Hornet's / hornets' / hornets / hornet nest

Usage is split on this one.  Merriam-Webster goes for "hornet's nest", OED prefers "hornets' nest", and many other dictionaries and websites choose one of the four options listed in the title of this post.

To my mind, logically it should be "hornets' nest" because it's a home that belongs (genitive) to a colony of hornets (plural).

My high school sports teams were called "hornets", so I have a long acquaintanceship with this fearsome insect.

On the other hand, we also find "farmers market" and "farmers' market", usually the former, occasionally "farmer's market", but I don't think I've ever seen "farmer market".

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The sound of swearing

Trigger warning:  I'm VHM and I do not approve of this message in its entirety.

Article by Elizabeth Preston in NYT (12/6/22):

"Curse Words Around the World Have Something in Common (We Swear)"

These four sounds are missing from some of the seven words you can never say on television, and the pattern prevails in other languages too, researchers say.

Starting with the second paragraph:

A study published Tuesday in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that curse words in several unrelated languages sound alike. They’re less likely than other words to include the consonant sounds L, R, W or Y. And more family-friendly versions of curses often have these sounds added, just like the R in “shirt” or “fork.” The finding suggests that some underlying rules may link the world’s languages, no matter how different they are.

“In English, some of the worst words seem to have common phonetic properties,” said Ryan McKay, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. They’re often short and punchy. They also tend to include the sounds P, T or K, “without giving any obvious examples,” Dr. McKay said. These sounds are called stop consonants because they interrupt the airflow when we’re speaking.

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The Alphabet and the Zodiac

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-twenty-eighth issue:

"On the Origins of the Alphabet: The Cycle of Emmer Wheat and Seed/Word Selection within the Proto-Sinaitic/Phoenician/Hebrew Alphazodiac and the Chinese Lunar Zodiac," by Brian R. Pellar.  (free pdf)

ABSTRACT

This paper presents evidence that the Proto-Sinaitic script, the Phoenician twenty-two-letter alphabet (and, by extension, the Chinese twenty-two ganzhi and the Chinese twenty-eight-mansion lunar zodiac) are patterned on the solar zodiac and Mesopotamian/Egyptian celestial diagrams, and that these are based on the cultivation cycle of wheat. The evidence shows that the animal figures such as the ram, bull, and lion that are seen in the Mesopotamian cylinder seals, the zodiac, and the Egyptian celestial diagrams symbolize the various stages of the growth of Emmer wheat. A prominent part of the process, selecting seeds for future resowing, corresponds to Word selection (a concept rooted in the Egyptian conflict stories of Horus and Seth). It is also shown that the cycle of wheat was established in the Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic in the idea of the Solar Lion-Lunar Bull Conflict, itself ultimately based on the sun/moon cycle and the mythology of the Great Goddess.

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Ask LLOG: Re-use considered harmful?

From RfP:

I’m one of those writers who will do just about anything to avoid using the same word—or, worse yet, the same phrase—within a short run of text. So imagine my horror this morning when, after hastily responding to a comment on your post about “Parse depth in essays vs. novels”, I noticed the following:

Although he is indeed making a case for the combination of text and images in “static print,” as becomes clear in the rest of the paragraph from which I have drawn this excerpt, I feel one can also infer that this quote provides yet one more reason for authors to make their case with, shall we say, salients rather than by means of a lengthy siege.

In spite of my haste in composing this comment, I still took care to ensure that I had spelled everything correctly, and that my syntax was appropriate for the formal register that I was using for my comment.

And I did happen to notice that I had used “one” twice within the same clause, but since that word was used in two different senses and I was in a hurry, I decided to let it stand.

After noticing—and agonizing over—my error with the phrase, I wondered about why this attitude is so deeply ingrained. So I decided to ask you about it, in hopes that there’s an underlying linguistic issue behind it.

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Hellenism in East Asia

The spread of Greek language and culture across Asia has often been a topic of discussion in our posts, for which see "Selected readings" below.  Now we have a long, richly illustrated article that summarizes much of what has come to be known on this subject, a large part of it aptly from the pages of Sino-Platonic Papers.

"The Ancient Greek Kingdoms of China"
By Arunansh B. Goswami, Greek Reporter (December 1, 2022)

Note that the author is an Indian.  South Asia was an important conduit for the transmission of Sino-Hellenic cultural elements across Eurasia during antiquity.  This is not a conclusive, academic paper, but a convenient, comprehensive survey that usefully introduces many themes for the further study of Greek influence in Eurasia during the last two millennia and more.

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Startling discrepancies in translations of the Lao Zi (Daode jing)

The Daoist / Taoist classic, Daode jing / Tao-te ching (The Classic of the Way and Integrity / Power / Virtue), a brief text consisting of approximately 5,000 characters in 81 brief chapters, is one of the most frequently translated books in the world.  Even people who don't know Classical Chinese, such as the first translator quoted below, somehow feel that they are qualified to try their hand at it, and are sometimes paid enormous sums to do so by distinguished publishing houses. 

In this post, I will focus only on a single chapter, number 13.  Out of the hundreds of versions I could cite, I will give here only half a dozen by way of example of what can be done with the same text.

Stephen Mitchell's version of chapter #13 is so different from Derek Liu's that it's mind-boggling.

Success is as dangerous as failure.

Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?

Whether you go up the ladder or down it,

your position is shaky.

When you stand with your two feet on the ground,

you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?

Hope and fear are both phantoms

that arise from thinking of the self.

When we don’t see the self as self,

what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.

Have faith in the way things are.

Love the world as your self;

then you can care for all things.

(translation by Stephen Mitchell, 1988)

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Parse depth in essays vs. novels

In "Trends" (3/27/2022) and "Embedding Depth" (11/28/2022), I noted that Earnest Hemingway's reputation for "little short sentences" is generally false to fact. I made the point by comparing the distribution of sentence lengths and embedding depths in his memoir A Moveable Feast to Usula K. Le Guin's essay collection The Wave in the Mind.

In a comment on "Embedding Depth", Bloix complained that A Moveable Feast is probably not "a reliable example of the style that made [Hemingway] famous in the 1920s and 30s." In today's post, I'll explain again why I chose that work, amplify the point by comparing Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises to Le Guin's 1974 novel The Dispossessed, and wave my hand at broader generalizations about dialogue vs. exposition and fiction vs. essays.

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Another decipherment, this one on the wall of Beth She'arim catacomb in Israel

We just finished looking at this recent decipherment from France:  "Decoding an emperor's letter: the dark arts of diplomacy" (11/29/22).  Now we have an equally challenging case from Israel:

Researchers Crack Secret of 1,400-year-old Inscription From Catacomb in Israel

Exaltation my mouth? Graffito from Beit She’arim cemetery confounded scholars for decades – until they figured out it was written in Aramaic using a Persian alphabet. But its true meaning remains inscrutable

Ariel David, Haaretz (11/28/22)


Credit: Beth She‘arim Expedition of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Photo Archive of the Institute of Archaeology

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Decoding an emperor's letter: the dark arts of diplomacy

BBC (11/27/22) article by Hugh Schofield:

"Charles V: French scientists decode 500-year-old letter"

A coded letter signed in 1547 by the most powerful ruler in Europe has been cracked by French scientists, revealing that he lived in fear of an assassination attempt by an Italian mercenary.

The article begins like a historical mystery novel:

Sent by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to his ambassador at the French royal court – a man called Jean de Saint-Mauris – the letter gives an insight into the preoccupations of Europe's rulers at a time of dangerous instability caused by wars of religion and rival strategic interests.

For historians, it is also a rare glimpse at the dark arts of diplomacy in action: secrecy, smiling insincerity and disinformation were evidently as current then as they are today.

Cryptographer Cecile Pierrot first heard a rumour of the letter's existence at a dinner party in Nancy three years ago. After lengthy research she tracked it down to the basement of the city's historic library.

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John Kelly (1750-1809): Manx grammarian, lexicographer, and translator

[With an added note on the monumental encyclopedic dictionary of Sinitic by Tetsuji Morohashi]

In researching our previous post on the revival of Manx (11/26/22), I learned about John Kelly, whose life and work on behalf of Manx studies is so moving that I believe it is worthwhile to introduce him to the readership of Language Log.  His heroic feats are truly mind-boggling.

Kelly was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, the only son of wine cooper and farmer William Kelly and his wife Alice Kewley. He was educated by Reverend Philip Moore in the Douglas Grammar School and later at St John's College, Cambridge, where he took his LL.D degree in 1799. He was ordained in 1776 and married Louisa Dolland in 1784.

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Inaugural embedding depth

Following up on yesterday's "Embedding depth" post, I've done the same analysis to the 62 Inaugural Addresses of U.S. presidents. (Actually, 61 of them — I had to omit John Adams' 1797 address, because its 35th sentence is 797 words long, which made the standard version of the Berkeley Neural Parser break down in tears…)

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What do the Friedmann equations have to do with the student protests in China?

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Embedding depth

In "Trends" (3/27/2022) I compared the distributions of sentence lengths in Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wave in the Mind. The background, and some of the conclusions, can be found in the slides for my SHEL12 presentation. Hemingway is known for his short and simple sentences — see e.g. "Homo Hemingwayensis", 1/9/2005, for some discussion — but as I showed, his average sentence length is actually a bit on the long side for his time. And his overall distribution of sentence lengths is essentially identical that found in (later) work by Ursula K. Le Guin, despite her hilarious discussion of an alleged difference in her 1992 essay "Introducing Myself":

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