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October 21st, 2009

I doubt if she will see this, but

Happy 80th Birthday,
Ursula Le Guin!

And thank you for everything!
The author is a researcher for the Stephen Fry quiz show QI, and the book basically reads like an extended set of QI rounds about funny words in foreign languages, all mildly amusing. I spotted one spelling error - the excellent Serbian word inat is given as iant - and there may be others, but I will not be consumed by vengeful spite over it; also I imagine there is room for interpretation of some of the definitions, such as the 10 Albanian ways of describing a moustache, which to be do not seem very different from the ways we describe different moustaches in English.

Going back to spelling, I was a bit dubious of the example given of a word with five consecutive consonants - cmrlj which is Slovenian for bumble-bee - first off, "lj" is a single letter in Slovenian and second I think the "r" is basically functioning as a vowel there. (If you are trying to say it to yourself, remember that "c" is pronounced "ts".) However there is no doubting the authenticity of the Dutch word with eight consecutive consonants, angstschreeuw - linguists may cry out in fear and horror that "ch" is a single phoneme, but it is spelt with two letters. (Again, if you are trying to say that to yourself, remember that "s" and "ch" are pronounced distinctly in Dutch, unlike in German.)

Like the TV programme it is based on, the book is a little too pleased with its own cleverness, but fun all the same.

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