Jim Breen snapped this photograph in the departure lounge at Guangzhou airport:

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Beauty-protecting box

Nathan Hopson sent in this photograph of a trash can / rubbish bin in Nagoya, Japan:

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BAHfest: Linguistics under-represented?

Upcoming editions of the Festival of Bad ad Hoc Hypotheses will take place in San Francisco, Seattle, and London. If you're not sure what these are like, here's a winning entry from BahFest West 2014:

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Reversal of meanings

From Cecilia Segawa Seigle (9/18/15):

Yesterday morning's Asahi Shinbun reports that some Japanese words (or argot in certain cases) seem to be changing (reversing) meanings.

For example "yabai" (やばい), originally an argot used by criminals (thieves) meaning "not good" or "not propitious," seems to have changed its meaning among teenagers. 90% of the teens use the word "yabai" to express "wonderful," "good," "delicious," "smart-looking."  Only 5% of the people above 70 years of age used "yabai" for positive meaning; in other words the older people still use the word for negative situations.

For the word "Omomuroni" (おもむろに), an adverb meaning "unhurriedly," "slowly," 44.5% answered with the traditional meaning "slowly." 40.8% answered that "omomuroni" meant "suddenly."

This is only a small part of the phenomena revealing the breakdown of the Japanese language according to the recent survey made by Bunkacho (文化庁), Japanese government's Agency for Cultural Affairs.

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Inverting inversely

Paul Kay wrote to point to a sexist joke that inverts a scalar predicate, in a way that's similar to what happens in the "No head injury is too trivial to be ignored" / "No wug is too dax to be zonged" type of misnegation:

The speed in which a woman says "nothing" when asked "What's wrong?" is inversely proportional to the severity of the shit storm that's coming.

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Fox redux

Melvin Jules Bukiet, "What's Your Pronoun?", The Chronicle Review 9/21/2015:

[H]aving learned to adapt to unexpected or previously unknown pronouns, I am confronted by a new wrinkle in the language of identification. As one of the staff members at the college where I teach recently informed the faculty, "Some of the students will prefer to be referred to as ‘they.’ "  

Really? Or rather, no, because here my problem is practical. Specifically, it’s what verb to use in those pesky evaluations. I cannot bring myself to write, "They is a good student." Nor can I write, "They are a good student." And I simply won’t write about an individual, "They are good students," because "they" are not Walt Whitman. "They" do not contain multitudes. They are entitled to their own identity, but not to their own grammar. Therefore, in lieu of any pronoun, I will use whatever name a student provides. This will lead to a stilted paragraph, but it won’t be wrong.

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Bèibèi panda

Bloix asked:

Can someone tell me if the name of the new panda cub, Bei Bei, really means "precious treasure"? If it does, how does that work? Does Bei mean treasure and the duplication is emphasis? Or what?

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Cantonese and Mandarin are two different languages

From Mengnan Zhang:

I found this very interesting image on Facebook. The three columns stand for how to write various terms in Cantonese, their pronunciation, and the meaning of the words listed. As a native speaker of Mandarin, I have no idea what these words are talking about even after reading the meaning of each. Linked back to what our professor had talked about in class, Cantonese is a language, which both script and speech have no correspondence with Mandarin at all.

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Gotta be careful when you pick your URL, otherwise something like this might happen to you.

The Chinese Confucius and Mencius Association of Taiwan has the following URL for their website:


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R.I.P Yogi Berra

Beatrice Santorini's Linguistic Humor page has a good collection of sayings attributed to Yogi Berra (1925-2015). Maybe the most relevant one today is "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours".

I won't be able to attend Yogi's funeral, but I'll link to his NYT obituary.

Update — and to Ben Zimmer at Slate, "Yogi Berra Turned Linguistic Vice into Virtue with His Cock-Eyed Tautologies".

Update #2 — "Yogi was an anchor baby".


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Scots words for snow

Several people have sent this in: "Scots 'have 421 words' for snow", BBC News 9/23/2015:

Academics have officially logged 421 terms – including "snaw" (snow), "sneesl" (to begin to rain or snow) and "skelf" (a large snowflake).

The study by the University of Glasgow is part of a project to compile the first Historical Thesaurus of Scots, which is being published online.

The research team have also appealed for people to send in their own words.

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Japanese nuances (nyuansu ニュ アンス) of "nuisance"

From Bruce Balden:

The link below (dated 1/29/15) concerns apparently incomprehensible behavior on the part of the father of a young Japanese man taken hostage and killed by ISIS recently.

The link contains the key phrase "for lack of a better translation", but I wonder how hard they tried to translate it. I'd be interested to know what exactly Haruna Yukawa's father said and if it's really so incomprehensible when taken in context.

The phrase in question was uttered by Yukawa’s father when he formally apologized to the people of Japan for his son “causing a nuisance”.

"Chinese netizens left reeling after father of slain Japanese hostage apologizes to the public" (1/29/15)

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Absolved of having done nothing wrong

Last month, the hockey star Patrick Kane was accused of rape, and investigations of the matter continue. Last week, he joined the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp, and at a press event organized by the team, he read a statement that addressed the accusations as follows:

While I have too much respect for the legal process
to comment on an on-going matter

I am confident
that once all the facts are brought to light
I will be absolved of having done nothing wrong

[Chris Hine and Stacy St. Clair, "Patrick Kane 'confident' he will be 'absolved' of wrongdoing", Chicago Tribune 9/17/2015.]

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