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Chi Luu

Chi Luu is JSTOR Daily’s resident linguist. She 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.

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.
A tray of pigs in a blanket.

Putting Words in Your Mouth: The Whimsical Language of Food

Many whimsically named regional foods focus instead on telling a story that often sounds neither delicious nor sophisticated. How do such odd names stick?
McCain giving an interview to the press on April 24, 1973, after his return from Vietnam. Photo by US News and World Report.

Language Loss in a Time of War

War happens when words no longer work. Yet war is declared at the very point when words are at their most powerful. Chi Luu examines language loss in war.
Violette Personified NYPL Collections

Personification Is Your Friend: The Language of Inanimate Objects

So it entirely slipped my mind that Lingua Obscura recently turned one (yay!) and is now a veritable ...

Do You Even Language, Bro? Understanding Why Nouns Become Verbs

Understanding the phenomenon known as "verbing"--where nouns are turned into verbs. 

The Linguistics of Mass Persuasion Part 2: Choose Your Own Adventure

How politicians use language to manipulate the public and sway them toward particular world-views. 
Stop trying to make fetch happen

The Linguistics of Mass Persuasion: How Politicians Make “Fetch” Happen (Part I)

Inspired by the Gretchen famous line in the film Mean Girls, Chi Luu explores how politicians mobilize language to sway public opinion.
Flag of the Klingon Empire

Why We Love to Learn Klingon: The Art of Constructed Languages

Constructed languages like Klingon excite us because they enable us to actively participate in foreign or "alien" cultures. 
The word of the year, face with tears of joy emoji.

Can an Emoji Ever Be a Word?

You might be forgiven for thinking that the merry band of lexicographers at Oxford Dictionaries were trolling us ...
People enjoying their evening on a beach on Honolulu, Hawaii.

Mele Kalikimaka! How To Say “Merry Christmas” In Hawaiian

Translating "Merry Christmas" into Hawaiian offers insight into the language's modest inventory of consonants.
Time is money.

It Turns Out Ordinary Life is Full of Poetry (Metaphorically Speaking)

The metaphor isn't just a literary device; it informs our conceptual understanding of language and the world.
Speech Bubbles

When Actions Are Words

How certain speech acts perform actions and alter our social reality.
Portrait of William Shakespeare

Linguistic Anarchy! It’s all Pun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Sign

The pun is in an interesting bind: it is both ubiquitous and reviled. We try to understand why.

More Hipster Than Thou: Is Vintage Language Back in Vogue?

A look at the recent boon in archaic terms and its relationship to "hipster" culture.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Syllables Without Vowels? Pfft, Inconceivable!

Is the syllable universal? Maybe. We look at how languages use (and don't use) syllables, and what this says about language itself.

Migrants, Refugees, and Expats: How Humanity Comes in Waves

The language we use for people fleeing their home nations may define them as less than human.

Yas Queen! It’s the Spelling Reform School for Wayward Words

Debates over English spelling reform have existed for centuries.