Archive for Words words words

Medieval ontology on the streets of Oakland?

A recent Twitter exchange between William Gibson and Simon Max Hill:

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a term from high philosophy had really penetrated the street slang of Oakland? Alas, it looks like a case of false cognates.

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"Because" with non-verbal complement

The American Dialect Society's recognition of because as Word of the Year has sparked a number of intriguing linguistic arguments. In its innovative use, because can take various different parts of speech as its complement: nouns, adjectives, interjections, and even adverbs. (See Tyler Schnoebelen's Idibon post for some corpus analysis.) While Geoff Pullum urges us to treat because as a preposition, regardless of its complement, Gretchen McCulloch has argued that we should be thinking of innovative because as a member of a "class of subordinating conjunctions that can relatively-newly take interjectionary complements." (The complements are "interjectionary" as long as they can serve as interjections, regardless of part of speech, like the adjective awesome or the adverb seriously.)

One of the most peculiar reactions to the ADS WOTY selection comes from "Stumblerette," a self-identified linguist who objects to the choice of because "because it is neither a word nor particularly zeitgeisty." Wait, because is not a word? In a previous post, Stumblerette explains that the selection "is stretching the meaning of the word 'word'" presumably because the innovative "because X" construction requires at least two words to work.

Or does it? On Facebook, Stephan Hurtubise shared a clip from last night's episode of "Parks and Recreation" demonstrating that because even works with non-verbal complements.

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Hair

Earlier today, Ann Althouse noted President Obama's use of the expression "hair on X" to mean that X is complicated, from David Remnick's New Yorker interview. The two Obama quotes that she discusses:

Because, if you’re doing big, hard things, then there is going to be some hair on it — there’s going to be some aspects of it that aren’t clean and neat and immediately elicit applause from everybody.

Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge….

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More bee science

"Why Is This Bee Wearing a Sensor? Also, how did scientists get that sensor onto the bee in the first place?", The Atlantic 1/16/2014:

Australian scientists have devised a way to pinpoint the causes of the global die-off of bees that pollinate a third of the world’s crops: Attach tiny sensors to 5,000 honey bees, and follow where they fly.  

The sensors, each measuring 2.5 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters (0.1 inch by 0.1 inch), contain radio frequency identification chips that broadcast each bee’s location in real-time. The data is beamed to a server, so scientists can construct a three-dimensional model of the swarm’s movements, identifying anomalies in their behavior.  

Worker bees tend to follow predictable daily schedules—they don’t call them drones for nothing—leaving the beehive at certain times, foraging for pollen, and returning home along well-established routes. Variations in their routines may indicate a change in environment, such as exposure to pesticides.

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Lumpatious lexicography

In the latest episode of "Sam & Cat," a teen comedy on Nickelodeon, the plot takes a lexicographical turn. As Nickelodeon describes it,

Sam and Cat make a bet with the annoying older brother of a babysitting client that "lumpatious" is a real word. When they discover it is not, they must figure out how to get it in the dictionary.

Here's a clip:


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Pay for

It's common to nominalize already-lexicalized combinations of a verb and an intransitive preposition, like push-up, push-over, hand-out, walk-on, walk-out, and so on. It's less common to see nominalization of a semantically-transparent verb and transitive preposition, but a new one has recently (?) arisen in the halls of Congress. Thus George Nelson, "Brown Touts Benefits Extension, Job Creation Aid", Business Journal 1/8/2014:

“If we’re going to do a pay-for, we ought to look at what kind of pay-for actually creates jobs,” he continued. “The best kind of pay-for is one Senate Republicans have rejected repeatedly, to eliminate tax incentives that encourage companies to close plants in the United States and relocate those jobs overseas, he said.

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Because syntax

Many people will be somewhat surprised that the American Dialect Society's "Word of the Year" choice was because in its use with a noun phrase (NP) complement (though the Megan Garber's Atlantic Monthly article on it nearly two months ago should perhaps have been a tip-off). It seems to be unprecedented for a word in a minor category like preposition to be chosen rather than some emergent or fashionable word in one of the major lexical categories: recent winners have included 2012's hashtag (noun), 2011's occupy (verb), 2010's app (noun), 2009's tweet (noun and verb), 2008's bailout (noun), 2007's subprime (adjective), 2006's plutoed (past participle of verb meaning "downgrade in status"), and 2005's truthiness (noun). And it also seems to be unique in representing a new syntactically defined word use within a given category rather than a new (or newly trending) word. The syntax of because calls for a little discussion, I think, given that Megan Garber thinks the word has become a preposition for the first time, and every dictionary on the market is wrong in the part-of-speech information it gives about the word (write to me if you can find a dictionary of which this is not true: I'd love to see one).

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ADS WOTY: "Because"

I wasn't able to attend the ADS WOTY vote yesterday evening, but I understand it was a first-round landslide for because, beating out Slash, twerk, Obamacare, and  selfie. According to the ADS announcement,

“This past year, the very old word because exploded with new grammatical possibilities in informal online use,” [Ben] Zimmer said. “No longer does because have to be followed by of or a full clause. Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, because should be Word of the Year ‘because useful!’”

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86

I'm in Minneapolis for the LSA 2014 annual meeting, about which more later. For this morning, all I have time for is a note about the curious cover of the Mpls St Paul magazine that the hotel put out for me:

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"Words / Characters of the Year" for 2013 in Taiwan and in China

Back on December 17, 2011, I wrote a post entitled "Morpheme(s) of the Year" about kòng 控 ("control", but having lots and lots of other meanings, all covered in detail in my post).  The unusual title and thrust of that post were due to my dissatisfaction with the concept of a "character of the year" as a satisfactory parallel for or clone of Western "word of the year" competitions.  It was probably due to that dissatisfaction that I seem not to have written anything along these lines for the year 2012.

Now, however, we are inundated with Chinese words and characters of the year for 2013, so let's see what they convey and whether there has been any improvement in the grammatical understanding of what words are and how they function.

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Sneeze, hiccup, cough

Exceedingly few people (almost none) can write the Chinese  characters for the Mandarin word for "sneeze" (dǎ pēntì).  I suspect that most people would also get one or both of the characters for "cough" (késou) wrong, though it's not as hard as dǎ pēntì.

I mentioned this surmise to several colleagues and encouraged them to test themselves, their friends, and their students to see whether they could write késou correctly, or even at all.  I cautioned them that it should not be permitted to use any electronic device or reference material (dictionaries, etc.) to remind those being tested how to write the two characters for késou.  They must simply be written out directly on paper by hand.

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Tyrant's bling

Arguably the hottest term on the Chinese internet these days is tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot"), but transformed to mean "bling", and with a sharply satirical edge.  How did tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot") morph into "bling"?  The story is told in "#BBCtrending: Tuhao and the rise of Chinese bling".

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Pekingese put-downs

This will be the first of two successive posts on Pekingese.  This one is about insults that, on the surface, seem as though they should be praise.

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X-negative

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Musical maggots

In response to "Earworms and white bears", D.R. writes:

There is an interesting, now archaic, usage of the term "maggot" to mean, as I was told anyway, the same as the modern word "earworm." The OED describes it thus:

maggot, n.1
…….

c. Formerly used in the names of many dance tunes (now hist.). Now also arch. in the titles of other musical compositions.

1689   2nd Pt. Musicks Hand-maid sig. G3v,   Motleys Maggot.
1695   Dancing-Master (ed. 9) i. 179   Betty's Magot.
1695   Dancing-Master (ed. 9) i. 180   Mr. Beveridge's Magot.
1695   Dancing-Master (ed. 9) i. 191   Huntington's Magot.
1695   Dancing-Master (ed. 9) i. 195   A Song made by Mr. Tho. D'Ursey upon a new country dance at Richmond, called, Mr. Lane's Magot.
1977   P. Maxwell Davies (title of musical composition)    Miss Donnithorne's maggot.
1994   J. Buller (title of musical composition)    Mr. Purcell's maggot.

When I used to do a lot of English country dancing, there were several such tunes we used, including "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" and "Mr. Isaac's Maggot," both from Playford's English Dancing Master (first edition 1651, but the term "magot" appears in titles only from the 1695 edition, and is spelled "maggot" in later editions.

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