Editor at Large Policy Politics Subject-Specific

Fielding Media Inquiries

This is why today’s entry is so short.

Booklist Editor at Large Subject-Specific

World Atlas of Language Structures

Today I’m making an exception to the usual anglo-centrism of my blog, for a very good reason:

The World Atlas of Language Structures is now online.

Think about it. Over 2,500 languages with over 6,500 references, and all of them treated equally. Thanks to the Max Planck Digital Library and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, both in Germany, you can browse through as many languages as you like for free.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll find at

number of consonants (from 6 to 122), presence of rare sounds like ö and ü, tone systems, gender categories, plural formation, number of cases, verbal future and past forms, imperatives, word order, passives, numerals, colour terms, writing systems, and more

I predict that linguaphiles everywhere will be jumping on this one. Paging languagehat!

The full press release is here.

Editor at Large Politics Subject-Specific

One-Joke Post

As research on disoriented vs. disorientated continues, I bring you this sign of the times. I received the e-mail below from the professional translators’ association I belong to on the Internet:

Dear Community, invites you to the first online “Introduction to Bankruptcy Terminology” course.

This course offers a one-on-one, 3 hour online training session on bankruptcy translation, covering the largest areas of the topic.

Wow. Is the global picture really that bleak?

Editor at Large Spoken English Subject-Specific

“Harden the Quangle-Wangle!”

An excellent article about the experience of learning a new technical vocabulary. From the New York Times.

Apologies for the short post today; I haven’t got an hour to write.

Editor at Large Subject-Specific

Attack of the 77-Foot Weenie

We all know this is a weenie:


But did you know that this is too?


In the More-Useless-Information-I-Learned-From-the-Internet Department, I found out a new definition for this inherently funny word yesterday.

Appearing as both “weenie” and “wienie” on various web sites devoted to Disneyana, the term describes an architectural construction which draws the eye and tempts the visitor to venture further into the diabolical design that is the Disney theme park.

John Hench, author of Designing Disney, and a member of Walt’s original team, spells it wienie. The concept apparently came from Disney’s experience of training dogs with “wienies”—that’s hot dogs, frankfurters or wieners (from wienerwurst, or Vienna sausage), to you. Hench describes the human, theme-park purpose of the wienie in a profile from the NYT archives:

The wienie is really a beckoning finger…It’s kind of a reward. If you have a corridor, at the end there has to be something to justify you going that distance.

The photograph above shows Sleeping Beauty Castle, a wienie that draws the hapless Disneyland visitor down Main Street and toward Fantasyland. And speaking of Fantasyland, one of my favorite things about Disney’s term is its resemblance to the German wie nie, which translates roughly to “as never before.”

Whether or not Walt chose this unorthodox spelling on purpose, the vision it conjures when taken literally in German is perfectly apt: Spaceship Earth, the enormous silver ball that sucks visitors into Disney’s Epcot Center and which Slate’s Seth Stevenson describes as “perhaps the wieniest of all wienies,” is powerful precisely because it is like nothing visitors have ever seen before. The 77-foot Sleeping Beauty Castle, scaled to be a welcoming beacon rather than a forbidding fortress, is something that belongs in the Neverlands that Disney built–a big fat wie nie.

Economy Policy Subject-Specific

Economic Mobility: So Much For Horatio Alger

The Brookings Institution has just released a new book-length study on economic mobility in the United States, and the findings are pretty depressing. Even Stuart Butler, a Heritage Institute scholar I worked with as editor of the Atlantic Community, has difficulty putting a positive spin on the situation when asked to comment on the Brookings study:

“It does seem in America now that for people at very bottom it’s more difficult to move up than we might have thought or might have been true in the past.”

No kidding. I wrote about this subject back in November:

A seemingly high level of income mobility supports the argument that America is still the land of opportunity, to the exclusion of all others: that there is something unique about this country that rewards entrepreneurship and risk-taking. But is that mythical America still around, if it ever was? …If the U.S. economy is so excitingly dynamic, why do children in Canada and Europe have a better chance of surpassing their parents’ incomes?

At the time of writing, there was still resistance to the idea that the U.S. was entering a recession. Now that the economy is looking bleaker, major media outlets are pulling fewer punches, and covering more bad news. The New York Times headline for the Brookings news, “Higher Education Gap May Slow Economic Mobility,” is shown next to a graphic showing that “a person born into a poor family who graduates from college has a 19 percent chance of entering the top fifth of earners in adulthood.”

The fight now will be over the reasons that this is happening. But at least we’re starting to see agreement that economic mobility is declining, and the left and right can argue over how best to fix it.

More recent studies on economic mobility in the U.S. and elsewhere: