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Chi Luu

Chi Luu is a computational linguist and NLP researcher who tinkers with tiny models and machines to uncover curious mysteries in human language. She has degrees in Theoretical Linguistics and Literature, with a morbid focus on dead and dying languages. She has worked on dictionaries, multi-language search engines, and question answering applications.

Unabomber words

Fighting Words With the Unabomber

Some of the world's most baffling criminal cases were solved thanks to some seemingly harmless point about language. Take the Unabomber, for example.
Declaration drafting

When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?

By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, did colonial Americans still sound like their British counterparts?
Woman thinking

The Science of Thingummyjigs (and Other Words on the Tip of Your Tongue)

What is actually happening when you can't think of the word you mean? It's called Tip of the Tongue syndrome and yes, it's been studied.
gift or poison

Friend or Faux? The Linguistic Trickery of False Friends

"False friends" appear or sound like words in their own language, but have different meanings in others. They give us insight into how language changes.
young women talking

The Totally “Destructive” (Yet Oddly Instructive) Speech Patterns of… Young Women?

Two years ago, this column sprang into life by enthusiastically wading into the absurdly long-running debate about some ...
talk therapy

When Language Can Cure What Ails You

Healthy talk is often promoted as the way for us to become even better humans. But is talking about our health always a key to actual better health?
Trump mouth

The Language Wars

As a society becomes increasingly unstable, linguistic innovation happens more rapidly.
Dr. Evil

Very British Villains (and Other Anglo-Saxon Attitudes to Accents)

What do peoples' accents really reveal about them? The villainous British accent crystallizes the love-hate special relationship between the US and the UK.
Murió la Verdad (The Death of Truth)

The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World

2016 was certainly an unstable time in history. Even the way we use language to convey our collective fears about the state of society seems fractured.
Copenhagen

The Cozy Linguistics of Hygge and Other “Untranslatable” Words

Why English speakers love "hygge" and other "untranslatable" words about emotional states.
Double exposure image of woman, imagination concept

Synesthetic Adjectives Will Make You Eat Your Words

Fragrant. Sweet. Tangy. Certain synesthetic adjectives actually trigger cognitive simulations of eating.
Nasty Woman Mug

Bad Language for Nasty Women (and Other Gendered Insults)

Is it true that "nasty" is more likely to be applied to describe women than men?
Fresh vegetables salad on wooden table

The Nitty-Gritty on Reduplication: So Good, You Have to Say it Twice.

Reduplication is a widespread linguistic process in which a part or an exact copy of a word is repeated, often for morphological or syntactic reasons (but not always).
Parrot

What the Folk? The Charming Yet Totally Malappropriate Story of Folk Etymology

Etymology is a funny thing. Even if you're not a word nerd, you might have wondered why so many English idioms we use are Just. So. Weird.
imessage punctuation

The Strange Life of Punctuation!

Punctuation is often a symbolically loaded. Is there anything else so heavily regulated, codified and coddled as the period, comma, or exclamation point?
Arrival film

Is Writing a Technology or a Language? Let’s Ask Some Aliens

Are written and spoken language really two different things? 
Newspaper cutouts

How Does the Language of Headlines Work? The Answer May Surprise You.

How headlines have changed as media has evolved -- and how they haven't.
Mister Splashy Pants

The Linguistics of Other People’s Pants (and Other Dishonorific Epithets)

The linguistics behind "dishonorifics." In this kind of naming construction, clearly honorifics are added in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek way.
Mrs. Malaprop

The Monstrous Words Lurking in Your Language

“You have hissed all my mystery lectures. I saw you fight a liar in the back quad; in ...
The Tornadoes

The Linguistics of My Next Band Name

Why do certain combinations of words make good band names? Linguistic research points to "semantic space."
Portland, OR sign

How to Navigate by Nostalgia: The Linguistics of Place Names

Place names are often intimately tied to nostalgia and history.

The Deafening (((Echoes))) of Marked Language

What is marked language, and what does it have to do with the online hate speech of anti-semitic "Echoes" on Twitter?

In Which We Get to the Bottom of Some Crazy-Ass Language

Strong language has a unique place in linguistics. 
Commencement vocab visualization

The Delightful Language of Commencement

Commencement speeches have inspired, motivated and captivated many. Just what makes the words found in them so wonderful and life-affirming? 
Mr. Bumble, full-length, standing, facing left, pointing with right hand. Illus. in: The Characters of Charles Dickens pourtrayed (sic) in a series of original water colour sketches by "Kyd", color lithograph, Raphael Tuck & Sons, London, ca. 1899.

Charles Dickens and the Linguistic Art of the Minor Character

Charles Dickens' characters are famous for their elaborate, often hilarious names. Even for bit parts, Dickens' naming conventions were linguistically rich.