Language Blog Roundup: Oscar Hijuelos, Alice Munro, an open letter

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

We were saddened this week by the passing of Oscar Hijuelos, author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Our House in the Last World. Hijuelos won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for The Mambo Kings, which was made into film starring Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante. Hijuelos was 62.

In happier news, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro, a short-story writer and the first Canadian woman to win the prize.

Oxford Words gave us 20 wonderful words for wafflers and some Beltway buzzwords. At Lingua Franca, Allan Metcalf suggested Obamacare for word of the year; Geoffrey Pullum looked at zombie rules and The Guardian; and Anne Curzan discussed the surprisingly naughty origins of the idiom old hat.

At Language Log, Mark Liberman examined a new non-projective flavor at Starbucks and tried to figure out what Justice Scalia meant when he said “words have meaning” and “their meaning doesn’t change,” while Victor Mair examined the unfortunately named new mascot of Fukushima Industries Corporation.

At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Liz Potter revealed the stories behind kith and kin; Jonathan Marks explored the roots (and routes) of curr- and curs-; and Stan Carey got with spelling program (or is it programme?). On his own blog, Stan added his thoughts about plus usage.

Salon discussed five ways Noah Webster Americanized the English language. Ben Zimmer spoke with the Chicago Manual of Style about “the transformation and technologization of language,” and at Slate traced the history of the grawlix. Meanwhile, also at Slate, Mike Vuolo looked back at how long we’ve been verbing our body parts off, and Neal Whitman parsed the dickhead compound.

At The Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein told us what saying I says about us. Mark Allen examined contractions, y’all. James Harbeck sounded off on the names of animals and wondered about the point of baby talk.

Arika Okrent celebrated Hangul, the Korean writing system and “world’s greatest alphabet,” and wrote an open letter to Sufjan Stevens about his open letter to Miley Cyrus correcting her grammar.

Fritinancy, professional namer, delved into the five types of names, from generic to fanciful, and for words of the week, selected whisper listing, “an off-market real-estate deal marketed through word of mouth alone,” and slow-rolling, “delaying a response, postponing an action, or obstructing a process” (not to be confused with rickrolling).

Word Spy spotted poopetrator, “a person who defecates in a public place”; phoneur, “a person, especially a pedestrian, who interacts with or engages the world mostly through a mobile phone”; malprescription, “the dangerous, mistaken, or unethical prescription of a drug or other remedy”; and Borg complex, “the belief that a particular kind of technological progress or the universal adoption of a specific technology product is inevitable and that to resist it is therefore futile.”

As always Mental Floss had lots of listicle goodness with 10 old English (not Old English) words we should be using; 12 really forced portmanteaux; and 12 things made collectible due to spelling errors. Mental Floss also had an exclusive interview with Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbes.

BuzzFeed gave us flashbacks with these books that traumatized us as kids while Flavorwire scared us with the 50 scariest books of all time. Meanwhile, at The Weeklings Greg Olear rounded up the 50 greatest character names in literature.

We learned that the great library of Alexandria was destroyed not by fire but budget cuts; how Tom Clancy changed video games; and about the beastly best friends of literary greats.

We love this literary map of the Bay Area and this amazing one of all the languages and races of South Africa. We’re excited that Jason Bateman will be directing and starring in a movie about an adult obsessed with winning a pre-teen spelling bee.

We agree with Mighty Red Pen that this typo is of “bqhatevwr proportions,” but we’re not sure how to feel about the newest holiday portmanteau, Thanksgivukkah.

That’s it for this week!

Language Blog Roundup: Tom Clancy, fauxlibuster, Banned Books Week

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

We were saddened this week by the passing of Tom Clancy, best-selling author of books such as The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games. He was 66.

The Atlantic explained the “double absurdity” of Ted Cruz’s filibuster, or fauxlibuster. Meanwhile Mayor Emanuel Rahm of Chicago is experimenting with librarian-less libraries (which remind us of a creepy Doctor Who episode).

For Banned Books Week, HuffPost Books gave seven reasons why some of our favorite book are banned and 11 of the most surprising banned books, including the dictionary. In good news, after much furor and ridicule, a North Carolina school board lifted a ban on the classic Ralph Ellison novel, The Invisible Man.

For Punctuation Day, Mark Allen lauded the most elegant of marks, the semicolon. Slate gave us the history of the pilcrow while The Daily Beast took a look at the SarcMark, used to indicate sarcasm. Fritinancy celebrated with a roundup of brand names that use punctuation in interesting, and not so interesting, ways.

The Guardian told us 10 grammar rules that we can forget. The OxfordWords Blog rounded up some English words of Dutch origin. At Language Log, Victor Mair discussed the various pronunciations of the word for brothers in Mandarin, and the problem with calling Uyghur a Chinese dialect.

At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Liz Potter told the stories behind the words unfriend and keirin, Japanese for “racing wheels”; and Stan Carey took a bite out of the idiom, have your cake and eat it (too).

Ben Zimmer examined how “Fed-watchers” are remaking the calendar and looked at the origin of the word desi with the crowning of the first Miss America of South Asian heritage.

James Harbeck looked at six quests to fix the messed-up spelling of English. Arika Okrent examined the post-military taxonomy of don’t ask, don’t tell.

Fritinancy’s words of the week were 909er, “a resident of Southern California’s Inland Empire,” and the Breaking Bad-inspired chirality. Speaking of Breaking Bad, Time told us the meaning behind the phrase.

World Wide Words delved into the history of a rare word, gargalesis, forced tickling. Hanna Rosin examined a new meaning of fiance.

Word Spy spotted throuple, three people in a romantic relationship; empathy game, “a video game genre that uses intense, personal stories to create an emotional connection with the player”; backfire effect, “the strengthening of a person’s belief in a false idea by presenting evidence against that idea”; and screen sightedness, “myopia caused by too much time spent indoors staring at small screens.”

Scientific American investigated how language may shape the perception of genetically modified foods while Gizmodo revealed the origins of 11 common drinking phrases.

We learned that on Facebook women talk about shopping and men curse, a thing or two about the double-is, and the etymology of cool. We found out about the language of signs and that Drew Barrymore has a giant dictionary collection.

We loved this map of most popular baby names in each state, these lost “slumgullions” of English and these lovely untranslatable words from other cultures. We want to own all these coffee mugs for book lovers.

Enjoy our word nerd discoveries? Be sure to check out more weird and wonderful favorite finds in our weekly roundup over on our sister site, Reverb, Favorite Finds Roundup: Stephen Hawking, mac ‘n’ cheese burger, beaver butts (you heard us: beaver butts).

Until next time!

[Photo via CNN]

Language Blog Roundup: Friends, kill the apostrophe, James Franco

oh for the love of ...

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

Ben Zimmer told us about the rhetoric of the Syrian conflict. Joshua Friedman at The Boston Globe claimed biz-speak is not the business world’s fault but rather is simply the “slang of the moment.”

At The American Scholar, Ralph Keyes explained why some neologisms stick and some don’t. We learned some new slang that those crazy kids online are using today, and about how rhythm may help with language learning.

At Language Log, Victor Mair reflected on the languages on Chinese banknotes, and Mark Liberman investigated a Dutch to English mistranslation.

The OxfordWords blog gave us some fun German idioms (they’re going like warm rolls!), and we as television addicts particularly enjoyed their post on the language of Friends. Meanwhile, io9 relayed the bizarre evolution of the word cyber.

At Lingua Franca, Lucy Ferriss discussed disruptive language; Alllan Metcalf revealed the story behind wah lah; Geoff Pullum looked at hostility over multilingualism; Anne Curzan recounted the history of the idiom, in one’s wheelhouse; and Ben Yagoda examined zeugmas at The New York Times.

Ben Zimmer traced the etymology of meh and WTF. James Harbeck taught us how to use the dash and stirred up some controversy by suggesting we kill off the apostrophe. Arika Okrent rounded up 11 common words with very specific meanings on food labels and 11 nouns that only have a plural form.

Kory Stamper delved into folk etymology. Mark Allen explained why there’s no such thing as “the dictionary.” Roy Peter Clark sang the praises of the short sentence. Neal Whitman gave us a linguistic tour of the best libfixes. Ben Schott and Mark Leibovich offered a fun glossary on Washington Words.

In naming news, a woman in Hawaii was told her name was too long for her ID, and GQ gave some advice on what not to name your offspring. Fritinancy looked at naming with numbers, and for Talk Like a Pirate Day, went on a treasure hunt for pirate-type brand names.

Fritinancy’s word of the week was BYOD, bring your own device, “a corporate policy that encourages or requires employees to bring their own mobile devices to the workplace and to use them to access company information.”

Word Spy spotted sharent, “a parent who shares too much information about his or her children”; kleptography, “the secret theft of information using a security hole deliberately built into a cryptographic system”; and vulgarity gap, “a disparity in the tolerance for vulgarity between generations or communities.”

The Dialect Blog expounded on the pronunciation of R in various languages and examined the semi-slur, Oriental.

The Wheel of Fortune became the Wheel of Misfortune with a contestant’s mispronunciation. In response to the hubbub surrounding James Franco on the cover of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, BookRiot suggested putting the actor on all book covers, much to our hilarity.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Darrren Foreman]

Language Blog Roundup: Seamus Heaney, language peevers, when frogs grow hair

Hoyt's German Cologne perfumed with fragrant & lasting [front]

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

We were saddened by the recent passing of Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky fondly recalled a memory of Heaney, as did Meghan O’Rourke at The Atlantic. We learned about Heaney’s last words, and the famous last words of 20 other cultural icons.

In case you didn’t hear, the word twerk was added to Oxford Dictionaries Online. Some people hated this, but our own Erin McKean asserted that since the word has been around for 20 years, of course it belongs in the dictionary, and that “dictionaries merely report the language.”

Meanwhile, John McIntyre explained the problems of the language peever fallacy, Kory Stamper told us how to be a reasonable prescriptivist, and Matthew X.J. Malady told language bullies to step off.

A U.S. diplomat got schooled on proper language use in Hong Kong. We learned about the dangers of increasingly bizarre drug names. Slate launched a new language blog to accompany their podcast, Lexicon Valley, and RapGenius unveiled (ahem), “a searchable database of nearly 60,000 NYT wedding announcements from 1981 through 2013.”

At Lingua Franca, Lucy Ferriss discussed Chelsea Manning, names, and preferred address; Geoffrey Pullum considered ever thus and Dick Swiveller; and Allan Metcalf okayed OK as a magic word and explored bad words turned good.

The Economist explained what makes learning a language difficult. Stan Carey delighted us with Scottish words for snow. Arika Okrent gave us 14 Swedish words that are at odds with their associated Ikea products (rocking squirrel anyone?) and 22 songs that write themselves from a songwriter’s dictionary.

Neal Whitman dissected the affect/effect problem, and James Harbeck defended the semicolon. NPR’s Code Switch recounted the history behind the phrase, don’t be an Indian giver.

Idibon analyzed Burning Man camp names against names of corporations. Fritinancy delved into the Y for I naming trend as well as the sweet deal between Google and KitKat.

Word Spy spotted eye broccoli, “an unattractive person,” as opposed to eye candy; binge thinking, “thinking obsessively and intensely over a short period”; and chatterboxing, “watching a TV show while talking to other people about that program online.”

We love these innovative libraries and that Shanghai metro created a library for subway commuters. We want to hang this midcentury map of American folklore on our wall. We learned how to say how about never – is never good for you in different languages; the origins of American censorship; and how the Milky Way got its name.

Finally, we love the ridiculous tech gadgets in this Sears catalog from the 1980s. Of course our favorite part is the computer glossary.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Boston Public Library]

Language Blog Roundup: Elmore Leonard, literally, fatberg

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

We were saddened by the passing of writer Elmore Leonard, whose best-known works include Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch. The television show Justified is based on his short story, “Fire in the Hole.”

The latest linguistic hubbub has been over literally, the “wrong” definition of which someone happened to notice in the Google definition, and which, as Ben Zimmer pointed out in Language Log, has been in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1903 with citations going as far back as to 1769: “He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.” So, no, like Tom Chivers in The Guardian said, we’re not “literally” killing the English language.

In other language news, fewer and fewer young people are speaking Welsh; Manchester, England was found to be the most linguistically diverse city in western Europe; and due to “computerized quantitative analysis and digital databases that enable searching of thousands of texts at once,” it’s been discovered that many words thought to be coined Shakespeare were not.

This week we learned how like autocorrect, our brains often correct incorrectly and that autogrammar might be joining autocorrect on our smartphones. In other grammar news, Grammar Girl has launched a new iPad word game.

Robert Lane Greene discussed borrowed English words in German and the weirdness of learning English. James Harbeck told us how prescription drugs get such crazy generic names and then recited the names like magical incantations. Arika Okrent gave us three facts about adorable suffixes and Ben Zimmer gave the straight dope on the term doping.

At Language Log, Mark Liberman took on the supposed “sexy baby voice virus,” Victor Mair delved into the “Mandarin is weirder than Cantonese” claim, and Ben Zimmer considered pronouns and Bradley Manning. At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Stan Carey wondered if you couldn’t care less about could care less, and on his own blog looked at the political implications of Ms., Miss, and Mrs.

The Atlantic traced the rise and fall of Katharine Hepburn’s fake accent. At Lingua Franca Allan Metcalf examined the Louisville accent; Anne Curzan discussed the problems with penalizing students for grammar “mistakes”; and Ben Yagoda talked about the most. Tiresome. Trope. Ever and offered a language mindset list for the class of 2017.

Fritinancy contemplated the changing definition of hybrid, and for a word of the week picked fatberg (ew). Word Spy spotted digital hangover, “feelings of shame and regret caused by social network photos and other online evidence of one’s embarrassing behavior”; rescandal, “a scandal that is the same as or similar to an earlier scandal, committed by the same person or group”; shampaign, “a fake, insincere, or misleading campaign”; and guerrilla proofreading, “marking up a public sign to correct or point out a grammatical error or typo.”

World Wide Words debunked another origin myth, this time of the word shit. Jonathan Green, aka Mr. Slang, revealed an impressive timeline of genital nicknames, of which Arika Okrent highlighted a classy 35.

Jon Canter at The Guardian discussed writing the follow-up to Douglas Adams’s comic dictionary, After Liff. We found out the most recent updates to the NSA dictionary and how to edit a dictionary.

In Apostrophe Day celebrations, Grammar Girl had fun with apostrophes in science fiction and fantasy names, and Word Spy offered apostrofly, “an errant or misplaced apostrophe, particularly one that seems to have been added randomly to the text.”

In Seattle, librarians on bicycles are bringing books to the masses; in New York there’s a secret museum in a freight elevator; and people are speaking a variety of languages all over the United States.

This week we also learned about the rise of Game of Thrones baby names, hat tipping in the 21st century, and how to talk in beggars’ cant. We found out some tricks of the trade of various occupations, including the secret language of butchers and how proofreading override the brain’s “autocorrect.”

We’re enjoying this year of Jane Austen glamour, would love to wear our favorite books, and would be willing to try almost any of these food mashups.

That’s (literally) it for this week!

[Photo: Elmore Leonard, via Washington Post]

Language Blog Roundup: Grimm linguist, youse, kerfuffle

Brothers Grimm

Brothers Grimm

Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

In language news, NPR discussed what makes something a “new” language. France gained their own word for binge drinking. In Quebec, a teen who was told by the government that the name of his company, Wellarc, was “too English,” took his complaints to YouTube. Flavorwire told us why they think the new black is an especially irritating cliche.

We learned that one of the Brothers Grimm was a pioneering linguist, what words Bing and Google ban from their autocomplete suggestions, and that while Twitter is available in 33 languages, its universal language is the emoji. This week we also found out how to teach language to dogs and how to learn English through aerobics.

Inspired by Google’s Chromecast, Megan Graber provided seven theories behind the origin of the word dongle. Ben Zimmer gave us the history of the word drone. Robert Lane Greene delved into when the phrase chink in one’s armour might be offensive, while New York Magazine explored female insults.

Jan Freeman considered various spellings of youse while Arika Okrent clarified the different spellings of the surname Weiner. Arika also revealed 12 onomatopoeias from around the world and the grammar rules behind three commonly disparaged dialects.

The Dialect Blog blogged on regionally “corrupted” names, the language of the “The Troubles,” and the accents of the “princesses” of Long Island.

Victor Mair spelled out Chinese spelling bees and character amnesia. James Harbeck rounded up a brief history of royal baby names while at Lingua Franca, Ben Yagoda offered his own take on royal baby words. Anne Curzan had fun with kerfuffle and Constance Hale looked at parataxis.

Fritinancy compared smiles and pouts, and for words of the week, chose chindōgu, a Japanese term for “the art of the ‘unuseless’ idea,” and DPO, direct public offering. World Wide Words explored the origin of wonk.

Word Spy spotted the Matilda effect, “the systematic under-recognition of the contributions of women to science,” named for 19th century American suffragist Matilda J. Gage; phubbing, “snubbing another person by using your smartphone instead of interacting with that person”; and fauxductivity, “pretending to work hard; busyness that consists of trivial or unproductive activities.”

We want to attend this ComicCon for Jane Austen fans, to stay at these hotels with libraries, and to begin using these Asian words with no English equivalent. These creative uses of sentence diagramming make us want to diagram sentences.

We love this list 25 websites for literature lovers, this comparison of Walt Whitman and Breaking Bad’s Walter White, and these band names based on television shows. Finally, we were really creeped out by these two-sentence horror stories.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Lucas]

This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: royal baby language, JK Rowling revealed, calf’s head hash


Welcome to this week’s Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

In royal baby news, Lynne Murphy, aka Lynneguist, spoke with NBC about the difference between British and American baby talk. The OUP Blog explained the little prince’s full name. In less appealing news, Electric Lit offered 10 literary characters and their Carlos Danger pseudonyms.

In language news, The New York Times told us about a language invented by children in a remote Australian village. NPR reported on young people making innovations in language by creating gender neutral pronouns.

BBC delved into how many hours it takes to become fluent in English; The Economist discussed the impact of technology on the culture of the hearing impaired; and Robert Lane Greene compared the language of Democrats and Republicans.

This week we also learned about the secret language of Scottish travelers; familects, the secret language of families; a stolen cockatoo identified by its fowl foul mouth; and why Twitter inspires so many new words.

In author news, Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the British 10 pound note. JK Rowling was revealed to be the author of “debut” detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. The Vulture rounded up 10 Harry Potter hallmarks in the novel and The Guardian gave us a history of pen names. Meanwhile, literary legend Harper Lee is suing her agent for allegedly stealing the copyright and royalties of her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Wall Street Journal explained why startup names are getting quirkier; professional namer Nancy Friedman (aka Fritinancy) spoke with The Atlantic about the pitfalls of cleverly named startups; and ValleyWag got on the startup name bandwagon by giving us a visual of Silicon Valley’s stupid names, inspired by Fritnancy’s Pinterest board.

Ben Zimmer looked at the origins of upset and the term whistleblower. At Language Log, Ben examined the phrase no justice, no peace; Victor Mair considered Japanese loanwords in English; Geoff Pullum poked holes in the dolphin name study; Mark Liberman wondered how some ethnically offensive fake names made it onto the air and set straight a doctor suffering from “no word for X”-itis.

James Harbeck entertained and enlightened us about 10 annoying sounds we need to stop making. Arika Okrent revealed 16 words that are much older than we thought. Lucas Reilly gave us 24 words that used to mean something negative.

Ben Yagoda wondered if we should write what we know, and admitted he doesn’t like the microphone abbreviation mic. Also at Lingua Franca, Anne Curzan personally doesn’t like impactful but won’t tell anyone to stop saying it; Geoff Pullum is glad that The Great Gatsby doesn’t comply with Strunk and White; and Allan Metcalf was amused by Sharknado and other SyF franken-titles.

At the Macmillan Dictionary blog, Michael Rundell had nothing against like, and Stan Carey opined on the “the” abbreviation. At Merriam-Webster, Stan examined those thingamajigs, placeholder terms, and on his own blog reported on the journalistic cliche, than previously thought.

Fritinancy’s words of the week were cronut-rival frissant, a fritter-croissant hybrid “invented and named by Swiss Bakery (“artisan bread specialist”) in Vancouver, British Columbia,” and chap hop, a “genre of comedic British rap music with lyrics in Edwardian English about quintessentially British topics.”

The Word Spy spotted microlife, “a unit of measure equal to approximately 30 minutes of life expectancy,” and obtainium, “an object found or obtained for free, particularly material for an art, craft, or construction project.”

We loved these alternative dictionaries, these gorgeous libraries, and these incredible miniature books. We were happy to learn that a Calvin & Hobbes documentary is coming soon and that we’re not the only ones who couldn’t get through Moby-Dick.

We enjoyed these moments in musical punctuation, are glad that Jay Z took a cue from email and dropped the hyphen from his name, and want to wish said hyphen best of luck in its job search. Finally, we won’t be trying any of the recipes in the 300-year old The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies (calf’s head hash, anyone?), but we love the name.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo from Hollywood Reporter]