Archive for January, 2019

We are bemused

[h/t Stan Carey]

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The first prime minister with a Linguistics PhD

Wikipedia on Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš:

Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš (born December 13, 1964) is a Latvian politician[1], current Prime Minister of Latvia and former Member of the European Parliament.

Kariņš was born in Wilmington, Delaware, United States to a Latvian American family. In 1996, he finished a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania. […]

He was Unity's candidate for the Latvian premiership at the 2018 election. On 7 January 2019, he was tasked by the Latvian president with forming the next government. He took office as prime minister on 23 January 2019, leading a centre-right coalition of five conservative and liberal parties (KPV LV, JKP, AP, NA and Unity).

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Superb Owls

Query from a journalist:

I'm working on a piece on superb owls, which become popular around this time of year because of the Superbowl. Do you happen to know if there's a name for this phenomenon of splitting a word in a different-than-intended way to change its meaning? Have you come across other examples of this?

I come up empty (except for the examples in "Letters Witch"), but I bet commenters can provide other examples and suitable terminology.

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Who is Ronaldmew and why are they so persistent?

More than a dozen times over the past couple of weeks, someone using the username "Ronaldmew" has been locked out of our site by Wordfence due to repeated attempts to log in as a contributor. Each time, the IP address that the multiple attempts came from is blocked, and then a day or two later Ronaldmew tries again from a different IP address.

The last few attempts have been from in New York City, Eweka Internet Services  in the Netherlands, Strong Technology LLC in Melbourne Australia, and OverPlay.Net LP in Swindon UK.

None of the 180,535 registered comments on this site have been entered by "Ronaldmew", so a desire to communicate with our readers doesn't seem to be their goal.

Ronaldmew, whoever you are, this is not working. I'm going to leave the comments open on this post for a while, and maybe you can explain what you're trying to do and why you're trying to do it this way.

Update — no comment from Ronaldmew, but four more blocked login attempts using that name since this post went up.

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A corpus-linguistic take on "emolument(s)" (updated)

From the Washington Post:

The study is a corpus analysis performed by Jesse Egbert, a corpus linguist at Northern Arizona University and Clark Cunningham, a law professor who did work in law and linguistics from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s (link, link, link, link), including co-authoring an article with Chuck Fillmore that was what really opened my eyes to the power of linguistics in analyzing issues of word meaning.

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Glasgow Air Traffic Control

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"Um, tapes?"

Over the years, we've discussed the fact that "filled pauses" (um and uh in American English) sometimes have communicative force beyond their role in filling compositional silences — see e.g. "And uh — then what?", 1/5/2004, and "Uh", 10/12/2016. There's a nice example in a recent headline at TPM: "Um, Tapes?", 1/21/2019. In the article under the headline, Josh Marshall remarks on a striking passage in Rudy Guliani's New Yorker interview:

RG:But I can tell you, from the moment I read the story, I knew the story was false.

NYR: Because?

RG: Because I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the e-mails, and I knew none existed. And then, basically, when the special counsel said that, just in case there are any others I might not know about, they probably went through others and found the same thing.

NYR: Wait, what tapes have you gone through?

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Thai "khwan" ("soul") and Old Sinitic reconstructions

There's a Thai word for "soul", khwan, that sounds like Sinitic hún 魂 ("soul").

Old Sinitic

(BaxterSagart): /*[m.]qʷˤə[n]/
(Zhengzhang): /*ɢuːn/

I've always assumed that Thai khwan and Sinitic hún 魂 are related, but was never sure in which direction the influence / borrowing spread.

One reason I'm so interested in this question is because, already in BC times, we have evidence in south China (N.B. south) of rituals for calling back wandering souls, which are very similar to such rituals in Thai religion.

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Reading problems?

Or maybe writing problems? Donald Trump's recent speech announcing the end of the government shutdown was read (I presume from a teleprompter), but the reading was awkward in at least two ways: the president often pronounced unstressed function words in a full and unreduced form, and his phrasing was odd, sometimes to the point of obscuring the meaning.

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Alex on the evolution of linguistic culture

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Ben Zimmer on "ratfucking"

Ben Zimmer has a great piece at Politico, "Roger Stone and 'Ratfucking': A Short History". The subtitle: "The flamboyant political aide is often tagged with the term. But its origins—and Stone’s relationship with the word—are complicated."

Ben takes the history back to one of Edmund Wilson's notebooks in 1922, and (via Jesse Sheidlower) before that to WWI military slang:

Sheidlower zeroes in on a veteran of General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force named Leonard H. Nason, who used a series of rat-related euphemisms in novels he wrote based on his experiences at war. His favorite circumlocution was “rat-kissing” to describe destructive activity, as in, “No more of this rat-kissing” (Sergeant Eadie, 1928) or, “You know, I had a sergeancy clinched if we hadn’t run into all this rat-kissing!” (The Man in the White Slicker, 1929). And in a turn of phrase that Ted Cruz would appreciate, Nason referred to “this here gigantic rat-copulation they call a war” in his 1930 novel, A Corporal Once.

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An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

There is a long-standing puzzle that has attracted historical linguists’ interest. This is a single sentence of 10 characters in two clauses: “秀支替戾岡, 僕谷劬禿當” (xiù zhī tì lì gāng, pú gŭ qú tū dāng). The sentence does not make sense in any of the Sinitic topolects. Obviously, this appears to be from a foreign language using Sinographs as phonetic transcriptions. Indeed, the source document which gives this mysterious sentence clearly indicates this is in Jié 羯, a non-Sinitic language that showed up in China during the chaotic period known as the Sixteen Kingdoms (304-439 CE) marked by uprisings of 五胡 wŭhú ‘Five Barbarians’ (Xiōngnú 匈奴, Jié 羯, Xiānbēi 鮮卑, Dī 氐, and Qiāng 羌) against the Jìn 晉 dynasty.

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Mountain Mao

From an anonymous contributor in Taiwan:

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