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Do you think something is missing from your Spanish translations?

Charles Eames said it best: The details are not details. They make the product. And yet so many translations are like signs with missing letters: sometimes sad, sometimes unfortunate.

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Richard Mabey on the art of giving species their common names

Common names are a kind of time capsule, a record of the powers of observation and literary inventiveness of ordinary people. They log resemblances, uses, sounds, mythic associations, smells, seasonal appearances, kids’ games, superstitions, habitats. They’re witty, concise, evocative, sometimes even satirical.

The litany of moths whose caterpillars feed on species of willow (aka withy, sallies, saugh, popple, cat’s-tails) reads like a found poem about sensual pleasure: angle shades, autumn green carpet, canary-shouldered thorn, coxcomb prominent, dark dagger, dingy mocha, engrailed, flounced chestnut, pale brinded beauty, ruddy highflyer …

The Guardian

Imagining a world without standardized spelling

The 275 spellers who gathered in Maryland this past week for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee are top-notch orthographic athletes, able to rattle off, in order, the letters of words such as “tchotchke,” “schottische” and “aryepiglottic” without a second thought.

Such battles don’t happen everywhere. Speakers of quite a few other languages inhabit a world without correct spelling. Spanish, Italian and German have much more regular orthographies — and not coincidentally, don’t have national spelling bees.

There’s a certain satisfaction to sticking the landing on a difficult word such as “silhouette” or “subpoena” or “surreptitious.” English spelling is messy and difficult. As this past week’s spelling bee competitors understand, that’s what we like about it.

After the spelling bee, imagining a world without standardized spelling

Run, a Verb for Our Frantic Times

It took Peter Gilliver, the O.E.D. lexicographer working on the letter R, more than nine months harnessed to the duties of what Samuel Johnson once called “a harmless drudge” (plus many more months of preparatory research) to work out what he believes are all the meanings of “run.” And though some of the senses and their derivations try him — Why does a dressmaker run up a frock? Why run through a varlet with a sword? How come you run a fence around a field? Why, indeed, run this essay? — Mr. Gilliver has finally calculated that there are for the verb-form alone of “run” no fewer than 645 meanings. A record.

In terms of sheer size, the entry for “run” is half as big again as that for “put,” a word on which Mr. Gilliver also worked some years ago. But more significantly still, “run” is also far bigger than the old chestnut “set,” a word that, says Mr. Gilliver, simply “hasn’t undergone as much development in the 20th and 21st centuries as has ‘run.’ ” full article


When I started my clinical clerkships, I began to hear the verb “expire” more frequently, and gradually it ceased to sound strange. As an intern, I witnessed my first deaths and was responsible for writing “expiration notes” in patients’ charts. Cartons of milk had expiration dates. Coupons expired. I guessed people could too.
Doctors and the ‘D’ Word - On using euphemisms for dying