Shared posts

03 Jun 18:49

Jelly Roll Railway Quilt along....

by Vickie E

The Fat Quarter Shop has created another awesome pattern
that can be done with a Jelly Roll or scrap strips. 
Jelly Roll Railway

The kit can be found HERE

I decided to raid my 2.5" strip stash to make this quilt.
I could have easily used a Jelly roll but I wanted to use my colorful stash.

I paired those happy colors with a bunch of low volume light background prints that I have been collecting. I think there are at least 48 prints in the quilt.

Now I have to choose a border.
I'm tempted to use the royal blue or the lilac with the flowers and bees...

01 Jun 02:23

"We normally decide how to pronounce an unfamiliar word by drawing analogies with English words we..."

We normally decide how to pronounce an unfamiliar word by drawing analogies with English words we already know. For example, we knew how to pronounce “-ly” from words like “slowly,” so it isn’t too hard to figure out how to pronounce “bigly.”

But sometimes this approach runs into problems. In this case, there just aren’t any common English words ending in -efe. A wild-card search on the very comprehensive dictionary aggregator OneLook yielded the following list of words: jefe, fefe, efe, hefe, okeefe, hogrefe, keefe, reprefe, tefe and kefe. Pretty obscurefe.

So we have to search further afield. Maybe we go for the Spanish word “jefe,” meaning “boss.” Maybe we look to a different vowel, as in “fife” or “cafe.” Maybe we look to other spellings of the /f/ sound at the end of a word, like “ff” as in “fluff,” “gaffe” and “coiffe.”

The problem is that none of these is a close analogue, making it unsurprising that several Twitter polls have found that people are strongly split. But it looks like the lack of -fefe endings won’t remain true for long. People have started smashing covfefe together with other words to refer to the covfefe meme. There now exists the “threadfefe” (a thread about covfefe), an “exorfefe” (an exorcist of the word covfefe), a “presifefe” (president) and the slogan “If u think you’re above covfefe you’re part of the probfefe.”

- I wrote about the linguistics of why it’s hard to say covfefe for the Washington Post
25 May 14:43


by Dyson Logos

25 May 02:09


Gonna feel even dumber when I realize that all this time he's been talking into a bluetooth thingy and we're not actually friends.
21 May 15:06

New paint colors invented by neural network


I want to design a website exclusively in these colors....


So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living. But given that the human eye can see millions of distinct colors, sooner or later we’re going to run out of good names. Can AI help?

For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?

One way I have of checking on the neural network’s progress during training is to ask it to produce some output using the lowest-creativity setting. Then the neural network plays it safe, and we can get an idea of what it has learned for sure.

By the first checkpoint, the neural network has learned to produce valid RGB values - these are colors, all right, and you could technically paint your walls with them. It’s a little farther behind the curve on the names, although it does seem to be attempting a combination of the colors brown, blue, and gray.

By the second checkpoint, the neural network can properly spell green and gray. It doesn’t seem to actually know what color they are, however.

Let’s check in with what the more-creative setting is producing.

…oh, okay.

Later in the training process, the neural network is about as well-trained as it’s going to be (perhaps with different parameters, it could have done a bit better - a lot of neural network training involves choosing the right training parameters). By this point, it’s able to figure out some of the basic colors, like white, red, and grey:

Although not reliably.

In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

  1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey.
  2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.

The neural network figuring out white and red is tantalizingly close to how the first colour distinction that human languages tend to develop is between light and dark and red, although grey is one of the latest colour distinctions to show up. I wonder if you could tweak the parameters such that the neural network would learn to split colours in the same order that human languages do (or in a radically different trajectory). 

16 May 15:12



!! that is such a flattering dress for C. Amazing!

#foxconmerger #packofbridesmaids #damn @cbdubs84
11 May 05:05

Random Obsessions


oh god, so good because I've just started to notice the sandwich thing on my radar lately

I take the view that "open-faced sandwiches" are not sandwiches, but all other physical objects are.
08 May 05:56

Code Quality 3

It's like a half-solved cryptogram where the solution is a piece of FORTH code written by someone who doesn't know FORTH.
05 May 05:04

What is Yoda's syntax in other languages?



What is Yoda's syntax in other languages?:


Sometimes people ask the best questions on Reddit:

What does Yoda’s syntax look like in non-English versions of Star Wars? For those who aren’t familiar with Star Wars (all two of you), Yoda is an alien who, when speaking English, uses what seems to be an OSV syntax instead of the traditional SVO syntax.

So how do foreign translations of the script handle this? I am particularly interested in what it looks like in non-SVO languages. Are there any translations where Yoda’s incorrect syntax is emulated by using an English-like syntax? Or are other languages’ syntax so free that mistakes in the use of case or verb conjugations must instead be used to emulate Yoda’s “alien” speech?

And some answers so far: 

  • Czech: Free word order. Yoda speaks consistently in SOV. Interestingly enough, putting an object before a verb does sound unusual to most speakers of Czech.

  • Estonian: Free word order language. Yoda retains the English OSV order. This is grammatical in Estonian, but does make it seem as though Yoda is constantly stressing the object phrase as the main point of his statements. This gives his speech an unusual quality.

  • French: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.

  • German: A SVO or SOV language. Yoda brings the Object to the front (OSV), like in English.

  • Hungarian: A free word order language. There is nothing unusual about Yoda’s speech.

  • Italian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV. Note: OSV is also the syntax used in the Italian of the less-proficient speakers of Italian from the region of Sardinia.

  • Japanese: An SOV language. Yoda seems to use a more or less correct syntax, with a more archaic vocabulary.

  • Korean: An SOV language. Nothing is unusual about Yoda’s grammar.

  • Norwegian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.

  • Romanian: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV. He also places adjectives before the noun instead of after the noun, and uses an archaic form of the future tense.

  • Spanish: An SVO language. Yoda speaks in OSV.

  • Turkish: An SOV language. Yoda speaks in OSV. Note: This order is also used in classical Ottoman poetry, so the syntax may have been chosen in order to emphasize Yoda’s wisdom or age.

01 May 15:25

Here to Help

"We TOLD you it was hard." "Yeah, but now that I'VE tried, we KNOW it's hard."
17 Apr 14:41

"Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms..."

Gretchen: It’s unlikely that you’d get a language that only has three colour terms and those terms are turquoise, orange, and pink.

Lauren: Yeah, because that’s not covering a lot. I mean, it might be covering a lot of the colour space in your wardrobe but not for all speakers.

Gretchen: Admittedly there is a lot of turquoise  in my wardrobe.

Lauren: So it’s not surprising that late stage colours like pink and orange have really clear and recent etymologies in English compared to something like red or green or white. I remember when I learned this stuff in undergrad a friend of mine in the class just would not believe that you could cover brown, purple, and grey in one colour. She was just like “how could you have one word that covers all of those three??” And then one day she came to class and she was so excited and was like, “look, look at the scarf that I bought!” And it was true, you couldn’t tell, in certain contexts it looked brown and some contexts it looked purple and in some contexts it looked grey and that was her, like, theoretical proof those colours were close enough that it made sense to put them in one word.

Gretchen: Well the scarf actually brings us into an interesting point about why languages developed colour terms, which is that there’s often some relationship between produced goods whether that’s dyed fabrics or gemstones or other types of processed goods that people make into specific colours. Because if you’re thinking about the sky for example, you know, we say all the time the sky is blue, but it’s really not necessary to specify that the sky is blue. You can say the sky is dark or light, the sky is cloudy or clear, and if it’s clear and its light of course it’s blue! What other colour is it going to be? Or you can say something like the tree is living or the tree is dying, you don’t necessarily need to specify the tree is is green or that it’s red. In nature a lot of things only really come in one specific colour. Whereas once you start making cars you don’t say this car is ripe or it’s not ripe, or this car is cloudy or it’s clear, or this dress that you’re going to make is ripe or unripe or that this basket that you’re weaving is dyed a particular colour. Once you start dying stuff in colours it becomes more useful to talk about a finer variations or if you send someone to buy for you a particular thing in particular colour may want to specify exactly what that colours going be once you start colouring stuff artificially.

Lauren: So certain technological innovations can give rise to the necessity for finer distinctions and colour terms.

Gretchen: And some colour terms are etymologically linked to specific things that created those colours. Purple, for example, is linked to the name of the particular mollusc that was used to make purple dye back around ancient Greece.

Gretchen: I came across a women in Eastern Europe where specifically the older women had more colour terms related to traditional dyeing methodology for textiles, whereas the younger women had become disconnected from traditional dyeing terminology for textiles and could no longer identify words like madder and russet and stuff like this that are used in traditional terms – they tended to use more industrialised colour terms. This seems to be one of those “if you use it you get more words for it” areas, like with any specialised domain.

Lauren: Yeah, there’s a professional vocabulary distinction to be made there as well. I do remember reading something, and again we’re into uncited anec-data here, but I do remember reading something that said professionals can discriminate with more technical words, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they see more colours than people who don’t have these professional words. So you might give people two similar colour chips. And someone who does fabric work will say “that’s magenta and that’s russet,” whereas someone who doesn’t have to discriminate will be like, “Well, this one’s rustier and this one’s richer red.” They can still see the difference. It’s not like not having the word prevents you. Or, people who I’m friends with in Nepal who predominantly speak a language that doesn’t have a blue-green distinction, they still see the distinction, they still prefer fabric in one colour over another one.

Gretchen: Yeah, if you’re painting your bedroom yellow, you’re not going to be like, “I dunno, all yellows look the same to me” – you probably care whether it’s like a lemon yellow or a butter yellow or a golden yellow.

- Excerpt from Episode 5 of Lingthusiasm: Colour words around the world and inside your brain. Listen to the full episode, read the transcript, or check out the show notes for links to further reading.
(via lingthusiasm)
15 Apr 03:41

Family Craft Swap 2016

Some months ago, people in my family expressed interest in doing a sewing/craft swap.  I was assigned to be the moderator since I have the most swaps under my belt of those in my family.  So, after whipping up a short questionnaire, and cajoling my dad into taking part, I assigned the six people who decided to sign up to a secret partner.  If you're familiar with secret swaps, you know how they usually go.  This was not much like that, though.  I pretty much assigned partners and just checked in a few times to make sure people were on track.  Here are a few pictures and some descriptions of what I made.

After a month of brainstorming and indecision, I decided to make an applique quilt for my assigned partner (one of my older sisters) using scraps arranged in the shape of an elephant.  For my pattern, I printed up a large-scale elephant at the copy shop for about $4.  I traced the elephant outline directly onto my fusible backing then cut the fusible into several pieces corresponding with distinct parts of the elephant (trunk, legs, tail, etc).  Then I chose some coordinating fabrics in pink and orange, cut them into random shapes for the main body and curved pieces for the trunk.  The pieces were then carefully fused to the glue side of the fusible web.  I tried to arrange the fabric pieces so that darker and lighter tones demarcated specific parts of the elephant to give it a more defined shape.  I think I mostly succeeded with that.

Once all the fusing was complete, I removed the paper backing and fused the individual pieces to a piece of Kona (burgundy, I think).  I pieced a backing using more of the Kona and some pieced strips using more of the fabric from the front.  After putting all the pieces together and basting, I had to figure out how to quilt everything without going nuts.  I decided to quilt over all the raw edges using free-motion techniques to avoid all the needle-down rotating stuff.  It was my first time doing free motion (I hadn't yet done the watercolor quilting workshop at Handcraft Studio School) and it turned out pretty good.  I also zig-zag stitched all around the elephant to give even more definition to the shape when viewed on the reverse.

The finished piece is a lap-sized quilt bound with more of the lovely orange and pink flower fabric used in the applique.  For some extras, I included a fat quarter of a strawberry print fabric, some adorable wood buttons, jelly beans, a gift card, and paper flowers.  I know my sister will enjoy it all!
14 Apr 14:38

Designing The Cover for The Audacity Gambit: Painting

by B. Zedan

Ah, dang, this was written before I kind of raced ahead of my planned goal dates. The release date for The Audacity Gambit is April 26th and links to preorder and see the cover are here.


I knew that the simple image of an arbour on fire wasn’t going to be the right thing for the final cover for The Audacity Gambit, but I wasn’t quite sure how to balance the imagery I wanted and the right look of a sort-of-New-Adult-Fantasy-novel. If I was someone who did more planning outside my head, here’s where I’d show you some cool thumbnails of concepts.

White box with grey text that reads "This space intentionally left blank."

But, that’s not the kind of person that I am, not for this sort of thing. I basically let things sit and ferment in my head for a while, until the base of an idea bubbled to the surface. What about flowers? Not like, rich oil painted florals or photos thick with petals grabbed from stock image sources. What I thought of were the kind of flowers I saw on decorative items in houses growing up. Simple petals done with simpler strokes, they were often more the idea of a specific flower than an accurate one.

Called “tole painting” in my grandma’s time and “one-stroke” by the time I was seeing shows about it on PBS, it’s a kind of decorative painting that has graced the sides of many a useless item in a house aspiring to country kitsch. Like many things, its value and history is diluted with a popularity and overproduction that caused it to be labelled “tacky.” But the same strokes were used to decorate enamelled boxes in the Victorian era as the ones on empty milk can catch-alls in the 90s. And today, the same strokes are used to amazing effect on nail art.

Besides, they were something I knew I could do and my strange little personal library had resources.

Pamphlet book titled "Decorative Painting: Tole and Dutch and Plain Jean, A Sampler"

YouTube does too (I particularly like this channel) and I spent some time reading and watching, practising the pleasantly simple movements. And, because I am always one to plunge into a new technique with little forethought, I pulled out paper and started painting the cover with literally no plan.
It absolutely should not have worked out as well as it did. I should have thought about the proportions of the cover, how I wanted to work text into it, where the dang arbour on fire was going to go. But I didn’t. I just painted.

Snapshot of yellow marigolds and various leaves painted on black paper.
The first layer of flowers


Mind you, I’ve been painting in one form or another for most of my life and spent a good chunk of high school apprenticed to a mural painter, so it’s not like I was going in completely blind. I was just relying on twenty years of practise to create good instinct. Which I guess is, in itself, good instinct.

The final painting was basically what I’d seen in my head and I cannot explain to you how rare that is, even when you’re doing something you have done for years and years. There’s always some variable that comes up and alters what you were picturing, giving you a perfectly good end result but never exactly the thing you pictured.

Yellow and orange marigolds, daisies and assorted leaves painted on black paper.


After I scanned the painting and laid it into the cover template, I was almost angry with how well it turned out (the folks at my Patreon have got a peek), but I feel like how nicely it came together was an absolute gift. Plus, I got to try a painting technique I’ve wanted to try for years, so that was a nice bonus.

The post Designing The Cover for The Audacity Gambit: Painting appeared first on B.Zedan.

10 Apr 14:57

Dear Internet Denizen,You may be interested in purchasing some...


I feel like I know some people this would be great for

Dear Internet Denizen,

You may be interested in purchasing some algorithmically-glitched apparel courtesy of the Glitch Logos bot. We have several fine designs available. They may cause people to remark, “That design is distressing to me.”

The Management

10 Apr 01:28

Your linguist name is your name but in IPA.

Your linguist name is your name but in IPA.

08 Apr 15:38

liskantope:While cycling today I had the most random thought: that it would be cool if a larger...


sounds like something Netflix could/would pick up...


While cycling today I had the most random thought: that it would be cool if a larger fraction of the populace were as interested in linguistics as I am, because then we could have TV documentaries like “Top 10 Most Extreme Phonologies” (which would have to include Hawaiian, Ubykh, and of course Pirahã).

“The Grice Is Right: Come on down and figure out which Gricean Maxims are relevant!”

“Girls: An extensive docu-drama of young women’s linguistic innovation from around the world”

“The X-bar Files” 

01 Apr 05:11

Emoji can be used like punctuation and T-Rex of Dinosaur Comics...

Emoji can be used like punctuation and T-Rex of Dinosaur Comics is ON IT. (Just wait till he finds out about about the upcoming dinosaur emoji.)

26 Mar 00:10

Watercolor Quilting Workshop

Last weekend I took part in a fun workshop at Handcraft Studio School in El Cerrito.  Watercolor quilting.  Yes, watercolor quilting.  It was so much fun!  We learned how to use special fabric dye to create an abstract watercolor painting on 10" squares of fabric.  Then we made a quilt sandwich and learned how to free-motion quilt using the painting as inspiration.  Some people did abstract quilting and some people made recognizable images, but they were all wonderful.  

I chose to stick to a single color in a couple shades, since I'm not too great at color mixing on the fly.  It was perfect, though, because it allowed me to really focus on the patterns that emerged from the paint and find interesting ways to emphasize certain shapes and lines.  The quilting on the back is just as interesting as the quilting on the front (maybe even more so since my paintings aren't that interesting).

Ashley, the instructor, is a professional quilter who teaches classes on Creativebug that are great for learning to make quilts.  In the workshop, she gave some tips on how to free-motion quilt without having to buy all the fancy tools, and recommended a few tools that she wouldn't want to do without.  She said the watercolor quilting class will appear on Creativebug sometime this year, so that is definitely something to be excited about!  I'll need some reminders for sure.
22 Mar 03:51

Dragon hound

by opusanglicanum

Just a small creature this week. I’m not sure he’d be much use at hunting dragons, he looks to me more like a spaniel who thinks he’s fierce.

I made two changes from the original ms, the first being the colour. I moved away from the original blue because he’s trotting along underneath a big blue horse, and that would have been too much blue. The second was that on the principle of blank space is a very bad thing in medieval art, I put a flower on the end of his tail. Although I’m not so sure it’s a flower, it could be a decorative version of those spiky clubs some dinosaurs had on the end of their tails?

Don’t ask me the name of the dinosaur though, it could have been Gilbert for all I know…

14 Mar 14:39

"On Cloud 9" - New Design Take One



So, here it is.  Version one of a new pattern I'm designing.  Despite all its imperfections and mistakes, I'm happy with the way it turned out.  The design uses a few very basic block designs, including "lazy angle," half square triangle, and whatever that clipped corner square is called.  My intention was to create a cloud hovering over a gradient sky, and I included both solids and prints to create dimension and interest.  Since this was mostly a learning/practice project to perfect the design, I'll mostly talk about its flaws (though you're free to admire its glowing qualities as well).

First off, the gradient went too light at the bottom left corner, making the cloud too difficult to see.  The easy fix, of course, is to start darker.  The next glaring mistake was in my initial mental calculation for how to cut and assemble the clipped-corner-square blocks.  After talking it over with my math teacher husband, I made a line graph that quickly and easily solved my problem, so version two will have perfectly matched seams.  Lastly, I ran out of one of the fabrics I had selected, which threw off my gradient in the top left corner and required a bit of muddling to get right again.  Next time, buy more fabric!

One thing I'm completely happy with is the quilting design.  The simple wavy lines, overlapping in random spots, adds some movement, like wind, so I can almost imagine the cloud can move across the fabric background.  I also love, love, love the bright yellow fabric print I chose for the binding.  It pops so nicely with the blue and aqua shades and adds a feeling of sunshine coming through the clouds.  

I think my next version will be a larger, maybe lap-size, quilt with a repeating cloud motif or just larger-scale single cloud.  Either way, it's a design I love that I will pursue as soon as I wrap up a few more projects in the coming weeks.  Meanwhile, I think this mini will become a thank-you gift for a woman who was, in a way, an integral part in the creation of this piece.  I hope she likes it as much as I do!
08 Mar 04:32

Let’s stop demonizing “filler words”

Let’s stop demonizing “filler words”:

Another article unnecessarily criticizing filler words, this time in the New York Times; another blog post debunking it, this time by Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein. Excerpt of the blog post:  

Among the many types of discourse markers are a subset sometimes known as verbalized pauses. People who are not linguists also call them “filler words” and “verbal crutches,” but those terms are misleading.

Why don’t we just get rid of them, the NYT article asks. After all, “verbal fillers that can make you sound, you know, nervous or not so smart.”


These kinds of pauses do give us time to think of what we’ll say next — but that’s not all they do. Compare the examples below with and without the discourse markers.

They allow us to soften disagreement or criticism by making it somewhat more polite.

  • The thing is, she worked really hard.
  • Um, it’s my not my favorite.

They emphasize whatever it is we’re going to say next.

  • My teacher is, like, a total nutjob.

They allow us to introduce delicate topics.

  • Sooooo, um, how are things at home?
  • Have you, ah, thought any more about counseling?

They communicate subtle nuances of emotional stance.

  • I’m feeling, you know, not too bad about that exam.

They allow us to indicate our degree of certainty.

  • I must have had, like, seven hundred pages of reading to do.
  • She was, I think, pretty pissed off.

As you can see, these discourse markers do an immense amount of important social and emotional work for us. They add nuance and richness to our speech. In fact, we can’t be socially appropriate human beings without them. Even if we got rid of particular markers — if we stopped saying um and so and like — we’d just end up using new ones in their place. […]

Mele writes: “Speakers who are well known in their professions but overuse verbal pauses are still perceived as credible because they have built a reputation. Audience members will chalk up those habits to just the way they talk, Ms. Marshall said. … But newcomers who use as many interjections as seasoned professionals will be seen as less credible because they do not have the years of experience.”

Yet he stops short of the obvious conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with using these words. The only people who are critiqued for using them are already low-status, and this critique helps maintain the low status of certain people and groups.

Read the whole post.

Previously: Alexandra D’Arcy on 800 years of “like”, teen girls as language distruptors, xkcd on quotative like and why linguists are hardcore.

06 Mar 16:20

malformalady: Given the chance, butterflies will eat blood....


Given the chance, butterflies will eat blood. Blood contains all manner of minerals and nutrients that are beneficial for most living organisms. It also contains a significant amount of sodium and glucose, two essential dietary blocks for most butterflies. Both of these are also found in fruit. It also contains a significant amount of sodium and glucose, two essential dietary blocks for most butterflies. Both of these are also found in fruit.

01 Mar 06:28

blue-mug:In my linguistics class we were talking about “insertion” which is basically when you say a...


In my linguistics class we were talking about “insertion” which is basically when you say a word and pronounce an extra letter or sound even though it’s not written in the word itself, to which my professor used the example of “hamster” because when you say it you pronounce a “p” even though it’s not written and this group of guys were going through an existential crisis because they couldn’t believe they said hamster with a “p” and one kid began to question everything in his life and it was beautiful

My favourite example along these lines is the hidden nasal sounds in English that you don’t even realize you’re producing. Everyone knows about /m/ and /n/ because they have distinct letters, but there’s also a sound that’s often written “ng” and yet not actually pronounced as n+g. For example, “ng” in “finger” is pronounced like “n+g” but “ng” in “singer” is a totally distinct sound (known as “engma” and written /ŋ/ in the IPA). 

Even more obscurely, /m/ is normally produced with a closure of the two lips, but when it’s found before /f/ or /v/, it gets pronounced with the teeth on the lips instead, just like /f/ and /v/ are, as in “comfort” or “symphony”. The IPA symbol for this is /ɱ/, and I don’t think it technically has a fun name, but I call it “emfma” by analogy with “engma” and every linguist I’ve said it to has understood me.

25 Feb 05:20

what people think linguistics is: i can speak 14 languages fluently

what people think linguistics is: i can speak 14 languages fluently
what linguistics actually is: god i love the consonant-vowel structure in polynesian languages
25 Feb 05:18

pochowek: beaky-peartree: remember when lol meant “laughing out loud” instead of “this is to...



remember when lol meant “laughing out loud” instead of “this is to indicate that this brief text isn’t hostile”

remember when lol meant “this brief text isn’t hostile” instead of “this brief text is in fact horrendously hostile and very passive aggressive”

There’s a linguistics paper about lol that explains both of these meanings!

14 Feb 16:07

The orgin and constraints of “shitgibbon” compounds


this analysis is very interesting

Today in hard-hitting linguistics research, the linguist blogosphere has been investigating shitgibbon and related words. 

Ben Zimmer starts off on Strong Language with an investigation into the origin and history of shitgibbon

Leach’s “fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon” was clearly inspired by MetalOllie’s “Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon” (which proved so popular you can even buy it on a mug). Shitgibbon has a lot going for it, with the same punchy meter as other Trumpian epithets popularized last summer like cockwomble, fucknugget, and jizztrumpet. (Metrically speaking, these words are compounds consisting of one element with a single stressed syllable and a second disyllabic element with a trochaic pattern, i.e., stressed-unstressed. As a metrical foot in poetry, the whole stressed-stressed-unstressed pattern is known as antibacchius.)

But shitgibbon didn’t originate with MetalOllie. Its early history has been traced by Hugo van Kemenade, a resourceful word researcher whose biggest claim to fame is finding the earliest known use of the word selfie in a 2002 Australian forum post. (He goes by @hugovk on Twitter and just “Hugo” elsewhere.) As Hugo shared on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange and Wiktionary, shitgibbon can be found all the way back in 2000 on music-related Usenet newsgroups.

EvilJam32, 21 Mar 2000,
Good luck and goodbye to the most sick-making, hypocritical bunch of shitgibbons i’ve yet encountered on the Web!

Later, Ben confirms the origin of shitgibbon

Breaking news! I’ve confirmed that the originator of “shitgibbon” is none other than David Quantick, writing for @NME in the late ‘80s.

Taylor Jones then takes us into what kinds of words can be variants of “shitgibbon”:

So, it’s not the fact of being a gibbon per se. Various other monkeys would work: vervet, mandrill, etc. However, crucially, baboons, macaques, black howlers, and pygmy marmosets are out.

Moreover, it’s not completely unlimited. Some words fit but don’t make much sense as an insult: cock bookshelf, fart saucepan (which I quite like, actually), dick pension, belch welder.

Others sound like the kind of thing a child would say: fart person! poop human! turd foreman!

Yet others are too Shakespearean: fart monger! piss weasel!

Clearly some words (waffle, weasel, gibbon, pimple, bucket) are better than others (bookshelf, doctor, ninja, icebox), and some just depend on delivery (e.g., ironic twat hero, turd ruler, spunk monarch, dick duchess).

For a while, I’ve been discussing vowels in insults with fellow linguist Lauren Spradlin. Note that when we talk about vowels, we mean sounds, not letters. Don’t worry about the spelling, try saying the below aloud. Spradlin has brought my attention to the importance of repeating vowels increasing the viability of a new insult of this form: crap rabbit, jizz biscuit, shit piston, spunk puffin, cock waffle, etc.

I would argue that having the right vowels actually gives you some leeway, so you can get away with following the first word with — gasp! —- a non-trochee! Be it an iamb (remember iambic pentameter?) as in douche-canoe, spluge caboose, or the delightfully British bunglecunt (h/t Jeff Lidz), or even more syllables: Kobey Schwayder’s charming mofo-bonobo.

Contrary to what Taylor has, I think “douchebaboon” would actually work just fine, for the same vowel-matching reason that “douchecanoe” works. (But “shitbaboon” and “shitcanoe” are both pretty bad, I agree.)

But unless the second word has a matching vowel (in which case all bets are off), I think we can systematically predict which trochees are going to be okay. Let’s group them and have a look. 

The good ones include: waffle, weasel, gibbon, pimple, bucket, biscuit, rabbit, piston, puffin, basket, whistle, helmet, blanket, mandrill, gopher, weevil, nugget, trumpet. 

And the not-so-great ones include: bookshelf, saucepan, doctor, ninja, icebox. 

Phonological constraints: trochee, CVCVC (+further optional consonants)

The good ones all seem to begin and end with a consonant (unlike ninja – and I’d argue that kitty, pizza, zombie, banjo, ascot, ankle, emu, inkhorn, office are equally bad). Extra consonants are okay in any position (lobster, blanket, vortex), but you need at least one in each. The only counter-example I’ve found here is “monkey”.

As I’ve been constructing examples, I’ve also been noticing that while assonance makes the compound really good (see douchecanoe), consonance seems to make it worse: I avoided pisspirate, fartfreedom, shitscholar. But perhaps this is a matter of taste – I can imagine someone liking pisspuffin or wankweasel. 

Morphological constraint: monomorphemic

The good examples are also all monomorphemic, at least to current English speakers. For example, “gibbon” isn’t gibb+on, and even though -et might once have been added to helm-, blank-, buck-, this is no longer transparent to English speakers. On the other hand, many of the rejected words are transparently composed of parts: book-shelf, sauce-pan, ice-box. 

Indeed, I can’t seem to find any compound that really works (jetpack, doorway, keyboard), although there are are lot of compounds in English and I certainly haven’t tried all of them. I wonder if this is some constraint against creating a (one-time, nonliteral) compound out of a word that’s already compounded. English is happy to entertain stacked transparent compounds (bathroom towel rack screw holder) but might have a harder time if the whole is supposed to be opaque. Counterexamples welcome here. 

Semantic constraint: non-human

That leaves us with “doctor”. It’s dubiously morphologically transparent: English speakers probably recognize -or from words like “actor”, but “doct” isn’t an English word by itself. But I think that’s a red herring – I’d argue that the important part here is that doctor already refers to a human (or human-like) entity. There’s something similarly weird about shitdentist, shitdemon, turdscholar, fartbarber, shitpirate, douchelawyer, and so on. 

There are two possible reasons that I can see for this constraint. One is confusion – if you call someone a shitdentist, do you mean that they’re a shitty dentist or a generically bad human being? Whereas if you call someone a shitweasel, they’re clearly not actually a weasel, so you must just be insulting them. To this end, the generic titles (shitmaster, turd duchess) seem to work better than specific professions, because we already have a tradition of ironically calling people titles, while we don’t have a tradition of ironically calling people doctors, lawyers, or other professions. 

But secondly, having your second word be an animal or an inanimate object dehumanizes the target of your insult, which is more insulting – as Taylor notes, the swear+title forms are probably ironic. [Update: it’s not that you can’t say, for example, assmaster or cockdoctor. It’s just that in the right context, they’re practically compliments.]

Abstract and mass nouns are also pretty weird for the opposite reason, because they’re hard to associate with a human at all (shitweather, shitlanguage, turdmonday, shitfreedom).

At any rate, since this now seems to be an active area of linguistics research, I think we need a name for this construction. I’m going to propose “shitgibbon compounds”. 

09 Feb 05:23

Focus Knob

Maybe if I spin it back and forth really fast I can do some kind of pulse-width modulation.
06 Feb 22:07

Linguists in the #ActualLivingScientist hashtag on twitter.


I tried with Adam the "can you name a living scientist" question and he got hung up on naming a "famous" one. Removing that constraint we still only had a few to name...

28 Jan 17:20

Check out Utopia Jam

by lauramichet

I don’t know how many people habitually read my blog anymore who don’t also follow me on twitter, but if you’re not on social media– I’m running an jam in February, and you should participate!

The jam is called “Utopia Jam,” and it’s for games which take place in or help imagine better worlds. Check out the jam page for more information about the subject matter.

For inspiration, we’ve cited artistic subcultures, books, movies, and TV shows which take place in optimistic futures. Star Trek, the Culture series, Solarpunk art, and Ursula LeGuin’s blurry “Hainish Cycle” are all examples of optimistic futurism.

I’m running this jam with Cat Manning and we’re going to be making a game for it together. So far, over 50 people have expressed interest in participating through, so it seems like the right jam at the right time.

26 Jan 07:05


With the right 90-degree rotation, any effect is a side effect.