A couple of times recently, I have seen disclaimers saying ‘Users of this car park do so at their own risk’. The meaning is clear, but this is an odd usage. Why is that usage odd? Usually, ‘do so’ is used only to replace a verbal phrase that repeats the same verbal phrase used earlier…… Continue reading Users of this car park do so at their own risk
Can you deliver this letter to the right address?
Here is a classic puzzle: [A man] had sent home a letter simply addressed:WOODJOHNENGLANDand it was safely delivered. Those Post Office people are very smart. Can any of you read that address in its completeness? I’ll post a hint next week. I’ll post the answer (and the source) in a couple of weeks.
Translation gaffe at Gatwick
I was shocked to see this beginners’ translation blunder at Gatwick airport. This picture shows a box inviting passengers to donate their spare currency. The largest word on the box says Change. Presumably, this is the original English word. No doubt, the intended message is that passengers should give over their remaining small change. The…… Continue reading Translation gaffe at Gatwick
Collective and distributive readings of ‘their’
I want to use the following sentence: ‘each of the UK’s last 5 Prime Ministers was worse than their predecessor’. That sentence could have 2 readings: A distributive reading: each Prime Minster was worse than that Prime Minister’s predecessor. A collective reading: each Prime Minster was worse than the predecessor of the 1st in that…… Continue reading Collective and distributive readings of ‘their’
Don’t write ‘different’ if you mean ‘various’
In reviewing draft documents, I often used to come across cases where someone had written different where they really meant various. Although this was particularly common for people who learnt English as a 2nd language, people with English as 1st language often make the same mistake as well. Let me give an example: (1) translations…… Continue reading Don’t write ‘different’ if you mean ‘various’
Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages
Many western European languages have a perfect tense, formed by combining an auxiliary verb (meaning ‘have’ or ‘be’) with a past participle. Different languages use this verb form in different ways. A recent paper used translations of a well-known French novel to explore those differences. The aim was to see which tense the translators used…… Continue reading Using translation to show how the perfect differs across languages
People are endlessly fascinated by words that are claimed to be untranslatable. A recent request by the American dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster led to many suggestions of words that are untranslatable. On 28 February 2023, the publisher tweeted a question: ‘Non-native English Speakers, what’s a word from your language that you think is perfect that doesn’t…… Continue reading Untranslatable words
Unsocially distanced: a bracketing paradox?
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly told a staff meeting in 10 Downing Street that they were at ‘probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now’. That comment not only raises political questions but also illustrates an interesting linguistic point. What does the prefix [un-] negate in that phrase? The spelling…… Continue reading Unsocially distanced: a bracketing paradox?
What is the perfect and where does it occur?
The World Atlas of Linguistic Structures (WALS) is a useful resource for looking at similarities and differences between languages. I’ve recently looked at WALS to get more information on the verb form known as the perfect. This post is based on Chapter 68 of WALS The Perfect. Meaning of ‘perfect’ in WALS Chapter 68 of…… Continue reading What is the perfect and where does it occur?
Words to watch in 2023
Which words and phrases will enter wider circulation in 2023? This year’s edition of The Economist magazine’s annual publication The World in 2023 discusses, among many other interesting topics, the magazine’s ‘best 23 guesses’ for the terms that will become part of public discourse this year. I list the 23 terms below, with brief definitions,…… Continue reading Words to watch in 2023