Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kvetchy Title

The New York Times has a book review of "Born to Kvetch" by Michael Wex, and it sounds like a fun read:

Yiddish is not a "have a nice day" language. "How are you?," a perfectly innocent question in English, is a provocation in Yiddish, which does not lend itself to happy talk. "How should I be?" is a fairly neutral answer to the question. Theoretically it is possible to say "gants gut" ("real good"), but this is a phrase that the author says he has never heard in his life.

The book got a 5 star rating from Amazon reviewers, who describe it as "hysterically funny". Guess I'll have to order it - the first chapter is titled "Kvetch Que C'Est" and I've always had a weakness for bad puns.

Posted at 22:45 PDT  Link

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

News of the Weird Words

Brace yourselves, word lovers, a new book is coming out in the UK about strange words in various languages. An article in the BBC reports on "The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World" by Adam Jacot de Boinod:

tingo is an invaluable word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left".

I read this article with some trepidation, worried that the infamous gazillion Eskimo words for snow would be mentioned. And they were not... by the BBC. It was up to the Telegraph to bring up that cultural myth:

Everyone has heard of the Inuit having dozens or even hundreds of words for snow, but who would suspect the Albanians of having 27 different words for eyebrow, and 27 for moustache.

Sigh. Furthermore,

The Russians, who excel in the art of misery, offer razbliuto for the feeling one has for a former lover no longer loved.

Боже мой! Razbliuto was thoroughly discredited by Language Hat months ago! So when I saw the definitions of koshatnik:

(BBC) A koshatnik in Russian is a dealer of stolen cats.
(Telegraph) koshatnik - Russian for a seller of stolen cats

I was outraged. It means cat-lover, for heaven's sake! In fact, a Russian website about cats has a whole section on "You know you're a koshatnik if..." humor. But I decided to check my Russian dictionaries, and it's a good thing I did. Ozhegov has

КОША'ТНИК, -а, м. 1. Тот, кто промышляет ловлей кошек. 2. Любитель кошек (разг.). ж. кошатница, -ы (ко 2 знач.).

and that was apparently the source for Müller's entry:

коша'тник, а, m. 1. dealer in (stolen) cats. 2. (coll.) cat-lover.

So I guess "Meaning of Tingo" is not totally out to lunch... These weird word books are like News of the Weird stories - high-fructose corn syrup for the brain.

Posted at 09:05 PDT  Link

See Language Log for an excellent post about this.

Updated at 09:35 PDT

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Looking for geek language? That's the most popular search term used by visitors to this page. I'm not sure what it means, but here are some guesses: computer terms and acronyms, IM or leet speak, or maybe just abbreviations used by geeks. FWIW I've added a new section to the sidebar at right containing links to some websites where you can search for that kind of thing.

Posted at 10:15 PDT  Link

Friday, September 23, 2005

Nushu For You Too

There's an intriguing article in the Guardian about Nushu, the forbidden tongue:

Nushu, the world's only language to be created and used solely by women, was finally declared extinct last year. But try telling that to the women still using it.

Doesn't that pique your interest? From reading the article, however, it's unclear whether Nushu is a full-fledged language or just a writing system. Pages at Ancient Scripts and Omniglot seem to indicate the latter. The Guardian article refers to Nushu in various places as a "secret code", "language", and "women's script".

It's all very interesting, though, and brings to mind the fact that in Heian Japan the hiragana script was used by Japanese women because they weren't allowed to learn Chinese characters.

Thanks to Naked Translations for providing the Guardian link!

Posted at 19:40 PDT  Link

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Happy Birthday

Today is the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! In honor of this not-so-solemn occasion, try taking the hobbit quiz on The One

Posted at 09:30 PDT  Link

Monday, September 19, 2005


By the Powers, me hearties, I be bloody late jumpin' on th' Pirate Talk plank, aye. There be no 'scuse but that I be a scurvy landlubber 'n a lass to boot. Arr mateys, a round o' grog from Mad Bess Read!

Posted at 20:30 PDT


Language Geek congratulates the president of Kazakhstan on passing his Kazakh language proficiency exam!

Many questions spring to mind on reading this short article. Who graded the exam? Did Mr. Nazarbayev stay up late studying for it? What was the theme of his 15-minute oral presentation - "Plans For My Third Term"?

Posted at 09:30 PDT  Link



I got an iPod nano because it was just so darn cute, but while playing with it I discovered that it supports more languages than the mini or regular iPods. The i18n is a little inconsistent though - some menu items aren't translated, and check out the language order below:

More pics. かわいいー!

Posted at 23:30 PDT  Link

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Speaking of Geeks

I thought the word for geek in Japanese would be おたく (otaku), but it seems that otaku has very bad connotations in Japan. The term マニア (mania) is probably better: 言葉マニア (kotoba mania). That's what SYSTRANet told me, anyway.

While researching this vital issue, which I am NOT obsessed with, I came across the Urban Dictionary, where you can submit your own definitions for slang words like otaku and geek. It's full of IM slang and geeky definitions. I particularly like Obi-Juan Kenobi. LOL!

Posted at 09:30 PDT  Link

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Mother of all Tongues

In an article about how America has changed in the last four years, today's San Jose Mercury News reported that

Arabic-language courses have mushroomed on college campuses and are offered more often in high schools.

And deservedly so, for Arabic is the mother of tongues:

There are a lot reasons that can prove that Arabic has superiority over Other Languages. In contrast with Arabic words, the words of those languages appear lame, maimed, blind, deaf and leprous, and entirely bereft of a natural pattern. The vocabulary of those languages is not rich in roots which is a necessary characteristic of a perfect language. ...

In Arabic idiom a few words comprise extensive meanings. Arabic conveys extensive connotations through the use of the definite article and vowel points and sequence, for which purpose other languages have to employ several phrases and sentences. Arabic possesses such roots and idioms as furnish a perfect means for the expression of the most subtle human thoughts and reflections.

I hope the teachers of these new Arabic courses keep this in mind.

Posted at 11:30 PDT  Link

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Rosetta Stone Review

In The Mossberg Solution column in yesterday's WSJ (subscription required), Walt reviews The Rosetta Stone language program:

The product's teaching method attempts to emulate the experience of a native-born speaker by immersing you in one of 29 languages using photos, spoken phrases and written words. Unlike most language classes, you don't memorize vocabulary or verb conjugations. There are no explanations, and no definitions. You just plunge in. Skeptical? So were we.

... Overall, we liked Rosetta Stone, which works on both Windows and Macintosh computers. We found ourselves catching onto words and phrases by association -- just from seeing a photo, hearing a pronunciation, and figuring out what a certain phrase meant. The more familiar we became with each language, the easier it was to grasp the self-guided lessons.

I had a similar experience with Rosetta Stone. Last spring a kiosk appeared in Valley Fair mall - talk about a kid in a candy store! They had a 2-for-1 discount, so I bought Japanese Level 2 and Mandarin Level 1 (a difficult choice - they offer more than two dozen languages). Starting from absolute zero with Mandarin, I found the Rosetta Stone teaching method very difficult. Japanese was a different story; I studied it on my own for more years than I care to reveal, and that foundation made the lessons enjoyable for me. In particular I find it useful for learning everyday vocabulary and improving listening comprehension. がんばります!

Posted at 11:15 PDT  Link

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

A Thing for Libraries

Thank you, languagehat, for informing us about LibraryThing. I didn't want to do any work today!

LibraryThing is like a cross between Delicious and (おいしいー!). You can catalog your books online and other people can browse them. My catalog is here, although I only had time to enter a few books.

Posted at 10:20 PDT  Link

Friday, September 2, 2005

Nu ma iei

When contestant Snow began her last-chance desperation dance on "So You Think You Can Dance" Wednesday night, the pounding beat of "Mi-ya-hi" almost levitated me from the couch. A quick Google identified the song as "Dragostea din Tei" by the Moldovan band O-Zone, with the title translated variously as "Love from the linden trees", "Make love under lime trees", "L'amour sous un tilleu", "El amor del telo", and so on. A complete English translation of the lyrics is here.

I knew I had heard that music before, and as usual, it was Wikipedia to the rescue. A year ago a Flash video was going around the Internet showing a geeky guy lip-syncing the song and waving his arms to the music. I don't care if that is so 2004, it is hysterical! And as they say on Battlestar Galactica, there are many copies.

I'm not (very) embarrassed to admit that I downloaded the entire O-Zone album from iTunes. Miya-haha!

Posted at 18:00 PDT  Link