Getting your word

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "You'd think 'linguistics' would go to someone important in the field, but it's actually assigned to a random student in Ohio who barely graduated and then went into automotive marketing."

A quasi-lexicographic take on what linguists do — which is at least a step up from the idea that their professional goal is to speak lots of languages.


  1. bks said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 6:24 am

    Pity the poor graduate who got "justice".

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 6:37 am

    Or the female graduate who was assigned "moist" ?

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 9:34 am

    I am now grumpy that my department did not do this long long ago when I received my B.A. in linguistics, and wonder if they could catch up now and award me a word nunc pro tunc. But does it have to be an English word? Why not e.g. a word in Dyirbal that figured in an example sentence someone was using to support a then-controversial (as of a seminar taken in spring '86) theory about ergativity?

  4. Rodger C said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 10:17 am

    My favorite Dyirbal word is (to write it in ASCII) gurlawalabadyanmiguru, "the place where the man bit the woman's sex organ when he shouldn't have done so."

  5. Jim said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 11:09 am

    So, I'm sure it would be tongue in cheek, but is he equating linguistics with used care sales?

  6. Michael said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 12:40 pm

    @Jim: Not so much "equating," I don't think, as observing that many people do not follow career paths predicted by their undergraduate degrees. I majored in film, today I'm a librarian. Randall, I believe, majored in Physics, not cartooning.

  7. Mark F. said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 1:04 pm

    I really liked Lynne Murphy's tweet on this one:

    If they give you ‘bassoon’, they’re really not expecting much of your career. You know you are one of the top dogs if they give you 'the'


  8. bks said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 1:56 pm

    I'll bet the grad who got "the" was totally happy with the sinecure till "Ukraine" vs. "The Ukraine".

  9. Jonathan Smith said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 2:13 pm

    Hmm, slurp by far the best of these choices, among the best period…

  10. Terpomo said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 5:34 pm

    As regards the misconception about linguists mentioned in the OP, it probably comes from the fact that "linguist" originally means a translator/interpreter or generally someone skilled in languages. I might have mentioned here before that I've seen many otherwise-descriptivist linguists be weirdly peevish about this (even though it's older) to the point of saying not merely "this isn't how we use the word 'linguist' in academia" but simply "that's not what 'linguist' means" or "these people aren't linguists, only academic linguists are linguists." Take this tweet for instance:

  11. Jonathan Smith said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 7:10 pm

    @Terpomo interesting; the tweet text about "military linguists contribut[ing] to lethality" and "interrogat[ing] prisoners" comes from a DoD page where alongside the text are large glossy-feeling photos of students engaged in Chinese (one assumes) calligraphy, calligraphy, tea ceremony, mahjong, and calligraphy… photographer and author seem to be aiming at different audiences…
    In my experience part of the "linguist" complex is because the field may perhaps have more than its share of random hacks lacking matching Ph.D.s who just a read a book or two in the area if that, cough :D

  12. Steve Morrison said,

    April 5, 2022 @ 8:11 pm

    Language Log had a post on the other meaning of linguist years ago.

  13. Philip Taylor said,

    April 6, 2022 @ 2:39 am

    And more recently, Mark noted that practitioners of linguistics can usefully be termed "linguisticians", thereby allowing "linguist" to retain its original meaning without the risk of confusion or ambiguity.

  14. Arthur Baker said,

    April 9, 2022 @ 12:13 pm

    When I obtained my degree in Linguistics, they gave me stewardship of the word "bollocks" (I was born and raised in England but have lived two-thirds of my life in Australia – the word is well used and understood in both countries).

    It's one of those words which can be plural or singular, and also countable or non-countable, so it can be used with both "fewer" and "less". For example:

    Women have fewer bollocks than men. Women talk less bollocks than men.

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