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The Moon is Gay

Gay French Moon Dinosaur Cartoon

The peculiar habit of some Indo-Europeans of assigning gender to nouns is frustrating and amusing.

Time in German

german-time

Frank Jacobs explains how “in German, you can tell with some degree of certainty which general area someone hails from by the way they tell the time at quarter past ten.”

Putting Cinco de Mayo into Context

travel-suitcase

I would highly recommend the following essay by Oscar Casares from the Austin Chronicle:  Holiday of Cinco de Mayo is minor event in Mexico.  If anything, it underscores how Cinco de Mayo is probably a bigger deal in the United States than it is in Mexico (although granted, it is more in terms of eating […]

Too Many Foreigners?

A recent survey in the UK asked if there are too many foreigners living in the country: Via American Catholic, who loves “the dry humour of the English!” Note: I’m pretty sure this isn’t an actual survey.

FBI ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ Inflation

WMD-FBI

One of the post-9/11 developments of particular annoyance to security scholars is the inflation of the term “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to encompass small-scale explosives.  Historically, it was reserved for nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological devices.  The FBI is an especially egregious violator, doing it again and again, most recently in touting the thwarting of […]

This Is Alabama. We Speak English.

law-scales-justice-flag

Tim James’ ad promising that, if he’s elected governor, he’ll save the citizens of Alabama some money by cutting out foreign language drivers’ license exams under the theory, “This is Alabama.  We speak English.  If you want to live here, learn it” is making the rounds. Like my fellow Alabama expat, Stacy McCain, I get […]

National Grammar Day

Grammar Punctuation

I’m reliably informed that today is National Grammar Day: Language is something to be celebrated, and March 4 is the perfect day to do it. It’s not only a date, it’s an imperative: March forth on March 4 to speak well, write well, and help others do the same! Inspired by this,  Alex Knapp’s “He […]

Newspapers Need Better Writing

short-writing-wide

In a devastating takedown, Michael Kinsley argues that one reason print journalism is struggling is that its writing is “encrusted with conventions that don’t add to your understanding of the news” whereas we on the Web “get to the point.”  Among these are the inverted pyramid style, use of quotations that say nothing newsworthy, and […]

Web’s Latin-Only Policy Ending

chinese-keyboard-stickers

Starting in two weeks, users from countries who don’t use the Latin alphabet will find using the Internet much easier, FT reports. Latin script’s monopoly in internet domain names will end next month, a development that could usher in a fresh wave of internet usage from Bulgaria to China. So far, finding web addresses has […]

How to Pronounce ‘2010’

2010

The gang at Esquire give some thought to a question that will soon be everywhere: How will we pronounce the year 2010? Twenty ten Suggested. Two thousand ten Eh. Two zero one zero Amusing but impractical. Two oh ten Come on. Ten Nah. Really, the first two are the only plausible options.  My preference is […]

Public Option a Loser, Choice a Winner

survey

A bipartisan NBC News poll shows that only 36 percent of Americans think “Barack Obama’s health care plan” is a “good idea” even though 51 percent approve of the job he is doing as president.  In the same survey, 43 percent favor “creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would […]

Australia Native Language Bailout

Ngarrindjeri Aborigine Australia Photo

“Australia has pledged 7.8 million US dollars this year to help save more than 100 indigenous languages which are in grave danger of dying out,” AFP reports. Arts Minister Peter Garrett said the money would be spent on translation services, tests for children and a feasibility study for a national centre for Aboriginal languages. “These […]

More on the Honduran Crisis

travel-suitcase

I was able to find the exact text of the plebiscite that Manuel “Mel” Zelaya wanted to proffer to the citizens of Honduras this past Sunday. The text and a photo of the ballot that was to be used can be found here. The odd thing, and a fact that hasn’t made it into a […]

Language Shapes Thought

aboriginal

Stanford neuroscientist Lera Boroditsky passes along the consensus in her field that “people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world.” She provides a fascinating example: Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, […]

English Iran’s Lingua Franca

iran-police-english

Hilzoy and Andrew Sullivan pass along this interesting tidbit from Slate’s Christopher Beam: Post-election protests continued in Tehran for the fifth day on Wednesday. In many photos, riot police wear uniforms with the English word police on them. Ambulances, too, bear the word ambulance in English. Why not use Persian words instead of their English […]

Bloomsday Honors Book No One Reads

marilyn-monroe-ullyses

NPR has an amusing bit on “Morning Edition” by Rob Gifford on Bloomsday, the annual festival wherein “Thousands of people descend on Dublin each June 16th to celebrate Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses by recreating the events in the book. The novel chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin on a single day — June […]

Obama ‘Fires’ Gay Arabic Linguist

law-scales-justice-flag

UCSB political scientist Aaron Belkins‘ HuffPo piece “Obama To Fire His First Gay Arabic Linguist” has drawn quite a bit of blogospheric attention. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer in the Army National Guard who is fluent in Arabic and who returned recently from Iraq, received notice today that the military is about […]

Obama Winners and Losers

newt-gingrich-real-change

I mentioned Newt Gingrich‘s article “Are You an Obama Winner? Or an Obama Loser?” at the tail end of Wednesday’s episode of OTB Radio (“Republican Party, RIP?“) but never got around to blogging it.  It is both a classic Frank Luntz-inspired use of obnoxious language to paint a dire picture of the Democrats — and […]

Not Enough Pashto Speakers but Pashto is Not Enough

english-pashto-dictionary

Stephen Walt repeats the popular lament (and specifically Gareth Porter‘s) that the United States Government employs a ridiculously small number of Pashto speakers and that this negatively impacts us in Afghanstan.   Pat Porter agrees but issues some important caveats: 1) Languages are extremely hard to develop at a sufficient level. Except for the most outrageously […]

Obama on That Awful Austrian Language

us-politics

Barack Obama doesn’t know what the word for “wheeling and dealing” is in “Austrian.” Naturally, this verbal faux pax is generating some good natured ribbing from Glenn Reynolds, Ed Morrissey, and others.  Kate McMillan awards Quote of the Week honors to Mark Steyn for “We now know that Barack Obama, who urged us all to […]

Do Zeroes Cure Inumeracy?

national-debt-clock

Janet Beihoffer has a modest proposal for cutting federal spending and generally restoring some sanity to our financial life. A simple but effective approach may be to include all the zeroes in these bills, current and future. Far too many people hear “million” and “billion” and “trillion” and simply don’t understand the magnitude of these […]

Words Mean Things … Or Do They?

wordcloud

Jeff Goldstein continues an ongoing debate with Patrick Frey as to whether those who communicate have an obligation to consider how others might misinterpret their meaning. Whereas Patrick takes a surprisingly politically correct view on the matter[*], Jeff takes the extreme anti-postmodernist position: To say that words can mean different things to different people even […]

Bill Moyers Gay Hypocrisy Scandal

TV Bill Moyers Journal

I’ve followed the discussion about the Bill Moyers “scandal” (see, for example, today’s (WSJ piece “Bill Moyers’s Name Is Linked to J. Edgar Hoover’s Abuse of Office”) out of the corner of my eye for the last couple of days  and am having trouble seeing what the big deal is. Basically, as I understand it: […]

Cultural Literacy

literacy

Stacy McCain decries America’s “cultural illiteracy” and bemoans the fact that kids today may be smart but they’re ignorant. [H]ow many know enough French — or enough European history — to know who Clemenceau was, or what he meant? The Tiger might as well have never lived, so far as the average college student is […]

Army Offers Citizenship for Enlisting

military-soldier-sunset

The Army is beginning a pilot program to allow skilled green card holders to enlist and get a fast-track to citizenship, Julia Preston reports on the front page of today’s NYT. Stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military will begin recruiting skilled immigrants who are living in this country with temporary visas, offering […]

Fairness Discussion Unfair to Foreigners

dogs-fairness

Will Wilkinson passes on Bart Wilson‘s observation that, “fair is one-to-one untranslatable into any other language.” Jim Henley, blogging into the Google Reader comment share ether, retorts: I remember the days we were assured there was no word for ‘freedom’ in Russian. That was bullshit. ‘There’s no one-to-one translation of *fair* into other languages’ sounds […]

Roberts Corrects Framers’ Grammar

Obama Inauguration

Via Norman Geras, I see that Steven Pinker has a plausible yet amusing explanation for Chief Justice John Roberts’ bungling of the presidential oath of office. How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage, among the best-known words in the Constitution? Conspiracy theorists and connoisseurs of Freudian slips have surmised that […]

Pulling Out: Debating Middle East Disengagement (Rebuttal)

travel-suitcase

Dave Schuler’s arguments and his responses to my cross-examination questions highlight three critical failings in his argument. These flaws are his preference for inertia over strategic assessment, overweighing ambiguous evidence that marginally supports his case while ignoring compelling evidence that refutes it, and a failure to account for what might be called “conditions on the […]

Obama: Sex Before Reading?

us-politics

A new John McCain ad belittles Barack Obama’s legislative achievements on education reform and includes this gem: Obama’s one accomplishment? Legislation to teach “comprehensive sex education” to kindergartners. Learning about sex before learning to read? TPM’s Greg Sargent finds the charge “false” and “pernicious.”  He cites this passage from the bill, as circulated by  McCain’s […]

Pronouncing Foreign Names

languages

Jonathan Kolieb is upset that Americans don’t pronounce foreign names in the other country’s mother tongue. I was flipping through the cable news channels the other night, and there were several segments on developments in Iraq.  I found myself getting irritated, then angry:  Why, five years after occupying a country, do we still not know […]

Army Linguists Net $150,000 Bonus

Army Language Bonus

The Army is looking at paying incredibly large bonuses to people fluent in Arabic and other strategically important languages. The Army may begin paying a retention bonus of as much as $150,000 to Arabic speaking soldiers in reflection of how critical it has become for the US military to retain native language and cultural know-how […]

A Helpful Shopping Tip

If you use the self-check at Walmart, pick the Spanish language option–that way the durn thing won’t talk to you and tell you every inane thing it thinks you need to do. Since what one needs to do is pretty easy to understand, the inability to read the screen doesn’t matter. So see, for those […]

Obama in Germany

Obama Berlin Rally Poster

Barack Obama arrived in Berlin a bit ago, “the first stop on a whirlwind tour that will take the presumptive Democratic nominee to Germany, France and Britain in an effort to burnish his foreign credentials.” Patrick Ruffini created a minor stir in the blogosphere by pointing out that his rally posters advertising his speech was […]

Bloggers Not Swearing So Bleeping Much

Netroots Nation Swearing Panel

NYT Katharine Seelye reports on a panel on bloggers and swearing at Netroots Nation (the successor to YearlyKos) and finds that the trend is toward less of it and that most of what remains is coming from Amanda Marcotte. Digby Parton, who writes on Hullabaloo.com, said she initially thought of her blog as an ephemeral […]

When in Rome, Amigo . . .

Language Map Annotated

President Bush had a minor language gaffe during a light and amiable luncheon with the other G-8 leaders: The life-of-the-party president, mingling before the meal, chatted animatedly about his parents’ health, his birthday and the corruption charges facing one of his best buddies in Europe, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. “Amigo! Amigo!” Mr. Bush […]

OTB Radio – Tonight at 7 Eastern

The next episode of OTB Radio, our BlogTalkRadio program, will record and air live tonight from 7-8 Eastern. Dave Schuler and Alex Knapp will be joining me tonight to talk about recent events in the news.  Possible topics include: Should Americans learn other languages? McCain’s odd sense of humor Is forced voluntarism slavery or just […]

More Language and Culture, Fewer Guns

Army Language and Culture Training

Apropos our value of foreign languages discussion earlier, Andrew Krepinevich, a highly regarded military analyst, says the Pentagon needs to commit far more resources to just that. “If the experience of the last seventeen years tells us anything, it is that we are likely to continue to find our armed forces deployed… in operations among […]

Huzzah for Provincialism!

us-politics

Today’s Outrage of the Day on the right side of the blogosphere regards this latest bit from Barack Obama, regarding the need for our educational system to get better at teaching other languages. Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can […]

James Cason, Ambassador, Paraguay Singing Sensation

Ambassador James Cason Photo

James Cason, the U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay, has achieved rock star status in that country. Literally. [H]e learned the obscure Paraguayan Guaraní language, recorded a music album of indigenous folk songs and sold 1,000 tickets to a concert in a downtown theater. Now, in the final year of his four-decade diplomatic career, Cason has suddenly […]

Dumbing the Presidency

us-politics

David Broder uses Elvin Lm’s book The Anti-Intellectual Presidency to argue not only that presidential speeches have steadily dumbed down over the years, which we might have guessed, but that this dumbs down public policy, too. In what must have been a heroic effort, he applied standard techniques of content analysis to state papers of […]

George Carlin Dies at 71

George Carlin Dies at 71 (2007 Photo)

George Carlin, a comedian known for his combination of raunchy language and intellectual humor, died of heart failure last evening. He was 71. Carlin was an interesting guy, combining brilliant observational humor with political activism. Like too many comics in the HBO era, though, it often seemed that he was vulgar and outrageous simply because […]

McCain Age ‘Code’ Talk

McCain Too Old?

Some supporters of John McCain accuse the Obama campaign of using “code words” to imply that McCain is old. “It is code; there is no question it is,” Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who helped lead President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, said when age surfaced as an issue. “They are trying to raise doubts.” […]

Online Life Rewiring Our Brains

Google Making Stupid - Atlantic Cover

The cover story of the current Atlantic (Monthly) is an interesting piece by Nicholas Carr which asks, Is Google Making Us Stupid? It begins with the standard “the Internet is giving us short attention spans” meme but eventually gives us much more than that. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that […]

Ireland Rejects Treaty of Lisbon

travel-suitcase

It’s received precious little notice here in the States but Irish voters have rejected the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU’s latest move towards reform and greater consolidation of power in Brussels: DUBLIN, Ireland – Ireland’s voters have rejected the European Union reform treaty, a blueprint for modernizing the 27-nation bloc that cannot become law without […]

College For Everyone: A Destructive Myth

Professor Grading Papers

A private school professor who is also an adjunct community college English instructor discusses the joys of teaching required composition courses to the latter. Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence. In […]

Genesis: The Scientific Version

church-state-street-signs

P.Z. Myers posts a video immodestly entitled “I Know More Than God” that’s been on YouTube since at least March but that I’d never seen before: Myers notes that the video puts “the actual creation story as revealed by modern physics into the same kind of portentous, simple language that even a Mesopotamian goat-herder could […]

Spanish Miami’s Primary Language

Spanish Miami's Primary Language

Spanish-only speakers have an easier time getting by in Miami than English-only speakers, AP reports. In many areas of Miami, Spanish has become the predominant language, replacing English in everyday life. Anyone from Latin America could feel at home on the streets, without having to pronounce a single word in English. In stores, shopkeepers wait […]

Two Blogs that Pass in the Night

Root for Us You Liberal Moron

Yesterday’s exchange with Thers over the state of conservatism reflects a major defect in the blogging medium. For the most part, we write blogs in serial fashion, as a conversation with our readers, and presume that recent posts on the same subject have been read. Most blog readers, on the other hand, parachute into posts […]

McCain Rejects and Denounces Hagee

McCain Rejects and Denounces Hagee

John McCain has repudiated, rejected, denounced, distanced, and otherwise made it clear that he’s not a big fan of John Hagee, who he thinks is a nut. In the face of mounting controversy over headline-grabbing statements from Pastor John Hagee, CNN has learned presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has decided to reject his endorsement. The […]

Portugal’s Empire Strikes Back

During the height of its power, Portugal spread its language far and wide. Today, it faces up to its new realities and officially adopts the Brazilian form of its language. Portugal’s parliament has voted to introduce contentious changes to the Portuguese language in order to spell hundreds of words the Brazilian way. The agreement standardises […]

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