Stay uninflected!

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Students, former students, colleagues, and friends all around the world have been sending me best wishes during this age of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their impression is that things in America now are particularly bad. They offer me face masks and other PPE, they worry about my health, they give me all sorts of advice.

I just received my favorite piece of encouragement thus far from a student who is stuck in Beijing:

"Stay uninflected!"

That really cheered me up!

It reminded me of things my wife used to say, such as:

"Gone out the window" for Gone with the Wind.

"The emperor had hundreds of cucumbers" for, well, I'll let you guess….


  1. Daniel said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 8:41 am


    I initially thought this was going to be a riff on "stay safe" vs "stay safely".

  2. Dan Romer said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 9:16 am

    Sounds good advice, no matter what!

  3. Kennedy said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 9:34 am

    I'm a TEFL instructor and teach mainly Chinese students. The other day in class one of them said "The coronavirus has really infected the economy."

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    April 8, 2020 @ 10:01 am

    "Sounds good advice, no matter what!" — which I immediately read as "Good sound advice …", and which is equally true !

  5. gds555 said,

    April 9, 2020 @ 10:57 am

    One caveat: If you should end up accepting PPE from your Chinese students, former students, colleagues, and/or friends, you should probably check to make sure that, as benevolent-minded as they are, they haven’t at the same time played a joke on you by deliberately spilling Coca-Cola on it.

  6. Anthony said,

    April 9, 2020 @ 8:31 pm

    The uninflected life is not worth living.

  7. Andrew Usher said,

    April 10, 2020 @ 7:14 am

    Well, it's certainly not 'stay uninflectedly' …

    k_over_hbarc at

  8. Victor Mair said,

    April 13, 2020 @ 5:37 am

    Here "inflection" means "inflection point":

    "‘Too early’ to talk about inflection for global pandemic"

    Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/12 12:01:54

  9. Alessio said,

    April 13, 2020 @ 9:43 am

    Any hint for the emperor example? Finding it difficult to guess the original expression.

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    April 13, 2020 @ 7:40 pm

    'Concubines', surely. I believe the Chinese emperors are known for that. But that makes the comparison even stranger: 'uninflected' for 'uninfected' (apparenly meant) is only a typo, not a malaprop.

    My last was a response to the comment about 'stay safe' vs. 'stay safely' – 'stay' of course takes an adjective when it means as here 'remain in such a condition'. It could take an adverb to describe a manner of staying, but I figure that most such possible instances would be phrased differently.

  11. M. Paul Shore said,

    April 14, 2020 @ 7:22 am

    Andrew Usher:

    (1) If a speaker actually believes that the needed word is “uninflected”, then that’d count as a malapropism, even if it’s a malapropism that may not have arisen from mishearing but rather from misreading or misremembering. The stuck-in-Beijing student’s utterance would be quite plausible as a malapropism if he or she is a nonnative speaker of English. If on the other hand he or she is a native speaker of English, then “uninflected” is more likely to be a typo or an intentional joke.

    (2) If Language Log were to start a thread about “stay safe” versus “stay safely”, I assume it’d be for the purpose of ridiculing, or at least critically analyzing, the linguistic naïveté of those English-speakers who actually believe that the commonly heard phrase “stay safe” is “incorrect” and the essentially nonexistent phrase “stay safely” is “correct” (and I don’t doubt that such English-speakers exist).

  12. Andrew Usher said,

    April 14, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

    I can't get into the mind of the student – if he's more used to using forms of 'inflect' than of 'infect' – hardly difficult to conceive for a language student – either is possible. So when I say 'just a typo', I can only mean that it _looks like_ just a typo.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    April 15, 2020 @ 4:25 am

    MPS — I would challenge your assertion that "stay safely" is an essentially non-existent phrase. Many good authors have used it (correctly) since 1810 or thereabouts, and perhaps even before …

  14. M. Paul Shore said,

    April 16, 2020 @ 5:00 am

    Philip Taylor:

    Here's my revised version of the paragraph in question:

    (2) If Language Log were to start a thread about "stay safe" versus "stay safely", I assume it'd be for the purpose of ridiculing, or at least critically analyzing, the linguistic naïveté of those English-speakers who might actually believe that the commonly heard phrase "stay safe" is "incorrect" and should be replaced, with the same intended meaning, by "stay safely", a phrase that in fact is essentially nonexistent with such a meaning. (I have little doubt that such ill-informed English-speakers exist.)

    Yes, I understand that "stay safely" exists with other meanings, for example in the sentence "Rather than brave the storm, they decided to stay safely at home".

  15. M. Paul Shore said,

    April 16, 2020 @ 5:21 am

    Or perhaps, with a more clearly divergent meaning, in this sentence: "The choreographer decided to stay safely within the confines of classical ballet for his new production of The Nutcracker, rather than risk angering audiences with a gymnomastic butoh interpretation".

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