Archive for Words words words

Don't splain me, bro!

A week ago I posted Don't skunk me, bro!, which riffed on Jonathon Owen's post Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth on Arrant Pedantry. Jonathon's post had discussed Bryan Garner's practice of declaring that certain expressions should be avoided because they are supposedly "skunked". Garner uses that term to refer to expressions that are in the process of undergoing a hotly disputed change of meaning, with the result that, in Garner's words, "any use of it is likely to distract some readers".

Shortly after posting "Don't skunk me, bro!", I got a message on Twitter from Tcherina (@grammarguidecom): "Glad to see you taking up the 'skunked' issue. I got bullied and splained when I tweeted Jonathon's piece [i.e., the post that had prompted mine], which I thought was very good."

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No word for dead umbrellas?

Yesterday in Philadelphia we had very strong winds and what the weather people call a "wintry mix", so (along with some big downed trees) there were lots of people holding on to umbrellas turned inside out and partly stripped of their fabric, and lots of wrecked umbrellas discarded along the sidewalks and stuffed into trash cans.

This naturally raises the question: Is there a word for an umbrella in this condition?

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"Voiceprint" springs eternal

John R. Quain, "Alexa, What Happened to My Car?", NYT 1/25/2018 [emphasis added]:

And even though voice bots like Alexa and Google’s Assistant can be taught to recognize different voices — well enough to cater to each family member’s favored Pandora stations, for example — they do not offer any sort of biometric security, such as voice print analysis. As a result, Alexa’s voice-recognition capabilities are not discerning enough for security purposes, according to Amazon.

There are two things about this passage that caught my attention.

First, a minor point: the NYT here chooses to write "voice print" as two separate words. This is a change from their previous practice — already in May of 1962 (and many times since),  the grey lady was writing "voiceprint" solid in stories like this one:

A researcher from Bell Telephone Laboratories described yesterday tests that he said, showed that "voiceprints" may prove to be almost as effective, for identification, as fingerprints.

And second, a more important point:  here's a journalist who still thinks that "voice print analysis", however spelled, offers "biometric security".

[Warning: what follows is a long post about lexicographic, technological,  journalistic, and literary history, guaranteeing that at least three quarters of the content will bore or mystify most readers.)

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Language vigilantism

In "The Eagle-Eyed Vigilantes Defending the Chinese Language:  As new lingo springs up and grammatical errors persist, one magazine is battling to maintain linguistic standards", Yin Yijun (Sixth Tone [1/19/18]) describes an unusual PRC journal:

Shanghai-based Yaowen Jiaozi — whose name literally translates as “biting phrases and chewing characters” — was established in 1995 and operates under the slogan: “Bite every mistake that deserves to be bitten, and chew every article worth chewing.” The monthly magazine’s mission is to attack every grammatical error it encounters — and the staff take the job seriously. Over the past 20 years, the magazine has amassed a long list of mistakes, from a nearly unnoticeable Chinese character error on a chopstick wrapper, to a series of mistakes author and Nobel laureate Mo Yan made in his award-winning works.

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ADS Word of the Year is "fake news"

The people have spoken. At the American Dialect Society annual meeting in Salt Lake City (held in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America), the 2017 Word of the Year has been selected, and it's fake news. (Yes, yes, we all know that's technically two words, just like dumpster fire, the choice for 2016. The "word of the year" can be a lexicalized phrase: see my response to Geoff Pullum on this point back in 2011.)

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CCP approved terms of the year

A week ago, I wrote a post on "CCP approved image macros" (12/17/17).  Being the authoritarian, totalitarian government that it is, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has the power to coin, sanction, and promote whatever forms of language use it desires.  This week, at the conclusion of 2017, we have this dazzling collection of CCP-approved expressions that encapsulate US-China ties during this year:

"Yearender: 2017 in review: 8 terms that matter in China-U.S. relations" (xinhuanews [12/23/17])

By highlighting these eight terms, the Chinese government clearly wishes us to recall 2017 according to these rubrics and hopes that they will become catchwords.  While I don't think that they will catch on, so to speak, and stick in popular discourse, they do help us understand the mind of the CCP.

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Morphological creativity: Shoedrobe

Forwarded by Alex Baumans, an email advertisement from Legend Footwear in London — "RESTOCK YOUR SHOEDROBE FOR WINTER!"

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Wall Street big

"Wall Street big, 49, killed by shark while diving in Costa Rica", Fox News (N.Y. Post) 11/4/2017:

A 49-year-old Wall Street private equity manager was killed by a tiger shark while diving with a group off a Costa Rican island, according to officials.

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"Beautiful" in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party

James Wimberley notes that, among the recent additions to the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, is this section:

The basic line of the Communist Party of China in the primary stage of socialism is to lead all the people of China together in a self-reliant and pioneering effort, making economic development the central task, upholding the Four Cardinal Principles, and remaining committed to reform and opening up, so as to see China becomes a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.

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The curious case of "dillweed"

On The Awl, Samantha Sanders has a wonderful piece on "Dillweed (As An Insult)." (This is part of The Awl's "holiday series on flavors and spices," naturally enough.) She muses on how dillweed has been used as a pejorative since it was popularized by the show "Beavis and Butt-Head" back in the early '90s and considers how this mild-mannered herb got pressed into service as a minced oath. On Twitter, I responded with some more ruminations on the history of dillweed, as well as other insults from the same family, including dickweed, dinkweed, and dickwad (with input from slangologist Jonathon Green and others). I've compiled the Twitter thread as a Storify story, embedded below.

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The American Dialect Society in the New York Times crossword

The American Dialect Society gets a nice shout-out in Tuesday's New York Times crossword. More than a shout-out, in fact: the puzzle is actually ADS-themed.

Subscribers to the Times crossword can download the puzzle in Across Lite format or as a PDF. After you've solved it, you can read my commentary in the NYT's Wordplay column. (Or just skip to the column if you don't mind the spoilers. You can also see the clues and completed grid on XWord Info.)

Wordplay also quotes Greg Poulos, the crossword's creator (making his debut in the Times), who revealed that he came up with the theme while reading Language Log. Great to see, especially after Tom McCoy's grammatical-diversity-themed puzzle back in March. Linguisticky crosswords are all the rage!

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Correction of a public sign

Photograph taken by Adrian Thieret in Shanghai (Pudong) about a month ago.

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Air quotes

From Bill Robertson:

I’m reading my new copy of Soonish and came across a reference to air quotes and I got to wondering about the meme. I remember using them at least 30 years or more ago, entirely un-ironically. How does one go about looking up the history of such a thing? How would you reconcile the discoverable print references to its presumably earlier emergence as a metalinguistic thing in itself? At what point do the words, “air quotes” show up to stand for actual physically-performed “Air Quotes”?

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