This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

by Angela Tung on September 2, 2011

It’s that time once again! Every Friday we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.

First an earthquake, then a hurricane! Or perhaps a hurriquake, as Slate proposed in its piece on how often natural disasters coincide. Arnold Zwicky pondered catastrophic planning (planning that’s catastrophic, or planning for catastrophic events?). Sesquiotica pointed out the irony of a “violent tempest” being named after the Greek goddess of peace, while the Language Corner at Columbia Journalism Review played obscure word mad libs with hurricane and earthquake news. At the Language Log, Mark Liberman rounded up hurricane variants and origins, while Ben Zimmer – and K International – had fun with the mock Spanglish of @ElBloombito.

Mr. Zimmer also took a look at James W. Pennebaker’s The Secret Life of Pronouns, the Beatles and their pronouns, and the true etymology of the word nerd. At Language Log, Mark Liberman explored nerds, alpha and otherwise, as well as some iffy Latin; while Geoff Pullum questioned the existence of Jafaican, or fake Jamaican; Julie Sedivy authorized her dealer; and Victor Mair swam in a pwimming poot in China.

K International considered the challenges of singing Chinese opera as a non-native speaker, while The Virtual Linguist noted that bye-bye, or rather bai bai, has been added to the latest edition of the Xinghua Chinese dictionary. Other new additions include “xueli men, which translates as ‘diploma gate’ and is based on the model of Watergate,” and “refers to the practice of using fake college degrees to get a job,” fang nu, literally “house slave,” and meaning “a person whose only goal is to buy a house.”

In other dictionary news, you can now add your own obscure sorrow to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (I think I have adomania), and apparently police are now consulting Urban Dictionary “to crack the ever-evolving slanguage of the streets.” Meanwhile, the Dictionary Society of North America wrapped up the “annual fuss” over new words (with a shout-out to Erin McKean, thanks!), and John McIntyre at You Don’t Say espoused on the unnecessary brouhaha over the addition of words such as bromance.

Mr. McIntyre also wrote about the persistence of grammar superstitions and prescriptivism and moralism, while the MacMillan Dictionary blog wrapped up Gender English month with a guest post from Aneta Naumoska who questioned the creation of completely gender-free English. Stan Carey discussed the once scandalous word bloody, and on his own blog told us the difference between discreet and discrete.

Grammarphobia explained the origins of the ethnic slur, wop, and the case of the disappearing dots in many acronyms and abbreviations. Slate discussed the secrets of twin speak, or cryptophasia, while Dialect Blog mused about another mystery, the American pronunciation of the word father, and if English dialects will become languages.

Fritinancy sniffed some Britishness in I Fancy You, a new perfume from Texas-born Jessica Simpson, and took a look at some names in advertising, such as zabster zalad; Soylent Green crackers; and Ben, Benjamin Moore paints’ rebranding effort to gain nickname status with customers (others: Radio Shack = The Shack; Pizza Hut = The Hut, which makes this writer think of a certain intergalactic crime lord). Arnold Zwicky drank in some pepsifications; talked about the term confirmed bachelor, and gave some examples of grammatical egotism.

Last week Sesquiotica wrote about fail; this week, it’s win. The Virtual Linguist pondered the origins of chagrin; luvvies and boffins; satin gazar and other fabrics; and, just in time for school, the term 101 (hey, another word without letters!).

PWxyw, the blog of Publishers Weekly, tested our literature IQ, listed some terrible fictional diseases, and some very cool literary graveyards. The Paris Review went southern gothic with a story about Kathryn Tucker Windham, “an Alabama folklorist who spent much of her life collecting and patiently preserving Southern superstitions, recipes, and, most of all, ghost stories,” while Book Bench paid a visit to the great Larry McMurty.

In movie(ish) news, available soon will be these cinema subtitle glasses for the hearing impaired, and a rock opera version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Open now is director David Lynch’s Paris nightclub, Silencio, inspired by the eerie Club Silencio in Lynch’s even eerier film, Mulholland Drive.

A few new books that caught our eye this week were Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc; The MAD Fold-In Collection: 1964-2010; and Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land, which is “rich in lore and folkways,” and traces “the influence of Yiddish from medieval Europe to New York’s Lower East Side.”

Have some spare cheddar? Get this amazing kitchen table from The New York Times, or this print on the grand taxonomy of rap names, or how about some corrected Old Navy T-shirts? If you’re trying to save some dough, these fun Cuban expressions and kawaii Japanese emoticons are free. While you’re at it, check out these gorgeous lacy paper cuts from Japanese paper artist Aoyama Hina; the Noun Project, which “organizes and adds to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world’s visual language”; and the David Foster Wallace Audio Project.

Here’s hoping everyone has a peaceful weekend, free from earthquakes, hurricanes, and especially hurriquakes.

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