Common Names that are Also Common Words or Homophonic to Common Words

(and thus very vulnerable to puns)

Justin (two words)


S¯ã: A Syllabically Fixed-Length Romanization of Mandarin Chinese

The remarkable stringency of Mandarin Chinese phonotactics make for a set of possible syllables restricted and systematic enough that one could reasonably endeavor to devise a not-too-complicated romanization system where each possible syllable has the same number of characters. Here, I provide such a system where this number of characters is 3.

Here’s the plan: we take advantage of how Mandarin phonotactics prohibit any consonant clustering whatsoever (until one decides to interpret certain affricates as being actually clusters, but why would one want to do that?) and how only two consonants (both being nasals) are feasible for a syllabic coda. Since the Mandarin consonant inventory isn’t particularly large either (in fact only comparable in size to the English consonant inventory after counting all allophones as separate sounds), we just dedicate one character to a possible onset consonant, and absorb the possible ending nasal into characters dedicated to the syllable’s vowel(s), like how Polish uses ogoneks (ą) and Portuguese uses tildes (ã).

The hardest part of making a mapping is representing the wide palette of vowels Mandarin has to offer. Hence, the remaining two characters of a syllable that are not the onset consonant are dedicated to the vowel, including the absorption of a possible end nasal.

Here’s the mappings for the first character of the syllable, the onset consonant. In each cell representing a phone, the unparenthesized portion is the sound in IPA, and the parenthesized portion is the character used in this transliteration.


(For comparison, this is the chart of mappings for Pinyin romanization.



No character needs to be assigned to the velar nasal (ŋ), as it never occurs in the start of syllables. Most character assignments are intuitive from the perspective of most Latin-script languages. The c/s/z system is modeled after the usage of these letters in Polish, Czech, and Slovak, which have similar affricate situations to Mandarin. The diacritic assigned to retroflex (the caron) is chosen in correspondence to the diacritic used for the slightly-more-anterior postalveolar sounds in Czech and Slovak. The circumflex is chosen to be the diacritic to represent alveolopalatal sounds because it is a caron upside-down, which reflects how Mandarin’s alveolopalatal series is in complementary distribution to its retroflex series.

Continue reading “S¯ã: A Syllabically Fixed-Length Romanization of Mandarin Chinese”


As I was in the shower today, I suddenly thought of a certain set of pictures that spread through the internet a few times: roads with “SHCOOL” painted on them, pointed out as a demonstration of the failure of our school systems (or of the individual that painted it).

But here’s a thought: what if the person painting “SHCOOL” just wanted to spread the idea that school can be cool (as opposed to a chore, which certainly most kids view it as, unless kids these days are that different)?

They’d of course be mistaken. School isn’t cool. Learning is cool. School deprives you of learning.

But we could start using the term “shcool” to refer to a learning institution or organization that helps its members and others to understand the actually important things in life, the term symbolically reflecting the fact that slightly misspelling a word like “school” to “shcool” is really not a major detriment to communication (maybe you’d have issues running a computer search (say, a `find` or a `grep`) on a file for instances of the term “school”, but if you were on a computer, why didn’t you run a spell checker?), nor does it actually mean the misspeller is incapable of understanding Things That Actually Matter. Maybe of shcool and school, we can make school be the mistake.

Respect to Sandwich

For a couple of years, I’ve had the idea of starting a comic strip called Vi, Max, and Nona, of which one of the characters, Nona, is a cartoonist who writes comics involving talking programming languages. It became gradually clear that there’s no way I have time in my life for making this idea fully become reality, but here’s a flushing out of one of the ideas for Nona’s comic.


Word Ladder

In each line, add, change, or delete a letter from the string on the previous line.

______ (Kerberos username)
______ (Kerberos username)
______ (Kerberos username of a zephyr user)
______ (Kerberos username of a zephyr user)
______ (Kerberos username of a zephyr user)
______ (Kerberos username of a zephyr user)
______ (Kerberos username)
______ (Kerberos username of a zephyr user)


If you have enough context, you can deduce the questions.

  1. black
  2. raven
  3. Hangul
  4. Python
  5. 21G.611
  6. Building 6C
  7. “Jabberwocky”
  8. Edgar Allan Poe
  9. Henry David Thoreau
  10. Voltaire
  11. Richard Stallman
  12. George Washington
  13. Sweden
  14. New Hampshire
  15. CGP Grey
  16. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
  17. Romanticism
  18. V
  19. Soren
  20. The Martian
  21. “Forbidden Friendship”
  22. Nightwish
  23. Under the Grey Banner
  24. “Sacrament of Wilderness”