This week, the nuanced — and sometimes not so nuanced — world of diplomatic insults: we hurl a few your way, coutesy of Hugo Chavez, Hillary Clinton and Winston Churchill. There’s also an overheated exhange in the British parliament between then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock, which goes something like this: insult (Thatcher), outraged indignation (Kinnock), quasi-retraction (Thatcher).
We follow this with news of so-called click languages. My colleague David Cohn has been finding out about these and he’s posted some thoughts and links in the science section of The World’s website. Here’s the headline: linguists have figured out how to decipher and classify clicks— and some languages have a huge number of of them. Just as well that the linguists are discovering this now. Some of these languages are about to kick the bucket. You can listen to the sounds of one of them here.
Next up, that underestimated vegetable the cucumber. Norwegian is one of several languages (Dutch, Polish and German are others) that appropriate the word cucumber to describe what we English speakers call silly season. That’s the time of the year — now, as it happens — when we in the news media resort to covering shark attacks, dogs reunited with their owners, and astronauts’ underwear. (Actually, we do these stories year-round, but during the silly season, they wind up on the front page). Norwegians and others supposedly put cucumber harvest season on their front pages. No wonder newspapers are in trouble.
Finally, many French fans of Harry Potter novels read the books in English. Or at least they did before the books were translated into French.