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 | After Myanmar’s military coup, a look at the origins of the word

Originally from Greek, the word’s current and figurative meaning was reintroduced into English in the 18th century. 

19 Feb 2021 - 2:46AM

Originally from Greek, the word’s current and figurative meaning was reintroduced into English in the 18th century. 

After Myanmar’s military coup, a look at the origins of the word
Language Matters | Year of the Ox: the role of the Chinese zodiac symbol in language

The ox has a special claim to fame in the English language for its plural form – oxen. Do you know why?

13 Feb 2021 - 7:57AM

The ox has a special claim to fame in the English language for its plural form – oxen. Do you know why?

Year of the Ox: the role of the Chinese zodiac symbol in language
Language Matters | We are all familiar with impeachment, but what are the origins of the word?

The early, now obsolete, meaning of impeach was to impede or hinder, but it was not until the 14th century that it was became used in the way we are familiar with.

23 Jan 2021 - 5:38AM

The early, now obsolete, meaning of impeach was to impede or hinder, but it was not until the 14th century that it was became used in the way we are familiar with.

We are all familiar with impeachment, but what are the origins of the word?
Language Matters | Why do the words ‘twelve’ and ‘eleven’ diverge from the patterns of English numerals?

From ‘twenty-one’ to ‘ninety-nine’, there is a logical principle of stating the number of tens followed by the units. The same cannot be said for all of the teens.

11 Jan 2021 - 11:36PM

From ‘twenty-one’ to ‘ninety-nine’, there is a logical principle of stating the number of tens followed by the units. The same cannot be said for all of the teens.

Why do the words ‘twelve’ and ‘eleven’ diverge from the patterns of English numerals?
Language Matters | What the words of the year say about 2020 – it’s been quite the 12 months

It comes as nor surprise that most of the words selected to summarise 2020 relate to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

5 Jan 2021 - 10:37AM

It comes as nor surprise that most of the words selected to summarise 2020 relate to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

What the words of the year say about 2020 – it’s been quite the 12 months
Why we decorate with ‘a spark of fire’ and eat ‘luxury bread’ at Christmas

Where the word ‘tinsel’ come from, why we drink eggnog and the origins of other festive words.

25 Dec 2020 - 1:26PM

Where the word ‘tinsel’ come from, why we drink eggnog and the origins of other festive words.

Why we decorate with ‘a spark of fire’ and eat ‘luxury bread’ at Christmas
Language Matters | Milk tea: from a colonial concoction to a transnational solidarity movement

There is more to milk tea than meets the eye, from its linguistic origins to its cultural diversity.

30 Nov 2020 - 8:47AM

There is more to milk tea than meets the eye, from its linguistic origins to its cultural diversity.

Milk tea: from a colonial concoction to a transnational solidarity movement
Language Matters | ‘Polls’ and ‘ballots’ are the talk of the US election, but where do the words come from?

In Venice, ‘little balls’, or ‘ballots’, were used to cast a vote, with black, white and gold each signifying a different response.

15 Nov 2020 - 4:55PM

In Venice, ‘little balls’, or ‘ballots’, were used to cast a vote, with black, white and gold each signifying a different response.

‘Polls’ and ‘ballots’ are the talk of the US election, but where do the words come from?
Language Matters | When ‘tsunami’ was introduced to the English language, and what it means

Despite appearing in the September 1986 issue of National Geographic, it was not until the 1960s that ‘tsunami’ overtook the inaccurate ‘tidal wave’ in English usage.

3 Nov 2020 - 10:03AM

Despite appearing in the September 1986 issue of National Geographic, it was not until the 1960s that ‘tsunami’ overtook the inaccurate ‘tidal wave’ in English usage.

When ‘tsunami’ was introduced to the English language, and what it means
Language Matters | Once lunatic, then political – how we got the word ‘asylum’

In the 1950s, Hong Kong gave asylum to countless Chinese fleeing the mainland. Now some of their descendants must seek it once again, elsewhere.

22 Oct 2020 - 10:17AM

In the 1950s, Hong Kong gave asylum to countless Chinese fleeing the mainland. Now some of their descendants must seek it once again, elsewhere.

Once lunatic, then political – how we got the word ‘asylum’
Language Matters | How 15th-century King Sejong the Great helped make Korea literate

Logical and easily learned, Hangul was just one of many accomplishments of the monarch, who recognised how illiteracy impeded the dissemination of knowledge.

6 Oct 2020 - 8:01AM

Logical and easily learned, Hangul was just one of many accomplishments of the monarch, who recognised how illiteracy impeded the dissemination of knowledge.

How 15th-century King Sejong the Great helped make Korea literate
Language Matters | From ‘Zoom shirts’ to ‘biz-leisure’: how the pandemic altered fashion and the words we use to describe it

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered not only what we wear but how we interact with fashion, including how we talk about it.

22 Sep 2020 - 6:38AM

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered not only what we wear but how we interact with fashion, including how we talk about it.

From ‘Zoom shirts’ to ‘biz-leisure’: how the pandemic altered fashion and the words we use to describe it
Language Matters | How we got ‘joss’ paper and ‘joss’ sticks to appease those hungry ghosts

Derived from the Portuguese and arriving in China via Java, ‘joss’ used to mean ‘God’.

1 Sep 2020 - 9:11AM

Derived from the Portuguese and arriving in China via Java, ‘joss’ used to mean ‘God’.

How we got ‘joss’ paper and ‘joss’ sticks to appease those hungry ghosts
Language Matters | How a medieval health and safety initiative gave us the word ‘curfew’

From the Old French for ‘cover fire’ the term used to denote the ringing of a bell that told townspeople to extinguish the embers in their hearths.

17 Aug 2020 - 3:22AM

From the Old French for ‘cover fire’ the term used to denote the ringing of a bell that told townspeople to extinguish the embers in their hearths.

How a medieval health and safety initiative gave us the word ‘curfew’
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.

25 Nov 2020 - 8:51PM

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