Link love: language (42)

It’s been more than a month since my last linkfest. Time for another assortment of language-related reading material. (And, at the end, audiovisual.)

Email and texting as “fingered speech”.

Homophones, homonyms and co.: a Venn diagram.

On the multiple meanings of moot and changeling.

The value of editing.

Punning is serious business.

The tension of stacked parentheses.

Grammar and usage myths debunked.

Where does kindly belong?

Scots words in the wild.

A history of Ireland in 100 insults.

On gesture, or, when thought “leaks through our hands.”

Tidbits and titbits.

Proofreading a dictionary.

My life’s sentences.

When language advice misleads.

Marvellous words from Marvel Comics.

Using pronouns to predict dating success.

Headline headghgh: a gallery of dummy text.

The contentious history of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Is “me no likie” racist?

Favourite synonyms and sets of synonyms.

Hopefully: five decades of foolishness (lots more at

Tricks used by chatbots to imitate humans.

Linguistics from an evolutionary point of view (PDF).

How blogs and Twitter are changing science writing (talk, 1 hr 11 min.).

[language links archive]

17 Responses to Link love: language (42)

  1. thepoormouth says:

    I do like your link loves. I shall browse the links at my leisure

  2. johnwcowan says:

    That history of Ireland seriously needs glosses or even explanations for those of us born outside the Emerald Isle.

    An English sea-captain being asked if he had read “The Exile of Erin,” replied: “No, sir, but I should like to anchor on it.” Years afterwards, when he had been hanged as a pirate after a career of unparalleled atrocities, the following memorandum was found in the ship’s log that he had kept at the time of his reply:

         Aug. 3d, 1842. Made a joke on the ex-Isle of Erin. Coldly received. War with the whole world!

    Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary s.v. Exile

  3. johnwcowan says:

    Well, I have done some research on Google, and I now understand much more than before. These questions remain:

    #38: I know what Persil is, but who is it that it wouldn’t shift, and what sense of shift is intended?

    #59: What is the mysterious mountainy?

    #76: I know who Michel Platini is, but on what occasion was he called “not a great player”?

    #86: “Distinguished bodhrán player” rings no bells with Google.

    Finally, in the American South it is the boar-hog whose tits are the paradigm case of uselessness. I seem to recall that hog is not used of pigs in Ireland; is that right?

  4. johnwcowan says:

    Oh, and what are the two mickeys in #58?

  5. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Naive me.(Doh!)

    Being a relative newbie to your fine site, I initially read today’s article ‘header’, i.e, “Link love: language” as possibly a little treatise on hot-links (hotdog) enthusiasts, expounding on the unique descriptive argot that has evolved when extolling the many virtues of this very popular sausage varietal.

    Your subsequent term “linkfest” I took as a kind of ‘linkapalloosa’- a pending grand sausage fête, of sorts.

    Oh well. Reading on, I found I had clearly drifted far off the mark on both aforementioned counts.

    A missing ‘link’, for sure. (A few links short of a butcher’s dozen, I’d have to say. C’est moi. HA!)

    I won’t even get into the whole golf links angle. FORE!

    Thanks for the links, Stan.

    They’re all yummy in their own right. Much food for thought.

    Hold the Mayo.*

    *No disrespect implied to your fine county Mayo

  6. Stan says:

    Jams: Enjoy!

    John: Good old Bierce. Glosses would help, for sure: some of the insults are quite obscure.
    #38: Shift in Ireland is equivalent to UK snog. It has a double meaning here, also referring (in the sense move) to Persil’s power to shift anything, i.e. any dirt. So if Persil wouldn’t even shift her (the ‘her’ is anonymous), then she is someone considered undesirable. It could equally well be a ‘him’.
    #58: Two penises. So someone “running around like a dog with two mickeys” is someone ruled by lust.
    #59: I’m not sure about this one. It might be a reference to bad agricultural land, or it could be similar to “a fine doorful of a man/woman”, said of a tall, large person (though this is typically said in admiration). It might also refer to something I’m unaware of.
    #76: This was one of Éamon Dunphy‘s putdowns; see the last paragraph here.
    #86: I don’t know if this is a backhanded compliment or whether it was used on some particular occasion.
    Domesticated swine are usually called pigs in Ireland, but I’ve seen hog used in the context of barbecues.

    Alex: I hope you weren’t too disappointed by the lack of hotdog-related material: I hadn’t anticipated such a reading. Hot-link, for me, refers to a hyperlinked online image. Nor had I considered the golf angle. Our connotations for this word are wildly and amusingly different.
    Mayo is a beautiful county. I was on a lake there a couple of weeks ago, attending a short play on a rowing boat.

  7. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Admittedly, I was just up to a little mischief there w/ my earlier hotdogging around w/ your “link love” piece…. as the turnip truck slowly pulled away, he confessed.

    By-the-by, does the expression, “I didn’t just get off the turnip truck, you know” *, have any resonance in Ireland? (Maybe it’s the potato cart in Erin?…. Sorry, that was clearly a low blow.)

    Hmm… your #58 from the list of most common Irish insults, namely “running around like a dog w/ to mickeys”, I wildly guessed may have been referring to two shots of whiskey… which on this side of the Great Briny are often termed mickeys. So the imbiber would likely be staggeringly drunk.

    Then, as a former cartoonist having worked for many years at Walt Disney TV Animation, I then pondered, thinking, could this insulting barb be alluding to Mickey Mouse… but then I quickly abandoned that notion. (The dog would have to be the trusty Pluto, no?)

    But two penises?

    Holy #@$^&% freak show, Batman!

    Frankly, that translation was a totally out-of-left-field revelation to me. Jeez, it’s hard enough just trying to keeping track of the one (penis), let alone a dynamic duo. Just sayin’.

    Here in the U.S. the phrase could be retooled (pun intended…. oh behave!), to read, ‘running around like a dog w/ two Johnsons’— Johnson being a slangy term for the male member. (In the late ’90s perhaps two Clintons would have worked. Sorry Bubba.)

    Enough of this tawdry gutter talk. Let’s segue over to the pig sty (#86 on the list), and ruminate over pigs, versus, hogs, versus swine, versus boars. Hmm… on second thought…… let’s not.

    Hate to be a bore. (Oink!)

    *this folksy adage loosely translates as “I may look dumber than a turnip, and come off as a dimwitted hayseed, but I’m much smarter than I look, and wasn’t born yesterday…. ya hear?”

  8. The dating pronouns article is interesting. I may or may not link to it myself sometime.

    I left a cheeky comment on the value of editing article.

    On Irish insults, a little research shows that the collection is woefully incomplete, and that even the most modest collection of Irish literature will yield additional examples. :-)

    I’ve got the science writing talk open and playing (well, paused) as we speak.

  9. I gave up on the science writing talk. No reflection on the content — I just don’t have time to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, and the media player they’ve used has bugs that make it difficult to resume playing from an arbitrary point (about 25 minutes in). Sigh. So much Internet content is spoilt by badly-programmed media players.

  10. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Stan, thanks for your link to Angela Tung’s very illuminating piece titled , “Marvel-ous words”, appearing on her Wordnik blog, May 2, ’12.

    At first blush, in reading your link, “Marvelous words from Marvel Comics’, I immediately anticipated an article delving into perhaps the origins of those unique, generally boldfaced-typed words (not necessarily exclusive to Marvel Comics, per se), that intrinsically make no logical sense, yet so wonderfully convey on the printed page a particular exclamation, loud noise, or anguished outcry; namely ZORK!, SPLAT! ARRRRRRGH!, PLONK! ZOING! UGH!…. well you comics aficionados know the routine.

    But NO!….. Ms. Tung threw us, (or at least yours truly), a deft curveball, offering up a superb glossary, of sorts, (w/ valuable ancillary links, I might add), defining the more prominent words (or phrases) from the wide Marvel Comics universe. They include such gems as “adamatium”, “radar sense”, “ruby quartz’, “gamma rays”, “manroid’, “costumed athlete”, “Darkforce”, “spidey-sense”, and last-but-not-least, “symbiote”.

    Holy leapin’ super cosmic lexicon, Batman!

    I was particularly intrigued by the “costumed athlete” definition. In my view , a rather effete label, yet the widely accepted appellation for a super athletic, driven dude (or dudette HA!) who is want to don an elaborate, distinctive, ofttimes caped outfit when performing their amazing feats of strength and valor. (Genetically, very normal folk.)

    On the other hand, there are those logic-defying super heroic figures who either through (congenital) genetic mutation, or having been irradiated w/ some manner of cosmic energy, or phantom ray, at some point in their lives, can display super human abilities that seemingly defy all the accepted laws of nature and physics.

    For example, both Marvel’s Spiderman and Iron Man would represent the former normal, non-genetically mutated super hero class, whilst The Hulk would fall into the latter, genome-altered supra-human category…..but only when the occasion warrants the transformation, of course. (Don’t get the (potentially) big green guy upset…. understand?)

    Of course Ms. Tang’s timing of her article was no sheer happenstance, what w/ Disney Studios mega-hyped Marvel Comics-inspired, “The Avengers” feature, having already premiered in Europe, and due to open today across North America in hundreds of venues.

    On the heels of Disney’s recent major loss-leader, bomb of a movie, “John Carter”, “The Avengers” appears to be well on its way to mega-blockbuster status.

    The ‘Force’ may have deserted Disney studios for a spell there, but baby they’ll definitely be back in the black, big-time, as The Avengers seek their cinematic revenge.


  11. Stan says:

    Alex: I’ve never heard the turnip truck line in Ireland, but I imagine there are versions of it everywhere, like “I didn’t fall down in the last shower” and “You must think I’m an awful eejit”. Glad to hear you enjoyed Angela Tung’s Marvel post: the whole Wordnik site and enterprise abounds in word love.

    Adrian: Pennebaker’s work is interesting; I hope to read his book some day. Since the insults article appeared, the Irish Times has been flooded with further examples from readers, and it has dutifully published many of them on the letters page. Last time I looked, the count was four hundred and something.

  12. Oisín says:

    The term ‘mountainy’ was a word John B.Keane used a fair bit, not necessarily as an insult, to refer to people who lived in the mountains (or maybe even just the countryside), as opposed to ‘townies’.
    According to one Irish slang website the word is a ‘term of abuse for women from the country denoting big and rough like a mountain, as in “She’s a bit mountainy”‘.

  13. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Hate to continue to beat a dead horse (or “Mickey”…. don’t go there HA!), but the online site, “Everyday English and Slang in Ireland”, lists the slang term “Mickey”, specifically, as “a child’s name for penis”. Glad we clarified that one.

    Here in America, seems like the alliterative “wee wee” has endured as a popular term for the formative male ‘appendage’. It can also be used as a verb, i.e., to wee wee, as well as a noun signifying the act of peeing, i.e., as in to make a wee wee. (Didn’t think I’d be regressing into baby talk this fine Sunday morn. But there you have it.)

    My dearly departed grandmum on my dad’s side, was a native of Scotland who emigrated to Southern Ontario, Canada, in her early 20s, from Govan, outside Glasgow.

    Point being, as a kid I always had a giggle when she came out w/ some of her native Scottish slang, particularly the phrase, ” ‘airy oxters”, rolling off her tongue in that distinctive, heavy Scots brogue, which she retained till her dying day.

    I soon discovered that “‘airy oxters” translated as “hairy armpits”. Can’t really recall where the subject of “oxters” came up in our conversation, but let’s just say, grandmum McCrae was a bit of an eccentric sort.

    So apparently, the slang term “oxters” is shared by both Ireland, and Scotland. I doubt either country is proudly staking claim to its origins.

    @Oisin. I wonder if one could perhaps label a rough-hewn, take -no- bunkum-from-nobody, fishin’ & huntin’, tom-boyish gal haling from say the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee (?), a bit on the “mountainy” side?

    Sweet, multi-talented native Tennessee songbird, Dolly Parton, qualifies as a “mountainy” gal, but for other reasons entirely. Her more-than-ample ‘twin peaks’ have been the source of male fascination, fantasy, and country-music-legend for decades. Now in her mid sixties, she’s still a ‘mountainy’ girl to reckon with, and shows no real signs of retiring to her front porch, the old rockin’ chair, and watchin’ the flickering fireflies spark the southern night skies.

  14. @Alex It’s odd to hear of people using “wee wee” to mean “penis” for two reasons. First, in the rest of the English-speaking world (certainly Britain and Australia) it means “urine”. Second, I’d have thought that the sort of mind most inclined to indulge in slang terms for “penis” would be particularly reluctant to accept a term interpretable as “small-small”.

    On the first point, at least, there are precedents. For example, when I was at school, the term “rubber” (which as we know means “condom” in America) was used by my peers to mean “penis”. Probably the term was at some point imported and misunderstood. (We also have “rubber” in the sense of “eraser”, a homonymity that never presents any difficulties except in conversation with a certain type of mind. Should one encounter such a mind, the synonym “eraser” is a little wimpy but perfectly available.)

    I don’t know if “rubber” for “penis” is still around or if it died out.

  15. Stan says:

    Oisín: Thanks! So I was partly right. I should have checked that website myself. I’d say mountainy is always used as an adjective, but let me know if you ever come across it being used as a noun, the way townie is.

    Alex: That usage of mickey isn’t exclusive to children, but it is generally jocular. I think oxters is a great word, by the way!

  16. Reblogged this on Project Chiron and commented:
    Enjoy Stan Carey’s collection of language-related articles.

  17. johnwcowan says:

    I would say that wee-wee means a child’s penis in North America, and would be insulting applied to an adult. But in fact it would probably not be used, as it would make the would-be insulter seem childish, like saying You’re a stinky poo-poo-head instead of You’re a rotten little shit. Age-grading dominates even vulgarities.

    Wee-wee ‘urine’ is well understood here as well.

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