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  1. Graduates at ceremony I’m an alumni (9/15/2014) - “I’m an alumni.” Really? How many of them are you? What was it like being a students? The forms of this word don’t really have to be difficult. Of course, you could simplify everything and say “one alum, two alums,” but that’s cutting corners. And if you want to sound like an ignoramus, try using … Continue reading I’m an alumni
  2. ASL, anyone? (9/15/2014) - As of a couple days ago, I had a random urge* to learn American Sign Language, also known as ‘ASL’. I think it’s really eye-opening to learn a language that is so different from – yet so similar to – spoken languages. I stumbled on Rochelle Barlow‘s YouTube series Learn ASL in 31 Days, and … Continue reading ASL, anyone?
  3. Flower Hmong women in traditional dress Hmong language: strange spellings central (9/13/2014) - The Hmong (pronounced roughly like ‘mung‘) language is spoken by the approximately 2.7 million Hmong people. They are native to southern China and Southeast Asia, but have a sizable diaspora population, particularly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Their language has about 8 tones, just as Mandarin Chinese has 4 and Thai has 5. What’s particularly … Continue reading Hmong language: strange spellings central
  4. Ireland Irish wordcloud What’s the native language of Ireland called? (9/11/2014) - Irish. Not Gaelic. As you can see from reputable sources like Rosetta Stone and Ethnologue, that language is called Irish. Ask an Irish person and (s)he will confirm that. So where did ‘Gaelic’ come from, you ask? ‘Gaelic’ is the Anglicized version of Irish’s name in Irish: Gaeilge. So when someone says “I got this … Continue reading What’s the native language of Ireland called?
  5. Baby refusing food Why do we shake our heads to mean ‘no’ (9/8/2014) - Shaking one’s head left and right is understood as the sign for “no” in most human civilizations. There are a few exceptions where this is not the case (including some cultures in Southeastern Europe) but by and large, shaking one’s head means “no”. Why? If you spend time around babies, you might be able to … Continue reading Why do we shake our heads to mean ‘no’
  6. Man on mountain One more reason to travel (8/30/2014) - A scientific study shows that the anticipation of having an experience is more positive than the anticipation of buying a tangible object. So… go buy those plane tickets! Read the article at http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/08/you-should-spend-money-on-experiences-not-things/379286/. Image source: http://cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2014/08/moyan_brenn_travel_pic1/lead_large.jpg
  7. Knit octopus group photo Plural of the word ‘octopus’ (8/25/2014) - What’s the plural form of the word ‘octopus?’ Many would respond with “Ah, I know! It’s not octopuses… it’s octopi, right?!” Not really, no. Octopus is formed from the Greek words ὀκτώ ‘okto’ eight and πούς ‘pous’ foot. In accordance with Greek rules, it should be pluralized as octopodes. Some people assume incorrectly that it … Continue reading Plural of the word ‘octopus’
  8. Japanese calligraphy / kanji How kanji work (8/20/2014) - Japanese has 3 different writing systems: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana each have a manageable 46 letters. And how many kanji (characters) are there in all? Thousands upon thousands. But don’t worry: you only need to know 2,136 of them to read a newspaper. 2,136?! How can somebody possibly learn that many symbols?! … Continue reading How kanji work
  9. Man setting clocks About daylight saving time (8/14/2014) - Daylight saving time is a common practice in large swaths of the Western world. I’ve heard many misunderstandings about it, so I thought I’d try to set some straight. Name In North America, we call this concept daylight saving time, often rendered as daylight savings time. In most other English-speaking countries, this is called summer … Continue reading About daylight saving time
  10. Guess what! (8/14/2014) - “Guess what” is a command, not a question. It has the same structure as, “drink this” or, “speak English.” So don’t put a question mark after it.
  11. Fun fact about Cleopatra (8/14/2014) - Cleopatra lived closer in time to the present than to the building of the Pyramids at Giza… by almost 500 years. If you don’t believe me, look it up!
  12. Great firewall of China Internet censorship in China (8/14/2014) - It’s incredible to me that a country as large and powerful as Mainland China feels the need to “protect” its people from free speech. Check out this portal on the Great Firewall of China: https://en.greatfire.org/ Image source: http://www6.pcmag.com/media/images/262701-life-behind-the-great-firewall-of-china.jpg
  13. Old English sample: Peterborough Chronicle When does something become ‘ok’ to say? (8/11/2014) - If somebody recently invented a word, the world seems to agree that it’s ‘wrong.’ If everyone’s been using a word for a long time, everybody feels comfortable saying it’s ‘right.’ But where in that window does it gain acceptance? And what does it take for a new way of speaking to be deemed ok? Language … Continue reading When does something become ‘ok’ to say?
  14. A mystery about grown-ups (8/11/2014) - Why do grown-ups (say, mid-40s and older) use cell phones with two hands: one just to hold it, and the other to operate it? Image source: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/789419/thumbs/o-CELL-PHONE-facebook.jpg
  15. Japanese couples in old and new dress Japan is better than your country* (8/9/2014) - Japan’s got a lot going for it. If you’ve ever been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, this page should serve as motivation for you to drop what you’re doing and book a trip. Service Japanese customer service is legendary. The waitstaff act more as if they are butlers, ready … Continue reading Japan is better than your country*
  16. What dialect do you have? (8/8/2014) - The New York Times ran a cool, interactive dialect quiz for the US. Give it a whirl (it only takes 4 minutes), and see how scarily accurate it is on you: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/20/sunday-review/dialect-quiz-map.html Check out my result, if you’re interested – it correctly pegged me as growing up in Providence!
  17. An original Fahrenheit thermometer In defense of Fahrenheit (8/7/2014) - I am an American, and I am a firm believer in the metric system. I think it is inherently superior and more logical, plus all but 3 countries in the world have officially adopted it. Having lived abroad, I have been surrounded by meters and liters and kilograms. But there’s one dimension of it that … Continue reading In defense of Fahrenheit
  18. Corporate social responsibility (8/5/2014) - There’s something touching about companies doing the right thing and reminding us of what is important. Here are some examples that I find particularly moving. Have tissues ready. TD ‘ATMs’ Pantene Philippines Thai Life Insurance Procter & Gamble McDonalds France Corporate social responsibility is becoming mainstream, and I think that’s a great thing.
  19. Tower of Babel: allegory for language We don’t speak the same language (8/4/2014) - Most people who travel abroad find themselves in situations without a common language with the locals. What do you do if that happens? Here’s my guide on how to communicate anywhere. Understand cultural cues Read up before you go on gestures and culture. Depending on your destination, you may learn that hand counting is done … Continue reading We don’t speak the same language
  20. Wordplay ambigram I love malapropisms (8/1/2014) - What is a malapropism? mal·a·prop·ism   /ˈmæl ə prɒpˌɪzəm/     noun 1. an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound. 2. an instance of this, as in “Lead the way and we’ll precede.” -Random House Dictionary I think malapropisms are an excellent form of … Continue reading I love malapropisms
  21. DC has its own dialect (8/1/2014) - As a DC resident and Georgetown alumnus, one thing I’ve fretted about the District is what I saw as a lack of a local dialect. Apparently this is a non-issue: The [local] pronunciation occurs side-by-side with a handful of distinctively D.C. words, including “bama,” meaning somebody who’s unkempt; “cised,” meaning excited; and “jont,” which can refer … Continue reading DC has its own dialect
  22. Mark Twain on travel (7/31/2014) - Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. -Mark Twain
  23. Japanese language logo with kanji Japanese writing system(s) (7/31/2014) - I get asked about the Japanese writing system a lot: “How do many symbols are there?” “It’s like Chinese except easier, right?” It’s actually pretty complicated, but here’s the crash course. There are three systems in simultaneous use today, called hiragana, katakana, and kanji. They are each used for different purposes, and look differently too. … Continue reading Japanese writing system(s)
  24. Beautiful Japan video (7/30/2014) - This nostalgic-feeling video gives you some sense of the charm that Japan has to offer – focusing more on wabi-sabi than on the glitz of modern culture. Source: http://tokyodesu.com/2014/07/27/true-to-title-love-japan-video-will-make-you-fall-in-love-with-japan/
  25. Where I’ve been (7/28/2014) - Here’s a list and a map of everywhere I’ve been, excluding airport transfers. Got a question about my voyages? Contact me or check out my trusted travel resources in the links page. Africa Mauritius Grand Baie Le Morne Port Louis Morocco Fez Marrakesh Ouarzazate Sahara Desert South Africa Cape Town Phinda Stellenbosch Tanzania Lake Manyara … Continue reading Where I’ve been
  26. Site logo explanation (7/28/2014) - You may not have wondered what the meaning is behind my site’s logo. In that case, you are wrong, because you should have been wondering. I designed the logo,   , created from Viking runes. It is a combination of my initials in the Elder Futhark variant: G () B () S (). It was inspired by … Continue reading Site logo explanation
  27. Language and linguistics keywords word cloud What is linguistics? (7/27/2014) - One question I’m asked a lot, given my studies in college, is: what is linguistics? (Editor’s note: I also have gotten, “what are linguistics?”) It’s usually followed up with the likes of: Is it just a fancy term for grammar? Are you studying just English linguistics?  So you basically just took a bunch of language courses? … Continue reading What is linguistics?
  28. New England lighthouse with waves crashing on rocky shore New England is awesome. (7/25/2014) - An excerpt from an article on Movoto: 15. Texas is about 165 times larger than Rhode Island. It’s no urban myth that Rhode Island can fit into some ranches in Texas. 16. But, no matter how small, Rhode Island still boasts 20 percent of the U.S.’s historical landmarks. Check out the original article here. Image … Continue reading New England is awesome.
  29. Stressed man checking in at airport Life without complaints (7/25/2014) - This came across my radar recently: a guy spent 21 days turning complaints into something constructive. Read his story on Huffington Post. [Turn] “Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude jerk for 30 minutes. What a waste of time.” or “John can be such an a**hole. Totally uncalled … Continue reading Life without complaints
  30. WMATA (Washington DC Metro) map: new Silver Line DC’s Silver Line opening (nerd alert) (7/25/2014) - I’m in Washington, DC at the moment, and I’m very excited about the WMATA to open the Metro’s Silver line tomorrow. It’s the 6th line in the system, and the biggest change since the opening of the Green line. Technically speaking, many of the changes went into effect last Sunday, when they began what they call … Continue reading DC’s Silver Line opening (nerd alert)
  31. AmEx (American Express) Everyday card and app New credit card: Amex EveryDay℠ (7/25/2014) - I’ve just received my new credit card, the Amex EveryDay℠. I liked the idea of having the benefits of all American Express cards (access, great customer service, yadda yadda yadda), but with no annual fee. The deal with it is that you get 2x points on groceries in the US and 1x on everything else. If you … Continue reading New credit card: Amex EveryDay℠