Archive for Words words words

Anti-Neanderthal prejudice?

“We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms […] And the last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking, that, ‘In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”

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Xy McXface wins again

Mary Divine, "Plowy McPlowFace plows through the competition to win snowplow naming contest", Pioneer Press 3/2/2021:

After all the votes were tallied, it wasn’t even close. Plowy McPlowFace won the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s inaugural “Name a Snowplow” contest with 65,292 votes. The next-closest vote-getter was Ope, Just Gonna Plow Right Past Ya, which garnered 29,457 votes.

[For those who don't know ope,  Wiktionary glosses it as "(Midwest) an exclamation of surprise; oops", and Tod Van Luling discussed it at length a couple of years ago in the Huffington Post.]

Plowy McPlowFace will soon be plowing streets in the Metro District; Ope, Just Gonna Plow Right Past Ya will make its home in District 4 in west-central Minnesota.

The other winning names, in order of vote totals, and their future homes are: Duck Duck Orange Truck in District 1 (northeastern Minnesota); Plow Bunyan in District 2 (northwestern Minnesota); Snowbi Wan Kenobi in District 6 (southeastern Minnesota); F. Salt Fitzgerald in District 7 (south-central Minnesota); Darth Blader in District 3 (central Minnesota); and The Truck Formerly Known As Plow in District 8 (southwestern Minnesota).

MnDOT officials invited people in mid-December to submit possible names for snowplows. Among the submissions were a number of Minnesota-themed names, including Joe Plow-er, Justin More-snow, Kent Brrr-bek, Raspberry Brrr-et and Purple Snow.

One of the most popular suggestions was the phrase “Abolish ICE,” according to an analysis by the Minnesota Reformer, an independent news website, which obtained the almost 23,000 entries in a public-records request. The name, a play on the rallying cry of critics of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ranked No. 2 among the entries, the Reformer determined.

But MnDOT officials excluded it from its list of 50 finalists.

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The Institut für Deutsche Sprache has been compiling a list of "Neuer Wortschatz rund um die Coronapandemie" (New Vocabulary about the Corona Pandemic). German morphology and orthography being as they are, these are mostly new pandemic-related compounds.

The list and its compilation are documented by Abby Young-Powell, "Coronaangst ridden? Overzoomed? Covid inspires 1,200 new German words", The Guardian 2/23/2021:

From coronamüde (tired of Covid-19) to Coronafrisur (corona hairstyle), a German project is documenting the huge number of new words coined in the last year as the language races to keep up with lives radically changed by the pandemic.

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Non-toxic dog whistles?

The OED's definition of the political sense of dog whistle is "A statement or expression which in addition to its ostensible meaning has a further interpretation or connotation intended to be understood only by a specific target audience", derived from the literal sense "A high-pitched whistle used in training dogs; (later) esp. one producing sounds at a frequency above the range of human hearing". The definitions at Merriam-Webster and Wiktionary are similar.

There seem to me to be a few things wrong these definitions, at least as the term dog whistle is generally used. One thing missing that the "further interpretation" is (viewed by user of the term dog whistle as) shameful. And one superfluous part of the definitions is the idea that the "further interpretation" is not understood outside the "target audience" — rather, the goal (as attributed to the dog whistler) seems to be more a matter of euphemism or deniability.

Scanning instances of dog whistle on Google News this morning, the first dozen or so of the examples seem to me to confirm my impressions.

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My sister Heidi and I agree that, though we dislike the substance, we like the word.  Somehow, the shape and sound of the word are captivating.  "Phlegm", with its five consonants and one vowel, rolls up out of your throat, flows across your tongue, and issues forth through your lips.  "Phlegm"!  What a singular word!

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Word of the decade

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This week's display of ignorant peeving

David Ulin, "I Can’t Stand These Words Anymore", The Atlantic 12/30/2020:

Recently, I noticed a headline in The New York Times that featured the word tasked. This is among my least favorite rhetorical strategies—the verbing of the noun. Contemporary American English is rife with such constructions: to journal, to parent, to impact, to effect. I wince a little every time I come across one.

Jonathan Lundell, who sent in the link, notes that

The gripe is that task got verbed, particularly delicious in that the earliest OED citations for verbed notice, feature and task (in the modern senses) are 1660, 1888, and 1530 respectively.

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This morning NPR reported on a woman who was "resignated" from her position at Google — that is, she says she was forced to resign. The Urban Dictionary's definition of resignate, `to force or otherwise cause the resignation of someone or something', clearly fits the context of being resignated from a job. This verb is an interesting example of an analogic back-formation from the noun resignation, based on analogic models like designate/designation.

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The Macquarie (Australian) Dictionary folks have narrowed down their 2020 Word Of The Year search to a short list of 15 candidates: adaptive clothing, bee vectoring, cottagecore, doomscrolling, HIA, inclusion rider, Karen, lo-fi, panda bashing, profit-for-purpose, pyrocumulonimbus, seened, sky puppy, stalkerware, suicide first aid. Some of these are also candidates for WOTY lists in the U.S., e.g. doomscrolling and Karen, while others are more Down-Under-specific. One international example that is both topically and lexicographically interesting is cottagecore, defined as "a lifestyle characterised as being rustic or old-fashioned, involving such pastimes as handcrafting, baking, gardening, etc."

This coinage exemplifies a broader development of Xcore to mean "a socio-cultural movement associated with X" .

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D.D. writes:

You know the way people in comic surprise say “What?!” on a high-pitched note? Do you know where that comes from?

This seems to be a natural communicative consequence of the word's meaning. At least it's been around in English for a while, and similar uses of comparable words seem to exist in other languages as well.

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"zero evidence" ascendent?

S.H. writes:

Maybe I'm suffering from a recency illusion, but I feel that "zero" has begun to replace "no".

I see this often in Washington Post political columns, and here's an example from Robert Reich:

Of course, these claims haven’t held up in court because there’s zero evidence.

Checking Google Books ngrams suggests that "zero evidence" is indeed increasing relative to "no evidence", but was still about 1000 times less common a decade ago, and is now about 500 times less common in the surveyed sources:

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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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