Archive for November, 2013

No word for rape

Several people have sent me this entry for the "No word for X" files — "When is it rape?", The Economist 11/15/2013:

In Urdu there is no word for rape. The closest direct translation is "looting my honour".

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Our Taiwan

From Jason Cox (with additions and modifications by VHM):

In Taiwan, one often comes across efforts at using zhùyīn 注音 ("phonetic annotation") to hint to readers that a Hoklo Taiwanese reading of the sentence is preferred, rather than a Mandarin reading.  Sometimes the characters are "correct" Hoklo Taiwanese (they convey the meaning of the characters directly); sometimes they will simply sound like Hoklo Taiwanese when read in Mandarin. Two examples that come to mind:

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More on the statistics of real-estate listings

Early last summer, an inquiry from Sanette Tanaka at the WSJ led me to do a Breakfast Experiment™ on the relationship between the language of real-estate listings and the price of the associated properties ("Long is good, good is bad, nice is worse, and ! is questionable", 6/12/2013; "Significant (?) relationships everywhere", 6/14/2013; "City of the big disjunctions", 6/20/2013).

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Fag station

Jimmy Callin sent in this photograph of a sign in Nanjing:

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Can "[adjective]-ass" occur predicatively?

One of the highlights of this weekend's Saturday Night Live was a "Weekend Update" appearance by Taran Killam playing Jebidiah Atkinson, a 19th-century speech critic.

(Apologies to those outside of the U.S. who can't view the video.)

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By far one of the best

From reader GW:

If a misnegation contains conflicting indicators of polarity, what is an expression that contains conflicting indicators of intensity?

I’ve been noticing expressions containing the ngram “by far one of the” followed by a superlative. COCA has twelve of them. A typical example is “I mean, it was by far one of the best nights of my life.” Such expressions seem odd to me. Imagine the goodness of someone’s nights plotted on a vertical axis. “By far the best night” would be a lone outlier at the top. “One of the best nights” would lie in a small cluster of outliers, but it wouldn’t be the topmost; if it were, it should simply be called “the best.” (Is that Grice’s Maxim of Quantity?) I can’t visualize where to plot “by far one of the best nights.”

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"Spelling" English in Cantonese

As a follow-up to my Language Log post on Li Yang's fēngkuáng liánxiǎng 疯狂联想 ("crazy association"), Chris Fraser sent me three images of an old Cantonese book that purports to teach English by means of what it calls "Táng zì zhù yīn" 唐字註音 ("phonetic annotation with Tang [i.e., Chinese] characters").

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A letter from the future

This arrived in my snail-mailbox a few days ago:

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Drifting tables

In response to "A fair-use victory for Google in these United States", 8/14/2013, JM writes:

I’ve always wondered when this change took place, so was delighted to see this post.  Here’s a harder one to answer:  how did it happen that “to table a motion” have opposite meanings in British vs. American English?

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A fair-use victory for Google in these United States

US Circuit Judge Denny Chin has ruled in favor of Google in its long-running copyright litigation with the Authors Guild over the scanning and digitization of books. Chin ruled that the Google Books project constitutes fair use because it is "highly transformative" and "provides significant public benefits." In explaining those public benefits, Chin cited the use of Google Books data for Ngram queries, and pointed to a research example that we've discussed several times on Language Log.

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The current xkcd deals with the psycholinguistic properties of expletive infixation:

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This will be a mini-disquisition on fish terminology, focusing on one particular species.

Reader hanmeng, after seeing a reference to bàyú 鲅鱼 (a kind of fish — discussion below) in the opening scene of the 32nd episode of " Méndì" 门第 ("family status; pedigree; ancestry; lineage; families related by marriage equal in social status" — title of a popular TV drama series), googled to find what the equivalent word is in English, and was directed to Baidu (a search engine for Chinese-language websites), where they render it as "Japanesespanishmack—erel".

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Tyrant's bling

Arguably the hottest term on the Chinese internet these days is tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot"), but transformed to mean "bling", and with a sharply satirical edge.  How did tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot") morph into "bling"?  The story is told in "#BBCtrending: Tuhao and the rise of Chinese bling".

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