358: Mailbag of Mallets

Again we tackle the questions that others dast not.

  • Why do all children seem to know the nyah nyah song?
  • Why do classic movie stars talk in that strange accent?
  • Do Chinese characters stay readable longer than English words?
  • Who says they feel less than?
  • When a computer menu says Save, is that an imperative or an infinitive?
  • Why does the word for night look like an N plus the word for eight in so many languages?

And more on this episode of Talk the Talk.

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358: Mailbag of Mallets

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Show notes

Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah – Wikipedia


Ring a Ring o’ Roses – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_a_Ring_o%27_Roses

The Unanswered Question 1973 1 Musical Phonology Bernstein Norton

Songs and tales from the dark continent: the authoritative 1920 classic … – Natalie Curtis Burlin
Google Books link

We found out why all the actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age have such a distinct and strange accent

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn’s Fake Accent – The Atlantic

Why Do People In Old Movies Talk Weird?

The Origin of That Old-Timey Accent in Classic Movies

Mid-Atlantic accent – Wikipedia

Chinese Writing Timeline – Ancient History Encyclopedia

Ancient Scripts: Chinese

A Brief History Of Chinese Characters | The Chairman’s Bao

The Canterbury Tales, and Other Poems by Geoffrey Chaucer | Project Gutenberg

The Canterbury Tales. | Project Gutenberg

Is it a coincidence that in many European languages, the word for ‘night’ is the combination of the letter ‘n’ and some form resembling the number ‘eight’? As in ‘night, nacht, nuit, notte, noche…’ – Quora

eight | Etymonline

night | Etymonline

eight night ocho noche huit nuit acht nacht otto notte oito noite – linguistics language resolved | Ask MetaFilter


Coming soon.


  1. I’m a Cantonese speaker and I want to clarify a few things:

    1. Most educated people will be able to understand at least some Classical Chinese (the written language based on the speech from the Zhou dynasty), but not a lot. However, there’s no clear concrete line between what’s Classical and what’s modern because there’s a lot of mixing in both daily spoken language (most notably in the form of four-character idioms 成語) and formal written language. For example, there are lots of set phrases that has Classical Chinese syntax, such as a higher percentage of monosyllabic words, as opposed to more polysyllabic words in modern languages. Generally, the more formal a piece of writing is the more monosyllabic words and a more Classical-like syntax will be employed and it’s more like a continuum than a sharp boundary.

    2. The first official list of simplified Chinese characters used was published by the PRC in 1956, not 1949 (that’s the establishment of the PRC).

    3. Chinese languages don’t HAVE to either use simplified or traditional. They can use both and it’s up to you which one you want. You can write Mandarin in either simplified (as they do in China, Malaysia and Singapore) or traditional (as they do in Taiwan). You can also write Cantonese in either traditional (as we do in Hong Kong and Macau) or simplified (as they do in Guangdong). This goes for all other Chinese languages. It’s just that each place has its own standard script, and since most Mandarin materials are from China and most Cantonese materials are from Hong Kong so it causes confusion.

    • To add a personal anecdote to that, Chinese has (IMHO) changed more grammatically over the past millennium than English has: at least in written form, it used to be extremely concise and dense in meaning. In school, it was pretty much like learning a foreign language with many cognates with your own. But as Samuel notes, we have retained a large corpus of set phrases that are akin to quoting Shakespeare all the time.

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