Archive for Words words words

Saying the quiet part loud

Sam Dorman, "AOC says Trump 'relished' rally chant about Omar, doesn't want to be president anymore", Fox News 7/20/2019:

"Once you start telling American citizens to 'go back to your own countries,' this tells you that this President's policies are not about immigration, it's about ethnicity and racism," Ocasio-Cortez went on to applause from the town hall crowd. "And his biggest mistake is that he said the quiet part loud. That was his biggest mistake because we know that he's been thinking this the entire time."

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Ambiguous initialisms

Menachem Wecker, "One NRA fights for guns. One for restaurants. Yes, D.C. has abbreviation overload.", WaPo 7/15/2019:

It was the malapropism heard around certain corners of social media. When Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked Ben Carson recently about REOs — real estate owned properties — the housing and urban development secretary appeared to hear a reference to cookies, i.e., Oreos. While the incident quickly became a referendum on Carson's knowledge of housing policy — he would later dismiss the episode as gotcha politics, telling ABC News, "Give me a break," perhaps a subconscious Kit Kat allusion — it did point to a frequently overlooked hazard of life in Washington: Acronyms and other abbreviations, a second language for many wonks, can be confusing, problematic or simply embarrassing.

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Half == Partly

It's common to see half used to mean something much vaguer than "1/2" or "one of two equal parts", and as a result, things sometimes end up with three or more halves. A nice recent example (from Megan Twohey and Jacob Bernstein, "The 'Lady of the House' Who Was Long Entangled With Jeffrey Epstein", NYT 7/15/2019):

Shortly after Ghislaine Maxwell arrived in New York from England in the early 1990s, she was looking for a new start. She had just lost her father, a British media mogul, along with much of her family fortune and her social standing.

Soon she was on the rise with the help of her new boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, a rich financier. It was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. With Mr. Epstein, Ms. Maxwell was able to resurrect the lifestyle she coveted. […]

Euan Rellie, an investment banker who attended dinner parties that she and Mr. Epstein hosted in New York, said she "seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer."

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Beyond within

Matt Wilstein, "Kathy Griffin Calls CNN's Jeff Zucker a 'Pussy' for Caving to Trump", Daily Beast 7/2/2019 [emphasis added]:

Griffin tells 'The Last Laugh' podcast that the CNN president tried to limit her to one Trump joke per hour during 2016's New Year's Eve special before firing her the next year. […]

They had such a good relationship at one point that Zucker even hired Griffin to roast him at an event where he was receiving an award. But as soon as President Trump tweeted that she should be "ashamed of herself" for posing with his mock-severed head, Zucker kicked her to the curb.

"I guess the part that sort of stuns me to this day is, number one, that photo, whether you like it or not, was absolutely beyond within the parameters of the First Amendment," Griffin says. "So people that think I broke the law are misinformed. Jeff knows that."

"And I know this is going to sound silly, but I kind of think Jeff owes me an apology," she continues. "Seriously, I didn't do anything wrong."

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Ask Language Log: matriculate meaning "move"

From Jeffrey Kallberg:

Has anybody tracked down the origins of the sports (mostly American football, afaik) usage of the word "matriculate" to mean something like "to move from one place to another" (either physically or in a descriptive sense)? I ran into a recent example of this in a recent NBC Sports column — "FMIA Guest: Rich Eisen On The NFL's Ultimate Course Correction On PI", 6/17/2019:

So when Riveron stepped to the mic at the NFL Network gathering last week and finally matriculated his way to the pass interference replay portion of his two-hour presentation to the group, it was like a large piece of filet mignon steak being plated for the whole room to consume.

A little googling suggests a possible origin in a malapropism uttered by Hank Stram during a Super Bowl, in a conversation inadvertently picked up by a microphone:

But the Urban Dictionary isn't necessarily decisive on such questions.

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Trump's "cocked and loaded": A tangled history

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Snakes in the grass, probably

On the UT Dallas campus:

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What's normal about "normal schools"?

Many U.S. institutions of higher education used to have the phrase "normal school" or "normal college" as part of their names, though I don't know whether any still do. When I was growing up, back in neolithic times, I somehow learned that normal meant "teacher training" in that context. And though I thought the usage was odd and even a little funny, I never really understood where it came from. The term came up in conversation a couple of days ago, so I looked into it a bit, thinking that this might be one of those cases involving an otherwise-lost meaning from medieval Latin or French. But apparently not so, or at least not exactly.

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Annals of anthropomorphism

Wired newsletter 6/3/2019:

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Negative nostalgia

For more than three decades, I have edited and published a journal called Sino-Platonic Papers.  The first issue (Feb., 1986) was "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects" (free pdf; 31 pages) — that led to the creation of the ABC Chinese Dictionary Series at the University of Hawaii Press.  (One important title is missing at the highlighted link:  An Alphabetical Index to the Hanyu Da Cidian [2003].)

Up to #170 (Feb. 2006), SPP was issued only in paper copies.  It was a one-man operation, with me being responsible for all of the editing, typesetting, printing, filling orders, billing, packaging, mailing, etc. all over the world.  With hundreds of subscribers in scores of countries, and all of this on top of my teaching, research, writing, and fieldwork, not to mention family life, after ten years it was really dragging me down, and after twenty years, I felt that SPP was killing me.

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Dys-

A commenter's remark on the recent post "Dysfluency considered harmful":

I've always understood the 'dys-' prefix to be in contrast to an 'a-' prefix, where 'dys-' means something like 'born without' and 'a-' means 'loss of.' My favorite example of the contrast is 'dyslexia' vs. 'alexia', with the first meaning inherent problems with reading and the second meaning loss of the ability to read. Same with 'dysphasia'/'aphasia' and 'acalculia'/'dyscalculia.'

This is a good example of mistaken linguistic generalization from limited evidence. In fact the dys- prefix is usually said to be in contrast to the eu- prefix, not the a- prefix, though this is mostly an etymological idea rather than a fact of usage. In any case, dys- doesn't typically refer to inborn problems, but simply to abnormal, difficult, impaired, or bad characteristics.

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Insect name

How would you respond in your native language if someone walked up to you and asked (in your native language or in English or some other language which both of you know), "What's the word for 'the insect that eats wood and destroys walls'?".

A friend of mine in China did that with eight of his colleagues, and not a single one of them could remember the Chinese name for "the insect that eats wood and destroys walls".

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"Demoralised" = "without morals"?

Marilynne Robinson, "Is poverty necessary?", Harpers 5/16/2019:

Margaret Thatcher said that the redundant—those on the dole—were "demoralized." In her dialect group this word doesn't mean disheartened. It means without morals. An American might put the matter differently, but the attitude is familiar enough.

An American might wonder whether that sense was actually dominant — or even prevalent — in Margaret Thatcher's "dialect group".

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