Tag Archives | Language

7 Language Tricks Politicians Use to Deceive You and What to Do About it (According to George Orwell)


Via HighExistence:

By concentrating on essays along with fiction, according to Hitchens, writing in Why Orwell Matters, Orwell was able to take on “the competing orthodoxies and despotisms of his day with little more than a battered typewriter and a stubborn personality.”2

But what makes Orwell stand out from the other great humanists of the 20th century, and why he should matter to you, is the way he took that stubborn personality of his and used it to tackle many of his own despotic and prejudicial inclinations. Hitchens expands:

The evidence of his upbringing and instincts is that he was a natural Tory [conservative] and even something of a misanthrope…3 He had to suppress his distrust and dislike of the poor, his revulsion from the ‘coloured’ masses who teemed throughout the empire, his suspicion of Jews, his awkwardness with women and his anti-intellectualism. By teaching himself in theory and practice, some of the teaching being rather pedantic, he became a great humanist.

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Ancient Civilization: Cracking the Indus Script

Andrew Robinson reflects on the most tantalizing of all the undeciphered scripts — that used in the civilization of the Indus valley in the third millennium BC, at Nature:

The Indus civilization flourished for half a millennium from about 2600 bc to 1900 bc. Then it mysteriously declined and vanished from view. It remained invisible for almost 4,000 years until its ruins were discovered by accident in the 1920s by British and Indian archaeologists. Following almost a century of excavation, it is today regarded as a civilization worthy of comparison with those of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, as the beginning of Indian civilization and possibly as the origin of Hinduism.

ndus seal unicorn at Indian Museum. Photo: Royroydeb (CC)

Indus seal unicorn at Indian Museum. Photo: Royroydeb (CC)


More than a thousand Indus settlements covered at least 800,000 square kilometres of what is now Pakistan and northwestern India. It was the most extensive urban culture of its period, with a population of perhaps 1 million and a vigorous maritime export trade to the Gulf and cities such as Ur in Mesopotamia, where objects inscribed with Indus signs have been discovered.

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A Point of View: Can your name shape your personality?

Claire Danes as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Claire Danes as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1996)

Over at BBC Magazine, writer Will Self, asks “Does what we’re called have any bearing on who we are?”

Does what we’re called have any bearing on who we are? Writer Will Self echoes Juliet’s famous question, and attempts an examination of self (and Self).

When Juliet desires her lover Romeo to abandon his patrimony so as to take possession of her, she utters these immortal lines: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” That they should have become quite so celebrated is surely because they express a fundamental truth – or indeed truths. Shakespeare was writing 350 years before the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein developed his theory of language − yet he strongly anticipates its basic contention, which is that the meaning of a word is purely a function of how it’s used.

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How brand-new words are spreading across America

You may be “unbothered” by the rash of new words sweeping America, but just keeping up with the meaning, let alone the etymology, of words like boolin, baeless and on fleek is exhausting. Amirite or what? Quartz explains why it’s happening so fast:

Words spread like weeds—seemingly at random but actually governed by invisible forces. Look away for too long, and suddenly new ones are emerging from who knows where.

The uncertain and gradual growth of words makes it nearly impossible to pinpoint where they started or how they caught on. But that is starting to change, as linguists draw on a wealth of data about word usage from social media services like Twitter.


Jack Grieve, a forensic linguist at Aston University in Birmingham, England, has been examining a dataset of nearly 9 billion tweeted words to identify the new American vocabulary. In a forthcoming study, he looked for words that were rarely used on Twitter in late 2013 but became common throughout 2014.

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‘I literally cannot even. I can’t even. I am unable to even.’

Can you even? In an essay for the New York Times Magazine entitled “When You ‘Literally Can’t Even’ Understand Your Teenager,” Amanda Hess ponders the significance of today’s teenagers having no concept of selling out. They literally cannot even…

A little paradox of Internet celebrity is that a YouTube personality can amass millions upon millions of young fans by making it seem as if he’s chatting with each of them one to one. Tyler Oakley, a 26-year-old man who identifies as a “professional fangirl,” is a master of the genre. He has nerd glasses, pinchable cheeks, a quiff he dyes in shades of blue and green and more YouTube subscribers than Shakira. Some of his teenage admirers have told him that he is the very first gay person that they have ever seen. He models slumber party outfits and gushes over boy bands, giving the kids who watch him from their bedrooms a peek into a wider world.

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When The Language Of Freedom Dies

When The Language Of Freedom Dies, Freedom Dies With It

Freedom is in peril stencil
Image by Leo Reynolds

Back in March (2015) a UK parliamentary select committee published a report [1] which expounded, amongst other things, its views on the police uploading arrest photographs, including those of people not subsequently convicted, into a facial recognition database. The police started doing this on the quiet, without any public announcement or public debate on their reasons for doing it or its impact on individual freedoms.

Here is what the Select Committee had to say:

“We fully appreciate the positive impact that facial recognition software could have on the detection and prevention of crime. However, it is troubling that the governance arrangements were not fully considered and implemented prior to the software being `switched on’. This appears to be a further example of a lack of oversight by the Government where biometrics is concerned; a situation that could have been avoided had a comprehensive biometrics strategy been developed and published.”

[‘Current and future uses of biometric data and technologies’ report, House of Commons Science and Technology select committee, 2015]

Oh boy, strong words, they must have been pretty annoyed – oh no, hang on a minute – “fully appreciate the positive impact”, “governance arrangements were not fully considered”, “lack of oversight”… There must have been a mistake at the printers, they appear to have accidentally printed a sermon on the merits of doing nothing other than producing yet more administrative red tape.… Read the rest

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New Scrabble Words Make You Fear For The English Language

Fo’ shizzle, the Scrabble lords are really going off the deep end with their slang additions to legitimate Scrabble words. I mean come on, people, “obvs” is way too “cazh”! The Independent shares my indignation:

Lolz, shizzle and cakehole – just three of 6,500 new words to have made it into the Scrabble lexicon.

Dirty Scrabble!

Photo: Brandon C


The new additions to the Collins Scrabble word list draw heavily from social media slang and text-speak and include obvs (obviously), ridic (ridiculous) and dench (excellent).

Other new words in the list reflect modern society, trends and events, such as twerking, devo (short for devolution, as in Devo Max), vape (to inhale from an electric cigarette), onesie, shootie (fashionable shoe that covers the ankle), cakeages (restaurant charges levied for serving cake brought in from outside), and podiumed (often used at sporting events, particularly the Olympics).

The new word list also recognises the role technology continues to play in our lives with the addition of facetime, hashtag, tweep, and sexting.

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Esperanto — continuing where the Babylon Empire left off


Something to look into for those who love to spend hours in front of a computer.

What is Esperanto? From the wikipedia page:

Esperanto is a constructed international auxiliary language. It is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Its name derives from Doktoro Esperanto (“Esperanto” translates as “one who hopes”), the pseudonym under which physician and linguist L. L. Zamenhof published the first book detailing Esperanto, the Unua Libro, on 26 July 1887. Zamenhof’s goal was to create an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language that would transcend nationality and foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.

Between 100,000 and 2,000,000 people worldwide fluently or actively speak Esperanto, including perhaps 1,000 native speakers who learned Esperanto from birth. Esperanto has a notable presence in 120 countries. Its usage is highest in Europe, East Asia, and South America. lernu!, the most popular online learning platform for Esperanto, reported 150,000 registered users in 2013, and sees between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors each month.

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How a PhD in linguistics prepared me for motherhood

peasap (CC BY 2.0)

peasap (CC BY 2.0)

Annabelle Lukin

Unlike most newborns, on his arrival into the world, my newly-minted son found himself in the arms of someone well-versed in the the most fiercely contested question in contemporary linguistics: is language innate?

Are babies born with grammar hard-wired into their brain? Or is language something bestowed by culture and socialisation?

The early exchanges of gaze, attention and vocalisations with my baby in his first hours, days and weeks were experienced against the melodrama of modern linguistics’ greatest schism. This happens to revolve entirely around the role of mothers and significant others in the development of a child’s language.

In the story of how language emerges in the child, as told by Noam Chomsky, nature is largely the lone hero. The child comes with a “language organ” already installed in her or his brain, as a sudden and isolated gift of evolution – out of nowhere, all-at-once, fully formed and forever unchanging.… Read the rest

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