Command and Conquer

19 Jun 2010 In: Semantics, Syntax

“Obama Trusts Himself When All Men Doubt Him.”

Or so a news headline runs.

There may be doubts about Obama’s ability, but there is absolutely no doubt that both himself and him here refer to the same person, namely Obama. It is therefore bizarrely remarkable that we have to use two different words to denote the same concept. But on second thought, maybe they are not quite the same.

Read the rest of this article »

Nothing left is right

8 Mar 2010 In: Etymology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Typology

I read a joke on Facebook, a witty play on words:

My left brain has nothing right,
My right brain has nothing left.

The wit obviously lies in intentionally confusing two pairs of homophones, namely left as a direction and left as the past participle of leave, and right as a direction and right meaning proper and correct.

After a smirk or two, my inquisitiveness compelled me to ask questions. Are these words homophones by chance, or are they actually related to each other somehow?

Read the rest of this article »

China! China! China!

5 Mar 2010 In: Etymology, Sociolinguistics

For long there has been an article (original article in Chinese) circulating on the Internet which propagates the idea that the English word China is a pejorative term and should instead be replaced with the demonym Zhongguo. The author believes that China is given its name because of its porcelain, or china. He proceeds to argue that we may as well call Italy Pizza or Germany Beer should we be called China. Neither is the adjectival term Chinese innocent. The suffix -ese is said to be derogatory and only used on the supposedly inferior races (in the eyes of westerners) such as Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese.

Read the rest of this article »

God Save the Queen

2 Mar 2010 In: Syntax

A student of mine told me that he had found a mistake in the lyrics of the national anthem of the United Kingdom. He said the name of this anthem, God Save the Queen, had a missing -s after the verb save. The subject, God, is singular in the third person, therefore the verb should be conjugated to agree with the subject accordingly.

Read the rest of this article »

Don’t misunderstand, this article has nothing against the church. Instead, it is about a line which I stumbled upon on a web site today, which read:

1. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

churchThe line was claimed to be taken from a Church Bulletin, although my Christian friend found it questionable. But let’s say, if it was really from the Church Bulletin, why would it talk about those “who are sick of our church” anyway?  In fact, the funny thing about this sentence is that upon closer inspection, there can actually be two readings: one which is somewhat absurd (but perhaps more obvious at first glance), and, one which sounds more reasonable (and is thus probably the intended reading).

Read the rest of this article »

Bridging English and Linguistics