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Help! I'm trapped in a ???

For the past couple of weeks, I've been getting a bunch of curious email messages that start like these: Thank you for contacting the comics and features department at The Washington Post.  Even though this is an automatic reply to inform you that we have received your comment, we still want you to know that […]

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Wanting your life back

Since BP is "refusing to confirm the widespread reports" that CEO Tony Hayward is just about to be fired, I assume he will be out by the end of the day (if you get up in the morning and find your employer is refusing to confirm reports that you are on the way out, start […]

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Creative work metonymy

Sex and the City 2 premiered in London last night. Sarah Jessica Parker arrived in a black strapless dress from the house of her favorite British designer, and what she told her fans provided another interesting example of what Mark Liberman noted in a recent post on fashion talk: There's only one person I could […]

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In the footsteps of Robert Langdon

Language Log readers may recall the link I gave to the Vulture Reading Room discussion of The Lost Symbol on the New York Magazine website, where I made some comments on the extraordinarily heavy use Dan Brown's book makes of redundant (either pointless or already implicit) attributive modifiers. I illustrated from an early passage about […]

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Invented facts from the Vicar of St. Bene't's, part 2

The Reverend Angela Tilby ended her scandalously unresearched little "Thought for the Day" talk of 1 October 2009 (part of which I have already discussed in this recent post) by suggesting that during the British political party conference season (i.e., right about now) we should try taking a blue pencil and editing out all the […]

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The Vulture Reading Room feeds the eternal flame

If I and my friends and colleagues could just have found the strength of will to not talk about Dan Brown's new novel The Lost Symbol, perhaps we could have stopped his march to inevitable victory as the fastest-selling and most renowned novelist in human history, and The Lost Symbol could have just faded away […]

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Word rage wins again

A few days ago, Michelle Pauli in the Guardian's Books Blog asked "Which words make you wince?": 'What word do you hate and why?' is the intriguing question put to a selection of poets by the Ledbury festival. Philip Wells's reply is the winner for me – 'pulchritude' is certainly up there on my blacklist. […]

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A Fourth of July Cipher

Near the end of 1801, his first year as president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson got a letter from Robert Patterson, professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, containing a page encrypted according to a new method. Patterson described his cryptosystem in detail, and boasted that without the key — which he didn't […]

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Orwell's Liar

Orwell's Politics and the English Language is a beautifully written language crime, though it pretends to lay down the law. Furthermore I just noticed that its final law is rather curious. We'll get to that shortly. Orwell begins with the unjustified premise that language is in decline – unjustified because while he viciously attacks contemporary cases […]

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 7

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu, with additions at the bottom by VHM and others] On the akinakes* (Scythian dagger / short sword) and Xiongnu (Hunnish) horse sacrifice Chinese historical records suggest that the akinakes, transliterated from Greek ἀκῑνάκης, may be endowed with spiritual significance in the eyes of ancient Chinese and Northern […]

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Wattle gate

Stefan Krasowski, who graduated from the Wharton School of Penn in 2002, and has visited every country in the world, just wrote this note to the e-Mair list: Wattleseed milkshake This Australian milkshake brought to mind a VHM Classical Sinitic class where I first encountered the word "wattle" in translating a Du Fu (712-770) poem.

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Why "deep learning" (sort of) works

A recent SMBC implicitly calls Aristotelian taxonomies into question: Mouseover title: "Like look at these leaves. 14 oakitudes, minimum."

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Boogaloo is in the news these days, in reference to what a recent Forbes article calls "a loose group of far-right individuals who are pro-gun, anti-government, and believe that another civil war in America is imminent". The politics is complex and evolving, as a USA Today article explains: [T]here are various facets to the loosely […]

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