Language Blog Roundup: Elmore Leonard, literally, fatberg

by Angela Tung on August 23, 2013

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]

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