Archive for December, 2015

Chinese characters and words of the year for 2015

China Daily has published "Top 10 shortlist of Chinese character of the year announced" (12/17/15).

Since this is only the short list, I will not describe it in detail, but will wait till December 21 (tomorrow) for the the winner to be announced.  For the moment, however, I'll just note that — after some years of confusion about the difference between a word and a character — China now seems to have settled on a clear division between Character of the Year and Word of the Year, so that they are running two contests simultaneously.

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If you have any complaints…

Anne Henochowicz spotted this sign in the bathroom at Lombardi's, the first pizza shop in NYC:

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Fragrant and Hot Marxism

This was covered fairly well five years ago, but it has recently come alive again:

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Japanese numero-mnemonics

In "Remember the First 100 Digits of Pi Using This Basic Technique" (mental_floss, 12/11/15), Caitlin Schneider describes a "memory palace" in which one can use letters to recall long strings of numbers.

The second commenter, Helvetica Baskin Robbins, describes a Japanese mnemonic system by means of which one can use numbers to recall sequences of numbers.

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Which-hunting — and relative decline?

In "A quantitative history of which-hunting", I reproduced a plot due to (an anonymous colleague of) Jonathan Owen, showing that texts from the last half of the 20th century saw a decrease in the relative frequency of NOUN which VERB, and an increase in the relative frequency of NOUN that VERB. Jonathan took this to indicate the success of (usage guides like) Strunk & White's The Elements of Style in persuading writers and copy-editors to avoid which in "restrictive" (AKA "defining" or "integrated") relative clauses

Here are some plots showing the effect, for data (without smoothing) from the Google Books ngram corpus. The "British English" dataset shows about the same increase in NOUN that as the "American English" collection does, but somewhat less decrease in NOUN which:

American English British English

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The many pronunciations of "*"

I've heard people pronounce this symbol as though it were spelled "asteriks" or "asterix" (and some folks even write it the latter way).  It gets really tricky when those who do so try to say it in the plural.  And even those who pronounce "asterisk" the way it is spelled seem to have to make a special effort to render the final "s" of the plural audible when they say it.

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Kanji of the year 2015

Our Language Log post on "Kanji of the year 2014", zei 税 ("tax"), was rather extensive, so it should suffice to give an indication of how the selection is made and the nature of the ritual surrounding the public unveiling of the choice.  I won't attempt to duplicate such a full treatment for the kanji that was chosen this year, but will focus on a significant difference between last year's KOTY and this year's.  For additional information concerning this year's selection, I recommend reading this report:

"2015 Kanji of the Year: 'An' Juxtaposes Security and Unease" (12/15/15)

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Zombie Lingua Recruitment

My sources say that Elsevier is now actively trying to recruit scholars for the editorial team of Zombie Lingua (see these Language Log posts for the background: "Lingua is dead. Long live Glossa!", Lingua Disinformation"). Here's a redacted sample of what they are sending to people:

Subject: Editorial Position Opportunity

Dear Professor […]

First please let me introduce myself as the […] at Elsevier responsible for the Social Science Journals, including our Linguistics portfolio.

I hope you do not mind me contacting you out of the blue like this, but as you may be aware we are currently looking for a new editorial team to head up the journal, Lingua. In discussions regarding this your name was suggested as a potential candidate to be part of this team. If this is something you would be interested in considering and would like to discuss this further, with no obligations, then please let me know. I would be more than happy to provide more details of the role and responsibilities.

Thank you for your time in considering this proposal. I look forward to your reply and hope to discuss this further with you in the near future.

Best regards […]

Needless to say, I'm hoping that the community is sufficiently immunized by now and that Elsevier will fail to attract linguists to stand up a zombie version of Lingua, which would not have any legitimacy as a successor to the journal's proud tradition. The true successor to Lingua is Glossa.

By the way: Glossa is now open for business. The first few submissions have already been made.

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Bracchium to Brezel to pretzel

I'm in Frankfurt for a week, and a stroll through the Weihnachtsmarkt last night with Caroline Féry and Ede Zimmermann reminded me of something I've wondered about for a long time: Why was German Brezel borrowed into English with an initial 'p'?

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The Washington Post concedes on singular they

Bill Walsh, the keeper of the Washington Post's style manual, buries the lede in "The Post drops the ‘mike’ — and the hyphen in ‘e-mail’", 12/4/2015. After 16 paragraphs about mic, email, and Walmart, he finally gets to the most important part, namely the "cautious" adoption of singular they, both for "gender-nonconforming" people and for "those he or she situations that have troubled us for so many years":

I was a little surprised that the singular they has drawn stronger online reaction, both positive and negative, than the other style changes, especially because we are approaching it pretty cautiously. The stylebook entry retains the old advice to try to write around the problem, perhaps by changing singulars to plurals, before using the singular they as a last resort.

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Firefighting without the fire

Bruce Balden was curious as to why the Chinese terms for "fire department" (xiāofáng duì 消防队) and "firefighting" (xiāofáng 消防) do not have the word for "fire" (huǒ 火) in them.  I had thought about that long ago, but never made an attempt to determine why it is so.  Now that Bruce has brought up this issue directly, I am curious how true it is for other languages of the world as well.

For East Asia, since Japan also uses the same expression (shōbō 消 防), it became a question of determining whether the modern terminology for firefighting developed first in China or in Japan.

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Minister Morneau hiked down … what?

Faith Jones writes:

I live in Canada, where even our Prime Minister goes canoeing and snowshoeing and stuff, so when I saw this headline on the CBC:

… I assumed the Finance Minister was hiking down an actual mountain somewhere in or around Ottawa. Then I got to "payment" and, because of my previous confusion, I still had it in my mind that the verb was "hikes down" but now I thought it was meant metaphorically, and tried to figure out what these "payment rules" were and what "hiking down" such a rule would entail.

Yeah. Minister Morneau has increased the minimum DOWN PAYMENT needed on houses over $500,000. Took me a good minute and a half to get there.

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Correction of the year?

From the article "Trump brushes off widespread backlash" by Paul Koring, The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition), Dec. 9, 2015, p. A13:

And the inevitable correction (The Globe and Mail, Dec. 11, 2015, p. A2):

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