## The Volfefe Index

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From a recent email enticing me to read the current edition of The Atlantic magazine:

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ICYMI:

## Spiritually Japanese

A cartoonist and her collaborator have been arrested in China for being "spiritually Japanese" (jīng Rì 精日).  They have also been accused of "insulting China" (rǔ Huá 辱华).  The latter term is transparent, and I've been hearing it a lot for the last couple of decades, whereas the former term is morphologically more difficult to understand (lit., "spirit Ja[pan]") and is new to me.

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## "I have come from Rome, and all I brought you was this stylus"

So, kurzgesagt, reads the text that runs along all four sides of this two-millennia-old iron writing instrument excavated from an archeological site in London six years ago:

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## The meaning of meaning: kaput

The poor fellow in the following short video is taking a Mandarin listening comprehension exam:

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## Nicknames for foreign cars in China

"Porsche and BMW are known as 'broken shoes' and 'don't touch me' in China", by Echo Huang

Many of these names are off-color and some even quite vulgar, but they are all affectionate:

Audi's RS series:  xīzhuāng bàotú 西装暴徒 ("a gangster in a suit"), inspired by the car's smooth look and impressive horsepower (some links in Chinese).

Bugatti's Veyron: féi lóng 肥龙 ("fat dragon").  The French car manufacturer's high-performance Veyron sports car earned the moniker for its round-front face design, and because "ron" in Veyron sounds like "lóng" ("dragon"), just as "Vey" sounds like féi ("fat").

BMW: bié mō wǒ 别摸我 ("don't touch / rub me").  The German acronym for Bayerische Motoren Werke forms the basis to create a Mandarin phrase that expresses how precious people consider the car to be.

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## The battle of the airports

Donald Trump's July 4 speech included this puzzling passage:

In June of seventeen seventy five
the Continental Congress created a unified army
out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York
and named after the great
George Washington commander in chief
The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter
of Valley Forge
found glory across the waters of the Delaware
and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown.
Our army manned the air((ports))
it ranned [sic]
the ramparts
it took over the airports it did everything it had to do
and at Fort
McHendry [sic]
under the rockets' red glare
but victory.
and when dawn came
their star spangled banner
waved defiant

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## Linguistic purity in the EU

"Europe heroically defends itself against veggie burgers", The Economist 6/29/2019:

The european union gets a lot of flak. All right, it isn't literally blasted with anti-aircraft fire, but you know what we mean. One ongoing battle (ok, nobody died) involves the use of words. Earlier this year, the European Parliament's agriculture committee voted to prohibit the terms "burger", "sausage", "escalope" and "steak" to describe products that do not contain any meat. It was inspired by the European Court of Justice's decision in 2017 to ban the use of "milk", "butter" and "cream" for non-dairy products. Exceptions were made for "ice cream" and "almond milk", but "soya milk" went down the drain, lest consumers assume it had been extracted from the soya udder of a soya cow. The court has yet to rule on the milk of human kindness.

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## Chinese language jokes

These are jokes circulating on the Chinese internet.  Not all of them have to do with Chinese languages per se in the narrowest sense.

Mandarin

Guānhuà 官話 (lit., "officials' talk", "Mandarin")

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## Cat names from GPT-2

Janelle Shane, "Once again, a neural net tries to name cats", 6/3/2019:

Last year I trained a neural net to generate new names for kittens, by giving it a list of over 8,000 existing cat names to imitate. Starting from scratch, with zero knowledge of English or any context for the words and letter combinations it was trying out, it tried to predict what letters might be found in cat names, and in which order. Its names ranged from the strange to the completely nonsensical to the highly unfortunate (Retchion, Hurler, and Trickles were some of its suggestions). Without knowledge of English beyond its list of cat names, it didn't know what letter combinations to avoid.

So I decided to revisit the cat-naming problem, this time using a neural net that had a lot more context. GPT-2, trained by OpenAI on a huge chunk of the internet, knows which words and letter combinations tend to be used together on the English-language internet. It also has (mostly) figured out which words and letter combinations to avoid, at least in some contexts (though it does tend to suddenly switch contexts, and then, yikes).

Read the whole thing — with pictures! Apparently the Morris Animal Refuge is using this algorithm to name the animals it offers for adoption.

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## "Brexit quiz": blank…

It's a good joke, but probably just an accidental one — "Quiz: What kind of Brexit are you? MPs can't agree on what form, if any, Brexit should take. Can you do better?", Politico.eu 4/1/2019, as of 14:30 Philadelphia time, is just a few inches of blank space, with no questions, no answers, no links, no way forward…

## The birth of obscenicons

Back in 2010, I went in search of the earliest examples of cartoon cursing characters — those playful typographical symbols that have been called "grawlixes" (a term coined by "Beetle Bailey" creator Mort Walker) but which I prefer calling "obscenicons." I detailed my quest in two Language Log posts: "Obscenicons a century ago" and "More on the early days of obscenicons." (The posts were later adapted for Slate's Lexicon Valley blog: "How Did @#$%&! Come to Represent Profanity?") I was able to find obscenicons going all the way back to Dec. 14, 1902 in Rudolph Dirks' pioneering comic strip "The Katzenjammer Kids," followed shortly thereafter by Gene Carr's "Lady Bountiful" comic starting in Feb. 1903. I was pleased to learn that my obscenicon posts inspired Phil Edwards of Vox to do his own searching on newspaper databases, and the results can be seen in an entertaining new video, "How #$@!% became shorthand for cursing." Turns out obscenicons can be pushed back even further, to 1901.

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