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

by Angela Tung on September 6, 2013

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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) WeddingCrunchers.com, “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]

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