Does Stephen Colbert read Language Log?

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The lede of Stephen Colbert's "Smokin' Pole: The Fight for Arctic Riches", 6/10/2008, suggested to Language Log reader Matrixmonkey36 that Mr. Colbert also reads Language Log:

Nation, there are seven Eskimo words for melting snow, and all of them also mean "opportunity". [audio]

Let's say at least that some Language Log themes are working their way into public discourse. Background: here and here.

As a free bonus joke, I'll link to "The four meanings of an Arabic word" (6/19/2006).


  1. CarnivorousApeTrick said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 12:17 pm

    It's beautiful that he's seemed to combine the "eskimo words for snow" with the "Chinese word for chaos" to create a third statement that works seamlessly.

    Whoever wrote that shoould get an award…

  2. john riemann soong said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    Eh, I thought he was referring to the crisis = danger + opportunity meme.

  3. Bryn LaFollette said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

    John: They're one and the same.

  4. DaveJC said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

    Lisa: "Dad, it might interest you to know that in Chinese, the word for 'crisis' is the same as the word for 'opportunity'."

    Homer: "Yes! Crisitootity!"

  5. Bryn LaFollette said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

    I just followed the link to the discussion of the "crisitunity"-meme from the background link above, and when you follow the link there under "The Moment of Truth", it takes you to this Al Gore fansite, where the current entry (as of this writing) reads:

    "Myanmar Cyclone a Cause of Global Warming?"

    Now, from the tone of the very short entry, I'm guessing the words they're using are not what they intend to convey. In addition to the title, the entry alleges that "In [Al Gore's] opinion, Myanmar is a direct result [of global warming]." My guess would be that they meant to say he believes the Myanmar cyclone was a result of global warming, rather than that Cyclone Nargis has caused Global Warming which has given rise to Myanmar (the country).

    There are few instances of semantic role inversion I've seen that work so nicely and yet so contrary to what the author almost certainly intended. There are other interesting nuances to this very short blog entry, but I'll leave you all to enjoy them first-hand.

  6. Dan T. said,

    June 11, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

    The Babelfish translator (which belongs to Yahoo now, formerly AltaVista) translates "危機" as "crisis" and "危" as "danger", but "機" is translated as "machine".

  7. Josh Millard said,

    June 12, 2008 @ 11:31 am

    So the Chinese word for "crisis" actually means "The Terminator"?

  8. neveu said,

    June 12, 2008 @ 5:54 pm

    Not only do the writers read LanguageLog, but they expect that their audience does, too.

  9. David Eisenberg said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

    Wow. I have no clue what any of you are talking about from Steven Colbert down. Over my head I guess.

  10. Tina Marie said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

    Along the lines of "Eskimo words for snow", there was a most amusing article in the Houston Chronicle today about words for the hot and humid weather in Houston in the summer.

  11. marie-lucie said,

    June 14, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

    Very nice article! I am glad I don't live in Houston.

    There is an interesting metaphor in the text:

    "sometimes the air comes from the Tropics and is clean and clear as a bell"

    I always thought that "clear as a bell" referred to sound, not to vision. Is it becoming simply an emphatic expression which has lost its concrete reference?

  12. E W Gilman said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 11:39 am

    (Not knowing what a URI is, I leave it blank)

    Would you like to add Arabic to Eskimo and Chinese as a snowclone language? Here we have an 18th century comment by Horace Walpole in a letter dated 15 June 1787 to Hannah More:

    I think I have heard that there are some score of different terms for a lion in Arabic, each expressive of a different quality; and consequently its generosity and its appetite for blood are not confounded in one general word.

    (I apologize if anyone has difficulty in confirming this in a standard edition. I am using a Echo Library edition and it is absolutely the worst edited text I have ever tried to read.)

  13. Mark Liberman said,

    June 16, 2008 @ 11:46 am

    @E W Gilman: Horace Walpole may have suggested "some score of different terms for a lion in Arabic", but around the same time, Samuel Bishop put the number at 500:

    In Araby, learned linguists say,
    So copious is the vulgar phrase,
    That speech at pleasure can display
    The lion's name five hundred ways.

    See "Expression's vast varieties", 3/3/2004, for the rest.

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