This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

by Angela Tung on October 14, 2011

Welcome to the Language Blog Roundup, in which we give you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

First up, in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) news, The Millions compared OWS to Bartleby the scrivener. At Language Log, Victor Mair pointed out an OWS Chinese protest sign that doesn’t quite translate, while Mark Liberman discussed a left-wing “altar ego.”

Mr. Liberman also lucked outtwice – over an incorrectly used American English idiom. Arnold Zwicky put Strunk & White in cultural context; Geoff Pullum untangled some tangled idioms; and Ben Zimmer discussed so what if/that. In more translation problems, Victor Mair wondered about the dictionary “dick” section and the use of pinyin over Chinese characters, as well as the genius of cursive tattoo writing. Mr. Zwicky offered his own thoughts on cursive writing on his blog.

This week in words, Erin McKean spotted, among others, gelehallon, “Swedish raspberry gelatin bits dusted with sugar,” and co-working, shared workspaces “emphasizing open space and the ability to rent a single desk.” At Johnson, Robert Lane Greene explored Rick Perryisms, while at Macmillan Dictionary blog, Natalie Hunter asserted that Noah Webster would have loved LOLspeak, and Stan Carey discussed pragmatics, and on his own blog, an absoposilutely awesome infix.

Fritinancy’s word of the week was humble, as in Siri, Apple’s voice-control system for the new iPhone 4S, the “‘humble’ female personal secretary.’” At Lingua Franca, Allan Metcalf compared velcro and teflon writers (“Teflon writing is smooth, polished, gemlike” while Velcro writing “isn’t necessarily pretty to look at, but it gets hold of you and shakes you up”). Motivated Grammar wondered if simply speaking a language makes one an expert.

The Virtual Linguist considered salami slicing, “the practice of making relatively small cuts here and there”; the cowardly poltroon; the big bazooka approach; word uses and abuses in Stephen Fry’s Planet Word. Word Spy spotted the Ikea effect, “increased feelings of pride and appreciation for an object because it has been self-made or self-assembled.”

Dialect Blog explored the pronunciation aunt in a New England accent; why Americans don’t get dialect; and the vowel sound in yeah. K International posted about a new Iliad translation, and translation fail with Apple’s Siri, which apparently sounds a lot like the Japanese word for buttocks and “in Georgian. . .is a rather vulgar way of referring to one’s penis.”

In language news, the Académie Française website is seeking to ban certain English words and phrases, while The New York Times assured us that bilingual babies can sort out language just fine, and in fact are “more cognitively flexible.” Meanwhile playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) has a new play, Chinglish, which “explores the language barriers that a U.S. businessman tries to overcome as he looks to secure a lucrative contract in China for his sign-making firm”; and Margaret Atwood has a new book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, of which a limited edition is being printed “made entirely of wheat straw, flax straw and recycled content.” Ms. Atwood talks to The Atlantic about science fiction, religion, and her love of Blade Runner.

Brain Pickings showed us an awesomely illustrated edition of Moby Dick, while Buzz Feed showed us awesome stacks of books found in offices. Art Info gave us a peek into the surprisingly smutty love letters of Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, and Flavorwire did some literary matchmaking between fictional characters (Holden Caulfield and Esther Greenwood, emo couple of the year). Big Think gave us the Halloween portmanteau of the week, lycanthropography.

Finally, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Dennis Ritchie, often called the father of the C programming language. “In addition to being the creator of C,” says CNET, “Ritchie co-authored ‘The C Programming Language,’ commonly referred to as K&R (after the authors, Brian Kernighan and Ritchie) and widely considered the definitive work on C.” Condolences to his family and loved ones.

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