The discussion about Donald Trump's exhortation to "Ask the gays" has focused on several linguistic dimensions: the definite article the, the nounification gay, and the pluralization of gays. This reminds me of (what I think is) a recent trend: the novel use of definite pluralized nounified adjectives, often in ironic contexts.
Archive for Words words words
British comedian Richard Herring is the author of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.
In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?
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A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase "dumpster fire" as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations. And recently the usage seems to have spread to other domains and become more popular:
Klaus Marre, "Sheldon Adelson’s Newspaper Is a Dumpster Fire", Who.What.Why 5/7/2016
Greg Wyshynski, "Dallas Stars goaltending exposed as smoldering dumpster fire; so now what?", Yahoo Sports 5/12/2016
Corey Hutchins, "Colorado’s ‘dumpster fire’ politics", The Colorado Independent 5/11/2016
David Rosenthal, "Why The Dodgers Can Never Win With That Dumpster Fire They Call A Bullpen", CBS Los Angeles 5/22/2016.
John Shazar, "Mike Corbat: Citigroup Not The Raging Dumpster Fire You Think It Is", Dealbreaker 6/3/2016
Last Thursday, during LREC 2016, 16 participants from ELRA and LDC had a festive dinner at a restaurant named Na Burji. On the drive from Portorož, we had a discussion about what the restaurant's name means — our first guess, stimulated by the extreme switchbacks we traversed as the road climbed steeply from the coastal plain towards Nova Vas nad Dragonjo, was that "burji" is somehow cognate with berg.
But as the restaurant's website explains, it "earned its name due to exposure to famous Bora wind". This of course raises the question of where the word bora comes from.
I know I've been a long-time critic of everything in The Elements of Style, not least William Strunk's platitude that you should omit needless words. "Needless" is not defined even vaguely; nobody really writes in a way that sticks to the absolute minimum word count; and if neophyte writers could tell what was needless they wouldn't have to be handed this platitude (which they don't really know how to use anyway). But every now and then one really does see a case of a word that screams at you that it should have been left out. The University of Oxford has an official form on which this is the heading:
CLAIM FOR REIMBURSEMENT OF ALLOWABLE EXPENSES
Yesterday Google announced the open-source release of SyntaxNet,
an open-source neural network framework implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding (NLU) systems. Our release includes all the code needed to train new SyntaxNet models on your own data, as well as Parsey McParseface, an English parser that we have trained for you and that you can use to analyze English text.
Back in February, we covered the whole Donald Trump big league → bigly business at length, and if you want details, go read that post: "Bigly", 2/26/2016.
But Trump continues to say things like
|We're not going to lose, we're going to start winning again,
and we're going to win big league, believe me! [link]
Over the past few days the British media (newspapers and BBC news programs) have been talking about a crucially linguistic argument that President Obama is being manipulated, and literally told what to say, by the UK prime minister's office. (Links seem superfluous: the Google News UK edition will give you thousands of references.) The evidence comes from a single choice of lexical item.
During the two working days Obama spent in Britain, the main news-generating event was a news conference in which he directly addressed the issue of whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave it. A key argument for those who believe in leaving the EU (the proponents of Brexit) has been that new trade agreements could readily be set up once the country was free from the shackles of EU membership. Specifically, a trade agreement could be readily set up with the USA. Not so fast, said Obama: the USA will continue its negotiating efforts aimed at setting up a trade agreement with the whole EU, and if the UK left that grouping (the largest single market in the world) it would "be in the back of the queue" if it applied to get a special UK/US trade agreement established.
The Brexit crew jumped on the use of the word queue. Americans talk about waiting in line, not waiting in a queue or queueing up. "The back of the queue" is characteristic British English, and no American would say any such thing, they insisted. Obama's remarks must have been prepared for him by British pro-EU politicians. Are the Brexiteers right?
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Alexander Stern, "Is That Even a Thing?", NYT 4/16/2016:
Speakers and writers of American English have recently taken to identifying a staggering and constantly changing array of trends, events, memes, products, lifestyle choices and phenomena of nearly every kind with a single label — a thing. In conversation, mention of a surprising fad, behavior or event is now often met with the question, “Is that actually a thing?” Or “When did that become a thing?” Or “How is that even a thing?” Calling something “a thing” is, in this sense, itself a thing.
From Charlie Clingen:
To stick a landing gone viral since last Friday. But where does it come from and which is right: "SpaceX finally stuck a sea landing Friday, when the company's first-stage booster glided" (from an online news item) or "SpaceX finally sticked a sea landing Friday…"?
This title on a Reuters story on Yahoo gave me a double-take:
Ex-Heisman winner Troy Smith arrested on DUI and drug charge
There is no suggestion that the Heisman trophy award was ever rescinded. I think in my dialect, once a Heisman trophy winner, always a Heisman trophy winner. I've never heard anyone called an ex-Nobel Prize winner. Am I missing something, or is this really unusual usage? I think even O.J. Simpson is still a Heisman trophy winner.
But I can imagine that the line between where I clearly use ex- and where I don't might not be sharp. Ex-president, ex-spouse are clear. (Hmm, there's also 'former' in competition — that's what I would use for 'department head', not ex-.) I find myself sometimes starting to say "Some of our former Ph.D's (never ex-!!)", but then I usually stop and remove 'former'. Aha, they're our former students, but not our former graduates – they're our graduates forever.
But back to the Heisman trophy. Even if you only hold possession of the trophy for a year, actually or symbolically, you're still a trophy winner forever, aren't you?
Jessica Banov, "‘Bless your heart,’ unfiltered, in the national spotlight", Raleigh News & Observer 3/31/2016:
The phrase is served as the “icing” of Southern politeness, a subtle way to insult someone but without coming straight out and calling someone an idiot to his or her face.
As a linguist who revels in the nuances of language, Wolfram was thrilled with the three little words Haley used to answer the GOP presidential candidate’s bluster.
“It’s the perfect comeback,” Wolfram, a professor at N.C. State University, immediately told his wife. “In a sense, it shut Donald Trump off. How do you respond when someone says, ‘Bless your heart?’ It could be a sincere thing. But it’s not, of course.”
Or, as Wilmington-based columnist Celia Rivenbark sized up that particular Trump Twitter feud, Haley won that round.
“Perfectly executed,” Rivenbark said. “She can drop the mic and move on.”
"How an eight-year-old boy invented a new word", BBC Trending 2/24/2016
A few weeks back, primary school teacher Margherita Aurora, in the small town of Copparo in central Italy, was intrigued when one of her students, Matteo, used an unfamiliar word in a written assignment.
Matteo described a flower as "petaloso" ("full of petals"). The word doesn't officially exist in the Italian dictionary, but grammatically it makes sense as a combination of "petalo" ("petal") and the suffix "-oso" ("full of").
The assignment got Aurora thinking – could the eight-year-old Matteo have invented a new word? With his teacher's help, the student wrote to the Accademia della Crusca – the institution that oversees the use of the Italian language – to ask for their opinion.
To their surprise, the pair got an encouraging reply. "The word you invented is well formed and could be used in the Italian language," one of the Crusca's top linguistic experts wrote. "It is beautiful and clear."
But, the linguist added, for a word to officially be part of the Italian language, a large number of people need to use it and understand its meaning. "If you manage to spread your word among many people who start saying 'What a petaloso flower this is!', then petaloso will have become a word in Italian."
Matteo's teacher was touched by the reply – "this is worth more than a thousand Italian lessons" she wrote on her Facebook account on Monday – and shared pictures of the letter. Inadvertently, she triggered a movement to do exactly what the Crusca had asked: make "petaloso" a widely known and used word.