Archive for Words words words

'Dumpster fire' is 2016 American Dialect Society word of the year

The press release is here:

In its 27th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for dumpster fire as the Word of the Year for 2016. Defined as “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation,” the term dumpster fire was selected as best representing the public discourse and preoccupations of the past year.  

Presiding at the Jan. 6 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Zimmer is also the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

LLOG covered "Dumpster fire" a little more than six months ago. Can we repeat-predict the 2017 WOTY? Stay tuned …

Comments (9)

EU English again

A.S. sent in a link to the 2016 edition of Misused English words and expressions in EU publications, from the European Court of Auditors:

Over the years, the European institutions have developed a vocabulary that differs from that of any recognised form of English. It includes words that do not exist or are relatively unknown to native English speakers outside the EU institutions and often even to standard spellcheckers/grammar checkers (‘planification’, ‘to precise’ or ‘telematics’ for example) and words that are used with a meaning, often derived from other languages, that is not usually found in English dictionaries (‘coherent’ being a case in point). Some words are used with more or less the correct meaning, but in contexts where they would not be used by native speakers (‘homogenise’, for example). Finally, there is a group of words, many relating to modern technology, where users (including many native speakers) ‘prefer’ a local term (often an English word or acronym) to the one normally used in English-speaking countries, which they may not actually know, even passively (‘GPS’ or ‘navigator’ for ‘satnav’, ‘SMS’ for ‘text’, ‘to send an SMS to’ for ‘to text’, ‘GSM’ or even ‘Handy’ for ‘mobile’ or ‘cell phone’, internet key’, ‘pen’ or ‘stick’ for ‘dongle’, ‘recharge’ for ‘top-up/top up’, ‘beamer’ for projector etc.). The words in this last list have not been included because they belong mostly to the spoken language.

In fact we covered the 2013 edition of this document  ("In case of pigs and poultry…", 5/12/2013).But it's worth citing it again, for those who are might be in need of a little lexicological cheer this New Year's Eve.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (50)


J.S. writes to ask

I have long wondered whether there is a word for a concept without a word. I feel like I once found this word, but have since forgotten, and now I am struggling to find it again.  

For example, maybe I have the concept for a feeling. It is a feeling I can describe but does not have a corresponding word in English (schadenfreude, for example). Is there a word for these types of concepts?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (59)

Long Johns

From Faith Jones:

I recently had the need to buy my elderly mother some long johns as she is finding even our wimpy, West Coast winters hard to take. In a thank you email she refused to call the tops "long johns," as to her that is only for the pants, but didn't know another term for them and asked what they are called.  To me, they are called "long john tops." This got me thinking about the slipperiness of this term and I asked Facebook which gave me many, many different answers.

The replies come from all over the US and Canada, with a few Brits, and I see no consensus. A significant number of people, perhaps a plurality, think long johns are pants only, but otherwise I see no pattern.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (42)

Ask Language Log: Obsolete expressions

From a reader:

I just noticed this headline in our local news (which I read on line…):

"Seahawks QB Russell Wilson pens letter on behalf of Sonics arena project."

Does anyone pen a letter these days, or dial a phone number?  I am sure this raises issues that have come up in your blog. Maybe though there is still room to explore how obsolete expressions continue to be used.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (53)

2016 Oxford Dictionaries WOTY: Post-Truth

The Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word Of The Year is post-truth, which they define as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief". Here's their graph of its recent rise in frequency over the past seven months:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (44)

Algorithms: Threat or Menace?

Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi (see also here)

… was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer during the Abbasid Caliphate, a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

In the 12th century, Latin translations of his work on the Indian numerals introduced the decimal positional number system to the Western world. Al-Khwārizmī's The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing presented the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations in Arabic. He is often considered one of the fathers of algebra. He revised Ptolemy's Geography and wrote on astronomy and astrology.

Some words reflect the importance of al-Khwārizmī's contributions to mathematics. "Algebra" is derived from al-jabr, one of the two operations he used to solve quadratic equations. Algorism and algorithm stem from Algoritmi, the Latin form of his name. 

Al-Khwarizmi flourished in the early 9th century A.D., but algorithms — step-by-step procedures for solving problems by well-defined rules — have been around for a lot longer, e.g. Euclid's algorithm for computing the greatest common divisor of two numbers.

I bring this up because of a lexical change in progress, whereby algorithm is apparently being redefined to mean something like "one of the mysterious and scary AI programs that are invading our lives". At least that's the meaning implicit in the BBC World Service program "Algorithms: Should We Worry?" —

Artificial intelligence is taking over everything from medical diagnosis to legal due process. Rob Young asks if the lack of transparency and risk of error are causes for concern.

Plus, Iran! Also, Arabic!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

Don't let 'bigly' catch on

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoon creator and diehard Trump promoter, has taken to the semi-jocular practice of adopting the mishearing of Trump's much-loved adjunct big-league, and using bigly as if it were a real adverb ("I just watched the debate on replay. Trump won bigly. This one wasn't close"). Adams is kidding, I think, but the mishearing is very common: by May 5, bigly was getting over 70,000 hits in the Google News index. I'm worried it may catch on, and we'll wake up some morning not only with the orange-quiffed sexist boor in the White House but with bigly added to the stock of adverbs in standard English.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

A non-apology for the ages

David Fahrenthold, "Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005", The Washington Post 10/7/2016:

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)


I'll leave the psychology and politics of rage-tweeting to others — my concern is its morphology.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (41)

Pick a word, any word

To access an article in the Financial Times yesterday I found myself confronted with a short market-research survey about laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Answer three our four layers of click-the-box questions, and I could get free access to the article I wanted to look at. A reasonable bargain: clearly some company was prepared to pay the FT for access to its online readers' opinions. And at the fourth layer down I faced a question which asked me to choose a single word that comes into my mind when I think of a certain Microsoft product.

My choice, from all the tens of thousands of words at my disposal, and the word I picked would go straight into the market research department of the one corporation, above all others, for whose products I have the greatest degree of contempt. Just choose that one evocative word and type it in, and I would be through to my article. A free choice. Which word to pick?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Strictly correct plurals of flower names

It has come to my attention that many laypeople, even Language Log readers, are using incorrect plurals for flower names. "Geraniums" indeed! "Crocuses", for heaven's sake! Please get these right. There follows a list of 30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals. Don't use incorrect plurals any more. Shape up.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (100)


Donald Trump Jr., in a telephone interview on 1210 WPHT talk radio, 9/15/2016:

They're trying to make sure that the moderators
are ultimately not fair to my father during the debate
and all of them understand that hey
you're part of the left and the media has been her number one surrogate in this
without the media
uh this wouldn't even be a contest
but the media has
built her up they've let her slide on every you know indiscrepancy
on every lie on every
you- D N C uh you- in-
game trying to get Bernie Sanders out of the thing I mean
if Republicans were doing that they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)