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Last Build Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:29:58 +0000


Français de nos régions.

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:29:58 +0000

Le français de nos régions vous intéresse ? (Does regional French interest you?) Then you’ll enjoy this site, with sections on pneu ou peneu ?, words pronounced differently in different parts of France (persil: is the final -l pronounced or not?), words newly added to the dictionary, and much else. I know marie-lucie will be […]


Wed, 16 Aug 2017 22:36:56 +0000

Today’s mail brought a very welcome package: a copy of Trevor Joyce’s Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser. The “About the Author” page begins “For fifty years, since publication of his first book in 1967, Trevor Joyce has been a unique voice in Irish writing,” and the second paragraph reads: His early […]

Constant Motion.

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 00:21:57 +0000

Stan Carey has a fine Macmillan column on the fact that language constantly changes and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well accept it: Understandably, this unsettles people. We may refuse to accept a new usage, especially if the change happens in our lifetime: Why can’t words stay as they […]


Mon, 14 Aug 2017 22:23:51 +0000

I’m now about halfway through Perdue’s China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (see this post) and have just gotten to the central event, the extermination by the Qing Empire of the Western Mongol nation he calls the Zunghars in the 1750s: “The [Qianlong] emperor deliberately targeted young and able men in order […]

Dostoevsky’s Worst Novel.

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 22:13:03 +0000

If you google the phrase “Dostoevsky’s worst novel” (with quotes, because otherwise it defaults to telling you about his best novels), the reply is unambiguous: The Insulted and Injured [Униженные и оскорбленные]. I’ve read three of the four parts, and I’m here to tell you that that judgment is faultless; if it hadn’t been by […]


Sat, 12 Aug 2017 21:29:52 +0000

I ran across the Russian word томпак [tompak], looked it up, and discovered it was defined as “tombac.” Just this once, the Oxford dictionary took pity on the ignorant user and added the parenthetical “(copper and zinc alloy),” so I knew what it meant, but of course I wanted to know the derivation. Vasmer told […]

The Lesser Prince of the Night.

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 00:32:01 +0000

I recently came across the Polish word księżyc ‘moon’ and thought “That’s odd — the other Slavic languages have reflexes of either Proto-Slavic *luna (like Russian) or *měsęcь (like Serbo-Croatian and Czech). Where did this come from? It turns out (and this is a great etymology) that it’s originally a diminutive of książę ‘prince’; to […]

Palimpsests at Saint Catherine’s.

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 00:50:31 +0000

Richard Gray at the Atlantic writes about a perennially interesting topic: The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only […]

Hysteria over Hyphens.

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 02:06:46 +0000

The Economist‘s Johnson column (on language) has a good roundup of the vexed issue of hyphens, which starts with the classic quote “If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.” I got the link from this post by Lucy Ferriss, who is quite wrong about spelled-out numbers followed by a reference to a […]

Harry Potter and the Spanish ‘Tykes’.

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 00:48:03 +0000

UrbanAbydos has a Potterglot post that discusses… well, I’ll let the poster tell you: The amount of variation in the Spanish editions of the Philosopher’s Stone is stunning. Writing is an art and from draft-to-draft, you expect the language to be tweaked. But once it has been edited and published, you don’t expect noticeable variation […]

Caput Mortuum.

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 00:47:17 +0000

Reading Ford Madox Ford’s memoir Memories and Impressions (highly recommended by my wife, who’s become a Ford devotee), I ran across an expression that baffled me. In his encomium to Holman Hunt Ford says: But I think I never did advance — it was never my intention to advance — any suggestion that the true […]

Combatting Stereotypes about Appalachian Dialects.

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 23:56:47 +0000

Kirk Hazen, professor of linguistics at West Virginia University (i.e., he’s not some bloviating amateur), has a good piece at The Conversation on “the hillbilly problem”: Many qualities come prepackaged with the hillbilly stereotype: poverty, backwardness and low levels of education. One of the most prevalent is the idea that the way the people of […]

Preserving Kiowa.

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 00:41:31 +0000

Joanna Hlavacek reports for on a heartening development: [Andrew] McKenzie, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas, recently secured a grant from the federal government that will allow him to continue his great-grandfather’s work in preserving the Kiowa language — a pressing need, McKenzie says, as the number of fluent Kiowa […]

The Ancient World Online.

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 00:25:56 +0000

A reader (thanks, Bruce!) sent me a link to AWOL – The Ancient World Online, saying it has access to “all kinds of good stuff,” and he was right! AWOL is a project of Charles E. Jones, Tombros Librarian for Classics and Humanities at the Pattee Library, Penn State University […] The primary focus of […]

Judaeo-Urdu Manuscript, Or.13287.

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 00:27:51 +0000

Ursula Sims-Williams at the British Library’s Asian and African studies blog posts about a unique manuscript: The British Library’s sole Judaeo-Urdu manuscript is a copy in Hebrew script of the well-known Urdu theatrical work, the Indar Sabha, written by Agha Sayyid Hasan ‘Amanat,’ a poet at the court of Vajid Ali Shah of Awadh. Our […]


Thu, 03 Aug 2017 00:26:49 +0000

We’ve done whistled languages before here — Yupik in 2005, La Gomera most recently in 2011 — but it’s been a while, so herewith please find sfyria, according to the breathless BBC Travel report by Eliot Stein “one of the rarest and most endangered languages in the world” (what would reporters do without superlatives?): Hidden […]

Salt and Salary.

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 00:21:44 +0000

I love a good debunking, and Peter Gainsford specializes in them at his blog Kiwi Hellenist: Modern myths about the ancient world. I’ve taken the post title from Salt and salary: were Roman soldiers paid in salt? because it’s perfect LH material, being a thorough demolition of the idea “that Roman soldiers were paid in […]

Paths in the Rainforests.

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 00:34:49 +0000

It’s been over four years since I bought Jan Vansina’s Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa; I was excited about it at the time, but then (you know how it is) it sank to the bottom of the stack and I never got around to reading it. Well, […]


Sun, 30 Jul 2017 22:32:53 +0000

This is one of the more simpleminded questions I’ve posted, but I can’t find an answer to it, so I turn to the Varied Reader. Wikipedia sez: The Lozi people are an ethnic group primarily of western Zambia, inhabiting the region of Barotseland. […] The Lozi are also known as the Malozi, Silozi, Kololo, Barotose, […]

Laptot, Signare.

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 19:00:41 +0000

I’m editing a book on language in Africa, and a chapter on Senegal has introduced me to two obscure French terms: Signare “was the name for the Mulatto French-African women of the island of Gorée in French Senegal during the 18th and 19th centuries”; according to Wikipédia, it’s from Portuguese senhora, which makes sense but […]