Language Blog Roundup: Nelson Mandela, all caps, dalek

by Angela Tung on December 6, 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 Nelson Mandela. Mandela was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement and served 27 years in prison for “sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.” Upon his release he sought to abolish apartheid, becoming in 1994 South Africa’s first black president. Mandela was 95.

In language news, we learned about millions of people in China who resist speaking Mandarin, preferring their native dialects. U.S. military slang expanded dramatically during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Code Switch at NPR told us why Chaucer said ax instead of ask, and why some still do.

Teddy Wayne at The New York Times considered the death of the catchphrase. Mark Bowden at The Atlantic praised fancy words and BBC News wants to bring back some fun old words. Meanwhile, Android has a bizarre list of banned words.

In case you didn’t know, it’s almost Christmas, and Arika Okrent rounded up six grammar points to watch out for Christmas songs. Don’t know what to get the bibliophile in your life? Get some ideas from this roundup of Best Books articles from Reverb. Still confused? Try NPR’s Book Concierge, an interactive guide to 2013’s best reads.

Did you know the period is pissed? Yes. It. Is. And using all caps isn’t just about yelling anymore, according to Anne Curzan at Lingua Franca, ALTHOUGH IT SEEMS LIKE IT, DOESN’T IT? At The Week, James Harbeck offered a guide on how to use all caps in a useful and not annoying way.

James also gave us a simple way to remember how to use you and I versus you and me. Constance Hale taught us the difference between careen, career, and carom.

OxfordWords blog listed eight words we need to know for The Hunger Games. Ben Zimmer celebrated the Doctor Who 50th anniversary with the story behind the word dalek.

io9 recounted the experiment that led to the concept of thinking outside of the box. Mental Floss listed 12 words that originated in the funny pages. Barry Popik traced the history of the word gastrocrat, an influential person in the food world, and the chilly phrase colder than a witch’s tit.

Robert Lane Greene discussed the decrease in formality in western languages. Arika Okrent rounded up 15 words etymologically inspired by animals and told us how long crazy German words come to be.

At Lingua Franca, Geoffrey Pullum looked at whether and when, and Anne Curzan considered the freshperson problem. At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Michael Rundell discussed the language of conspiracy and Stan Carey peered into the grumbling heart of the curmudgeon.

On his own blog, Stan examined the colloquial use in Ireland of the word cat to mean “awful, unpleasant, rough, terrible, bad, calamitous, or very disappointing.”

Word Spy spotted street as a verb meaning “to release a dangerous or helpless mentally ill person from a hospital because there are no private or public psychiatric beds available,” and perching, “while in a car in a crowded parking lot, waiting for, and possibly following, a person who is going to exit the lot and thus free up a parking spot.”

Fritinancy’s words of the week included geofencing, “a technology that defines a virtual boundary around a real-world geographical area,” and bitcoin, “a decentralized, open-source, peer-to-peer virtual currency.” Fritinancy also took a look at the annual overuse of ‘tis the season, and a lulu of a naming trend.

In other naming news, the Boston Globe discussed the connection between popular dogs’ names, pop culture, and owners’ tastes. Meanwhile, TV nerds are naming their babies after characters from Breaking Bad and Homeland.

This week we learned about the slang of hobos, English con men, Parisian prostitutes, and German bandits. We loved these beautiful bookshelves of questionable functionality and these posters that turn authors’ words into art. We’ll try to remember these life lessons from Joan Didion, whose birthday it was yesterday.

That’s it for this week!

[Photo via Wikipedia, by Paul Weinberg]

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