Archive for Humor

Sentient AI

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A little Sinograph game

For cognoscenti.


Here's an amazing little game that was played by two of the brightest Sinology PhD candidates I've ever met.  It is a conversation between X and Y.  Y initiated the conversation by typing to X, without telling X the secret of the game.  When X received Y's first message, she immediately got what Y meant.  She understood as soon as she received his e-mail, then replied to him (by typing) in the same manner that he wrote to her.  And so off they went on their merry way in Lexiland!

Here I copy-paste this little hànzì yóuxì 汉字游戏 for Language Log readers who are well-versed in Sinographs and want to give it a try.  Even those who do not know any Chinese characters might still be able to gain a sense of how the game proceeds and what it signifies.

The "answer sheet” is at the bottom of this post. Please scroll down to the very, very end to see the answers. However, don’t look at the dá'àn 答案 ("solution") before trying really hard by yourself!


This game is devilishly difficult.

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"Anti-sink missile"

Julie Coleman, "Shocking video shows Ukrainian drone destroying 2 Russian patrol boats", Insider 5/4/2022:

Ukraine said on Monday its drones sank two Russian ships in the Black Sea near Snake Island, which the Russians had captured the day the war broke out on February 24.

Snake Island has also become a legendary symbol of resistance for Ukraine, as military defending the island refused to surrender to Russian forces on February 24, radioing "Russian warship go screw yourself," when the Russian flagship cruiser Moskva approached.


The patrol boat losses add to the mounting toll for the Russian Navy. In April, the Moskva sank after being hit with at least one Neptune anti-sink missile, the Pentagon confirmed.

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The covert pandemic

Trevor Noah's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner has gotten a lot of well-deserved praise. But what impressed me most about it was the quality of the "auto-generated" transcript associated with the YouTube version.

Assuming that "auto-generated" means "the output of automatic speech-to-text", the results are overall excellent — with a few odd glitches. For example, the transcript consistently renders "Covid" as "covert". The first one, at around 1:40 —

and uh covert risk aside can i just say
how happy i am that this event is
happening again for the first time in
three years

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John Knox as a Romance author

For reasons not at all connected with this post, I was looking for scans of the 1558 (first) printing of John Knox's infamous screed THE FIRST BLAST OF THE TRUMPET against the monstruous regiment of Women. And one of the places that Google sent me to was a link on the website of the Somerset County (New Jersey) Library System , where the work is apparently classified as a Romance novel:

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Trent Reznor Prize nomination

Today we have a worthy nominee for the Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding — Lucy Mangan, "Digested week: Ducks in the garden and Wordle are my rocks in a sea of chaos and injustice", The Guardian 4/9/2022:

Growing up in Catford, southeast London, a short walk from the gun shop under Eros House (under whose umbrous overhang took place so much teenage fumbling that – as long as the Greek god’s scope includes Mere Genital Curiosity as well as the higher forms of human longing – could not have been more suitably named), I devoured books about the countryside and all its myriad natural delights.

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VDV recruiting video

A 15-year-old recruiting video for the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), updated with amusing fake English subtitles:

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Ukraine memes

The traditional Slavic impulse to meet tragedy with humor is still strong. Among the Russian reactions to the war in Ukraine, this one is my favorite so far:

(Though of course the putative demise of the Russian stock market is not much of a tragedy compared to the destruction and loss of life in the war…)

No doubt commenters will have other candidates to suggest, including some from the Ukrainian side.

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Register + Registration had a word-baby

Yesterday I got an email from the Voice Foundation with this header:

The body of the email started this way:

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Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week

Also the funniest:

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A new discovery about the history of English

In the comments on yesterday's post "Language development", Olaf Zimmermann pointed us to this recent Onion scoop — "Newly Uncovered Manuscript Reveals China Invented English Language 700 Years Before Western World", The Onion 1/13/2022:

BEIJING—Shedding new light on the origins of the world’s most popular language, an international team of linguists announced Thursday that a newly uncovered manuscript confirms China invented both spoken and written English 700 years before the Western world. “These remarkably well-preserved bamboo slips appear to show that Zhou dynasty scholars developed the English tongue as far back as the third century BC, long before the language arose in Britain,” said Li Zhang, a professor of comparative linguistics who examined the text, which outlines the alphabet and basic grammar rules of English, in addition to including the first known uses of words such as “barbecue” and “philanthropy.” “By the time Anglo–Saxons began cobbling together their language from Latin, French, and Germanic sources, the Chinese had already mastered it. There are even some passages in this manuscript that appear eerily similar to the work of Shakespeare, though they are of far superior quality.” Li went on to explain that the Chinese gradually abandoned the English language, finding its 26-letter alphabet too limiting and opting instead for the convenience of Mandarin’s more than 50,000 characters.

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Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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A different kind of "matched guise" test?

In a "matched guise" test, subjects are asked to evaluate "various traits including body height, good looks, leadership, sense of humor, intelligence, religiousness, self-confidence, dependability, kindness, ambition, sociability, character, and likability", for the same content presented by the same speaker in different languages, or perhaps by the same speaker associated with different pictures. The goal is to uncover linguistic or ethnic stereotypes.

This twitter "experiment" takes the idea in a different direction, using an associated picture to shift the interpretation of an ambiguous word:

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