Don’t Judge a Product by its Name

In marketing, deciding product's name is the first big step to letting the world know why it needs that particular item. Unfortunately, the language barrier sometimes presents its own obstacles and sends an unintended message to the rest of the world. Consider some of the following products, whose names do not lend themselves well to... Continue Reading →

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A Word for the Next Time You Drive

Have you ever been at a loss for words because of the bad driving skills of another motorist? The Germans have come to the rescue with deppenfahrerbeaugung. It literally translates as "moron driver eyeballing" and refers to the look you want to give to the bad driver you have just encountered.

Did One Wrong Word Cause the Hiroshima Bombing?

Readers of Commonplace will not be surprised to learn that one little mistranslation from one language to another can be embarrassing. Whether it is one misplaced letter when cheering General Douglas MacArthur, an incompetent interpreter for a US President, or slip of a tongue during an word of encouragement from a member of the royal family, one... Continue Reading →

Don’t be a Flipperförälder

We've all seen them. They tend to show up at supermarkets, airports, and movie theaters, and they make life miserable for everyone else. I'm speaking, of course, of the parents who do absolutely nothing to supervise the little terrors who are their children. In Sweden there is a word that beautifully describes this sort of... Continue Reading →

Learn This Word Before Your Next Visit to a Pet Store

Have you ever been at a loss to describe your feelings when you see an utterly adorable kitten or a supremely-cuddly puppy? If you lived in the Philippines, you wouldn't struggle. In the Tagalog language gigil describes a trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control. It’s been... Continue Reading →

The Dragon that Almost Ended the Lord of the Rings

English is a language of exceptions, with few concrete rules. When it comes to adjectives, however, there is a very specific hierarchy most English speakers know, instinctively, must be followed to avoid utter confusion. Those rules may be broken only at great risk -- including the risk of derailing one of the greatest literary geniuses in history.... Continue Reading →

English is Hard, But Can Be Understood Through Tough Thorough Thought Though

Although English is not the hardest language to master (see this post for ten languages that are even harder), it frequently presents problems, even for its native speakers. Consider the problem with writing the sentence, "I never said she stole my money." What meaning are you attempting to convey? There are seven different meanings the... Continue Reading →

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