Category Archives: Varia

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Idiom Strong

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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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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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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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Speaking Out Against Hate Speech (or Not)

usain_boltThe dinner-table conversation touched for a few moments on Usain Bolt, earth’s fastest featherless 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 millio…

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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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The Languages of the World Cup

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 pr…

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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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‘Sudden Death’ at El Mundial

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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The True Secret of Office Packing

My all-time favorite Chronicle article, “Yagoda’s Unfamiliar Quotations” (mentioned here once before, in The Case of the Extra Word), is a reminiscence about a collection of unquoted quotables—memorable remarks by ordinary folk who never got famous.

You can pick up such remarks almost any day if you keep your ear tuned. Last week my partner, struggling to pinpoint why a friend’s outrageous name-dropping seemed illogical as well as irritating, burst out: “Status is not like pubic lice!” Nicely pu…

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Sono Tornata!

Casa Dante in Perano: good wine, bad Wi-Fi

Having left my post at Lingua Franca four months ago to work on a book and (very incidentally) dabble in Italian, I thought I’d launch my return (Sono tornata = I have returned) with a report. Thanks to a Lingua Franca commenter, I spent about 10 minutes a day from February to late May on the website Duolingo, earning lingots and hearts and wondering why this website seemed so obsessed with cooking in the kitchen. (Where else would you cook?) When I was…