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"No word for X" meets snowcloning

[This is a guest post by Scott de Brestian] I am an avid Language Log reader, and so am familiar with two ongoing series that your blog has – first, the posts debunking the “Eskimos (or people X) have unusually many words for snow” myth (which I believe drew me to your blog in the […]

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Annals of "No word for X"

An unusually fine example in Rachel Donadio, "Surreal: A Soap Opera Starring Berlusconi", NYT 1/22/2011: It is not always easy to translate between Italian and American sensibilities. There is no good English word for “veline,” the scantily clad Vanna White-like showgirls who smile and prance on television, doing dance numbers even in the middle of […]

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'No word for X' archive

Responding to the popularity of this morning's post on the politico-lexical economy of fair, here's a list of some earlier LL posts on aspects of the No Word for X meme and its rhetorical deployment [updated for some later ones as well…]: "No word for 'runoff'?", 12/23/2020 "'No words for mental health'", 9/8/2020 "Two few […]

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No word for "runoff"?

Candice Norwood, "In battle for the Senate, Georgia organizers fight to mobilize voters of color", PBS News Hour 12/3/2020: For Susana Durán, Georgia State director for the civic engagement group Poder Latinx, informing voters about the race starts with the basics. “What is a runoff? There’s no Spanish language word for runoff,” Durán said. “I’m […]

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"No words for mental health"

Esha Mitra, "India didn't prioritize mental health before Covid-19. Now it's paying the price", CNN 9/7/2020: No words for mental health [,,,] Experts say the historical reluctance to address mental health in India could be partly due to a lack of terminology. None of India's 22 languages have words that mean "mental health" or "depression." […]

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Too few words to describe emotions

At about 22:45 of the BBC discussion program The Moral Maze, Natasha Devon  asserts Your browser does not support the audio element. Well it- I- again, one of the problems is language, actually, because in English, we have a very limited emotional vocabulary. When you look at other languages, they- they have a much broader amount of […]

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No word for rape, Australian edition

Tiger Webb writes to point out what he calls "a particularly toxic variant of the 'no word for X' meme" — from Paul Toohey, "The fight to protect indigenous children from abuse and neglect", News Corporation Australia 5/28/2018: NO WORD FOR RAPE Youth workers who spend time with roaming kids say they would never ask them […]

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Candidate for careless Whorfian nonsense of the year

Earlier today, I discussed (or at least linked to) a serious econometric study arguing that the morphology of future time reference is meaningfully correlated — perhaps causally correlated — with the distribution of attitudes towards "willingness to take climate action" ("The latest on the Whorfian morphology of time"). A short time later, with the radio […]

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Too many words for falsehood?

One of Matt Wuerker's 2017 political cartoons:

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Rescued debate

Yesterday Sharon Klein wrote to ask about the 2010 debate on Language and Thought hosted by The Economist: Some colleagues in other departments (notably in philosophy) have been asking to talk about the hypothesis, linguistic relativism, and the actual research around the issues. While I can (and have begun to) collect relevant papers for a […]

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Ask Language Log: -ism exceptionalism

Jonah Goldberg, "The Trouble with Nationalism", National Review 2/7/20 But I firmly believe that when we call the sacrifices of American patriots no different from the sacrifices of Spartans — ancient or modern — we are giving short shrift to the glory, majesty, and uniqueness of American patriotism and the American experiment. I’m reminded of […]

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No way to curse in Japanese?

John Berenberg writes: An article by Joan Acocella in the February 9, 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books makes a 'no word for X' claim about Japanese and goes even further by quoting a native speaker who happily reports that learning to swear in English and Spanish allows him to say things […]

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Two words for truth?

The "No Word For X" trope is a favorite item in the inventory of pop-culture rhetorical moves — the Irish have no word for "sex", the Germans have no word for "mess", the Japanese have no word for "compliance", the Bulgarians have no word for "integrity", none of the Romance languages have a word for "accountability", and […]

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