Lisa Lim

Lisa Lim

Lisa Lim has worked in Singapore, Britain, Amsterdam and Sri Lanka, and until June 2018 was Associate Professor and Head of the School of English at the University of Hong Kong, where she still holds an Honorary position. She now is Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Sydney. She is co-editor of the journal Language Ecology, founder of the website linguisticminorities.hk, and co-author of Languages in Contact (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Latest from Lisa Lim

Language Matters | We don’t know how close a coronavirus vaccine is, but where does the word come from?

The bovine origins of the word come from physician Edward Jenner’s 1796 breakthrough on smallpox.

2 Aug 2020 - 5:19AM

The bovine origins of the word come from physician Edward Jenner’s 1796 breakthrough on smallpox.

We don’t know how close a coronavirus vaccine is, but where does the word come from?
Language Matters | When silence speaks louder than words – in Hong Kong, blank Post-its and pages used to convey meaning

The Finnish use silence and observation to get to know a stranger, in Hong Kong, it is being used to draw attention to that which can no longer be said.

21 Jul 2020 - 10:31AM

The Finnish use silence and observation to get to know a stranger, in Hong Kong, it is being used to draw attention to that which can no longer be said.

When silence speaks louder than words – in Hong Kong, blank Post-its and pages used to convey meaning
Language Matters | Filibuster: how the meaning changed from piracy to politics

Filibuster, freebooter, flyboat all have the same Dutch ancestor: vrijbuiter, meaning ‘privateer’.

7 Jul 2020 - 9:15AM

Filibuster, freebooter, flyboat all have the same Dutch ancestor: vrijbuiter, meaning ‘privateer’.

Filibuster: how the meaning changed from piracy to politics
Language Matters | World Refugee Day: where the word ‘refugee’ came from

The French ‘refugié’ originally referred to the Reformed Protestants who fled persecution in 17th century Catholic France.

20 Jun 2020 - 7:24PM

The French ‘refugié’ originally referred to the Reformed Protestants who fled persecution in 17th century Catholic France.

World Refugee Day: where the word ‘refugee’ came from
Language Matters | How the word ‘education’ came to have two distinct meanings

Passing along knowledge is one thing, bringing out an individual’s character is quite another.

8 Jun 2020 - 3:30PM

Passing along knowledge is one thing, bringing out an individual’s character is quite another.

How the word ‘education’ came to have two distinct meanings
Language Matters | The earthly, Persian origins of the word ‘paradise’, and where to find it in isolation

Its Persian origins – pairaida za, meaning enclosure – referred as much to the walls as the garden within.

25 May 2020 - 5:33AM

Its Persian origins – pairaida za, meaning enclosure – referred as much to the walls as the garden within.

The earthly, Persian origins of the word ‘paradise’, and where to find it in isolation
Language Matters | How we got the word ‘hundred’, a significant number in many cultures

To mark the 100th column from our linguistics expert, we take a look at how the English language achieved its perfect score.

11 May 2020 - 10:49AM

To mark the 100th column from our linguistics expert, we take a look at how the English language achieved its perfect score.

How we got the word ‘hundred’, a significant number in many cultures
Language Matters | Why Asia’s wet markets are being unfairly targeted in bad pandemic press

The term ‘wet market’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary only in 2016, but achieved notoriety after a Wuhan market was blamed for the coronavirus outbreak.

25 Apr 2020 - 10:50AM

The term ‘wet market’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary only in 2016, but achieved notoriety after a Wuhan market was blamed for the coronavirus outbreak.

Why Asia’s wet markets are being unfairly targeted in bad pandemic press
Language Matters | How Covid-19 is changing the definition of ‘home-schooling’ – we are all doing it now

With so many schools closed, the shift to learning at home is redefining our understanding of the term.

15 Apr 2020 - 5:56AM

With so many schools closed, the shift to learning at home is redefining our understanding of the term.

How Covid-19 is changing the definition of ‘home-schooling’ – we are all doing it now
Language Matters | Toilet paper has been top of shopping lists for weeks, but where did the term originate?

In mid-20th century Britain, saying ‘toilet’ instead of ‘lavatory’ identified the speaker as non-upper class.

2 Apr 2020 - 4:48AM

In mid-20th century Britain, saying ‘toilet’ instead of ‘lavatory’ identified the speaker as non-upper class.

Toilet paper has been top of shopping lists for weeks, but where did the term originate?
Language Matters | The coronavirus is officially a pandemic, but where did the word come from?

Until the mid-19th century, ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’ were interchangeable in medical dictionaries.

12 Mar 2020 - 7:34PM

Until the mid-19th century, ‘epidemic’ and ‘pandemic’ were interchangeable in medical dictionaries.

The coronavirus is officially a pandemic, but where did the word come from?
Language Matters | Where the word ‘woman’ comes from and how it has evolved with the times

No, it is not composed of womb, woe or wee with ‘man’, as folk etymology would have you believe.

8 Mar 2020 - 4:29PM

No, it is not composed of womb, woe or wee with ‘man’, as folk etymology would have you believe.

Where the word ‘woman’ comes from and how it has evolved with the times
Language Matters | The Italian origins of the word ‘quarantine’ and the extended isolation it implied

Meaning ‘space of 40 (days)’, it denoted the time ships from plague districts were isolated in ports.

17 Feb 2020 - 7:00PM

Meaning ‘space of 40 (days)’, it denoted the time ships from plague districts were isolated in ports.

The Italian origins of the word ‘quarantine’ and the extended isolation it implied
Language Matters | Bats are the source of several viruses, but where does the word come from?

Characteristics of the flying nocturnal mammal appear in its various names, including ‘night butterfly’, ‘flying rat’ and ‘leather wing’.

2 Feb 2020 - 1:52PM

Characteristics of the flying nocturnal mammal appear in its various names, including ‘night butterfly’, ‘flying rat’ and ‘leather wing’.

Bats are the source of several viruses, but where does the word come from?
Language Matters | The Aboriginal origins of the word koala, the marsupial often incorrectly called a bear

The animal’s scientific name includes the Latin word cinerus, or ‘ash-coloured’, which has new poignancy given how many have died in Australia’s bush fires.

17 Jan 2020 - 2:59AM

The animal’s scientific name includes the Latin word cinerus, or ‘ash-coloured’, which has new poignancy given how many have died in Australia’s bush fires.

The Aboriginal origins of the word koala, the marsupial often incorrectly called a bear
Language Matters | How the term 20/20 evolved – from visual acuity to general excellence

The idiom ‘20/20 vision’ was never meant to imply excellent, or even above average, eyesight.

6 Jan 2020 - 10:35AM

The idiom ‘20/20 vision’ was never meant to imply excellent, or even above average, eyesight.

How the term 20/20 evolved – from visual acuity to general excellence
Language Matters | ‘Indigenous’ - our alternative word of the year in honour of local tongues

Little-heard lesser languages can be as ‘at risk’ as endangered species and should be conserved as such

31 Dec 2019 - 3:53PM

Little-heard lesser languages can be as ‘at risk’ as endangered species and should be conserved as such

‘Indigenous’ - our alternative word of the year in honour of local tongues
Language Matters | Hong Kong’s protesters are often called ‘cockroaches’, but where does the term come from?

Intended as an insult by pro-Beijing elements, the Cantonese slang for cockroach is also a term of admiration for resilience in the face of adversity.

10 Dec 2019 - 5:33AM

Intended as an insult by pro-Beijing elements, the Cantonese slang for cockroach is also a term of admiration for resilience in the face of adversity.

Hong Kong’s protesters are often called ‘cockroaches’, but where does the term come from?
Language Matters | Where Molotov cocktails seen in Hong Kong protests got their name – think Nordic gallows humour

It was Finns who coined the nickname Molotov cocktail during World War II for the petrol bombs they threw at advancing Soviet tanks.

26 Nov 2019 - 7:28AM

It was Finns who coined the nickname Molotov cocktail during World War II for the petrol bombs they threw at advancing Soviet tanks.

Where Molotov cocktails seen in Hong Kong protests got their name – think Nordic gallows humour
Language Matters | Doxxing: the powerful ‘weapon’ in the Hong Kong protests had a petty beginning

‘Dropping dox’, as it was known in the 1990s, was an act of retribution during flame wars in which hackers and posters got into arguments online

11 Nov 2019 - 9:08AM

‘Dropping dox’, as it was known in the 1990s, was an act of retribution during flame wars in which hackers and posters got into arguments online

Doxxing: the powerful ‘weapon’ in the Hong Kong protests had a petty beginning
Language Matters | The origin of rugby, the word and the game, and how it took over the world

It all started in an English town, when, during a school football match, a pupil broke the rules and decided to run with the ball.

28 Oct 2019 - 4:37PM

It all started in an English town, when, during a school football match, a pupil broke the rules and decided to run with the ball.

The origin of rugby, the word and the game, and how it took over the world
Language Matters | As Hong Kong bans protesters from wearing masks, we uncover the origins of the word

“Mask” entered the English language in around 1530 along with a new – masked – type of entertainer

13 Oct 2019 - 9:19AM

“Mask” entered the English language in around 1530 along with a new – masked – type of entertainer

As Hong Kong bans protesters from wearing masks, we uncover the origins of the word
Language Matters | How Hong Kong slang terms for ‘police’ have evolved over time

Much like the ‘popo’ of southern California, the Hong Kong police force’s monikers have been dictated by their uniform.

28 Sep 2019 - 2:00PM

Much like the ‘popo’ of southern California, the Hong Kong police force’s monikers have been dictated by their uniform.

How Hong Kong slang terms for ‘police’ have evolved over time
Language Matters | Tracing ‘terrorism’, the loaded word being applied to the Hong Kong protests

The word entered English as a very specific term and while it lacks a universal definition today, most agree that it is highly charged and best avoided.

13 Sep 2019 - 2:15AM

The word entered English as a very specific term and while it lacks a universal definition today, most agree that it is highly charged and best avoided.

Tracing ‘terrorism’, the loaded word being applied to the Hong Kong protests
Language Matters | Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate

The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as ‘add oil’, from Cantonese ‘ga yau’ .

30 Aug 2019 - 9:21AM

The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as ‘add oil’, from Cantonese ‘ga yau’ .

Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate
Language Matters | With lasers in the spotlight in Hong Kong protests, a look at the origin of the word

The word ‘laser’ is in fact an acronym, for ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’.

17 Aug 2019 - 11:33AM

The word ‘laser’ is in fact an acronym, for ‘light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation’.

With lasers in the spotlight in Hong Kong protests, a look at the origin of the word
Language Matters | Triads and thugs: where the words come from and why ‘thug life’ philosophy isn’t what you think

After a mob of men dressed in white T-shirts brutally assaulted protesters and commuters in Hong Kong, the word “thug” has gained currency

2 Aug 2019 - 11:21AM

After a mob of men dressed in white T-shirts brutally assaulted protesters and commuters in Hong Kong, the word “thug” has gained currency

Triads and thugs: where the words come from and why ‘thug life’ philosophy isn’t what you think
Language Matters | ‘Jade’: behind the European name of China’s favourite stone

The word’s origin stories include Portuguese traders in Asia and Spanish conquistadores in Mesoamerica, while its English form comes from an erroneous spelling.

9 Oct 2019 - 4:39PM

The word’s origin stories include Portuguese traders in Asia and Spanish conquistadores in Mesoamerica, while its English form comes from an erroneous spelling.

‘Jade’: behind the European name of China’s favourite stone
Language Matters | ‘Extradition’: amid protests in Hong Kong, a look at where the word came from

The word that drew millions of Hongkongers onto the streets this month entered the English language in 1833. A closely related word, rendition, was first used around 1600.

21 Jun 2019 - 11:20AM

The word that drew millions of Hongkongers onto the streets this month entered the English language in 1833. A closely related word, rendition, was first used around 1600.

‘Extradition’: amid protests in Hong Kong, a look at where the word came from
Language Matters | On World Oceans Day, a look at the origins of the word ‘sea’, the body of water that connects us all

Since ancient times, diverse cultures have used the phrase ‘the Seven Seas’ to refer to bodies of water, while many English ocean-related words borrow from the Romance languages.

8 Jun 2019 - 10:15AM

Since ancient times, diverse cultures have used the phrase ‘the Seven Seas’ to refer to bodies of water, while many English ocean-related words borrow from the Romance languages.

On World Oceans Day, a look at the origins of the word ‘sea’, the body of water that connects us all