Don't be awkward

Mark Liberman's discussion of an absurd modifier placement rule in the Associated Press Style Book reminded me of an ancient and not particularly funny joke that, the way I first heard it, is based on an offensive stereotype of gay men. I was going to explain on the Chronicle of Higher Education's language blog Lingua Franca a couple of months ago, but to my surprise I was forbidden to do so. The Chronicle lives in abject terror of offending gays or blacks or women or Asians or prudes or any other identifiable section of its readership that might take offense at something (and they may be right to be afraid: this week I was accused of ageism by a commenter for using the phrase "between 60 and 70 years old" as part of a description of an imaginary person). I'll tell you here on Language Log what I was going to say, and you can decide.

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Economy of expression

Flying back from Vienna on Austrian Airlines yesterday, I saw the following notices printed on the back of the seat in front of me:

Gurte während des sitzens geschlossen halten*

Fasten seat belt while seated

*some airlines begin this sentence with a "bitte", which would make the German even longer

Die schwimmweste befindet sich unter ihrem sitz

Life vest under your seat

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Live striped bass

Nathan Hopson spotted these signs in Pittsburgh:

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Chinese, Japanese, and Russian signs at Klagenfurt Botanical Gardens

Blake Shedd sent along a series of forty pictures of plant identification signs from the botanical garden in the small southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt am Wörthersee. He was rather impressed that the botanical garden staff went to the trouble of including non-Latin / non-German names for the plants.  And I was impressed at the remarkable documentation Blake provided by carefully and clearly photographing so many signs with essentially the same lighting and size.  There's no need for him to apologize ("leaning over roped-off areas to get shots resulted in a few blurry or less than ideal shots"). The green leaves appearing at the edges of some of the photographs, which are otherwise black and white, only serve to enhance the arboreal, herbaceous atmosphere evoked by reading the signs.

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"SHAM POO" and "SHOWER POO"

From Mark Seidenberg (though I think that I may originally have sent it to him years ago):

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Recursive epitomology

Today's SMBC:

Mouseover title: "Life rule: Never do anything you've done more than 3 times already."

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Shifty merchants with 251 secret words for trade

Lila Gleitman points out to me that in one of the slowly increasing number of articles passing round the pseudoscientific story about Yiddish originating in four villages in Turkey you can see that hallmark of non-serious language research, the X-people-have-Y-words-for-Z trope:

Putting together evidence from linguistic, history, and genetics, we concluded that the ancient Ashkenazic Jews were merchants who developed Yiddish as a secret language — with 251 words for "buy" and "sell" — to maintain their monopoly. They were known to trade in everything from fur to slaves.

You can see the article here, but don't take that as a recommendation; it looks to me like unsubstantiated drivel. Exactly 251 words for buying and selling? No examples cited, and no hint of how more than two basic words and a few random approximate synonyms could be the slightest bit useful? It looks like classic myth-repetition of the usual Eskimo-words-for-snow sort.

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Speak Cantonese

We started teaching Cantonese at Penn more than a quarter of a century ago, and it has been a very successful program.  Yale was teaching Cantonese long before us, and the title of this post is the same as that of a famous Yale textbook for the teaching of Cantonese by Parker Po-fei Huang and Gerard P. Kok.

I'm very pleased that more and more schools are offering Cantonese, and I'm hoping that the same will hold true for Taiwanese, Shanghainese, and other Sinitic languages.  Penn offers a dozen modern South Asian languages, which shows that linguistic diversity is possible in universities when there's a will to make it happen.

Cantonese language instruction is booming in Hong Kong as well, and that is entirely appropriate, since — although Cantonese is the Mother Tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population — in recent years, it has increasingly been threatened by the rise of Mandarin as the language of the central government, which has been exerting ever greater control in the SAR (Special Administrative Region), particularly after the British returned the former colony to Chinese suzerainty in 1997.

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The love organ of many names

British comedian Richard Herring is theauthor of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.

In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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The NYT catches up…

Or maybe David Crystal does — as reported in Dan Bilefsky, "Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style", NYT 6/9/2016. Better late than never, in any case.

For some background, see

"The new semiotics of punctuation", 11/7/2012
"Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics", 11/26/2013
"Generational punctuation differences again", 8/1/2014
"Query: Punctuation in personal digital media", 2/23/2015

And even: Jessica Bennett, "When your punctuation says it all (!)", NYT 2/27/2015

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Non- … but not … or … except …

From Lane Greene:

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Language, law and money

Eric Lonergan, "The economics of language: David Hume & valuing Facebook", Philosophy of Money 2/19/2016:

Language, law and money have very similar economic properties. Specifically, the resilience and propagation of these institutions does not reside in some intrinsic, physical value, nor in a promise, nor in the value each individual derives from them. It resides in a network externality.

 

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Rogue Finnish weatherword intrusion

Cameron M. sent in a screenshot of his weather report from a couple of days ago, in which the current weather in New York City is described as Pilvistä:

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