This is a companion post to last month’s Alcoholic Watergate Hamburgers post. (I just learned that a com-pan-ion is someone with whom you eat bread. So adorable.)

So my friend [ɦɑnɑ] has been playing Jeremina Paxmina for the University of York University Challenge team for the last few months, and while their fate in the tournament is a mystery until July, Hannah’s involvement in British quizzing got me to look into the serious fare offered in the UK. Here’s what I found: Serious British quiz shows are MEAN. They are unforgiving, humorless, exacting, and demanding of minutiae in zero seconds. I checked out University Challenge episodes on Youtube, as well as Only Connect, a Question of Genius, Countdown, Eggheads, and Mastermind.

My favorite of the bunch is Only Connect, which ruthlessly demands teams to find the connection between words with the fewest clues possible. (I made my own Only Connect Wall but I wasn’t able to upload it onto the site.) On the Champions of Champions episode last August, one question revealed the word Marathon, followed by Hamburger, Alcoholic, and finally Watergate. Having recently written about this, I knew the connection when I saw Hamburger.

[and then suddenly…]


March 22, 2012

in best post ever,career,english,greek,IPA,neologism,wordnik,Words & Origins,yiddish

This week in Articulatory and Impressionistic Phonetics, we’re learning about rhotics, otherwise known as ‘r sounds.’ As opposed to fricatives, laterals, or nasals, the class of rhotic sounds do not fit together neatly under a simple definition. They are said in different places in the mouth, with different types of stricture, and with different tongue positions. Ladefoged and Maddieson say there may be phonological, acoustic, or auditory connection, but it doesn’t look like there’s a phonetic one.  All of them are oral continuants with neutral lip posture, and they are most clearly linked through their IPA symbols resembling ‘r’ in some way: [r ɾ ɹ ɺ ɻ ɽ ʀ ʁ]. Rhotics are weird. I’m rhotic and proud.

In the seminar about rhotic sounds, we practiced the rhotic trills, which are associated with Spanish and French, and Richard Ogden mentioned that phoneticians have fun by trying to make the 3 trill sounds of the IPA at the same time, which looks something like this: [ʀ͡r͜ʙ]. The diacritic means that the sounds are spoken simultaneously. On paper, I could make the arch go over all three, but this is the best I can do for the internet. The 3 parts are:

  • [ʀ] uvular trill – French ‘r’
  • [r] alveolar trill –  Spanish rolling ‘r’
  • [ʙ] bilabial trill – pretend to be a motorboat.

I’ve been bursting into simultaneous trill attempts around campus for the last 24 hours, and wondering if anyone had recorded their attempts. I couldn’t find anything on the internet with the same keywords, so I made my own video and put it on YouTube. It helps to build up from back to front. This has to be done quickly, before the air pressure is lost. Every attempt has ended in giggling, and this video is no exception. Enjoy!


March 6, 2012

in french,IPA,lips,phonetics,spanish,University of York,Words & Origins


March 5, 2012

in #10,2012,alphabet,Best Comics Ever,greek,international jokes,letters,Monday Comic,popsicle jokes,Webcomic,Words & Origins

Linguists in academia don’t seem very fond of word origins. They like to focus on the tiny phonological bits of languages [p,t,k] or the grand syntactic structure that binds sentences together. Somehow, the very juicy goodness of language, the words, are either too big or too small to care about. BOO. I love word origins. I don’t know how important they are, but I want to spend all my time paying attention to them. But! Before we have fun, there are some ground rules that we need to agree on before we can safely and happily play together in the sandbox of word origins. This is our first negotiation on this subject, this should continue as a dialogue (probably in the comments). I’ll start: Here are 3 rules to counteract misconceptions I often encounter.

1.     The origin of a word is not the true or right meaning, just the literal one.

  • WRONG: “The true meaning of hippopotamus is river horse.”
  • RIGHT: “The literal meaning of hippopotamus is river horse,  how cute is that? You can see these word-parts in other words you already know. Mesopotamia is the land between rivers, and a hippogriff is made of a horse and an eagle.” (See Best Monday Comic Ever)

[and then suddenly…]


February 15, 2012

in career,english,Etymology,etymonline,history of language,morphemes,Words & Origins

This can be found elsewhere on


February 13, 2012

in #7,2012,elsewhere,IPA,Linguistics jokes,Monday Comic,Webcomic,Words & Origins

I don’t know why I’m writing anything here, my point is so clear from the title.

It’s been mentioned recently in my Linguistics course that the perception of speech by listeners is a strong factor in language change. Sometimes, listeners become aware of the true phrase, and are mocked as in the FedEx commercial: “We get fringe benefits, not French benefits.” Putting myself on the chopping block, I used to think that the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate was the Wanda Fuca plate, and that Prog Rock was Prague Rock. (Rock on Czech Republic!) The other option is that listeners are not corrected, misinterpret the divisions of words, and make new words based off of that assumption. These are 3 examples.

[and then suddenly…]

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February 7, 2012

in arabic,english,Etymology,history of language,Words & Origins

Disclaimer: This post is about the process, not the result. You may be wasting your time by reading it. 

Premise: I am left-handed (and proud!) The QWERTY keyboard is preferential to the left-hand. 56% of keystrokes happen on the left-side. More than 3000 English words can be written with the left hand alone (i.e. reverberates), while only 450 are possible with the right hand (i.e. lollipop). There are various models of  letter frequency in English, one order from most used to least is: ETAON RISHD LFCMU GYPWB VKXJQ Z with the left-hand letters in bold.

Question: Do internet acronyms follow the pattern of 56% left-handed frequency? What is the letter frequency for the most used internet acronyms?

Hypothesis: The top 2 vowels are on the left-side, and I think it’s mostly the vowels that creates this imbalance. Most words are not vowel-initial, so their frequency should go down in a study of acronyms. This means that the top consonants TRSDF would need to appear more frequently to maintain this ratio. I think overall, left-handed frequency should go down in acronyms.

[and then suddenly…]


January 25, 2012

in alphabet,computers,dissertation,University of York,Words & Origins

Does that title make you as happy as it makes me? Probably not, but let’s see if I can change that.

Linguistics Llama Knows What I’m Saying

Part 1: Ghoti is a satirical spelling of fish [fɪʃ]. It is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but he doesn’t take credit for it. Ghoti is used to mock spelling inconsistencies in English and advocate reform. (There’s a clever bunch who even say ghoti should be silent). I don’t deny it, English spelling is very irregular. It’s a Germanic language at heart, but with massive word-borrowing from French and Latin, and PTSD from the GVS (Great Vowel Shift). This is the phonetic thinking behind ghoti:

GH is [f] as in TOUGH
O is [ɪ] as in WOMEN
TI is [ʃ] as in NATION

Obviously, the ‘sh’ in nation needs a larger environment to have its unusual pronunciation, as in ghotion.  Likewise, ‘gh’ in tough needs to be syllable-final, as in roughotion [rʌfɪʃən]. That works, I guess, except for that tricky vowel. That silly vowel that makes people say WOAH-man. [and then suddenly…]

{ 1 comment }

January 24, 2012

in best post ever,career,english,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,Words & Origins

Gerrymandering is the re-drawing of district lines in elaborate twisted ways to unfairly influence the weight of votes by district. It’s a cruel political move to dilute the power of demographic areas. In 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry changed the shapes of districts to skew voting towards his political party. A newspaper commented that the new contorted shape looked like a salamander, and the term was coined. Gerrymandering is an eponym and a portmanteau at the same time. Yeah. That is pretty awesome.

Gerry + salamander = Gerrymander

I’ve been thinking about eponyms and portmanteaus a lot recently, because I need a dissertation topic, and those two kinds of word formations make me happy. However, I can’t think of a specific question I could ask and answer in 4 months, and I haven’t found any great research as a jump-off point, so for now I’m just pleased to find a word that combines these two concepts.

Appreciate a word today!

{ 1 comment }

January 23, 2012

in animals,eponyms,politics,portmanteaus,wordnik,Words & Origins

This week at the University of York I learned how to do ejectives and implosives in Articulatory and Impressionistic Phonetics class. Yay! Written in IPA, ejectives look like this: [p’, t’, k’] and implosives look like this: [ɓ,ɗ,ɠ]. Watch them now in a tiny video I just did to show off to my mom!

If the above video isn’t working, you can find it on YouTube itself.


January 19, 2012

in Autobiographical,IPA,University of York,Words & Origins