Archive for Linguistics in the comics

Lingthusiasm interviews Randall Munroe

Episode 72 of Gretchen McCulloch's Lingthusiasm podcast is "What If Linguistics – Absurd hypothetical questions with Randall Munroe of xkcd":

What’s the “it’s” in “it’s three pm and hot”? How do you write a cough in the International Phonetic Alphabet? Who is the person most likely to speak similarly to a randomly-selected North American English speaker?

In this episode, your hosts Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne get enthusiastic about absurd hypothetical linguistic questions with special guest Randall Munroe, creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. We only wish that there was a little more linguistics in the book. So Randall came on to fill the gap with all his most ridiculous linguistics questions! One of our unresolved questions that we can merely speculate about is our predictions for what the future of English might be like. Are you listening to this episode from more than two decades in the future? Please write in from 2042 or later and let us know how accurate we’ve been!


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Linguists' Babel myth?

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"Happy as a sandboy"

TIL a new word — well, a new compound: sandboy. And an associated collocation, "happy as a sandboy".

The source was today's Bad Machinery, which includes the panel on the right.

The author, John Allison, notes that

I got nervous after making this comic that “happy as a sandboy” is racist, but apparently a sandboy was a youth paid to collect dry sand from coastal caves to spread on saloon bar floors. I know. Dodged a bullet there.

The comments include a link to an attempted explanation in The Guardian, "What is a sandboy and why are they happy?" — but as usual, there's more to the story.

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The weirdness of traditional note names

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I dunno1 or I dunno2 or I dunno3?

And don't forget I dunno4 . . .

Today's For Better or For Worse starts this way:

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Old-timey contractions

Today's Dinosaur Comics suggests that "RADICAL LINGUISTIC FREEDOM IS WITHIN OUR REACH":

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"Seedy Customer"

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Complex vowels

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Pronouncing [ṡṡċċḣḣẇẇȧȧ] is easy; you just say it like the 'x' in 'fire'."

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"High-energy linguistics"?

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title — "Massage: Theoretical (10), Quantum (6), High-energy (2), Computational (1), Marine (1), Astro- (None)"

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Today's Dumbing of Age:

Mouseover title: "the pronouns are coming from INSIDE the sentence!!!"

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Euphemisms as pointers?

Today's Dinosaur Comics:

The mouseover title: "for my next trick, i'm turning a four-dimensional hypercubical linked list, which is a concept i just made up, into allegory".

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Speech hammers balloons

Dan Piraro on the origins of language:


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Scientist spotting

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