Archive for Language and business

Wood chopping board

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Singapore circuit breakers

From a colleague in Singapore:

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European slaves in the year 1000

Valerie Hansen has a new book just out:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  New York:  Scribner, 2020.

A NYT review of Hansen's landmark volume is copied below, but let's first look at some interesting language notes concerning the background of the word for "slave" (Chapter 4 is on "European Slaves"; the quotations here are from pp. 85-86).

The demand for slaves [in addition to that for furs] was also high, especially in the two biggest cities in Europe and the Middle East at the time–Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, in present-day Iraq. The residents of Constantinople and Baghdad used their wealth to purchase slaves, almost always people captured in raids on neighboring societies.

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Sweethoney dessert

Maidhc Mac Roibin sent in this photograph of the front of a dessert shop in Cupertino from Fintano's flickr site:

201908-PSP-R4-33 Sweethoney Dessert, Cup. CA

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Badge of honor: Language Log is blocked in China

Two days ago, I received this message from a colleague in China:

Not sure if this should be a badge of honor or a disappointment, but a few days ago Language Log got blocked in China.  (Source — GreatFire.org:  Language Log is 100% censored)

This caps off a miserable year where we also lost Wikipedia (all languages), The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Hackernews, Imgur….

[VHM:  Of course, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other invaluable websites were already off-limits to Chinese citizens for years  The internet in China is severely decimated by the CCP government.]

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Tibet water

Ben Zimmer was just passing through Hong Kong Airport, where he got a bottle of Tibet 5100 spring water, complete with Tibetan script:


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"NG" and "CP" in Taiwan

From an anonymous contributor:

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Zo sashimi

From June Teufel Dreyer:

When I went to the supermarket yesterday for my weekly sashimi fix, I noticed that the preparer seemed to have cloned herself.  It was her brother (the preparers wear caps concealing their hair and the two looked virtually identical). Sister was instructing brother on exactly how I like the sashimi in a language that sounded unfamiliar. Ever curious,  I had to ask.  “Zo,” she replied “Z, O.”  I looked it up this morning, discovered that these Chin tribes are related to the Naga who, with the Mizo, were part of a longstanding effort by the Chinese to torment the Indian government.

Sometime when there aren’t other customers waiting—this may never happen—I’ll ask how she and her brother got to Miami and my neighborhood Publix store.

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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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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 5

Subtitle:  Phoneticization on an order from a Macanese restaurant in Vancouver.

Bruce Rusk sent in this prime example of extreme Sinographic shorthand, adding, "The geographic origin of the cuisine is a big hint to the document’s meaning…".

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On pronoun typology and economic measures

Below is a guest post by Bob Kennedy.


This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to the editors of the journal Kyklos, in response to the recent publication of “Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital? The Case of Pronoun Drop”, by Prof Horst Feldmann of the University of Bath.

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Onigiri > Onigilly

Brand-name transliteration (in Embarcadero Center, San Francisco), courtesy of Nancy Friedman:

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I pressed the "correct" button three times and the ATM ate my card

That's what happened to Paul Midler when confronted with this display on an ATM in China:

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