1) From xkcd (“The blag of the webcomic”), Washington’s Farewell Address Translated into Everyday Speech:

I’ve often heard that Washington’s ‘Farewell Address’ — the speech he sent out (in written form) to a bunch of papers at the end of his second term — is important… Having never read the whole thing, I thought it would be interesting to go through and try to transcribe it into some sort of casual modern speech. I wouldn’t try to recreate the prose and would probably miss out on subtleties and shades of meaning (and no doubt occasionally miss the point completely), but at least I’d get the idea of what he was talking about.

It’s perhaps a little more casual than it needed to be (“Sup” is not a promising beginning), but on the whole it’s a good read, and let’s face it, the original can be a slog. (Via Mark Liberman’s Language Log post.)

2) The Climatological Database for the World’s Oceans 1750-1850 (CLIWOC) has put out the CLIWOC multilingual meteorological dictionary, An English-Spanish-Dutch-French dictionary of wind force terms used by mariners from 1750-1850 (abstract; here‘s the pdf file of the whole book):

This dictionary is the first attempt to express the wealth of archaic logbook wind force terms in a form that is comprehensible to the modern-day reader. Oliver and Kington (1970) and Lamb (1982) have drawn attention to the importance of logbooks in climatic studies, and Lamb (1991) offered a conversion scale for early eighteenth century English wind force terms, but no studies have thus far pursued the matter to any greater depth. This text attempts to make good this deficiency, and is derived from the research undertaken by the CLIWOC project1 in which British, Dutch, French and Spanish naval and merchant logbooks from the period 1750 to 1850 were used to derive a global database of climatic information.

It’s one of those insanely specific projects that warms my heart even if I’ll never have any actual use for it, and I love the first entry in the English section: “baffling airs” (which “refers to winds of changeable direction”). (Thanks, Charles!)

3. Nizo’s Blog is “The musings of a Palestinian living in Montréal” who writes entries in English, Arabic, French, German, and Hebrew. I’m awed; I can read a number of languages, but I’d never dare blog in anything but English. I particularly call your attention to his entry “Naughty Grandma Expressions,” which describes how he infuriated his grandmother by inadvertently sitting on “un-baked manakeesh, pizza-like pastries topped with olive oil, zaatar, cheese, peppers,” eliciting an angry “koom! koss immak!” [Get up! your mother’s vagina!], and ends with a list of the “colorful and uncouth” idioms he’s heard from his grandparents over the years, such as:

“As (small as) a scorpion’s vagina” Ad Koss el Akrabeh
Used when complaining about a tight space such as a small room.
Illustration: “Get out of my kitchen; can’t you see it’s as small as a scorpion’s vagina?”

(Thanks, Kobi!)


  1. I was surprised by the number of people in the Washington address comments thread who paid lip-service to the quality of the writing in the original while recognising the need to update it.
    1792 isn’t that long ago. The original is intractable because it’s an incredibly turgid piece of prose, however important the ideas might be.

  2. Well, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it certainly ain’t limpid. But nobody’s proposing replacing it; the modernized version is just an enjoyable way to take a fresh look at a revered old document that can make our eyes glaze over.

  3. dearieme says

    Folksy sayings in English don’t generally use “vagina”.

  4. I assure you, the Arabic is much folksier!

  5. “Vagina” is not the translation I would have picked for “Koss”, I think the “c-word” is closer to the tone of the Arabic. But thanks for keeping this blog family friendly.

  6. I’m reminded inevitably of the expression “tighter than a gnat’s chuff”.

  7. thanks for keeping this blog family friendly.
    Actually, I was just quoting Nizo’s translations, so thanks go to him.

  8. I suggested “pussy” over there. Less offensive than the c-word, but colloquial.

  9. But isn’t “Koss” highly offensive? Or is it perhaps less offensive in Palestine than elsewhere? Sort of the way the c-word appears to be far less offensive in the UK than in the US.

  10. Languagehat, thanks for posting about my blog!
    Vanya, whether “koss” is offensive or not depends on the context. It can be used angrily against someone who cuts you off on the highway, as well as jokingly among friends. My granny uses it all the time, so it’s been demystified for the rest of us. When she’s really angry she typically utters curses that involve a horde of locusts or sulfuric acid.

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