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Wrack and ruin

The Northeast Regional, on its way from Philadelphia to New York City, derailed a couple of hours ago in North Philly. At least five people are dead, and many injured. This is a train that I've taken a hundred times.

One of the first things that I saw in the live online coverage was this grimly appropriate tweet:

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Wonton in Zanthoxylum schinifolium etzucc sauce

From Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy):

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"Elsewhere": electronic alibis

American readers may not yet have heard the recent story about the chairman of the Conservative Party in Britain, Grant Shapps MP. He has been accused of sock-puppetry: editing his own Wikipedia page to remove unfavorable references to his business life (and editing the pages about other Conservative MPs to highlight unfavorable aspects of their lives). And his response was to say that he couldn't possibly have done it, because: "A simple look in my diary shows I was elsewhere."

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A proliferation of hyphens

In comments to "Suffer the consequences " (4/19/15), Jongseong Park and Bob Ramsey bemoaned what they considered to be the overuse of hyphens in the transliteration of Hangeul.  In a later comment, I explained that the hyphens between virtually all syllables in the transliterations were due to the Hangeul converter we've been using, which automatically inserts them.  In the future, we'll try to remove most of the hyphens.

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In the weeds

J.K. Trotter, "Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti: The Gawker Interview", 4/22/2015 (From Ben Zimmer, who picked it up from Sebastian Stockman on Twitter — emphasis added):

Keenan: They’re running the Pepsi Twitter account?
Ben (to Jonah): Yes. Is that exactly accurate? I’m not in the weeds in this, but they had been—
Jonah: They had been making content for Pepsi.
Ben: Because they were running the account.
Jonah: And it was—I’m not in the weeds on this, either, but I know the creative team was doing real-time marketing with Pepsi and posting stuff—

Sebastian asks "doesn't 'in the weeds' usually mean 'out of depth/in trouble'?"

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An Eighteenth-Century Japanese Language Reformer

In his "Reflections on the Meaning of Our Country:  Kamo no Mabuchi's Kokuikô," Monumenta Nipponica, 63.2 (2008), 211-263, Peter Flueckiger presents "a utopian vision of ancient Japan as a society governed in accordance with nature, which was then corrupted by the introduction of foreign philosophies, especially Confucianism."

Mabuchi (1697-1769) looks at a wide range of social, political, and cultural manifestations, but the aspect of his work that intrigues me most is his sharply critical stance with regard to Chinese characters.

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Wordy Bengal

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A succor born every minute

Great news (if you're a pompous idiot)! There is news from the UK's Daily Mail of an app that will ruin your SMS messages and make you sound like someone who went through a matter transporter with a thesaurus!

So in case you should want to completely wreck your chances of ever getting another date with anyone normal, the Mail's screenshots show that the app will replace "Hey!" in your texts by "Salutations!"; it will replace "help me with my homework" by "succor me with my homework"; "smart girl" will be changed to "luminous girl"; "meet at my place" will become "meet at my residence"; "sounds good" will come out as "sounds euphonic"; and "have a good time" will morph into "have a congenial time".

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Verschlimmbessert

In an e-mail to some friends, I went on a rant about how many "improvements" of our favorite products make them worse.  I was speaking specifically about the addition of sugar to their wheat germ by Kretschmer, which — after half a century of dedication to this wonderful food — has left me devastated.  It was in this context that Heidi Krohne told me about the marvelous German word "verschlimmbessert", which, for the nonce, she translated as "ver-worsebettered".

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Tribes

Bob Bauer writes:

Yesterday I discovered that the concept 'person who is continuously looking at or obsessively interacting with his/her smartphone or other type of electronic handheld device' has been lexicalized in Cantonese as 低頭族 dai1 tau4 zuk6 (literally, 'head-down tribe') (according to an article by Mark Sharp in the South China Morning Post).

[VHM:  See "Beware the smartphone zombies blindly wandering around Hong Kong" (3/2/15)]

Have you heard of this word?  It may have originated in Taiwan Mandarin.

"低頭族" 853,000 Ghits (on March 4, 2015)

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The Word of the Year is a hashtag: #blacklivesmatter

At the American Dialect Society annual conference (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America in Portland, OR), the 2014 Word of the Year was a rather unusual choice: the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. I presided over the voting session (in my capacity as the society's Chair of the New Words Committee). You can read the official announcement here and my recap of Friday night's voting in my Word Routes column for Vocabulary.com here.

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Multiple

John F. Banzhaf III writes to complain about overuse of "multiple":

Over the past six months I have heard an ever-growing number of TV news anchors, reporters, and talking heads on television use the word "multiple" where "many" – a shorter and less pretentious word – would do as well, if not better.

I would suggest that your remind people not to use the word "multiple" when many is what is meant, or is at least as good.  Otherwise, the speaks sounds pretentious and perhaps pompous.  A quick guide as to when to use each word would also be helpful to many of your readers.

This is not something that I've noticed, though perhaps I don't listen closely enough to enough talking heads.  It does seem to be true that the use of multiple has increased fairly steadily over the past century and a half, from nearly nothing to a rate in the range of 60 to 80 per million words:

(I've used multiplication by 10,000 to turn the Google ngram viewer's uninterpretable percentages on the vertical axis into rates per million words…)

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Fake word history of the month

Jason Torchinsky, "A very common word was invented by Dodge", Jalopnik 12/15/2014:

Dodge is known for producing many things, most notably cars, minivans, and sometimes large, lingering clouds of tire smoke. Oh, and the K-Car. But one thing I didn't realize was that they're also in the word business, coining an extremely common word way back in the 1910s. [self-referential clickbait omitted] 

That wasn't so bad, right? Sorry to do that, but, you know, I have old cars to maintain. Okay, here's the word that didn't exist before some Dodge PR guy came up with it:  Dependability.

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