Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Entries Tagged as 'language'

The Hieroglyphics of Vagabonds

February 12th, 2013 · No Comments

Last summer we marveled at the complexity of hobo pictographs, which we took to be a uniquely American phenomenon. But as this 1872 dictionary of slang from London makes clear, the tradition of wordless transient communication traces back to the Old World. In decidedly non-PC language, the author argues that this code was created by […]

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Incarceration is the Mother of Invention

November 26th, 2012 · 13 Comments

There are two things to marvel at in the Texas Prison Gangs Dictionary, which comes to us via the good folks over at Public Intelligence. The first is the incredible effort it took to document 168-pages worth of vocabulary that is expressly designed to be as indecipherable as possible. The second is the sheer linguistic […]

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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

June 21st, 2012 · 4 Comments

The great industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss is the man most responsible for preserving the art of hobo signs, which he chronicled in his 1972 masterwork Symbol Sourcebook. A good three decades after the end of the Great Depression, Dreyfuss tracked down the backstories for 60 of these signs, which hobos used to tip off their […]

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At Least He’s Not Pandering

January 9th, 2012 · 5 Comments

One should perhaps never be surprised by the nature of political discourse in a country where the Simon and Garfunkel song “Cecilia” was once banned. Yet there is still something rather jarring about a leader who willfully disparages his own populace, as Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika did last week: Mutharika challenged Malawians to appreciate […]

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Thuggee Slang

August 15th, 2011 · No Comments

It’s always interesting to note how much criminal slang, which is designed to defy common comprehension, eventually finds its way into the popular vocabulary. I believe this is a testament not only to the (arguably lamentable) glamour of transgression, but also to the accidental linguistic genius of those who rob and maim for a living. […]

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No Sense of Time

January 6th, 2011 · 1 Comment

I’ve recently taken a lot of comfort from this Paris Review Q&A with John McPhee, in which the non-fiction master confesses that his writing remains a day-to-day struggle. (Celebrities—just like us!) But while most of the interview is dedicated to the creative process and the occasional madness it engenders, there is also this dead-on snippet […]

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The Language Barrier

May 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

Bananas week ’round here, as we put the finishing touches on our addiction opus for Wired and prep for a much-needed vacation. (If anyone knows of must-see attraction on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, please advise.) So we’re gonna float into the weekend by reviving our Bad Movie Friday feature, which has been absent from these pages […]

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The Toothache Glyph

December 18th, 2009 · 2 Comments

With all the 2012 hooey certain to kick into ever-higher gear over the coming months, it’s worth taking a look back at how we learned of the Mayans’ paranoia in the first place. That means checking in with one of the great heroes of hieroglyphics decipherment, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, who first figured out that Mayan stelae […]

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The Benefits of Complexity

December 7th, 2009 · 9 Comments

We recently stumbled across the tale of the Choctaw code talkers, who were briefly employed by the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. Upon learning of their role in the conflict, we immediately wondered why the United States military opted to use Navajos rather than Choctaws during the wider war that followed a quarter-century […]

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First Contact: Hawaiians and the Written Word

October 28th, 2009 · 9 Comments

With your kind permission, we’d like to try something a little different with today’s installment of our occasional First Contact series: an account of a civilization’s initial experience with written language, rather than its introduction to an alien people. We initially planned on posting something about the development of the Hawaiian alphabet—we’ve long been fascinated […]

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Polyglot to the Extreme

September 17th, 2009 · 3 Comments

It’s basically impossible not to be bowled over by the abundance of languages in Papua New Guinea. Though the nation’s population clocks in at a shade less than six million souls, those residents speak a mind-boggling 830 languages. That’s enough to make PNG the most polyglot country on Earth, beating out runner-up Indonesia by 108 […]

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Esperanto of an Earlier Age

June 3rd, 2009 · 3 Comments

In our all-too-fleeting free time, we’ve been researching the development of Nigerian Pidgin (primarily so we can better understand the comedic stylings of Basketmouth). This exploration recently led us to another mash-up language: Solomon Islands Pijin, which shares some English influence but not much else with its Nigerian cousin. According to a leading Pijin scholar, […]

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Lingvo de Paco

March 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Several decades too late to the ballgame, I finally got around to watching Lawrence of Arabia last night, as part of my ongoing David Lean tour. An utter classic, of course, but one with significant flaws—chief among them the fact that all the Bedouins seemed to speak flawless English. I don’t recalls a single word […]

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The Upside of an Albatross

February 12th, 2009 · No Comments

Does having an unusual first name make you more prone to anti-social behavior than being a Tom, Dick, or Harry? And is there perhaps a rival study concluding that an unusual name makes you stronger? Were there are a lot of kids named “Genghis” back in early 13th-century Mongolia?

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U’kstapuc’e

February 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Since my Latgalian is tragically rusty, I can’t say for sure that the title of this post is, in fact, a vulgur term for anus. But according to the good folks over at YouSwear.com, u’kstapuc’e is precisely the word you should invoke upon being cut off by an aggressive driver in Daugavpils. More Latgalian curses […]

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