Archive for Words words words


The Wikipedia entry for Gritty, cited in my post "Liberté, Égalité, Gritté", used the modifier "outcoming" [emphasis added]:

When Philadelphia played an outsized role in determining the 2020 presidential election, social media users depicted Gritty, as the city personified, defeating outcoming incumbent Donald Trump.

Philip Anderson quickly objected in the comments:

But “outcoming” (as an adjective) in the Wikipedia quote? Incoming or outgoing, surely?

Some discussion ensued, with opinions on several sides of the question.

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The infinitude of Chinese characters

In response to the previous post, "More completely new sinographs from Hong Kong" (9/8/20), John Rohsenow remarks:

I can see that it would be easy to use these "new" characters on hand-written posters, but how does one do it on line, or in printed form?

One would have to "zao zi", (Lit. 'construct [a] character') out of various component parts, which is doable, but not convenient.

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Piqued bleached

Bruce Finley, "Wildfire haze, record heat and pollution combine to make Denver air quality dangerous for all", Denver Post 8/25/2020:

Colorado public health officials issued a special “multiple pollutants” alert through at least 4 p.m. Tuesday. Health authorities focused most urgently on the harm from inhaling tiny “particulates” spreading in the smoke from burning forests and grasslands. California’s big fires brought more smoke, thickening the haze from the four major fires still burning across more than 193,000 acres in western Colorado. […]

These particulates piqued concerns because they easily waft inside homes and vehicles, penetrate masks residents wear to combat the coronavirus, cannot be exhaled, and quickly enter bloodstreams to cause broader harm. [emphasis added]

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I recently learned a new word:  nurdles. These are plastic resin pellets, typically 1-5 mm in size, created as an intermediate stage in plastics production. Losses in production and transportation apparently  make them a major contribution to marine pollution.

I learned this word from reading about two environmental activists in Louisiana who have been charged with terrorism for leaving a box of nurdles on the porch of an oil and gas lobbyist.

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New life for whence?

Below is a guest post by Bob Ladd:

The post “Whither, whence, whatever” of June 7 was prompted by the phrase whence [she] was exiled (from a book review in the Guardian), which I sent in to Language Log Plaza.  The context made it clear that the intended meaning was ‘where she was exiled to’, but if you assume the basic meaning of whence as it existed in ordinary English for a good few centuries (‘from where’), then it actually meant ‘where she was exiled from’.  To convey the intended meaning, whence should have been whither (‘to where’).

In his post, MYL showed that both words have been falling out of use since about 1750, and suggested the lapse might have been a “Fay-Cutler malapropism”, in which a word is replaced by another that sounds like it.  However, an early commenter on the post (Andrew Usher) suggested a different explanation: “perhaps, the original wording was ‘to whence’, which was then mis-corrected?”  This made no sense to me at the time, because to whence is even worse than just whence – at least, if you think whence means ‘from where’. I figured that Andrew had made some sort of slip in his comment and at first I thought no more about it.  But then I wondered, what if people really do say to whence?

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Peaceful protesters

Nick Montfort, "'Peaceful Protesters' but no 'Peaceful Police'", 6/7/2020:

About four million Google hits for “peaceful protesters,” only about 55,000 for “peaceful police.” Anyone who has been reading the news will have seen the phrase “peaceful protesters” again and again—and probably will not have seen this other phrase. Does that mean peaceful protesters outnumber peaceful police 80 to 1? Or at least that we think and speak as if this is the case? […]

The phenomenon here is that of markedness, having a default form and a marked form. “Actor” can be a generic term for anyone who acts, but “actress” is used only for the special, marked case—women. As Edwin L. Battistella discusses in The Logic of Markedness, there are exceptions: “male nurse” is the marked case for this profession, because of “the social fact that nurses are most commonly female.”

“Peaceful protesters” is the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful.

So when the news media speaks or writes about “peaceful protesters,” they are using the marked case. It’s understood implicitly that “protesters” are not generally peaceful. The exceptional ones are the peaceful ones, like the small percentage of male nurses. This is quite evidently false, but doesn’t prevent journalists from using the phrase again and again.

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Normies and Fudds

Matthew Gault, "Here’s Why Men Are Pointing Loaded Guns at Their Dicks", Vice 5/27/2020:

Like with any other fandom, there’s levels to gun culture. In the online gun community there are "normies" and "fudds." Normies cover a range of people, anyone from a basic handgun owner to the completely uninitiated. Fudds—as in Bugs Bunny hunter Elmer Fudd—are the old heads, weirdos, and dedicated gun nuts. Some fudds hate normies and the way normies talk about guns. Even the normies who know their way around a firearm.

A chief complaint among fudds is the normie’s devotion to safety, typically manifested as knee-jerk praise of trigger discipline. For the uninitiated, watching trigger discipline refers to the act of keeping your finger off the trigger of a firearm until you’re ready to fire the weapon. It’s a safety basic, along with never pointing a gun at anyone or anything you don’t intend to harm, and always assuming a gun is loaded.

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Email from Julia Preseau: "The word 'masklessness' — going to surge?"

She sent a couple of examples:

[link] So it was that until this week, Mr. Trump’s mask aversion extended well beyond his person, echoing throughout the White House. Top aides generally eschewed them, as did those who attended meetings with the president or appeared at his daily public briefings. Certainly, Mr. Pence internalized the message, doing public appearances barefaced even after causing a minor scandal by declining to mask up during his visit to the Mayo Clinic last month, explicitly violating the hospital’s policy. Mr. Pence apologized for the infraction, before settling back into masklessness.

[link] And late in April, a woman whose previous brush with fame included an unsuccessful run for mayor of Roseville was arrested following an altercation at a Nino Salvaggio grocery store in St. Clair Shores, over, you guessed it, her masklessness.

No doubt there's a surge in all derived and inflected forms of the stem mask, including maskless and even unmasked as well as masklessness.

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COVID-1984: The theory of creepy

In these days of virtual networked life, with plans to automate contact tracing by coordinating registries of everyone's locations and actions over time, a recently-introduced technical term has gained greater relevance. The source is Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky, "A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy, and Shifting Social Norms", Yale Journal of Law and Technology 2014:

The rapid evolution of digital technologies has hurled dense social and ethical dilemmas that we have hardly begun to map or understand to the forefront of public and legal discourse. In the near past, community norms
helped guide a clear sense of ethical boundaries with respect to privacy. We all knew, for example, that one should not peek into the window of a house even if it were left open, nor hire a private detective to investigate a casual date or the social life of a prospective employee.

Yet with technological innovation rapidly driving new models for business and inviting new types of socialization, we often have nothing more than a fleeting intuition as to what is right or wrong. Our intuition may suggest that it is responsible to investigate the driving record of the nanny who drives our child to school, since such tools are now readily available. But is it also acceptable to seek out the records of other parents in our child’s car pool, or of a date who picks us up by car?

Alas, intuitions and perceptions of how our social values should align with our technological capabilities are highly subjective. And, as new technologies strain our social norms, a shared understanding of that alignment is even more difficult to capture. The word “creepy” has become something of a term of art in privacy policy to denote situations where the two do not line up.

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The impact of COVID-19 on Russian

Yevgeny Basovskaya, a specialist on public speech at Moscow’s State University of the Humanities, says that the disease has had a "radical" influence on the way Russians speak their language.  This begins with the word coronavirus, which has an "a" in the middle.  This is in "in complete violation of Russian orthographic rules".

Paul Goble, "Coronavirus has Radically Affected the Language Russians Speak, Basovskaya Says", Window on Eurasia — New Series (4/17/20)

It should by rights be an “o” but it isn’t and so feels alien for that reason alone


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Learning a new word: "munted"

In the category of positive coronavirus effects, there's a new word I recently learned: munted. The OED gives two glosses:

1. New Zealand and (less commonly) Australian. Ruined, spoiled; damaged; (of a person) extremely tired, exhausted.

2. British, Australian, and New Zealand. Intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

The Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English has

adjective Colloquial 1. (of a thing) broken beyond repair: this bike is munted.

2. (of a person) not performing or functioning well, as a result of exhaustion, intoxication, etc.

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"Cash money": cool or dead or both?

According to Know Your Meme,

That Wasn't Very Cash Money of You is a catchphrase associated with a drawing of the character Sayaka Miki from Puella Magi Madoka Magica wearing sunglasses. The phrase uses "cash money" to mean "cool." The image was turned into an exploitable in which other characters say the phrase, and the phrase itself has been paired with images of other characters, usually wearing sunglasses.

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The OED 1989 edition glossed yid as "A (usu. offensive) name for a Jew."

The 2019 edition has

1. A Jewish person. In non-Jewish usage offensive and chiefly derogatory.

2. British. In extended use: a supporter of or player for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (traditionally associated with the Jewish community in north and east London). Originally and frequently derogatory and offensive, though also often as a self-designation.

Lynne Murphy, "The point of dictionaries is to describe how language is used, not to police it", The Guardian 2/17/2020:

Tottenham Hotspur has shown the yellow card to the Oxford English Dictionary for its new definitions of the words “yid” and “yiddo”. While the dictionary records both words as usually offensive terms for Jewish people, it now also describes them as nicknames for Spurs supporters, noting that the fan-directed usage is “originally and frequently derogatory and offensive, though also often as a self-designation”. The club has issued a statement saying that it has “never accommodated” use of the “Y-word”, and considers the definition “misleading”.

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