Friday, December 30, 2005

Cool Russian Slang

Dazzled by Japanese, I've been neglecting my first love, Russian. Luckily konfeta came to the rescue with this post in daily_russian about Russian slang words for "cool": зачот, здорово, классно, круто, кульно, прикольно, etc. Кульно and супер are borrowed from English, of course. Some of these words have been around for awhile, because they're listed in the Dictionary of Russian Slang (1999):

КЛАССНЫЙ, -ая, -ое. Good, excellent.
КЛЁВО, adv., youth. Well, excellently.
КРУТО, adv., youth. Excellently, well.
ПРИКОЛЬНЫЙ, -ая, -ое. Funny, entertaining.
СУПЕР, -а, m., pos. Someone or something outstanding, excellent.

Back in the bad old Soviet days, before perestroika, the Internet, or even PCs, I kept a handwritten list of Russian slang words and expressions in the "Notes" section in the back of my battered Romanov's dictionary. (That book travelled with me around the USSR and Europe, but was lost in the move to California.) One of the words was nischtyak, glossed as meaning хорошо, "good". I recently discovered that it is spelled ништяк and is apparently still in use. In her column Ksenya on Fenya, Kseniya Turkova devoted an article to it:

Ништякчто-то очень хорошее, отличное, являющееся источником приятных эмоций, отмечает словарь и приводит примеры: «А ты пишешь ништяк, прямо как классик!» Или «Штаны у тебя – ништяк!» Слово это, справедливо замечает Никитина, удивительно многозначное. Как уже было сказано, оно употребляется чаще всего в значении «все хорошо», «все в порядке», но может означать также «спасибо», «здрасьте», «до свидания», «ладно», «договорились» и так далее.

Russian geek speak may be as wild and crazy as the English variety. The Russian Wikipedia has a list of slang terms related to computers or the web, including the following gems:

Думать [DOOM-uht'] - to play DOOM; means "to think"
Жаба [ZHAHbuh] - the Java programming language; means "toad"
ЖыЖа [ZHEEzhuh] - a blog on LiveJournal (Живой Журнал); sounds like жижа, "swill, slush"
Мыло [MWI-luh] - e-mail; means "soap"
Очепятка - a typo, misspelling of опечатка
Хомяк [khomYAHK] - home page; means "hamster"

There are plenty of examples of Russian geek language on the web, particularly in the Russian blogs on LiveJournal. But be careful... you don't want to end up like a certain hapless American (my translation):

Learn Albanian! - a reference to the fact that the author of a post (or other commenter) never learned to write or understand Russian. The expression first arose in LJ, where an American guy (LJ username - scottishtiger), seeing Russian text, was incautious enough to ask why, in an international system like someone was writing in a language he didn't understand, and what kind of language was it anyway? In reply the Russian section of LJ organized a flash-mob, as a result of which he received tens of thousands of comments in two days proposing that he learn Albanian and apologize, after posting in his journal in Russian that he had learned Albanian. ... In the end, the American was forced to submit and carry out the demands of the crowd. However, he gave in not because his inbox was full, or because his journal had been filled by a bunch of fanatics, but only because he started getting instant messages and phone calls for which he had to pay real money.

Posted at 15:30 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Monday, December 26, 2005

Fun with Talkman

A surprise Christmas gift from the Spouse turned out to be... a Sony PSP plus a Talkman minidisk! The Talkman program is an interactive phrasebook that has only been released in Japan, so I got out my trusty Wordtank for help in deciphering the Japanese manual. Untold minutes later, I was ready to give it a spin (pun intended), translating English into Japanese. (For an interesting article about the creator of Talkman and some screen shots, see this preview at

Talkman has two basic modes: Talk mode and Game mode. Game mode lets you practice your pronunciation and listening comprehension using little quizzes. For pronunciation, you listen to a phrase, speak it into the microphone, and then Max the bird gives you a grade plus encouragement or praise. Strangely, I got C's on simple phrases like arigatou and kekkou desu, and A's and B's on more difficult ones like go-chisou-sama-deshita.

In Talk mode you choose a "scene" (topic), like "Meeting People" or "Sightseeing" and look up phrases in the target language either by selecting them from a menu or by speaking them into the microphone. Max repeats the translated phrase as many times as you like and displays it in written form too. Depending on how well Talkman recognizes your speech, the results can be useful, frustrating, or hilarious, as the following airplane conversation illustrates:

Me: How are you gentlemen!
Max: 鶏肉、お願いします。
Me: All your base are belong to us.
Max: 席、倒してもいいですか?
Me: You are on the way to destruction.
Max: テーブル、おかしいんですが。
Me: You have no chance to survive make your time.
Max: 砂糖とミルク、お願いします。
Me: Ha Ha Ha Ha.
Max: 汚物袋、もらえますか?

You can see that Talkman is not only fun but useful. As the manual says, 会話を楽しもう!

Posted at 21:35 PST  Link | Tags: , , ,

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays

I've been dying to play around with Ajax, the latest hot web technology, and now I finally have some time to do so. Here is my first attempt - click here to see the following holiday greeting in a random language:

EnglishMerry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wheee, this is fun! All the translations are copied from this Omniglot page, by the way.

Posted at 19:55 PST  Link | Tags: ,

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Seeking Japanese Geek

The Japan Times has another fun Bilingual column from Kaori Shoji. This time she writes about Japanese women preferring geeks:

First of all, they're not called otaku anymore but go by the much snazzier name of Akiba-kei. With this recasting, it looks like Japan's muscle-less, girlfriend-less, PC/iPod obsessed class of bespectacled oddballs have moved en masse into the cultural mainstream.

The term Akiba-kei is a contraction of Akihabara, the high-tech shopping district in Tokyo, and kei meaning type of person or group.

And who would have thought that the Akiba-kei could ever become an object of desire among young women looking for marriage? Says my friend Maiko (32): "Mou, moteotoko no jidai wa owatta. Akiba-kei no houga yasashikute, dasakute, kawaii (The age of the hunk is over. I prefer the kinder, nerdier, cuddlier Akiba-kei.)"

While Googling some of the Japanese words used in the column, I found the website SPACE ALC, a Japanese portal for a company named ALC that publishes materials for learning English, among other things. SPACE ALC has lots of interesting expressions in their dictionary. A search for the English word geek produced these definitions:

• geek
【1-名-1】 変人{へんじん}、奇人{きじん}、変態{へんたい}、異常者{いじょうしゃ}、ろくでなし、ばか、あほ、間抜け、ださい男、酔っぱらい、飲んだくれ◆【類】nerd / dweeb / goober
【1-名-2】 がり勉野郎賢いが社交性に欠ける
【1-名-3】 〈俗〉コンピュータおたく... ◆【同】computer geek
【1-名-4】 〈俗〉(コンピュータやネットに関する)上級者{じょうきゅう しゃ}、ベテラン、ヘビーユーザー
【1-名-5】 〈俗〉マニア

• geek out

• geek speak

• geekazoid
【名】 おたく系の人間

A search for the Japanese word ださい resulted in this:

• ださい
【形】bamma // clunky // corny // countrified // crummy-looking // dweeby // groovy // hideous // lame // naff // square〈俗〉 // tacky // uncool // uncouth // unfashionable // unstylish // untogether〈米俗〉

This sucks.

• ださい人

• ださい男

私はおたくモードに入った のに、it appears that only guys can be geeks in Japan.

Posted at 22:40 PST  Link | Tags: , , ,

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Oemgee, These Kids 2Day

This morning's Mercury News has an article about teenagers using IM speak in conversation. Instead of saying "Sorry" they say "Ess ar why" (SRY), or "enpee" (NP) for "No problem":

To adults, this way of talking may seem silly and cumbersome. But to many teenagers, speaking IM is fast, fun and convenient, a natural extension of the multiple conversations they have every day online. And like all jargon, it separates insiders from outsiders.

... Sending short typed messages over the Internet has supplanted the telephone for many teenagers as the preferred mode for staying connected. Once they become adept with typing IM lingo, they begin to say it out loud.

It sounds like fun. Too bad I'm too old to use it without sounding hopelessly uncool, tee aitcho. Oops, essarwigh, jaykay! Colon dash parenthesis!

Posted at 11:50 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ancient Mayan Glyphs

The earliest known Mayan mural has been discovered in Guatemala. According to Mongabay:

Archaeologists at an ancient Maya ceremonial site in Guatemala have uncovered the final wall of a large Maya mural dating from 100 B.C. that shows the mythology surrounding the origin of kings and a highly developed hieroglyphic script. Before the excavation of the vividly painted mural, there was scant evidence of the existence of early Maya kings or of their use of elaborate art and writing to establish their right to rule.

Hieroglyphic script - yes! What does it say?

Because the surviving glyphs within the mural room date to centuries before most other Maya texts (of the Classic period), they remain hard to read. David Stuart, Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art & Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, who is working on deciphering them, says they are probably captions for the figures they accompany. One legible example from the west wall shows one of the sacrificing young gods named by his accompanying caption as “star man.”

More evidence for ancient astronauts? Ha-ha, just kidding!

Seriously, the story of the decipherment of Mayan glyphs is fascinating. The Maya calendar and numbers were figured out in the 19th century, but not until the 1950's was the phonetic nature of the glyphs understood and real progress made. Michael Coe tells the dramatic story in his book Breaking the Maya Code - highly recommended! A shorter version of the story is given in Andrew Robinson's Lost Languages.

Posted at 10:35 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Ein einfaches Spiel has a short article about the British Embassy's German glossary for the 2006 World Cup, which will be held in Germany next June. For a person like me who is unfamiliar with European football, these sentences were enlightening:

The ball is round. Der Ball ist rund.
A game lasts 90 minutes. Ein Spiel dauert 90 Minuten.
The fastest player is the ball. Der schnellste Spieler ist der Ball.
Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win. Fußball ist ein einfaches Spiel. 22 Männer rennen 90 Minuten lang einem Ball hinterher. Und am Ende gewinnen die Deutschen.
The game was boring. Das Spiel war langweilig.

Some of the phrases made me worry about the safety of the fans attending the games:

rampaging fans randalierende Fans
behave like a hooligan sich rowdyhaft benehmen
middle-finger salute Stinkefinger
beware of pickpockets! vor Taschendieben wird gewarnt!
As hooligans sometimes run amok, police officers wear riot gear to be prepared. Da Krawallmacher manchmal Amok laufen, tragen Polizisten eine Kampfausrüstung, um vorbereitet zu sein.

But maybe the fans will behave themselves, since punishment will be severe:

Violent offenders will be registered in the corresponding database. Gewalttäter werden in die entsprechende Datei aufgenommen.

(Nooooo... not the DATABASE!)

And remember, if you're planning on attending the World Cup Games, the official slogan is "A Time to Make Friends" Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden!

Posted at 10:50 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Friday, December 9, 2005


I guess by now everybody has heard that the Word of the Year is... [drumroll] podcast! And naturally French has a word for it... in Quebec, at least. The Office québécois de la langue française has proposed the word balado for "podcast", and for "podcasting", baladodiffusion. Balado appears to come from balader, walk or stroll, hence the term baladeur for a portable player, un appareil portatif de reproduction sonore. The Office also mentions the term podiffusion, but they don't like it because it's based on a trademarked name:

Très peu attesté, le terme podiffusion, formé de pod (issu de iPod = baladeur) et de diffusion, n'a pas été retenu car il a été créé à partir d'une marque commerciale (tronquée). De plus, comme baladodiffusion peut aussi convenir pour les contenus multimédias (le mot baladeur n'est pas associé uniquement à l'audio, car il existe des baladeurs « multimédias » capables de lire l'audio et la vidéo), le terme podiffusion (qui serait lié à ces contenus) devient inutile.

Related French terms given in le grand dictionnaire terminologique are baladodiffuser, "to podcast, blogcast", and baladodiffuseur, "podcaster, blogcaster".

As a side note, one of the biggest French podcasting portals has a clever name: podemus, which means "we can" in Spanish.

Posted at 11:30 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

An Irish Dingle

Don't you find Irish Gaelic spelling fascinating? I certainly do, what with all those diphtongs and consonants followed by "h", like bh and mh. If only I could remember how to pronounce it...

I came across an article in the International Herald Tribune that talks about how the name of the town of Dingle in Ireland was changed to An Daingean. Controversy ensued.

Dingle is in County Kerry, and its people pride themselves on their independence. The residents are resentful of a decision that they say was imposed on them by Dublin, hundreds of miles away.

... The debate is part of a national argument over how to protect Ireland's native language.

The country's 2002 census found that 43 percent of the population spoke Gaelic, but officials admit that the figure is exaggerated because it includes children, who study the language as a mandatory school subject, and because adults with little fluency may have marked themselves down as speaking the language.

One of the people quoted in the story is "Fergus O Flaithbheartaigh". Is that a great name or what? "His name is often seen in its Anglicized form, O'Flaherty, and the Gaelic version - many letters longer - is pronounced much the same way." This sent me looking for web pages that explain Irish orthography and pronunciation. The best ones that I found are Wikipedia, for the linguistically-minded, and A Beginner's Guide to Irish Gaelic Pronunciation, which I found to be very helpful and clear. Ádh mór ort!

Posted at 10:45 PST  Link | Tags: ,

Sunday, December 4, 2005


The Merriam-Webster Open Dictionary has recorded several thousand new "words" since it opened up to public submissions. Many of them are combinations of two or more words, like ginormous (giant + enormous) and quassibly (quite + possibly). Some appear to be new word wannabes:

  • extants (noun) : the class of all things that are there (extant)or have existence
  • integretish (adjective) : adjectival form of integrity. Can you believe English lacks this important word, forcing use of the awkward "characterized by integrity" instead!

These two were submitted by "Harvey B Vedder from New York." Well, the Wiktionary offers these synonyms: honesty, rectitude, purity, probity, decency, et al. (I tried to look up wannabe in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, but it wanted me to register for a "free trial" and I said FORGET THAT!) Mr. Vedder has submitted more than a dozen items, all attested as "Been using it myself for decades in technical papers (none publ by major media, sorry!)".

Some of the words are good candidates for an English version of The Meaning of Tingo:

  • shoefiti (noun) : Shoes hanging from power lines and telephone wires.
  • shark (verb) : To circle around a full parking lot in one's car while stalking a person walking to their car in hopes of getting their parking space after they leave.
  • Queuebris (noun) : A profound, yet completely unearned, feeling of superiority deriving from a situation in which one is in large part the benficiary of blind luck or circumstance.

Here are some more that I enjoyed:

  • celebrauthority (noun) : A person who is compensated extremely well for speaking words or singing songs written by another and, therefore, feels qualified to pontificate on any subject.
  • fastraunt (noun) : 1. short for "fast-food restaurant" 2. the opposite of a "rest"aurant, where relaxation is part of the dining experience.
  • flybaby (noun) : A celebrity who threatens to emigrate unless their candidate is elected, but fails to do [so] when the candidate loses.
  • markitecture (noun) : The predilection for the creators of an application or technology to expound upon the features and implementation of its infrastructure without providing commensurate documentation explaining HOW to use the application or technology.
  • polynaff (noun) : The opposite of a polymath. Someone who is lacking in many, many ways. Submitted by: BadBadShark from United Kingdom
  • SWMBO (abbreviation) : She Who Must Be Obeyed. Usually one's wife or girlfriend, used when she is influence or exerting control over one's life. Pronounced 'swimbo.'

SWMBO will come in handy around here. Yes indeed.

Posted at 19:00 PST  Link | Tags: , ,

Update: I should mention a new feature I added to this page. You can now double-click on a word to look it up in Webster's Online Dictionary. It doesn't have to be an English word, either. Try double-clicking one of these: слово - 言葉 - neno

Posted at 22:30 PST

Friday, December 2, 2005

Wrathful Dispersion

Should Wrathful Dispersion Theory be taught in public schools along with evolutionary theories of linguistics? For a Canadian perspective on this controversial issue, see Q_Pheevr's post in A Roguish Chrestomathy:

Unlike "young-tongue" Babelism, WD makes no claim as to precisely when the great dispersion took place; faced with evidence of distinct languages reaching back for several thousands of years, the proponents of WD simply say that, well, the dispersion must have occurred prior to that. In the early days of evolutionary linguistics, Babelists used to taunt French-speaking evolutionists with cries of "Your father was a Roman!" WD, by contrast, acknowledges that languages can indeed change over time, and some Wrathful Dispersionists even concede that modern French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and so on may actually have developed from Latin after all. The existence of Latin itself, however, and its mutual unintelligibility with, say, Old Church Slavonic or Proto-Bantu, could only have arisen through the wrath of the disperser. When asked to provide evidence for the existence of a single global language in pre-dispersion times, they reply that of course no such evidence can be found, because the disperser in his wrath was quite careful to obliterate all traces of it.

I was glad to note a bit of humor added to lighten up the animosity surrounding this issue:

Much of the public opposition to WD, however, has come in the form of parody. In particular, a satirical Web-based grassroots pseudo-cult has grown up around the theory that all modern languages were in fact "shat out of the arse of the Flying Stratificational Grammar Monster," with adherents claiming to have achieved enlightenment upon being "touched by His Boolean Appendage" or "washed in the blood of Sydney Lamb."

Dispersed by languagehat and Language Log.

Posted at 19:20 PST  Link | Tags: , ,