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"Butterfly" words as a source of etymological confusion

Nick Kaldis writes:

I've started buying English etymology books for my 8-year-old daughter and I to explore; today we discovered that "butterfly" comes from "butter" + "shit", because their feces resemble butter.

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Waste bin misnegation

I saw a sticker on the lid of a pedal-operated hospital waste bin that said this:


THIS SACK HOLDER IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BE FOOT OPERATED ONLY. THE LID MUST NOT BE HAND OPERATED AND PUSHED PAST THE POINT WHERE IT WILL NOT AUTOMATICALLY RETURN TO THE CLOSED POSITION.

Everyone who uses the bin sees this notice; maybe some even read it and try to respect it; but perhaps only Language Log readers will notice that it contains a misnegation — another sign that the number of negations within a sentence that our poor monkey brains can successfully handle averages out at little more than 1.

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Aspects of the Theory of Disney Princesses

At the recent LSA annual meeting in Washington DC, Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer presented a paper with the title "A quantitative analysis of gendered compliments in Disney Princess films". The abstract:

Recent studies find that children use animated films in constructing their gender identities (e.g. DoRozario, 2004; Baker-Sperry, 2007). However, little is known about how gendered language is presented in children’s media. Data on compliments in the Disney Princess films were analyzed for gender of speaker and recipient, and for type of compliment given/received (Holmes, 1986). The proportion of compliments received by female characters declined in the more recent films, although females overall received significantly more compliments on their appearance. These results illuminate how ideologies about language and gender are packaged and presented to children.

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Geolexicography

From Jack Grieve, a map of the distribution of the word the on Twitter:

There's lots more geolexicography of common function words on Jack's Twitter feed.

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The neural basis of Chinese morphological processing

In "Chinese characters and the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis " (1/7/16), we read about experimental results debunking " a myth that Chinese languages were predominantly processed by the right hemisphere, compared with alphabetic languages processed by the left hemisphere…."

Now, a team of scientists from Zaozhuang University, Beijing Normal University, and the University of Illinois have published the results of an experiment that offers additional evidence in favor of these findings:

Lijuan Zou, Jerome L. Packard, Zhichao Xia, Youyi Liu, and Hua Shu, "Neural Correlates of Morphological Processing: Evidence from Chinese", Front. Hum. Neurosci., 19 January 2016.

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Love transformed

With the title "Yeah… that totally translates to 'love'", imgur presents the following image:

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A new expression in Cantonese

Next Media's Apple Daily (1/23/16) had an article with this headline:

Gǎngdàshēng guà xīn xiàomíng kàng chìhuà

港大生掛「新校名」抗赤化

"Hong Kong University students hang [a banner with] the 'new school name' to resist redification"

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Inching toward digraphia, with a note on the universality myth

The subject of digraphia in China often comes up in our discussions about the Chinese writing system on Language Log (always be sure to check the comments on the posts, because much good material is often added in them), e.g.:

"Digraphia and intentional miswriting " (3/12/15)

"Substituting Pinyin for unknown Chinese characters " (12/3/13)

"Creeping Romanization in Chinese " (8/30/12)

"Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia " (9/25/13)

"Dumpling ingredients and character amnesia " (10/18/14)

"Which is worse? " (1/21/16)

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Glenn Frey and the band with the anomalous name

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Glenn Frey died two weeks ago, and I found myself reflecting on the poetry of the songs he wrote with Don Henley for a Lingua Franca post (see it here). Working on that caused me to bump up against the odd fact that the band Frey and Henley co-founded had a name that nobody ever gets right.

Steve Martin reported in his autobiography Born Standing Up that Frey insisted the name was "Eagles", not "The Eagles." Thus the band had settled on a name that was supposed to be what The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) calls a strong proper name like Azerbaijan, which takes no the, not a weak one like (the) Azores, which must have a the. (Language Log, by the way, is a strong proper name.)

Everyone feels they need to supply a definite article for Eagles. And there's a reason for that. Once you look at the relevant grammatical constraints of English you see that Frey was really swimming upstream.

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Folktale phylogeny

Over at Languagehat's place, there's been a lively discussion of Sara Graça da Silva & Jamshid J. Tehrani, "Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales", Royal Society Open Science 1/20/2016. I'm not going to summarize that discussion, so go read "Ancient Indo-European Folktales", Languagehat 1/21/2016.

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Englishes in action in the Sinosphere

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes has made several daring in-person investigations of China's military bases built on artificially expanded reefs and other features in contested waters far to the south of its southernmost provinces.  He describes his latest venture in this extraordinarily well researched and presented article:  "Flying close to Beijing's new South China Sea islands" (12/14/15)

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Stark rhetoric

Brad DeLong  thinks that the way to understand the appeal of Donald Trump is to see him as a kind of big-city billionaire version of Willie Stark ("Nail 'em up!!!!", 1/21/2016):

Methinks it is time to go reread Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men again… […]

[T]he rise and durability of Donald Trump is a zero/probability event. And, as David Kreps taught me many years ago, rationally-updating one's beliefs in the wake.of a zero-probability event is a… genuinely hard problem. For a zero probability event to happen means that your visualization of the Cosmic All is simply wrong–or it would not strike you as a zero probability event.

However, the herds and hordes of journalists and political scientists are not coming to grips with this. Rather than come to grips with this, they work hard to “save the phenomena” and save their models–analyzing the rise and durability of Donald Trump by making the smallest possible tweaks to what they thought last year. They are not stepping back and absorbing the lesson. They do not want to recognize that the rise and durability of Trump teaches them that what they thought last year was wrong. They do not want to face the reality that they need to pretty much throw everything away and start over.

But if they were willing to throw pretty much everything away and start over, the place to start over is with Robert Penn Warren[.]

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