Archive for December, 2016

Po Chai Pills

Stephen Hart sent in this scan of a box containing medicine that he bought in Malaysia in 1972:

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All the way with U in 2016/7

From Li Wei on Facebook:

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EU English again

A.S. sent in a link to the 2016 edition of Misused English words and expressions in EU publications, from the European Court of Auditors:

Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words that do not exist or are relatively unknown to native English speakers outside the EU institutions and often even to standard spellcheckers/grammar checkers (‘planification’, ‘to precise’ or ‘telematics’ for example) and words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent’ being a case in point). Some words are used with more or less the correct meaning, but in contexts where they would not be used by native speakers (‘homogenise’, for example). Finally, there is a group of words, many relating to modern technology, where users (including many native speakers) ‘prefer’ a local term (often an English word or acronym) to the one normally used in English-speaking countries, which they may not actually know, even passively (‘GPS’ or ‘navigator’ for ‘satnav’, ‘SMS’ for ‘text’, ‘to send an SMS to’ for ‘to text’, ‘GSM’ or even ‘Handy’ for ‘mobile’ or ‘cell phone’, internet key’, ‘pen’ or ‘stick’ for ‘dongle’, ‘recharge’ for ‘top-up/top up’, ‘beamer’ for projector etc.). The words in this last list have not been included because they belong mostly to the spoken language.

In fact we covered the 2013 edition of this document  (“In case of pigs and poultry…“, 5/12/2013).But it’s worth citing it again, for those who are might be in need of a little lexicological cheer this New Year’s Eve.

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Manchu film

Xinhua claims “Yīnggē lǐng chuánqí 莺歌岭传奇” (“Legend of Yingge Ridge”) to be the first film in the Manchu language. I could only find this trailer for it on Tudou (Manchu speaking appears to start around 2 minutes in).

The Tudou link doesn’t work well, has too many intrusive ads, and requires Flash.  Use this YouTube version which is much, much better.  But what sort of resurrected Manchu is this?  It sounds oddly like Korean to me, and at least one Korean friend says that — more so than Mongol — it makes him feel as though he should be able to understand it, but of course he cannot.

There are, however, some fundamental problems with this film.

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Mystery script in a library book

We received the following intriguing note at Language Log Plaza:

Hey there, my name’s Dan and I work at the Calistoga library. I found this little note in a book that was returned and I’m curious what script it’s in.
At first I thought it was in Cherokee, but then looked closely and saw it wasn’t.
It was returned in a Spanish-language book, if that’s any clue.

A cursory look through writing systems on Omniglot didn’t turn up a match. Can Language Log readers identify the script (assuming it’s a script)?

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Massive attack of mispronunciation

The People’s Daily has published on its microblog (weibo) a long list of “easily mispronounced words”.  As circulated on Sohu, the list was preceded by this subtitle:  kànle jiǎnzhí bù gǎn shuōhuàle 看了简直不敢说话了 (“after you see it you simply won’t dare to open your mouth”).

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Vocative self-address, from ancient Greece to Donald Trump

Earlier this week on Twitter, Donald Trump took credit for a surge in the Consumer Confidence Index, and with characteristic humility, concluded the tweet with “Thanks Donald!”

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Smog the people

The smog in north China has been particularly horrendous for the past few weeks.  In some cities, the PM2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrograms) index is over 1000 micrograms per cubic meter, and in some places has even reached above 1400.  The World Health Organization recommends 25 micrograms per cubic meter as the maximum safe level.  This means that the PM2.5 index in many Chinese cities often reaches levels that are 40 or 50 times greater than those recommended by the WHO.

Given these dangerous conditions, people naturally want to complain and criticize, but in China you get in trouble when you complain and criticize.  One way to release one’s ire while hopefully avoiding arrest is to use satire, sarcasm, and irony (in addition to puns and romanization, which we have often documented on Language Log).

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TFW

J.S. writes to ask

I have long wondered whether there is a word for a concept without a word. I feel like I once found this word, but have since forgotten, and now I am struggling to find it again.  

For example, maybe I have the concept for a feeling. It is a feeling I can describe but does not have a corresponding word in English (schadenfreude, for example). Is there a word for these types of concepts?

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How wirelessly to hack

You don’t think the ridiculous split-infinitive avoidance contortions at my favorite magazine could have started being exaggerated just as a sort of private joke on me, do you? I have reported many times on the absurd syntax that The Economist is prepared to countenance rather than ignore its cowardly advice of its style guide (“The ban [on split infinitives] is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it”). A leader on internet security (“Breaching-point“) in the Christmas double issue (December 24, 2016) tells us, in what I think is not just unstylish but actually a violation of normal English syntax:

At a computer-security conference in 2015, researchers demonstrated how wirelessly to hack a car made by Jeep, spinning its steering wheel or slamming on its brakes.

How wirelessly to hack ?? Unbelievable. (You can find the article online with a Google search on "how wirelessly to hack". As I write, it is the only hit: no one has ever written that misbegotten four-word sequence in the prior history of the world.*

Nobody who hadn’t been driven into a state of nervous cluelessness by bad style advice could think that was the right order of words. Part of the reason is that how often functions as an initial modifier constituent of an adjective or adverb phrase.

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Really?!

My son, Tom, who is closely attuned to current speech mannerisms, explained to me the nuances of a particular way of saying “really” that conveys both incredulousness and disapprobation.  It’s not the same as the rhetorical “really?” with rising intonation, but ends with a slightly falling intonation, or is nearly flat.  It means something like “you’re not really going to do that, are you?” or, “you are dummmmb, and I do not approve.”

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Uninformed peeving reappears

I was just about to write a post about how pundits seem to have given up on ignorant peeving about “new” usages that are actually decades or centuries old, when Victor Mair sent me a link to Alex Beam, “Words we can live without“, Boston Globe 12/23/2016. And Mr. Beam is a worthy heir to the earlier pundits who were “At a loss for lexicons” — or maybe he was just up against a deadline without any ideas for a column?

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Coffee and caffeine; laws and morals

A Korean chain coffee shop, Caffe Bene, recently opened a branch at 38th and Chestnut in University City, Philadelphia.  This is a design on one of the walls:

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