to avoid a word that was transcribed into Mandarin from some other language.

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Theodore Kushner's Chinese blocks

From Ivanka Trump's Instagram account:

The best moment of the day!

A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

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Grammatical diversity in the New York Times crossword

Monday's New York Times crossword is the handiwork of Tom McCoy, an undergraduate member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. I wouldn't've thought it possible, but he's managed to make a coherent theme out of a nonstandard grammatical variant in American English.

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A Japanese English portmanteau that failed

Sign on a store front in Nagasaki:

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Multiscriptal cosplay poster in Haifa

Guy Almog sent me this photograph of a detail from a poster that he and I spotted at several places in and around the Haifa subway:

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All the way with U in 2016/7

From Li Wei on Facebook:

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The hippo bottom of us

One of the most successful weekly essays I wrote in an early sixties college class on modern English poetry was about T. S. Eliot's "The Hippopotamus", the first two (out of nine) stanzas of which read thus:

THE BROAD-BACKED hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood is weak and frail,            5
Susceptible to nervous shock;
While the True Church can never fail
For it is based upon a rock.

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Days of the week in Nagoya

In "Hybrid writing in East Village, New York" (9/1/16), we looked at the playful combination of a Chinese character with Roman letters in the name of a Korean-Japanese restaurant, 木hursday, and we expanded our field of vision to encompass the names of the days of the week in languages across Eurasia.

Now Nathan Hopson takes us to Nagoya, Japan, where he spotted this fascinating take on the days of the week at Uni Mall, one of Nagoya's underground malls radiating off from the railway station.

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Furigana-like glossing in Mandarin

On Language Log, we have often touched upon the use of furigana ruby to gloss kanji (Chinese characters) for various purposes, most recently in the comments to "Roman-letter Mandarin pronoun of indeterminate gender " (8/9/16).

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"Facial expressions" in text-dominant online conversation

Christina Xu has written "A Field Guide to China's Most Indispensible Meme" (Motherboard, 8/1/16).  Her essay includes more than a dozen illustrations, the first of which is this one:

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Pop Japonesque nonsense?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Amazon's App Store for Android features a free daily app. The selection of a few days ago caught my eye not for the content of the app itself, but for the nonsensical (and incorrect) use of Japanese.

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Cat and mouse on the Chinese internet

Yesterday in the Washington Post, there was an enticing article by Anna Fifield:  "These are the secret code words that let you criticize the Chinese government" (7/29/15).

Fifield states that she is drawing on "Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang," by authors Perry Link and Xiao Qiang.  Comment by Perry Link:  "This is good work, and I am happy to have my name associated, but it is not my work.  Ms Fifield somehow made a mistake."

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