Archive for Words words words

Filtering information

Ben Zimmer "Donald Trump and Others With ‘No Filter’", WSJ 6/26/2015:

When Donald Trump gave a speech announcing his candidacy for president last week, he seemed to utter whatever thoughts popped into his uniquely coiffed head. […]

The “filter” metaphor evokes the image of a straining mechanism functioning on a person’s thoughts and feelings, testing the appropriateness of those inner mental states before they can be verbalized to the world. […]

The earliest example of a “filterless” celebrity that I was able to track down appeared in a 1986 Newsweek cover story on Robin Williams. Larry Brezner, a partner in the talent agency that then managed the comedian, said, “There’s no filter between his brain and his mouth.”

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Prepositioning

Linguist reads the paper: First sentence in Friedman's column begins "Let’s see, America is prepositioning battle tanks …" and before I got to the battle tanks I was surprised and wondering how 'preposition' could be used as a verb and what it could mean. (I'm of course seeing the word that starts with 'prep', had to be garden-pathed before I backtracked and saw the verb pre-position.)

I won't be surprised if readers of this blog had a similar first parse of my header –  its occurrence in this blog will probably make that even more likely.

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Lift Trappings: a locally-emergent collocation?

One of the benefits of travel is exposure to new ways of expressing things. Sometimes it's different metaphors — the French connect parallel-parking slots and appointment times with battlements, for example — but often it's just apparently-arbitrary differences in word choices.

On Thursday and Friday I was in London, and was therefore reminded of familiar trans-Atlantic vocabulary differences like lift vs. elevator. But on this visit, I noticed a collocational difference — perhaps an emergent one — that I hadn't seen before. One of the elevators that I rode in had a sign on the wall offering advice about what to do in case of a "lift trapping incident".

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The Inspiration-o-meter

Molly Fitzpatrick, "Know. Here. More. The top 100 words used in 2015 commencement speeches are oddly inspiring, even out of context", Fusion 5/21/2015:

Is there a formula for inspiration? If so it involves these words: know, here, more, life. They top the list of the 100 most common words used in commencement speeches this year. 

We analyzed the transcripts of 30 high-profile commencement addresses delivered this spring. […]

Commencement speakers talk more about the students they’re addressing than themselves, but only barely. We found that the second-person pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours” were used just 4.7% more than the first-person pronouns “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” […]

Here are the top 100 words in order, ranked by the number of times they were used across all 30 speeches. Prepare your graduation ceremony bingo cards accordingly:

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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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