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    Brasilian Futbol soccer fan face paint from Brazil photo by Monte Isom

    I love the expression “sudden death.” It refers to a FIFA tie-breaking rule last used in 2002, when South Korea and Japan hosted the World Cup, but most of matches in this year’s El Mundial, as the games are known to Spanish-language viewers of Univision, all felt like sudden death, at least in the round of 16, which concluded Tuesday. (By the way, Univision’s newscast has been far superior to ESPN’s, at least at the level of wordplay.) The Netherlands-Mexico match was a nail-biter (I...


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  • 07/07/14--21:01: Mandarin Myths
  • timesexthingSeenox (it bills itself as “the ultimate time waster website,” so you have been warned) offers yet another compilation of signs in China with hilariously botched English translations. An obscene instruction about what to do with vegetables; menus listing “roasted husband” and “fresh crap”; a portable “EXECUTION IN PROGRESS” sign for janitors to use; 40 of the usual suspects are there. But they are introduced by a passage containing two myths about Mandarin Chinese. One is that Mandarin is “the m...


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    James Rodriguez’s “poem of a goal” against Uruguay. The English commentator likened it to the cream atop strawberries on a summer night.

     
    Borges, in an interview, once said that he didn’t like soccer. “But it’s popular,” the interviewer said. To which the author of “Emma Zunz” replied: “Stupidity is also popular.”

    Too bad. He was an hombre de letras attuned to the changing nature of language. Indeed, he once wrote an eloquent defense of Argentine Spanish that was prompted by a stilted argument ...


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  • 07/20/14--21:01: Switchin’ It Up
  • Linguists sometimes get discouraged about the rampant prescriptivism in public discussions of language. This past week was no exception, as many of us watched with some dismay as both friends and strangers online delighted over Weird Al Yankovich’s new song “Word Crimes.” As this song showed yet again, it can take only the smallest spark to ignite a stream of invective about “abuses” in/to the language and about those who commit these perceived abuses.

    There’s much to say about the attitudes a...


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    usain_boltThe dinner-table conversation touched for a few moments on Usain Bolt, earth’s fastest biped, who’s in Scotland to ensure a win for Jamaica in the men’s sprint relay at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (mission accomplished!). Apropos of nothing more than this brief mention, a 70-year-old guest at my table suddenly remarked with a scowl: “I don’t like Jamaicans.”

    The conversation froze. Was this hate speech? The woman seemed serious: Somehow an entire nation of about 2.9 million people, pl...


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  • 10/20/14--21:01: The Giants Won the Pennant
  • On Thursday, in the National League Championship Series game between San Francisco Giants and the St. Lous Cardinals, Giants outfiender Travis Ishikawa came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning.

    Jon Miller was announcing the game on the Giants’ radio affiliate. “Now the stretch,” Miller said. “Here it comes. There’s a drive, deep into right field, way back there. Goodbye! A home run. For the game. And for the pennant. The Giants have won the pennant and Travis Ishikawa is being clobbered a...


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  • 11/02/14--21:01: Stuff Like That There
  • After Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants won the World Series Most Valuable Player award, Chevrolet called on a local regional manager to present Bumgarner with the keys to the truck that went with the award. On national TV. The man fumbled, lost his train of thought, and ended up blurting out that the pitcher was sure to like the truck because it has “class-winning and leading, you know, technology and stuff.”

    Social media erupted, as only social media can do, in a festive mock-a-tho...


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  • 11/20/14--21:01: Idiom Strong
  • AR-141029730.jpg&MaxW=315&MaxH=315

    Residents of Barrett, Pennsylvania, sold t-shirts to help local police defray costs associated with a recent manhunt.

    Back in September, Barrett Township, in Pennsylvania, was the center of a  manhunt for an armed fugitive and adopted the motto “Barrett Proud.” When the suspect was caught, in October, the entire region appropriated it and dubbed itself “Pocono Proud.

    This week The New York Times reported that after an 11-year-old Indiana boy, Calvin Clark, suffered a severe head injury in a foo...


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  • 11/24/14--21:01: The List Lilt
  • Stephen Potter

    Stephen Potter

    I told you about vocal fry. And you know all about uptalk? The inflection that was first discussed by Robin Lakoff in 1976, that was given its name by James Gorman in a 1993 New York Times article, and that continues to rouse the ire of right-thinking people everywhere?

    Well, here’s a new one, which I started noticing a couple of years ago, among friends, colleagues, students, and National Public Radio interviewees (basically, my audio universe). It’s a way of voicing a list as if...


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  • 12/03/14--21:01: People Who Died
  • 220px-Elaine_May_and_Mike_Nichols_1960

    Elaine May and Mike Nichols

    “Those are people who died, died
    Those are people who died, died
    Those are people who died, died
    Those are people who died, died
    They were all my friends, and they died.”

    —Jim Carroll, “People Who Died”

    I am getting so sick of people dying. I don’t speak of my friends—as Jim Carroll (1949-2009) so unflinchingly and memorably did in his 1980 song—but of writers, artists, musicians, actors,  journalists,  broadcasters, and other public figures whose work and prese...


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  • 12/07/14--21:01: New Grub Street
  • George_Gissing

    George Gissing

    It seemed like a good idea at the time. The new paradigm for creative folk, that is. Dispense with jobs, with their soul-deadening cubicles and time clocks (metaphorical or literal) and bosses looking over your shoulders—but also, admittedly, with their clockwork paychecks and medical benefits—and become your own brand. That meant establishing yourself online: with a blog or social-media presence or Huffington Post column. None of these offered any remuneration, and mounting a...


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    Marvin Gaye

    Marvin Gaye

    A couple of years ago, the BBC published an essay on that staple of British journalism, the terribleness of Americanisms polluting the mother tongue. The Beeb invited readers to send in their own pet peeves and got such a response that it published a list of the 50 that were sent in most often. The top five, in reverse order, were:

    • Deplane.
    • 24/7.
    • Two-time or three-time, as in “two-time award winner” (though I don’t see how else that could be said).
    • Least worst option.
    • And the N0.1 m...

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  • 01/20/15--21:01: Saving El Gordo
  • (Credit: We Love Philosophy)

    A few years ago, a Spanish psychologist and his team of researchers asked about 700 students to decide whether they would kill one person to save five. It was a version of the classic trolley dilemma: A small train is trundling toward five people on the tracks who will perish in the crash; you see this from your perch on a footbridge and realize you can save them by shoving one of your fellow pedestrians—a fat man—off the bridge, into the train’s path. Do you do it? ...


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    MS-MRGender neutrality, however loudly announced in official pronouncements or in the news, creeps into our own set of norms on little cat feet. In my case, I realized it had made another inroad when I was settling in at a symphony performance and heard the voice over the loudspeaker: Ladies and Gentlemen, please silence your cellphones and other electronic devices.

    Why Ladies and Gentlemen? I thought. Why can’t he simply say, Symphony Patrons? Must he remind us at the outset of our socially assigned...


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  • 02/04/15--21:01: Nice Going, Genius
  • Scalia: Sarcastic

    Scalia: Sarcastic

    In the slim annals of professorial humor, one of the cherished entries concerns an anthropological linguistics conference where the speaker declaims, “In languages all over the globe, one finds examples of the double negative denoting affirmation, but never the double positive denoting negation.” At which point a guy in the back of the room stands up and says, “Yeah, sure.”

    I’ve been pondering sarcasm since Adam Liptak’s recent New York Times article about a law review essay by...


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  • 02/09/15--21:01: Baaack to the Future
  • I picked up The Philadelphia Inquirer last week and read an article by Jeremy Roebuck about how a judicial ruling had revived the onetime local news anchor Alycia Lane’s long-dormant lawsuit against her former station. Here’s the line my eye was drawn to: “‘We’re back,’ Lane’s attorney Paul R. Rosen singsonged in an interview Friday, giving his best Poltergeist impression.”

    You know that singsong. It’s an ascending musical fourth, then a descending third, with the word back elongated into two sy...

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    building_in_burqa

    Free speech attacked yet again. Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, angered somehow by the privilege of growing up in peaceful Denmark rather than war-ravaged Palestine, sprayed bullets from an M-95 at random into the Krudttønden cultural center simply because a debate about free speech was being held there. He killed a filmmaker. (Later he killed a volunteer security man at a Bat Mitzvah celebration just in case we had missed his motivation. We get it: Islamist radicals hate Jews just as much as the...


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  • 03/29/15--21:01: Whose Monday? Your Monday!
  • 7206615_GA concerned Lingua Franca reader writes:

    Perhaps it is just here in Gainesville, but I find that the radio reporters, especially those reporting weather, use the possessive pronoun when referring to time periods: “Your Friday will be sunny.” “It will be below freezing on your Monday night.” Is this modern usage? Does it happen in other places as well? Is it acceptable?

    I’d noticed this particularly in robocalls and fund appeals from local arts charities—Support your Hartford Symphony! Support yo...


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  • 04/27/15--21:01: Diary of a Visiting Speaker
  • kielmap

    The audience at a talk sees the visiting speaker ushered into the room to check the connection dongle for the projector and greet a few faculty acquaintances in the front row. A brief introduction, a 50-minute talk, and a small reception and perhaps a hosted meal. Two or three hours, all expenses paid. Easy work?

    Not exactly. For the speaker, the experience is quite a bit longer. I have about a dozen lecture trips this year, the most recent at the Christian Albrechts University, Kiel, Germany. ...


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  • 04/29/15--21:01: ‘A Piece of Cake’
  • It started with an email from my eclectic friend Wes Davis. He said he’d been reading Tinkerbelle, by, he told me, “Robert Manry, a copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who, in 1965, took a leave of absence from his job and sailed a 13-and-a-half-foot wooden boat across the Atlantic, from Falmouth, Mass., to Falmouth, England.” He’d come upon a passage he thought would interest me. Manry is just starting out and it’s a beautiful day, “the wind strong enough to keep us moving along briskly.”...


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