Archive for Words words words

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

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!’”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (41)


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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

"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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (46)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

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".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)


Comments (11)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Getting worked up over "twerk"

Perfect lexicographical storms don't come along like this very often. On Sunday night, Miley Cyrus egregiously "twerked" at MTV's Video Music Awards, in a performance that quickly became National Conversation #1 (even outpacing Syria). About 48 hours later, Oxford Dictionaries announced its quarterly update of new words — with the Associated Press and others trumpeting the news far and wide — and lo and behold, there was twerk, defined as a verb meaning "dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

Mr. and Ms. in Chinese

Didi Kirsten Tatlow is trying to trace the roots of the word xiānsheng 先生 (lit., "one who was born earlier / first / before" –> "sir; mister / Mr.; teacher; gentleman; doctor / Dr. [dated]").  She writes:

Today of course it's applied to all men, women being nǚshì 女士 ("Ms.; lady; madam"); once upon a time I believe it meant a teacher. Yet a woman considered especially smart may be given the honorific xiānsheng 先生 (!).

Am wondering about its origins and when/how it came to be applied to all men, and whether perhaps it came from the Japanese, like many other terms in modern times (i.e., post 1911 or even earlier?).  Does anyone have any light to shed, with references?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (43)

X-iversaries everywhere

Here are two anniversarial tweets that appeared Friday evening. The first is from the Technology account, celebrating the anniversary of the release of the source code for We the People:

The second is from Chris Messina, a.k.a. the hashtag godfather, on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his proposal of the hashtag convention on Twitter:

(Messina didn't actually coin hashtag on that fateful day in 2007 — that was done a few days later by Stowe Boyd, another early Twitter adopter. See the Spring 2013 installment of "Among the New Words" in American Speech [pdf], which I co-wrote with Charles Carson, as well as Boyd's own recent post on the subject.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Frances Brooke, destroyer of English (not literally)

I don't have much to say about the latest tempest in a teapot over the non-literal use of "literally." It started, as such things often do these days, on Reddit, where a participant in the /r/funny subreddit posted an imgur image showing Google's dictionary entry for "literally" that pops up when you search on the word. The second definition reads, "Used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true." That was enough for the redditor to declare, "We did it guys, we finally killed English." As the news pinged around the blogosphere, we got such fire-breathing headlines as "Society Crumbles as Google Admits 'Literally' Now Means 'Figuratively'," "Google Sides With Traitors To The English Language Over Dictionary Definition Of 'Literally'," "I Could Literally Die Right Now," and "It’s Official: The Internet Has Broken the English Language."

The outrage was further heightened by the realization that (gasp!) pretty much every major dictionary from the OED on down now recognizes this sense of the word. So now we get vitriol directed toward the OED's lexicographers, who revised the entry for "literally" back in September 2011, coming from such sources as The Times, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, and The Telegraph. [Update: As Fiona McPherson points out on the OxfordWords blog, the usage was actually noted in the "literally" entry when it was first published in 1903. The 2011 revision reorganized the entry and expanded the historical record.]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

Garakei: Galapagos cell phone

Recently I've been hearing about a Japanese electronic device called a "garakei ガラケイ". Mystified by this katakana word, which I assumed to be at least partially the transcription of some foreign term, I set about trying to find out more about it.

It wasn't hard to discover (here and here) that the word basically means "Galapagos cell phone". What a strange name for a kind of cell phone!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)