When did 'damn' become a naughty word?

The folks at Grammarphobia were asked this question and this was the opening excerpt from their response (click the link in the title for the full version):

When the word showed up in Middle English in the 14th century, “damn” was a verb meaning to condemn. It wasn’t until the 16th century that “damn” was used profanely.

English borrowed the term from Old French, but the ultimate source is the classical Latin damnāre or dampnāre, meaning to damage or condemn. (In fact, “condemn” ultimately comes from the same Latin source as “damn.”)

In Middle English, according to Oxford English Dictionary citations, “damn” had three related meanings: (1) to doom to eternal punishment; (2) to pronounce a sentence; (3) to denounce or deplore.

See also: The origins of the “black sheep”

Whiteness and racism aren't illnesses

a sign that says racism is a pandemic

I initially opted for a softer title but it was a life goal to be more active with my language back in 2016 or 2017 so there you go.

Three things popped up on my social feed today regarding the connection between whiteness and racism and the language of illness. In reverse order:

  1. An article called “Whiteness is a Pandemic” by Damon Young, referenced in this Kottke.org post of the same title.
  2. An Instagram story from Josh Rivers of Busy Being Black discussing his personal use of language linking white supremacy to illness
  3. This thread from Dr Subini which Josh had originally referenced from an Instagram screenshot post as a counterpoint to the above

Before I dive into anything else, it’s amazing how circumstances can connect through the power of the Internet. And yet that’s exactly what it was created for. Large networks of information rabbit holes that are never too far apart to be deemed coincidence.

Anyway, the final paragraph from Young’s piece for The Root:

White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it. I guess a vaccine could work, too. But we’ve had 400 years to develop one, so I won’t hold my breath.

It’s common to see racism and its structures to be represented that way and while I’ve not done it myself, I know many friends and family who have and haven’t argued against it. But then Josh Rivers mentioned how he’d used similar language before finding this Instagram post from Project LETS which referenced a Twitter thread by Dr. Subini Annamma, a Black Asian feminist and author of The Pedagogy of Pathologization: Dis/abled Girls of Color in the School-prison Nexus. Here’s the first tweet of it:

Fam, racism is not a virus. White supremacy is not a pandemic. Using illness & disability as a metaphor situates white supremacy & racism as passively spreading. These metaphors evade the way white supremacy & racism are purposefully built into structures & strategically enacted

Now this I can relate to. I understand the idea of white supremacy and racism like diseases in that they pervade society and you don’t always see it or can do little to prevent or cure it at all in large quantities. But viewing them as physical structures makes more sense because there are actual constructs that were built for the purpose of promoting white supremacy.

There is no vaccine for racism and knocking down buildings of oppression won’t solve the problem in and of itself. Instead, we tear those walls down and we clear the debris and we use those bricks to create the opposite. The work doesn’t stop because the buildings aren’t standing anymore.

(featured image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

36,336 versions of the 'I know a place' meme

Remember the X be like ‘I know a place’ and take you to a Y meme? Well, Darius Kazemi decided to create over 36,000 variations of it using ConceptNet, a semantic network designed to help computers understand the meanings of words.

As Darius says, there is probably some bad stuff in here but that just adds to the charm.

One of my favourites:

180 degrees be like ‘i know a place’ and take you to the corner


Meme related: Conflict in Literature with Daffy Duck and the opposite of ASMR.

Audrey Hepburn speaking Dutch in an interview from 1959

Audrey Hepburn in a rare 1959 interview speaking Dutch

Transcript via Direct Dutch Institute; footage via VRT Archive and thanks to Eyes on Cinema for uploading it.

Interviewer: Waar bent u geboren?

Audrey Hepburn: Hier in Brussel. Dat kan ik met heel veel vreugde aankondigen.

Interviewer: U spreekt zeer goed Nederlands met een tikje Hollands accent. Hoe komt dat?

Audrey Hepburn: Omdat mijn moeder Hollands is en ik de oorlog in Holland heb doorgebracht. Ik heb er acht jaar gewoond.

Interviewer: En bent u dan terug naar België gekomen?

Audrey Hepburn: Ik ben er een paar keer geweest, heel kort. Het is heerlijk er weer te zijn vandaag.

Interviewer: U bent een filmcarrière begonnen enkele jaren terug. Hebt u daarvoor een toneelklas gevolgd?

Audrey Hepburn: Ik heb gedanst. Ik ben mijn carrière begonnen als balletleerlinge in Holland en ben als balletleerlinge ook naar Londen gegaan in 1948. En toen langzamerhand – van het een kwam het ander – heb ik heel kleine rolletjes gespeeld en een enkele film in Londen en toen heb ik de opportuniteit gehad om ‘Gigi’ te spelen in New York in het theater en diezelfde jaar heb ik een test gemaakt voor ‘Roman Holiday’, dus. 1952 was een groot jaar voor mij.

Interviewer: Er waren verschillende actrices die zich hebben aangeboden voor die film.

Audrey Hepburn: Ja die zijn uitgezocht, nee die rol was niet voor mij bedoeld.

Interviewer: U hebt in Londen gewerkt . U hebt in New York gewerkt en u bent naar Hollywood gegaan. Heel different. Was dat zoals men leest in publicaties in dagbladen? Hoe was dat om in een paar woorden te zeggen?

Audrey Hepburn: Het is niet zoals men werkelijk in dagbladen leest. Daar is het altijd óf mooier óf niet zo mooi en ik moet zeggen dat ik erg veel ervan houd om daar te werken. Ik heb heel veel vrienden. Zoals u weet, de filmindustrie is al heel lang in Hollywood. Dus is er een heel hoog peil, een heel hoog professioneel peil. Ik weet niet of ik dat goed zeg…

Interviewer: Ja, u zegt dat zeer goed.

Audrey Hepburn: Ik vind het heerlijk. Ik werk er erg graag.

Interviewer: En is er een goede geest onder elkaar, onder de acteurs…

Audrey Hepburn: O ja, er is een hele ernstige geest. Het is jammer dat men dat niet vaker leest. Men leest vaker over… de dingen die gebeuren. Maar men leest zelden van die hele vroege ochtenden dat mensen opstaan en al heel vroeg in de studio zijn. En honderden en allemaal klaar staan om heel vroeg te werken en de hele dag lang heel serieus aan het werk te zijn en er heerst een hele ernstige atmosfeer omdat men zijn werk heel ernstig opvat.

Interviewer: Hebt u een bepaalde voorkeur voor een regisseur? U hebt gewerkt met Billy Wilder…

Audrey Hepburn: Eigenlijk niet. Ik heb ontzettend veel geluk gehad, zoals u weet, met de regisseurs waarmee ik heb mogen werken. En dat is het enige dat ik zeggen kan.

Interviewer: Parijs heeft in uw films een voorname rol gespeeld.

Audrey Hepburn: Ja is dat niet merkwaardig? Helemaal in mijn carrière. Ook in het theater. Want ‘Gigi’, zoals u weet, is van het Franse verhaal afkomstig van Colette. En het tweede stuk die ik met mijn man Mel Ferrer heb gespeeld was ‘Ondine’ van Jean Giraudoux. En in het verhaal ‘Sabrina’ kom ik uit Parijs en in ‘Funny Face’ ga ik naar Parijs. En er is vaak zoiets geweest. Het heeft me heel veel geluk gebracht.

Interviewer: U hebt uw man toch niet ontmoet in Parijs?

Audrey Hepburn: Nee dat niet.

Interviewer: Maar dat had dan toch ook een groot geluk geweest, ook al is hij niet afkomstig uit Parijs. Houdt u van muzikale films?

Audrey Hepburn: Ja, heel veel. Het is heerlijk om te werken met muziek almaar om je heen, wat men eigenlijk doet.

Interviewer: En de reden waarom u hier bent is natuurlijk de film ‘The Nun’s Story’ die voor een deel gedraaid is in België en voor een deel in Belgisch Congo. Hoe is Belgisch Congo meegevallen? Hebt u geen moeilijkheden ondervonden, kwestie van temperatuur…?

Audrey Hepburn: Helemaal niet. Ik zou het heerlijk gevonden hebben om interessant te mogen zijn en te zeggen: ‘oe, het was zo warm, ik viel iedere dag flauw’. Maar dat was niet zo. Het was heel warm en ik vind het fijn om dat te kunnen zeggen en het was wel ontzettend mooi. Ik zou dolgraag terug willen gaan. Mijn man kent het nog niet en ik zou dolgraag eens samen teruggaan. Ik vond het prachtig.

Interviewer: En de rol zelf, hoe is dat u meegevallen?

Audrey Hepburn: Het is een moeilijke rol. Moeilijk en ik heb heel hard gewerkt zoals iedereen. We hebben ons best gedaan. En ik hoop dat het zo zal aflopen dat het publiek ernaartoe gaat. En dan, weer, het is een ernstig onderwerp en ik hoop dat we het eer aangedaan hebben.

Interviewer: En dan een laatste, een klassieke vraag. Welke zijn de plannen?

Audrey Hepburn: Op het ogenblik heel weinig voor mij. Mijn man gaat een andere film regisseren dus wij gaan morgenochtend terug naar Los Angeles en dus hij gaat aan het werk en ik ga huishouden doen, net zoals alle andere vrouwen doen.

Interviewer: Ik wens u veel succes in uw carrière…

There are over a sextillion ways to spell 'viagra'

blue viagra pills

I’m asking for trouble putting that word in the title but I thought it was a quirky internet thing.

Rob Cockerham of Cockeyed.com discovered something unique about viagra emails:

Because internet marketers love teaching others about medicine and the alphabet, the word “Viagra” is always spelled in hot, new, creative ways. For example, it might have a lower case “L” in the space where a capital “I” would go, or perhaps an “@” symbol where the letter “a” should be.

After I received 80,730 different emails trying to sell viagra, I started to wonder: How many different ways are there to spell Viagra?

I began my quest by simply collecting the Viagra spellings that showed up in my email. In 12 days, I had 79.

With two single letter substitution and addition characters used between letters, he found 600,426,974,379,824,381,952 variations of the word ‘viagra’ (that’s over 600 quintillion).

But upon further inspection, Rob found more and managed to get up to 1,300,925,111,156,286,160,896 variations (that’s over 1.3 sextillion). Put into context, if each variation was a grain of sand, that’d be enough to cover ever beaches in the world (approximately). Also, sextillion… viagra… it was destiny!

Then that got me thinking: I wonder how many variations there are of ‘COVID’ or ‘COVID-19’? If anyone can be bothered to work it out, let me know!

Word related: The man who submited a 52,438 word dissertation without any punctuation and passed and the etymological debate around daughters and milking cows

The news told in 6 languages

philip crowther and elmo

Philip Crowther is a reporter for the Associated Press and he covered the Capitol insurrection in 6 languages last week.

  • French
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • German
  • Luxembourgish

And if you wanted to know what “the news” was in those languages?

  • Les nouvelles (French)
  • The news (English)
  • Las noticias (Spanish)
  • As notícias (Portuguese)
  • die Nachrichten (German)
  • d’Neiegkeeten (Luxembourgish)

And shout out to all the polyglots out there who could do this as a means of survival.

See also: Viggo Mortensen speaking 7 languages and 2 polyglots speaking 21 languages to each other

Amen and awoman

women praying

To paraphrase Ross Geller, congresspeople say all kinds of… stuff.

On 4th January, The New York Post reported on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver closing Congress’s opening prayer with the phrase “amen and awoman”:

May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace,” Cleaver said during his two-minute invocation, “peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber.

We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.

I’m no stranger to this kind of gendered prayer; the God interlude from OutKast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below uses a similar variation:

Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry

But that was in jest. Cleaver meant what he said. Victor Mair from Language Log dissected the utterance, with etymologies of the word “amen” and, for those who didn’t know, it isn’t connected to the word “man” in any way.

Old English, from Late Latin amen, from Ecclesiastical Greek amen, from Hebrew amen “truth,” used adverbially as an expression of agreement (as in Deuteronomy xxvii.26, I Kings i.36), from Semitic root a-m-n “to be trustworthy, confirm, support.”

There’s something to be said about the trustworthiness, confirmation, support of men but that’s for another day. Needless to say, you don’t need to feminise the word “amen” but what Congress should do is make women’s lives better—especially women of colour—with better legislation for their rights and their bodies.

Doom Haikus, sponsored by 2020

edvard munch's scream

Doom Haikus is a collection of “gloomy haikus” and its origin story is simple:

Everyday* in 2020, we posted the top news stories to Mechanical Turk, asking turkers to respond with a 5, 7, 5 syllable haiku. These are the results.


And those results are “about 2,000 people” who responded with over 2,700 haikus, “forever memorializing the worst year of our lives, as anxious sets of 5, 7, 5 syllables.”

Here’s one from January I thought was funny:

AOC Makes Claim
Joe Biden is too Centrist
She is Progressive

There’s been a lot of discourse around doomscrolling and the physical and mental drain on us but these doom haikus seem almost… cathartic? They don’t solve the issues we have faced, are facing, or will face but they try to make sense of things, even for 17 syllables.

Viggo Mortensen speaking 7 languages

Viggo Mortensen

tl;dr: Viggo Mortensen speaks English, Spanish, Danish, French, Italian, Catalan, and Arabic

We’ve featured a few polyglots on Cultrface, from the Black man speaking Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and Arabic to supermarket shoppers to a couple of guys sharing 21 languages between them.

But this is arguably the most high-profile example of a polyglot we’ve featured so far and it’s none other than Oscar-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen.

In the video below, we see Mortensen speaking 7 languages:

  • English
  • Spanish
  • Danish
  • French
  • Italian
  • Catalan
  • Arabic

It’s a joy to hear, especially with the natural accent and inflexions. This is likely nothing new to some but I was none-the-wiser (he’s also an author, musician, poet, photographer and painter).

Viggo Mortensen Speaking 7 Languages

Daughters, milking cows, and etymological debates

An Indian woman milking a cow

Victor Mair wrote a very in-depth piece on the etymological origins of the word “daughter” and its connection to milking cows.

I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that’s reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as “daughter” — at least in the popular imagination.

The etymology of ‘daughter’

Upon further investigation, Mair traced “daughter” back to its roots, via Middle English, Old English, Proto-West Germanic, Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and finally Vedic Sanskrit—duhitṛ (“one who milks”).

But rather than take Wikitionary’s word for it, Mair posed two questions to a host of linguists:

  1. Is that analysis reliable?
  2. Is duhitṛ cognate with “daughter”?

Enter a mixed bag of responses for and against the cognate connection. I won’t list them all here but if the answers were on a spectrum, every part of it would be covered but here are two extremes:

duhitṛ is indeed cognate with Eng. daughter. While I’m no kind of Indo-Europeanist, I do recall hearing that connecting it with √duh, dogdhi, etc. is spurious. But I don’t have any references to hand.

Whitney Cox—Associate Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago

Vedic duhitár- does NOT mean ‘one who milks’! That’s a 19th-c. myth that was exploded generations ago.

Don Ringer—American linguist, Indo-Europeanist, and Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania

Read the article over at Language Log and choose your own etymological adventure. And if you’d prefer articles on milk from other animals, check out pule, made from donkey milk, and cheese made from moose milk.

Talking loud and spreadin' COVID

a person shouting

Language Log found a 2019 science paper that offers a different angle on airborne transmission of COVID-19.

Titled “Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness”, the paper comments on sneezing and coughing having a traditionally emphasised role in the airborne spread but speech is just as bad, if not worse when speech gets louder.

Nonetheless, it has long been known that normal speech also yields large quantities of particles that are too small to see by eye, but are large enough to carry a variety of communicable respiratory pathogens. Here we show that the rate of particle emission during normal human speech is positively correlated with the loudness (amplitude) of vocalization, ranging from approximately 1 to 50 particles per second (0.06 to 3 particles per cm³) for low to high amplitudes, regardless of the language spoken (English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic).

So don’t shout and bawl, but if you must, wear a mask while you do it.

The origins of the "black sheep"

A black sheep amongst white sheep

Ever wondered where the term “black sheep”, to denote a bad character, came from? Well, language blog Grammarphobia answered that very question but not before taking a counterquestion first:

Q: You say the phrase “black sheep” has been used to mean a bad character since the 17th century. That might be true, but it’s only the result of an even earlier meaning. “Black sheep” is actually a very old weaving term. Black sheep were considered unlucky because you couldn’t dye the wool any other colors.

Grammarphobia couldn’t find any instance of that terminology before or after the bad character definition but suggested a possible link with the “disreputable usage”:

The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest example of “black sheep” meaning a bad character is from a 17th-century religious treatise about the conversion process in Congregational churches of New England:

“Cast out all the Prophane people among us, as drunkards, swearers, whores, lyers, which the Scripture brands for blacke sheepe, and condemnes them in a 100. places.”

They then go further back to the 16th century biblical texts and a passage from the 2013 edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms which suggested that the use of “black sheep” for a person of bad reputation was “based on the idea that black sheep were less valuable than white ones because it was more difficult to dye their wool different colors.”

But a direct link between them? Nothing concrete but not totally implausible. Finally, Grammarphobia discussed the general etymology of “black” as a negative descriptor which would tie the two concepts together, albeit with loose string.

I can still remember the faux debate between White people over the alleged banning of singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. You can’t say anything these days. Or in 1997.

Black polyglot speaks Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic

Black polyglot speaks Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic

Konnichiwa! That’s both a morning greeting in Japanese and one of the few Japanese words I know (the rest are swear words). But for Moses “Mouse” McCormick, that word is a drop in the ocean.

Moses “Mouse” McCormick is a self-taught polyglot and foreign language teacher from the US. His YouTube channel features candid videos where he surprises people who don’t speak English as a first language. The shock is amplified by the fact that Mouse is Black and, thanks to white supremacy, Black people aren’t expected to speak anything but English or “African” (because there are thousands of African languages but people are ignorant. Rant over, back to the show).

In this particular video, How to Speak/Practice a language #98, Mouse speaks a number of languages and seemingly makes some people happy.

Some of the languages he speaks include:

  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Cantonese
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Portuguese
  • Vietnamese
  • Twi
  • Somali
  • Arabic
  • Hindi

It does get a little uncomfortable at times. After 5 minutes, he speaks to a man from Egypt who is initially reluctant to reveal where he’s from. But after Mouse explains why he’s asking, he busts out the Arabic and impresses the man.

Most people think that I have a special gift to learn languages. What I’d say that I have most is an open mind, motivation, and patience to learn a language. Using my FLR language learning method, you too can have conversations in different languages as well. If you’d like to really learn a new language, try my FLR language learning course out!

Stream the video below and check out his channel.

How to Speak/Practice a language#98

Colin Jackson's Welsh language journey

colin jackson

I love Colin Jackson.

I grew up watching him dominate athletics in the 110m hurdles and, as a Black boy seeing a Black man with a similar skin tone and body shape as me bossing it amongst his peers was super inspiring. Even in adulthood, I enjoy listening to his punditry and commentary for the BBC. So while looking up clips of his old races, I found this 15-minute video detailing his journey through the Welsh language.

Colin Jackson was born in Cardiff in 1967 but his understanding of Welsh fell by the wayside during school as he explains in the video.

We had Welsh as Welsh lessons from the age of four, so I heard Welsh quite a lot. When I went from primary to secondary school, French and German were the language that was introduced to us then and I thought to myself well I’ll try something new and that’s when I completely lost the grasp of Welsh.

With the help of his mentor, Eleri Siôn, Colin practised his Welsh speaking skills in the best way possible – by immersing himself in Welsh culture. He taught school kids how to do hurdles, did a radio interview, showed off his dancing skills, and commentated on youth indoor athletics competition—all in Welsh.

Besides the fact it’s Colin Jackson, I found this so inspiring as an aspiring polyglot. I’ve been learning Portuguese for the past 3 years and while I’m nowhere near Colin’s level with Welsh, it was comforting to see his journey and I’ll be back on Duolingo from today, I promise!

Stream it below, or as they say in Wales, ffrydiau video isod.

Colin Jackson's Welsh Language Journey