You April fools!

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Many Language Log readers have been complaining about the absence of any recognition of April Fool's Day at this site. I can only lament your lack of perceptiveness. There have been pranks all over the place and you simply didn't see them because you are too gullible.

The primary linguistic one was Victor Mair's amusing spoof post "Sinological suffering", cunningly posted on March 31st to be there when you read Language Log on Saturday morning, April 1st, about an imaginary Chinese character that couldn't be found in dictionaries no matter what lookup method you tried.

Do you really think a writing system could survive if it were so brain-wrenchingly complex, arcane, and impossible to document that there would be written characters that Victor Mair, one of the greatest experts on Asian languages on this planet, could not track down or translate?

For heaven's sake, people have been ribbing you. Pulling your leg. A writing system with somewhere between 9,000 and 106,000 symbols but nobody can exactly say?

Mair even quotes, deadpan, another expert, David Moser, as saying: "when you add up the daily time we spend struggling with character retrieval, checking, and correction, it adds up to a huge waste of time and mental energy. And most often all for absolutely zero increase in meaning, value, human worth, or intellectual progress." Doesn't sound much like a Sinologist. Try to bring a little skepticism to this deceptive world. Would any writing system as bad as Mair and Moser suggest really have been able to survive?

Fake news. There are only 95 real Chinese characters, about the same as written English (A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ + -± × ÷ = { } [ ] § , : ; " ' < > . ? / ~ ` € £ and a few others). It's not such a huge memory burden. The rest of what you see is just filler and ornamentation, like the elaborately illuminated initial letters in medieval manuscripts. Chinese looks much more complicated than it really is. Chinese people often pretend they don't know it very well just to be polite.

And in case Mair was too subtle for you, I put another hoax on the web just before April 1st. I faked up a science press release about a completely implausible and unconfirmable discovery concerning (I picked two random things I'm enthusiastic about) sexual practices and theropodal dinosaurs, and released it to a Facebook group that I knew numbered among its members a particularly dumb science journalist. I included a link to the online journal Scientific Reports that I knew he would not bother to follow (SR publishes thousands of papers, and searching it produces bewildering quantities of stuff not all of which is hoaxes; you soon give up).

It worked like a charm; the story spread around the world. The Metro, my favorite free newspaper in the UK (I pick it up on the bus to read scurrilous showbiz news), chose the headline: "The T-Rex was a 'sensitive lover' and used its nose for foreplay".

You wouldn't think something that crazy would work as fake science news, but everyone bought it! Really, just think for a moment. Tyrannosaurs? With tender facial parts used for pleasurable nuzzling?

A five-ton predator, almost certainly cannibalistic, with teeth the size of carving knives, playing kissy-face? Dinosaur lovers playfully rubbing noses and caressing cheeks? Maybe going down for a quarter of an hour of gentle dinosaur cunnilingus, clutching her lower body with those tiny little arms? Are you kidding me?

I worry about you people. You'd believe anything. We put hoax stuff out there to amuse you and you take it seriously; we alert you to serious worries (like road signs it is literally impossible to obey) and you think it's just scare stories that you can ignore.

What, you're looking to see if I left comments open? You think I want to read the comments of people who believe made-up stuff about inscrutably unusable writing systems, and tyrannosaural foreplay? Go comment on Facebook or somewhere else I won't see it.

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