Archive for Words words words

Humor among the Finns

According to The Economist (July 9, 2016, "Just visiting" [p.30 in UK edition]), a joke was "making the rounds" in Finland back in 2008 when Russia invaded part of Georgia (and Finns aren't laughing at it quite so much since the Ukraine conflict flared up):

Vladimir Putin lands at Helsinki airport and proceeds to passport control. "Name?" asks the border guard. "Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," answers the Russian president. "Occupation?" asks the border guard. "No, just visiting," answers Mr Putin.

But wait a minute, I thought: that relies on a pun. In English the word for a militarily backed presence and control of governmental functions imposed by one state on the territory of another happens to be identical with one of the words for a person's regular paying job or profession. Are the two also, by pure accident, identical in Finnish (a non-Indo-European language)? That somehow feels implausible to me.

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Language games at The Economist

An ad that's been popping up for me on the web recently:

I expect that others have used asterisks in this particular way before, but web search engines seem generally to treat "**UK" as plain "UK" — perhaps someone else will have better luck finding precedents. (Of course, general taboo-avoidance via asterisks is common and has been discussed here many times.)

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Point of no Breturn

The portmanteaux just keep on coming — most recently in "Brexit's fallout: Adrift", The Economist 7/2/2016, we get a section heading "Point of no Breturn". See also (updated from the comments):

[link] Are You Brexhausted yet?
[link] Not “Brexit” but “Braccident”.
[link] Newspaper headlines: 'BoJo Brexecuted' on Tory 'Day of Treachery'
[link] #brexecution
[link] Is this the beginning of a Canary Wharf Brexodus?
[link] Are You A Brintrovert Or A Brextrovert?
[link] Brexit, Bremain or Brextraneous?
[link] GLUM BLOND Inside story of Tories’ Borexit: How BoJo’s career was left in tatters a week after he thought he’d be next PM
[link] Bregret? Regrexit? Don’t bet on it.
[link] #brexshit
[link] Brexistential crisis

So far, brexhortation, brextrinsic, and a few others seem to be open.

For previous forays into the  lEUxicon, see

"Grexicography", 6/22/2015
"OtherCountries_ExitFromTheEU: better portmanteaux", 6/23/2016
"You Brexit, you bought it", 6/25/2016

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"Among the New Words"

Ben Zimmer, Jane Solomon, and Charles Carson, "Among The New Words", American Speech May 2016:

In this installment we continue our consideration of items nominated at the American Dialect Society’s 2015 Word of the Year proceedings […]

The overall winner is considered here: they used as a singular third-person pronoun, a gender-neutral (or “epicene”) alternative to the binary of he and she. One might object that there is nothing particularly new about singular they, as the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.) includes examples
back to the fourteenth century […]

What is genuinely new, however, is the use of they to refer to a known person in order to transcend the binary of he and she in the construction of a “non-binary” gender identity, such as transgender, gender-fluid, genderqueer, or agender.

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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.

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The love organ of many names

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?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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Dumpster fire

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

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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.

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Needless words

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:


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Xy McXface

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.

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The world wants "bigly"

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]

And journalists, along with other members of the public, continue to hear him saying "we're going to win bigly" (70,400 hits in today's Google News index…).

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Obama and the end of the queue

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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When did "a thing" become a thing?

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.

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