No word for father

Last week I read this article about the Mosuo people of southwest China:   "The Ethnic Group in China That Doesn’t Have a Word for Father" (10/13/14).

The Mosuo are indeed famous for having a matrilineal society, and I had long been aware of their unusual marriage customs, but I was innately suspicious of this sensationalist claim that there was no word for father in their language.

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*BEEP* vegetables

Chinglish makes an appearance in the "Translators" segment of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (10/19):


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In case you get bored watching the paint dry…

R.B. writes:

I'm sorry that I can't provide info on where it came from originally (and for all I know, it's an oldie-but-goodie).  I found it posted in a discussion group on Ravelry, which is a social networking site for knitters, spinners, weavers, and others who work with fiber.

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Buzzfeed linguistics, presidential pronouns, and narcissism revisited

John Templon, "No, Obama’s Pronouns Don’t Make Him A Narcissist", BuzzFeed News 10/19/2014:

Conservative commentators are fond of pointing to Barack Obama’s excessive use of the word “I” as evidence of the president’s narcissism. (“For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon,” Charles Krauthammer complained recently.) But there’s one tiny problem with this line of reasoning. If you’re counting pronouns, Obama is maybe the least narcissistic president since 1945.

BuzzFeed News analyzed more than 2,000 presidential news conferences since 1929, looking for usage of first-person singular pronouns — “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” and “myself.” Just 2.5 percent of Obama’s total news-conference words fell into this category. Only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt used them less often.

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Rule of / by law

Because it has been very much in the news in recent days, the question of how to translate the Chinese term fǎzhì 法治 (lit., "law-rule / govern") has come up.  Should it be "rule of law" or "rule by law"?

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Embarrassing amnesia

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

Part I

I was giving a talk the other day, in Chinese, to Chinese students, about English pedagogy (go figure).  I wanted to mention something about the difficulty of remembering how to write Chinese characters, and I chose to use an example of the idiom 韬光养晦 tao1guang1yang3hui4, "to hide your light under a bushel."  Now the interesting thing about this example is that I had used it several times before as an example, in talks about the difficulty of Hanzi, and I said to the audience something like:

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Etymology in the rain forest

"Scientist discovers puppy-sized spider in rain forest", ABC 11 Eyewitness News 10/20/2014:

For all readers with arachnophobia, take a moment to collect yourself before proceeding further, because this spider will haunt your dreams.

Harvard Etymologist Piotr Naskrecki recently posted on his blog about an encounter in Guyana's rainforest with a South American Goliath birdeater, a spider so large it's the size of a small dog or puppy. According to Naskreski, "Their leg span approaches 30 cm (nearly a foot) and they weigh up to 170 g."

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Ebola fear stalks Bloomberg headlines

Bloomberg News is notorious for its bizarre, impenetrable headlines. There's a whole Tumblr blog devoted to strange Bloomberg headlines, and Quartz last year ran an article looking into "how Bloomberg headlines got to be so odd." Here's a new one, spotted by David Craig and Brett Wilson:


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"German type sexual harassment"

From the German "Fun Pics und lustige Videos" website isnichwahr.de comes this hilarious photograph of a dish served at the Quansheng Hotel 泉昇大酒店 (I think that it is in Changsha, Hunan):


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Death before syntax?

Ursula K. LeGuin, "Introducing Myself":

What it comes down to, I guess, is that I am just not manly. Like Ernest Hemingway was manly. The beard and the guns and the wives and the little short sentences. I do try. I have this sort of beardoid thing that keeps trying to grow, nine or ten hairs on my chin, sometimes even more; but what do I do with the hairs? I tweak them out. Would a man do that? Men don’t tweak. Men shave. Anyhow white men shave, being hairy, and I have even less choice about being white or not than I do about being a man or not. I am white whether I like being white or not. The doctors can do nothing for me. But I do my best not to be white, I guess, under the circumstances, since I don’t shave. I tweak. But it doesn’t mean anything because I don’t really have a real beard that amounts to anything. And I don’t have a gun and I don’t have even one wife and my sentences tend to go on and on and on, with all this syntax in them. Ernest Hemingway would have died rather than have syntax. Or semicolons. I use a whole lot of half-assed semicolons; there was one of them just now; that was a semicolon after “semicolons,” and another one after “now.”

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The umbrella in Hong Kong

The whole world knows that, just as there was a "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world during the spring of 2011 and a "Sunflower Revolution" in Taiwan during the spring of this year, there is currently an "Umbrella Revolution" going on in Hong Kong.

The most visually evident aspect of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement is the widespread use of the umbrella, not only to shade against sun and rain, but more importantly to block tear gas and pepper spray.

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Couple without of

Scott K. Johnson, "The Scablands: A scarred landscape as strange as fiction", ars technica 10/12/2014:

In 1922, Bretz tried to bring a group of students to the Cascades, but they were unable to make the last leg of the trip. Instead, they used their remaining time to poke around the Scablands near Spokane. The experience hooked him, and Bretz would return every year to further his research.  

In the first couple summers, Bretz and his students mapped an impressive amount of territory, carefully surveying elevations and making observations of the many strange landforms they discovered. They made their way through a number of the dry valleys locally known as “coulees.” While these were plainly products of erosion, there were no streams to be seen. The surrounding region is composed of soft, rolling hills of silty soil, but the rocky coulees had been scraped clean of their sedimentary mantle.

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Women modifiers

Maddie York, "Why there are too many women doctors, women MPs, and women bosses", The Guardian 10/17/2014:

I am a subeditor at the Guardian. I am a woman. I am not a woman subeditor. But “woman” and its plural seem to be taking over the role of modifier, so that now, there is no such thing, as far as much of the media is concerned, as a female doctor, a female MP or a female chef. Instead you hear or read about a woman doctor, a woman MP and so on. [...]

As far as the Guardian style guide is concerned, it is simply wrong to use “woman” and “women” in this way, because, it says, they are not adjectives.

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Dumpling ingredients and character amnesia

A few nights ago I delivered the Watt lecture before an audience of over two hundred people at UBC. More than half the people in the audience were native speakers of Mandarin or another Chinese language, and everybody else present was familiar with at least one East Asian language.

When I showed the famous jiaozi ingredients shopping list from John DeFrancis's article on "The Prospects for Chinese Writing Reform" (exhibit 2), the entire audience audibly gasped, and some people almost fell out of their seats. I really didn't have to say anything to make my point about character amnesia, which was one of the main topics of my lecture, but I did elaborate on the connection between IT and writing by hand, etc., plus the fact that the person who wrote that list was a Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher with a Ph.D.

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Combating stereotypes — with stereotypes

Laura Starecheski, "Can Changing How You Sound Help You Find Your Voice?", NPR All Things Considered 10/14/2014:

Just having a feminine voice means you're probably not as capable at your job.  

At least, studies suggest, that's what many people in the United States think.

There's a gender bias in how Americans perceive feminine voices: as insecure, less competent and less trustworthy.  This can be a problem — especially for women jockeying for power in male-dominated fields, like law.

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