## An endless flawing stream of translation

So, I walk on down to the corner store to pick up a couple things and the woman behind the counter is reading (aloud, but quietly) a book that is in Chinese, in vertical columns, and clearly made to be a handsome volume. We step away from her book so she can get me something (a beer) from behind the counter and I ask her (in English), whatcha reading? and she answers: the Bible. We then continue in Chinese and I ask about the translation, is it in old style Chinese, etc, getting more and more confused since by her answers it doesn't sound like the Bible at all. When we get back she shows it to me and it's actually a Buddhist scripture, the Liánghuáng bǎo chàn 梁皇寶懺 (Jeweled Repentance of the Emperor of the Liang Dynasty)!

So what happened, I think, was that the Bible became an English equivalent for the word jīng 经, and she was using it as a general term for scripture, classic, sutra, etc. I had never heard that before — the conflation in English of bible and jing. I should include the fact that the woman's English is pretty poor.

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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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## A miscellany of mondegreens

Click here for a stellar collection of mondegreens from comedian Peter Kay. And prepare to have half a dozen songs ruined for you forever. A mondegreen is a speech perception error that causes you to hear the words of a song incorrectly. Peter Kay tells you what you're going to hear, and then plays passages from well-known pop songs of the last decade or two, often miming the crucial part; and thereafter you will never be able to hear those lines any other way. In fact you will forget what the real words were in the first place. Be afraid; be very afraid.

I recently heard of another friend-of-a-friend case in which people were taken in by one of the false email help-I'm-stranded scams, and actually sent money overseas in what they thought was a rescue for a relative who had been mugged in Spain. People really do respond to these scam emails, and they lose money, bigtime. Today I received the first Nigerian spam I have seen in which I am (purportedly) threatened by the FBI and Patriot Act government if I don't get in touch and hand over personal details that will permit the FBI to release my $3,500,000. I wish there was more that people with basic common sense could do to spread the word about scamming detection to those who are somewhat lacking in it. The best I have been able to do is to write occasional Language Log posts pointing out the almost unbelievable degree of grammatical and orthographic incompetence in most scam emails. Sure, everyone makes the odd spelling mistake (childrens' for children's and the like), but it is simply astonishing that literate people do not notice the implausibility of customs officials or bank officers or police employees being as inarticulate as the typical scam email. The one I just received is almost beyond belief (though see my afterthought at the end of this post). The worst thing I can think of to do to the senders is to publish the message here on Language Log, to warn the unwary, and perhaps permit those who are interested to track the culprit down. I reproduce the full content of the message source below, with nothing expurgated except for the x-ing out of my email address and local server names. I mark in red font the major errors in grammar and punctuation, plus a few nonlinguistic suspicious features. Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Toxic grammar advice on Australian radio Toxic grammar alert for Australians: Rodney Huddleston informs me that the ABC Radio breakfast show celebrated International Apostrophe Day on 16 August 2013 with disastrous results. Huddleston reports: The presenter had brought in someone he called a grammar nerd/specialist and asked her about the use of the apostrophe. She managed to deal with dog's bowl and dogs' bowls, but when he asked her about children she said this was a collective noun, not a strictly plural and that in children's playgrounds and children's dreams the apostrophe should come AFTER the s. I will not expose the grammar specialist's family to humiliation by naming her; I do have a heart. But this is really staggering misinformation. The apostrophe should never come after the s in cases of irregular pluralization. The genitive suffix is ’s unless the regular plural s immediately precedes it (in which case the genitive marker is simply the apostrophe alone). In irregular plurals like children, oxen, cacti, foci, phenomena, etc., there is no immediately preceding plural s, so the default holds: it's the children’s playgrounds, and likewise the cacti’s watering schedule, and these phenomena’s importance. Beware of nonlinguists who appear on radio programs as grammar experts; they sometimes simply make stuff up. Read the rest of this entry » Comments off ## Cupertinos in the spotlight About seven years ago, in March 2006, I wrote a Language Log post about "the Cupertino effect," a term to describe spellchecker-aided "miscorrections" that might turn, say, Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement into the Muttonhead Quail Movement. It owes its name to European Union translators who had noticed the word cooperation getting replaced with Cupertino by a spellchecker that lacked the unhyphenated form of the word in its dictionary. Since then, I've had occasion to hold forth on the Cupertino effect in various venues (OUPblog, Der Spiegel, Radiolab, the New York Times, etc.). Now, Cupertinos are getting yet another flurry of publicity, thanks to a new book by the British tech writer Tom Chatfield called Netymology. Read the rest of this entry » ## Noodle devils Nathan Vedal wrote to tell me about an interesting mistranslation into Chinese that he recently came across. Having purchased some not particularly healthy, but quite delicious, instant noodles produced by a Korean company, he was perusing the Chinese instructions, which included the following sentence: Read the rest of this entry » ## Illicit reactionary responses This morning on the train ride in from Swarthmore, I stumbled upon this quotation in today's Metro: "Philadelphia Magazine published the article to 'illicit reactionary responses,' he said. 'We must be more proactive.'” The "he" is national race relations specialist Chad Dion Lassiter, and he is referring to a piece in the March issue of Philadelphia Magazine titled, “Being white in Philly,” by Robert Huber. Read the rest of this entry » ## iPhone Math The rumors are flying that Apple will introduce a new device called the "iPhone Math" in June of this year. Since that is a highly improbable name for an iPhone (is this going to be some kind of fancy calculator?), skeptical minds have been trying to find the source of the rumors. The earliest known occurrences of the expression "iPhone Math" are to be found in Taiwanese media, so one suspects that there was some sort of distortion of a hypothetical "iPhone Plus / iPhone +" (semantic garbling) or a hypothetical iPhone Max (phonetic garbling). After jumbled translation or transcription from English to Chinese, then back again into English, either of those names might conceivably have come out as "iPhone Math", which would indeed be a weird name for an iPhone. Read the rest of this entry » ## Let it Schnee?? With no comment from me, I'll let Peter Lewis on "Our Mechanical Brain" tell you about how Rosetta Stone tried to create a festive advertisement for their language-learning software and managed to get a three-word sentence wrong in each of three different languages, and two out of the three wrong even on the second try. Read Peter's account here. And remember, when it's language, people never check. They never call a linguist. They just make stuff up. Update: Rosetta Stone got in touch with Language Log and asked for space to respond. We're happy to provide that, of course. Here is what they said: In a word, we’re ashamed. We tried to capture the spirit and meter of a popular Christmas tune and, regrettably, our enthusiasm for spreading marketing cheer outpaced our respect for linguistic accuracy. We green-lighted an ad before its time. The fact is, we have a stringent pedagogical approval process at Rosetta Stone, and we missed an important check-point here. There’s no excuse. The ads have been recalled. We assure you that from here on out, no one at Rosetta Stone–including marketing–will be taking shortcuts. We’re sure that this post will invite more thoughtful (even heated) criticism, and we hope you’ll understand if we don’t engage further in the dialogue for the moment—we have important work to do on the home-front. Thank you for keeping us in check and have a great holiday. (Hey, maybe we’ll try ‘Silent nuit, holy Nacht’….) Comments off ## The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition As soon as I heard that the 5th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) had come out, I rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore (yes, they still exist — that was Borders that closed) and plunked down two Bens (hundred dollar bills) to buy three copies at$60 each:  one for my office at Penn, one for my study at home, and one for a friend.  The 5th ed. was actually published in November, 2011, but I was in China then, and didn't get a chance to buy my own copies until the day I arrived back on American soil.

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## The wife and mother of two men killed in a fire

Local radio station WFCR on Thursday, October 11 started a report with a sentence that gave me a big double-take:

“The wife and mother of two men killed in a fire in Northampton has filed suit …”

And the next morning, October 12, I saw almost the same words in the local paper, the Hampshire Gazette:

Photo caption:

Alleged arsonist Anthony Baye has been sued by Elaine Yeskie, the widow and mother of the two men killed in a Northampton house fire he allegedly set.

Beginning of story:

The widow and mother of men killed in a house fire in 2009 filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against alleged fire-starter Anthony P. Baye. Elaine Yeskie, 77, is seeking monetary and punitive damages against Baye, …

The version under the photo caption makes the description an appositive phrase, so we already know that it’s a description of one person. But the beginning of the radio story really took me by surprise and made me grab my pen. I feel subjectively sure, though I could of course be wrong, that I could never say that that way. All the ways I could express it take more words; about the shortest acceptable version I can find is “The wife of one and mother of the other of two men killed in a fire …”

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## New light from Toobin on the oath flub story

A new book by Jeffrey Toobin, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, is published today. It opens with a prologue telling the story of the Obama inaugural oath flub, first told on Language Log in Ben Zimmer's piece "Adverbial placement in the oath flub" and the follow-up a day later in "Rectifying the oath flub." Toobin reveals two bits of information that I was not aware of. First, a complete script of the oath, showing exactly where the breaks would come so that Obama would know when to do his repetitions, was sent to Obama's staff as a PDF but never reached the president or anyone close to him, so when Chief Justice Roberts stood facing him to administer the oath, there was a script that Obama had not seen, but neither of the two men knew that. Second, although Roberts had worked over that script, he chose to rely on his famously prodigious memory: he waved away the card that was offered to him with the script on it, and the chance to do a rehearsal: "That's OK, I know the oath," he said. And thus it was that when two men met to perform their extraordinarily important ritual, they were both without scripts and had never rehearsed together. The rest is history.

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