Archive for June, 2019

Hong Kong counterprotestors, Mandarin honorifics

[This is a guest post by Brendan O'Kane]

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I've been following the news out of Hong Kong with a mixture of hope and admiration and absolute dread. I was looking at reports from yesterday's rally in support of the police when something caught my eye: the sign text in this image:


(Source)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Ping-pong bing-bang

Xi Jinping commits another pronunciation gaffe.  Even if you don't know Mandarin, you can hear it clearly here because it is repeated over and over again.  Instead of saying "pīngpāng wàijiāo 乒乓外交" ("ping-pong diplomacy"), he says "bīngbāng wàijiāo 冰邦外交" ("ice states diplomacy"), which some wits are further distorting as "bīngbàng wàijiāo 冰棒外交" ("popsicle diplomacy"):

https://twitter.com/RealEmperorPooh/status/1144817965008744448

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Linguistic purity in the EU

"Europe heroically defends itself against veggie burgers", The Economist 6/29/2019:

The european union gets a lot of flak. All right, it isn't literally blasted with anti-aircraft fire, but you know what we mean. One ongoing battle (ok, nobody died) involves the use of words. Earlier this year, the European Parliament's agriculture committee voted to prohibit the terms "burger", "sausage", "escalope" and "steak" to describe products that do not contain any meat. It was inspired by the European Court of Justice's decision in 2017 to ban the use of "milk", "butter" and "cream" for non-dairy products. Exceptions were made for "ice cream" and "almond milk", but "soya milk" went down the drain, lest consumers assume it had been extracted from the soya udder of a soya cow. The court has yet to rule on the milk of human kindness.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (41)

Nonbinary patronymics in Iceland

Comments (24)

Water chestnuts are not horse hooves

One of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking is the crunchy water chestnut, but it always puzzled me that the name for this item is mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄.  Although technically it's not a nut (it's the corm of an aquatic vegetable) and doesn't really look like a horse hoof, I tried to convince myself that maybe there was some sort of resemblance between the two after all.

It turns out that, while on the one hand mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄 really does mean "horse hoof" and just happens to be the title of a chapter [the 9th] in my favorite early Chinese book (Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu / Wandering on the Way), on the other hand it also has a completely different etymology when applied to the water chestnut.  Namely, it is borrowed into Mandarin and other Sinitic topolects from Cantonese maa5 tai4-2, maa5 tai4, where it is the transcription of a Kra-Dai substrate word (Li, 2012) (compare Zhuang makdaez).  Source.  I became even more hopelessly confused when I learned the derived Cantonese expression maa5 tai2 fan2 馬蹄粉 and thought that, well, this must be some sort of gelatin made from horse hooves (but that's just an urban legend anyway), when in truth it's simply water chestnut starch.  This is but one example of how Chinese characters frequently lead us seriously astray when it comes to understanding the derivation and meanings of Sinitic words.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

"Bien je jamais"?

Boris Johnson started a recent interview segment this way:

Interviewer: Did you really call the French turds?
Boris Johnson:   Well I doubt-
I have no- I have no recollection of this- uh
of- of- of this- uh of this-
this comment
um
but you know I- I notice- I notice that
um
it is- you know
it is- it's not very well sourced this story but anyway
um
Interviewer: well it seems to have come from the foreign office
what do you read into that?
Boris Johnson: bien je jamais
as we say um
uh in french
um
I think-
I think-
um
look the- the serious question
uh that perhaps under- underlying all this
uh and- and perhaps what- what
everyone wanted to know
is
uh can I
get a fantastic deal from our country from our french
friends can we go forwards
in a collegiate
uh friendly way and yes of course
we can

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (45)

Reality attack vs. panic attack

Fifteen years ago or more, I used to hear the expression "panic attack" quite often.  When someone told me they were having a panic attack, I knew it was something serious, and I had to pay close attention to what they were doing and be extra nice to them.  I don't think that I've heard anyone say "panic attack" for the last decade or more, so I wonder if people aren't having panic attacks any longer, and if so why?  Or has a new term come along to replace "panic attack"?

In contrast, South Koreans have become exceedingly fond of saying that they face what they call "hyun-ta 현타" ("reality attack").  This is a shortened version of "hyunsil tagyuk 현실 타격".  That means facing reality; for example, people use this expression when they come back from vacation and have to go to work the next day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)

FUCT in the brain

In Iancu v. Brunetti, the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided, on free speech grounds, that Erik Brunetti should have the right to trademark his clothing line FUCT.

Robert Barnes' Washington Post story ("Supreme Court sides with 'subversive' clothing designer in First Amendment case", 6/24/2019) notes that "justices on both sides of the court's ideological divide worried that the ruling went too far". Justice Stephen Breyer's opinion, "concurring in part and dissenting in part", cites neurological evidence for what might be a constitutionally defensible form of "linguistic regulation" [emphasis added]:

[S]cientific evidence suggests that certain highly vulgar words have a physiological and emotional impact that makes them different in kind from most other words. See M. Mohr, Holy S***: A Brief History of Swearing 252 (2013) (Mohr) (noting the "emotional impact" of certain profane words that "excite the lower-brain circuitry responsible for emotion," resulting in "electrical impulses that can be measured in the skin"). These vulgar words originate in a different part of our brains than most other words. Id., at 250. And these types of swear words tend to attract more attention and are harder to forget than other words.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Ask Language Log: matriculate meaning "move"

From Jeffrey Kallberg:

Has anybody tracked down the origins of the sports (mostly American football, afaik) usage of the word "matriculate" to mean something like "to move from one place to another" (either physically or in a descriptive sense)? I ran into a recent example of this in a recent NBC Sports column — "FMIA Guest: Rich Eisen On The NFL's Ultimate Course Correction On PI", 6/17/2019:

So when Riveron stepped to the mic at the NFL Network gathering last week and finally matriculated his way to the pass interference replay portion of his two-hour presentation to the group, it was like a large piece of filet mignon steak being plated for the whole room to consume.

A little googling suggests a possible origin in a malapropism uttered by Hank Stram during a Super Bowl, in a conversation inadvertently picked up by a microphone:

But the Urban Dictionary isn't necessarily decisive on such questions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Finland's national radio broadcaster pulls the plug on the news in Latin

During the last few decades, I have served as the "opponent" in several Scandinavian doctoral defenses.  I wore a tuxedo, top hat, and silk socks, plus gleaming black shoes.  Much of the ritual was conducted in Latin, so I was quite aware of the high place accorded that ancient language in Scandinavian academia, especially in Finland, where all of my colleagues, no matter what their field, had received extensive training in Latin already in high school back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  It seems, however, that Latin education has been rapidly declining since that time.

Now, one of the last holdouts for general knowledge of Latin in Finland is being terminated:

"Requiescat in pace: Finland's Yle radio axes Latin news show after 30 years:  Public broadcaster cancels weekly summary Nuntii Latini as original presenters retire", AFP in Helsinki, The Guardian (6/24/19)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

Uyghurstan or Uyghuristan?

Many countries in Central Asia are named with words that end in -stan, which is a Persian term (ـستان [-stān]) meaning "land" or "place of", thence "country"; it is synonymous and cognate with the Sanskrit word sthāna स्थान (from Indo-Iranian *stanam "place," literally "where one stands," from PIE *sta-no-, suffixed form of root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm." Source).   Consequently, we refer to these countries as "the stans":

Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Note, however, that five of these names have an -i- before the -stan, while two — Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — lack the -i-.

Since the Uyghurs may one day have a country of their own with a name ending in -stan, I wondered whether there is a rule governing whether it should be "Uyghurstan" or "Uyghuristan".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)

Negative concord of the week

[h/t Neal Goldfarb]

Comments (18)

Alice Mak Addresses the Hong Kong Chief Executive with Vulgar Language

Four days ago, rumors and reports were flying fast and furious that Alice Mak Mei-kuen, a member of Legislative Council of Hong Kong for the New Territories West constituency, representing the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, swore at the Chief Executive (CE) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China (PRC), Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, using the most vile language imaginable:

"Swear words heaped on Carrie Lam as pro-establishment lawmakers express fears of election rout over Hong Kong extradition bill fracas:  Lawmaker hurled expletives at Lam as she tearfully explained her decision to suspend the bill; Many fear electoral backlash in November's district council elections", by Gary Cheung and Tony Cheung, SCMP (6/20/19)

Although the language employed by Mak was, shall we say, quite colorful, I held off on posting on it until I could get better confirmation of her actual words.  That came through yesterday evening in the form of these notes from Bob Bauer:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)