On the back window of a car was a sticker saying


Ummm … is she a physical bitch, a psychotic bitch or both? Sitting in a different car, I didn’t get the chance to ask.

It is very easy to get the phys– words and the psych– words mixed up, and to mis-spell them even when you’ve got the right one (especially if you’re writing in ALL CAPS). The phys– words come from Greek φυσική physike (nature) and Latin physica (study of nature) and the psych– words from Greek ψυχή psyche (breath, soul) (note that ph, ps and ch are all one letter in Greek).

In any not-completely-informal use, physcho is wrong, but some people use it, whether deliberately or accidentally (definitely accident with reference to Alfred Hitchcock (who is more associated with the word than Robert Bloch is)). Did the sticker company use it deliberately, thinking either that the people buying it wouldn’t notice, or would notice but wouldn’t care, or accidentally, realising later (in which case the two previous questions again) or not?



Yesterday I had the sudden thought that we don’t say good-mouth as the equal and opposite of bad-mouth. We may compliment or speak well or highly of people, but we don’t go around good-mouthing them. Maybe we should.

Wikitionary and trace it to a calque from an expression in a Mande language of West Africa, which entered US English via Gullah. Wiktionary also adds “Compare Japanese 悪口 [waruguchi] (“to badmouth”), which is a compound of 悪 [waru] (“bad, wicked”) and 口 [kuchi] (“mouth”)”. I can also think of Latin maledicere/maledico/maledictus (compare English maledict (rare), malediction), so if three such widely separated languages have a word for it, then surely it’s not uncommon. See also Latin benedicere/benedico/ benedictio and English benedict (not used in this sense), benediction

But imagine that one bus driver drives carefully the whole way, while another starts a sign language conversation with a person sitting in the front passenger seat (which really happened some years ago). Which one am I likely to tell you about, or to complain to the bus company about (I didn’t; another passenger asked him to stop it, and he did)? How many large companies have complaints departments instead of compliments departments? Some websites allow the giving of feedback about how we are doing. I’ll guess that at least 90% of the feedback is negative. 

Many years ago I saw a cartoon of one person complaining about everything to another, who is trying to interrupt. The last panel shows that they are at the complaints counter of a department store. See also Douglas Adams’s Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Complaints Department, which is “the only part of the company to still turn a profit”. 

Online searches for good-mouth found oral and dental products and treatments. Searches for bad-mouth found those alongside the criticise meaning. 

Coincidentally, while I was drafting this post, Browse TV Tropes showed me Accentuate the Negative, which discusses and gives examples of this. Accentuate the Positive is a song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen.

Resurrection Day

Last year I posted about my firm belief that yesterday and today are Easter Eve and Easter Day respectively. I drafted most of the following post, then actually re-read last year’s post and found that I said most of this in last year’s post. But I’ll post this anyway.

I have long pondered the use in English of the pagan-derived Easter instead of anything actually Christian. After researching this, I found that this is an issue in only two languages: English, which uses Easter, and German, which uses Ostern. Even the closely related Dutch and Danish use Pasen and påske respectively. These, as well as the equivalent words in most other European languages, are derived from New Testament Greek Πάσχα pascha, Aramaic, פסחא paskha and Hebrew פֶּסַח pesaḥ (most often transliterated as pesach), or passover. But using pascha, pesach or passover is going to cause more problems that it solves.

English-speaking Christians in particular can’t complain that Easter has become a secular, commercial food-and-drink-fest when we deliberately and habitually call it by the name of a pagan fertility goddess. I was flipping through a 172-page supermarket magazine and saw one full-page ad headed Celebrate Easter. It doesn’t mention Jesus’s resurrection; it was for a cheese company and featured an undoubtedly sumptuous cheese, fruit and chocolate platter. 

A few European languages unrelated words: Wikipedia lists (Indo-European Slavic) Czech Veliknoce (Great Night), Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) and Macedonian Велигден Veligden (Great Day) and (non-Indo-European Hungarian, húsvét (taking the meat, that is, the end of the Lenten fast) and Finnish language Pääsiäinen, “which implies ‘release’ or ‘liberation’”.

If I can trust Google Translate, many non-European languages use either a transliteration of Easter (Japanese  イースター Īsutā), pascha (Amharic ፋሲካ fasīka (I presume directly, given the long history of Christianity in Ethiopia) and (?) Malagasy Paka (I presume borrowed from French, given the colonial history and prevalence of Christianity there)) or their own words for resurrection  + day (Chinese  復活節 (trad) 复活节 (simp) fùhuó jié and Korean 부활절 buhwaljeol (I assume that Korean borrowed the word from Chinese in the same way that English takes most of its specialised vocabulary from Latin and Greek)). There are also a number of languages where the meaning is not immediately discernible. They are possibly related to resurrection.

I asked my wife if 부활 is used only in the religious sense and she said yes. I then said that in English resurrection is sometimes used about an actor or singer who was very popular, then not popular, then is beginning to be popular again, and she said that it’s used like that, too.

[PS A niece who is an English-speaking member of an Orthodox church and second-language speaker of Scottish Gaelic linked to a Twitter thread of speakers of various Great British languages or varieties discussing various words and phrases they use based on Pasch, Pascha or Pace, so it does happen. Wikipedia mentions the Pace egg play, and see also the Egg dance. The Pace eggs found in Sydney supermarkets are named after the (?Maltese) family-run company which produces them.]

The armpit of life

An esteemed Korean friend posted on Facebook a photo of an early spring scene with a comment which Facebook automatically translated into English for me, which I’ll get back to in a moment. His original is:

따스한 햇볕 잠자던 생명의 겨드랑이를 툭 치니 우후죽순처럼 일어나 춤을 춘다.

I can pick words out of that, but the whole sentence is way beyond me. If you know more Korean than I do, have a go.

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The conductor of one of the choirs I sing in likes to incorporate tongue-twisters into our warmups, for agility of tongues and brains. She invites choristers to submit examples (I have previously written about cumquat compote). Yesterday a chorister explained the she had intended to tell her friend that she had a sore shoulder, but instead said either shore solder or sure solder. (I first thought shore, because of the sh in shoulder, but for most people sure is equally possible (a small number of people pronounce shore and sure differently).)

In real life, shore solder and sure solder are basically non-existent. Lake Shore is a manufacturer of industrial equipment; one of their products is Lake Shore solder. SURE is a brand name of another manufacturer; one of their products is a SURE solder absorbing machine, whatever that does. 

Elsewhere, there are sentences like “Inspect the joint to make sure solder has adhered to the pad and castellation” and “Sure, solder stations may go up to 900ºF…”. 

Language learning (or not)

Recently I have been pondering the role of opportunity and motivation in learning second languages. I grew up in country towns and small regional cities in Australia. My school years spanned the change in Australia’s official migration policy from assimilation to multiculturalism. There were a small number of students from non-English speaking backgrounds (maybe born overseas, probably children of migrants) at my primary school, maybe as many as a quarter at my first high school and rather less at my second and third high schools. The two biggest groups of countries of origin were The Netherlands/Germany/Poland and Italy/Greece/Malta. Whether by their own choice or by overt or covert pressure from the Aussie children, most of them were determined not to be, or not to be seen as, ‘wogs’. I can’t remember hearing any of them speaking anything other than English, or even saying that they spoke another language at home. (Maybe they did, but didn’t ever say anything about it.) The Dutch/German/Polish children assimilated more and quicker than the Italian/Greek/Maltese. 

My primary school had no classes in any language other than English. The only exposures to other languages I got were in the ABC’s Singing and Listening books (we also had similar songbooks at home) and war comics. My first high school had French classes, but only from second year, and I only went there for one year. (My older sisters did five and four years with very little to show for it.) My second high school had electives (one lesson per week for one semester) in German and a local Indigenous language, but there were always more immediately interesting choices. My third high school had German throughout but the only way I could have done it in my final year was if I’d done it for four years before that, which I obviously hadn’t.

Not surprisingly, with zero opportunity and motivation, my grand total learning of any language other than English during my school years was zero. Perhaps the biggest opportunity outside school came when a young Japanese woman came to live with my great-aunt and -uncle, but they lived in Melbourne, we saw them every few months, and our role was to help her practice English. 

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The phrase a/the member of a/the family unit is used in various pieces of Australian legislation, defined in various ways for various purposes. One legal office abbreviated it (in writing) as MOFU. Unfortunately, I can’t see that without thinking of something else less legal (indeed illegal) involving a member of a family unit.

Google’s first results are sales and marketing websites explaining TOFU, MOFU and BOFU, which apparently are the top of the funnel, the middle of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel respectively, which a) isn’t what I was thinking of, and b) makes me none the wiser.

going to work

Australia has done a generally good job of containing the spread of coronavirus. I am lucky enough to have a full-time job I can do at home, so I worked at home from the end of March to the end of September (almost as long as I’d worked in the office before then). Then we started on one day per week in the office, then two (most of us Tuesday and Thursday), with the expectation of three from the beginning of next year. It looks like working at home part of the time is here to stay. 

Last week there was a small (by world standards) outbreak of coronavirus in another part of my city, and on Sunday we got a text message to work from home for the four days before Christmas Day and until further notice (most of us have next week off anyway). On Monday evening, my wife asked me “Are you going to work tomorrow?”. I said “No, umm yes, umm I’m going to work-at-home tomorrow”. 

Go can be a main verb and going to is one way to talk about the future, and work can be a noun or verb. Maybe she’d meant “Are you going (main verb) to (the place where you work (noun)) tomorrow?” (no) or “Are you going to (auxiliary verb) (perform the action of working (verb)) tomorrow?”.

Of all the possibilities, “Are you going to go to work tomorrow?” is possibly the clearest, but most people find going to go a bit of a mouthful. “Are you going to go the/your office tomorrow?” has the same problem, so “Are you going to the/your office tomorrow is probably the best choice all round.

For once, the problem wasn’t my wife’s second-language English, but something intrinsic to the language. On Wednesday evening, she asked me “Are you working at home tomorrow?”.

Relatedly, I would naturally say work at home, but work from home is more widespread.

Verbal fluency

This afternoon on my train I dozed off, as I often do. When I woke up, two young women were talking very loudly. Based on their appearance and speech (including talking very loudly on a train), I made some possibly prejudicial negative assumptions about them. One of them was in the middle of a very long story about something which had happened recently, and told it all with no ums, ahs, false starts, self-repair or repetition, including imitating several other people. It was very proficient use of spontaneous spoken language (marred slightly by an overuse of various forms of the f-word). I can’t speak that fluently. In fact, I can’t write or even think that fluently. I wish I could, actually. I regret falling asleep. Listening to more would have been very interesting and possibly instructive. 


Yesterday I excitedly typed on Facebook to the effect of “I’ve just found this amazing travel blog by some foreigners living in South Korea”, then forgot to link to it. Soon after, a friend replied to the effect of “Well, aren’t you going to tell us which blog?”.

In some contexts this can be used as an informal and emphatic alternative to a/an: “I’ve just found an amazing travel blog” v “I’ve just found this amazing travel blog”. In others, it is definitely demonstrative; I am pointing to or showing or linking to ‘this one here’. Without spoken tone, it would have been impossible for my friend to understand which meaning I meant, but either way, he would have expected a link, or at least more information. 

But sometimes the demonstrative use isn’t possible. If I say “I ate this amazing pizza for lunch”, I am certainly not pointing to or showing you the pizza. “I ate this amazing pizza for lunch” can only be informal emphatic; compare “I ate an amazing pizza for lunch”.

The blog was this one, which, having explored further, I’m not quite so excited about, but it’s still definitely in the top 5.