Category Archives: The Week

Foreign accent syndrome

We learn a lot about how language works in the brain from cases where the brain doesn’t work quite right. Most of the time, something’s obviously broken, so it’s like dropping a bowl and picking up the pieces. But what if you drop a bowl and you get… a different style of bowl? My latest for The Week:

The curious case of people who can’t stop speaking in foreign accents

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Are you like “I don’t, like, LIKE like ‘like’”?

My latest article for The Week is about a word almost everyone loves to hate – and yet we all still seem to like using it:

What’s not to like about ‘like’?

Genders of the world

My latest article for The Week is on grammatical gender and how it shows up in different languages – when it does. You’d think it might be a dry topic, but some people seem awfully exercised about it lately.

How the world’s languages handle thorny gender issues

The many names of Christmas: the podcast

A couple of years ago, I did an article for The Week on the names different languages have for Christmas, and how many of them have no “Christ” in them. This year we’ve made a podcast of it, so you can hear me actually say all these different names. It’s not that long…

Almost every language has a word for ‘Christmas.’ Few reference Christ.

Prayers and thoughts and inefficacious speech acts

My latest article for The Week is actually one I wrote a few months ago. We decided to keep it in reserve until another mass shooting brought the topic into the news again. Sadly, we knew that it would happen. And it did. Here’s a piece on that thing that people say as a substitute for doing anything effective:

How ‘thoughts and prayers’ became the stock phrase of tragedies

 

Which one is Floyd?

My latest article for The Week is in honour of Walter Becker, guitarist for Steely Dan, who died recently. It’s about bands like Steely Dan: ones that have names that make you think they’re the name of one of the guys in the band.

11 band names that don’t mean what you think they do

 

And when you’re done reading that, here are four honourable mentions that didn’t make it into the final version:

Duran Duran
The hit electro-group from the ’80s (and on) probably haven’t ever had anyone ask, “Which one is Duran?” But they’re named after a fictional character: Doctor Durand Durand, from the movie Barbarella.

The Ramones
The Ramones, great punk pioneers of the 1970s and later, did not have any members whose real last name was Ramone, nor were any members related to each other. But they all took stage names with the last name Ramone, starting with founding member Douglas Colvin, who called himself Dee Dee Ramone, inspired by Paul McCartney’s one-time use of the pseudonym Paul Ramon.

Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper is now the name of the shock-rocker born as Vincent Damon Furnier. But it was first the name of a band he sang with. When the brand broke up, he kept the name. Their — and his — namesake was an 18th-century witch who was burned at the stake.

Anonymous 4
Anonymous 4 is one of the world’s great medieval and folk music quartets. Its members aren’t anonymous; the four women with the ethereal voices are Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek (Johanna Maria Rose was an original member; Horner-Kwiatek joined later). But, like many classical music ensembles, the group is actually named after a real person: Anonymous IV was the author of an important medieval treatise on music — an author whose name is lost to the ages, so he was later designated Anonymous IV (because Anonymous I, II, and III were already in use).

 

Oh… and there’s this line in a Pink Floyd song (click on it and it will take you to the line):

Hulk smash puny podcast!

A while back, I did an article for The Week on the grammar of the Incredible Hulk. My producer at the week thought it would make a fun podcast, so she trimmed it a bit, I recorded it, she edited it with some other clips, and now you can listen to it:

A linguist’s guide to HULK SMASH