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Becoming an adjective

A friend points out to me that according to this Abe Books description of a hardback copy of Jane Jacobs' classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, on the back cover it is reported that Toronto Life made the following assertion: Jane Jacobs has become more than a person. She is an […]

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Subsective adjectives and immigration

An important rallying cry and usage distinction made by allies of undocumented workers in the current cultural battle over immigration in the United States is Elie Wiesel's assertion above: "No human being is illegal." In the quote, Wiesel gives examples of the kinds of adjectives that he feels can denote properties of people (fat, skinny, […]

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: 'keep' (part 1)

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen. With this post, I begin […]

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Cocktales

This is one of the important stories that I haven't had time to blog about over the past couple of months. Let's start with some of the more tasteful jokes, nicely presented using the rhetorical device of praeteritio — Constance Grady, "How an author trademarking the word “cocky” turned the romance novel industry inside out", […]

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DACA litigation, the “illegal/undocumented alien/immigrant” issue, and a surprise

In the recent decision enjoining the suspension of DACA (but giving the government a 90-day mulligan), the court referred to the people who are affected by DACA’s suspension as “undocumented aliens” rather than “illegal aliens,” and it dropped a footnote explaining why it made that choice: Some courts, including the Supreme Court, have referred to […]

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Of dogs and Old Sinitic reconstructions

At the conclusion of "Barking roosters and crowing dogs" (2/18/18), I promised a more philologically oriented post to celebrate the advent of the lunar year of the dog.  This is it.  Concurrently, it is part of this long running series on Old Sinitic and Indo-European comparative reconstructions: “Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions” (3/8/16) […]

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Toward a recursive meta-pragmatics of Twitterspheric intertextuality

A few days ago, I posted a post consisting of… a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of… a screenshot of a Language Log post (by me) consisting of… a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of… a screenshot of a tweet by Lynne Murphy, a linguistics professor, quote-tweeting* an earlier tweet by […]

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Scary good and scary bright

Victor Mair published a post yesterday under the title "Google is scary good", and reader Philip Taylor commented: "Scary good" reads very oddly to me; would not "scarily" be more customary in such a context ? The answer is that there are quite a few adjectives (or, perhaps one should say, adverbs homophonous with their related […]

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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two: Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate […]

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Particle amnesia

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson] I know you've written a lot about character amnesia in the greater Sinosphere. But I think I witnessed the related, but significantly different, phenomenon of (grammatical) particle amnesia (or perhaps, "drift") during a recent trip to Hawaii. As you know, Hawaii has a large nikkei* population. This […]

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Nouns, verbs, and ontological metaphors

Federico Escobar pointed me to an essay by David Brooks, "The 2016 Sidney Awards, Part I", NYT 12/27/2016: Perry Link once noticed that Chinese writers use more verbs in their sentences whereas English writers use more nouns. For example, in one passage from the 18th-century Chinese novel “Dream of the Red Chamber,” Cao Xueqin uses […]

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The mystery of "mouthfeel"

Helen Wang writes: I have a question – what's the etymology of the English word "mouthfeel"? In the last few weeks in the UK I have heard the word "mouthfeel" several times, spoken very naturally as though it's an established English word. I was surprised because I remember kǒugǎn 口感 (lit. "mouth-feel") as being "untranslatable" […]

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Political nouniness

Ian Preston has pointed me to Aleksandra Cichocka et al., "On the Grammar of Politics—or Why Conservatives Prefer Nouns", Political Psychology (published online 1/26/2026): Previous research indicates that political conservatism is associated with epistemic needs for structure and certainty (Jost et al., 2003) and that nouns elicit clearer and more definite perceptions of reality than other parts […]

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