The industrious polymath John Cowan, intrigued by the seemingly inevitable drift away from the announced topic here at LH, has done a post about it at his own blog, Recycled Knowledge, saying, “just to show off how drifty the topics can be, I grabbed most of last year’s postings and reduced them to just the first and last sentences (where “last” means “last sentence on the last comment”), and presented them here in chronological order from January to December.” I’m enjoying working my way down the list; my favorites so far:

People keep sending me this BBC story, “Last speaker of ancient language of Bo dies in India,” so I guess I’d better post it. […] He sounded a bit nervous in the interview.
John Emerson sent me a link to a NY Times article by Ellen Barry about the complex relationships among the peoples of Dagestan, one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth. […] How many times can a male cow be castrated?


  1. If the topic of this posting is topic drift, then topic drift in this posting would be on-topic, and therefore not actually topic drift.
    All Cretans are liars!

  2. Even the spam is on-topic!

  3. Yes but how many times have you tried using pieces of orange-peel as temporary bookmarks in Finnish incunables?

  4. I knew a Cretan who did that, and then denied it.

  5. How many times can a male cow be castrated?

    Dunno ’bout bulls, bullocks and bollocks, but I liked my vasectomy so much, that I’m having a second one.

  6. I don’t subscribe to that paradox—to speak about topic drift is on-topic, but to actually drift the topic is not (since then you wouldn’t be speaking about topic drift anymore). Unless you drift on purpose for meta-humor, which is what’s happening here. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the topic of “topic drifting” proves to be ironically impervious to drifting: people will post all sorts of random remarks pretending to be drifting, only for the next commenter to bounce back to the topic of topic drifting.

  7. We don’t need to pretend; I was slightly irritated by Leonardo Boiko’s pouring cold water – who is this Mr Cleverclogs presciently spoiling my fun, I said to myself – anyway, when I clicked on his name, I found that he has started a beautiful and very interesting blog about Japanese brush calligraphy; at least, I think and hope that’s what it is, there are only three entries so far, perhaps he’ll tell us more.

  8. I don’t subscribe to that paradox
    You seem to be familiar with the genre nonetheless – perhaps from reading free copies in doctors’ waiting rooms ? Your deployment of the “meta” interpretation shows that you know at least one standard technique for “resolving” certain paradoxes.
    The general topic of “paradoxes” and “resolving” is even more interesting, especially when (as always ?) the paradoxes take the form of an idea or distinction applied to itself – autological paradoxes such as “Is truth (always) true ?”, or “Is good (always) good ?”. It would be a pity if, in our hurry to “resolve” such paradoxes, we failed to consider why we think they need “resolving”, and what is involved in “resolution”.

  9. This sentence is true.

  10. Can you prove that ?

  11. This sentence refers to every sentence that doesn’t refer to itself.

  12. This sentence refers only on Mondays to any sentence that doesn’t always refer to itself.

  13. Thanks AJP! The new blog was supposed to be about Japanese language and literature and whatnot, but the calligraphy thing is getting such a warm reception that I’m preparing a series of posts on the topic.

  14. Is Occam’s razor applicable to itself?

  15. There’s a risk it might get nicked, and then you would have to report it to the police.

  16. And the police are suppose to protect everybody who doesn’t protect himself, is that it?

  17. Ah, there’s no slipping past you, empty !

  18. Of course not, Grumbly. Nobody can.

  19. But one can believe it by faith, or disbelieve it by skepticism. Which you prefer is a matter of temperament.

  20. Good!

  21. Conrad: I remember in childhood I read a Finnish book that said all mothers know how to make teeth out of orange peel. But my mother said she didn’t know how. Is this because she isn’t Finnish?

  22. “[Mundine] tried to ambush us with their hangers-on and goombas but I’m not going to back down from anyone.”

  23. Wiktionary has this to say about goombah:
    Probably originates from the Neapolitan cumpà, (Italian compare and the Sicilian cognate, cumpari, akin to Spanish compadre), and literally means “godfather,” but used to denote “friend.” To an English-speaking ear, the unaspirated stops of Southern Italian (especially Neapolitan) are interpreted as voiced stops, yielding “goombah.”

  24. Andrew Dunbar says

    Those who are familiar with the popular programmers’s question and answer site StackOverflow would surely be interested to know that there is a proposal for a sister site on the topic of languages that has just entered its “commitment” phase.
    The Spam filter wouldn’t let me post the URL in this comment but a search for “languages area 51 stack exchange” should take you there.

  25. That’s weird. Let me try posting it… OK, it turns out the problem was “,” so I’ve removed it from the blacklist. Here’s the URL:

  26. Do Americans really pronounce the first syllable of “character” like the word “care”? British and Australians don’t – what about in other Englishes?

  27. @Andrew: Are you talking about the Mary-marry(-merry) merger?

  28. @Andrew — I pronounce that syllable that way, yes.

  29. So do I.

  30. At risk of overusing Topic Drift, have many of our regulars partaken of this crowd-sourced Q&A site on English language and usage?
    As well as the fun of both asking and answering questions it’s kind of fun to see the interactions of descriptivists and prescriptivists and mavens and armchair experts in an environment where they want to win debates but don’t want to endanger their reputation points by getting argumentative or rude.

  31. Never saw it before — thanks!

  32. Are any of the phrases “God willing”, “deo volente”, and “إنشالله‎” calques of one another?

  33. I doubt it; they’re perfectly natural expressions of religious sentiment, just as “good day” is a natural way to greet somebody.

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