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 case you didn’t know, a little show called Mad Men is having its season premiere this Sunday. While the show may get most fashion and design details right for the period, what about the language? “Anachronism machine” Ben Schmidt takes a look.
In the Boston Globe, Ben Zimmer discussed Dr. Fill and the rise of crossword puzzle-solving robots, while Erin McKean considered the QWERTY effect and why we like some more words more than others. Johnson weighed in on linguistic manners and the rivalry between two slang-masters.
At Language Log, Geoff Nunberg also had some words about the slang dictionaries in question, while Mark Liberman shed and cast some doubt and light, and Victor Mair interpreted a dubious Chinese tattoo. Meanwhile, BBC News profiled Zhou Youguang, the man who helped invent pinyin, “a writing system that turns Chinese characters into words using letters from the Roman alphabet.”
At Macmillan Dictionary Blog, Orin Hargaves explained speech acts, and Stan Carey posted about nonsense terms (balderdash!), and on his own site, had some great suggestions for new language sites, including Oz Words. Check out their posts on budgie smugglers, “a colloquial term for a pair of men’s swimming briefs” (and an excellent name for a rock band); stormstick, or umbrella; and Johnniedom, “the social world of fashionable young men.”
At Lingua Franca, Ben Yagoda discussed double standard logical fallacies, and glottalization, Mockney, and why some 20-something women from New Jersey sound like Jamie Oliver. Allan Metcalf told the story behind the phrase OK, which originated today.
Across the pond, Lynneguist parsed the difference between get a break and catch a break. Fritinancy deliberated on two big companies with bad name changes (why, Kraft?), and picked for words of the week, minaudière, “a small, hard-sided, often bejeweled evening bag meant to be carried in the hand,” and akrasia, “a lack of command over oneself; a weakness of will.”
In her week in words, Erin McKean noticed stiction, “surface friction that tends to keep mechanisms from beginning to move’”; cheechako, “Alaskan slang for ‘newcomer’”; shengnu, “used to describe an unmarried woman ever so precariously teetering near the age of 30,” literally, “leftover woman”; and quenelle, a kind of dumpling. Meanwhile, Word Spy spotted cisgender, “identifying with one’s physical gender.”
The Virtual Linguist drank in some builder’s tea, the origin of the word gossip, the word cabbage meaning “stuff made out of over-ordered material in a factory,” and the history behind scruple, which once meant “a small unit of weight, as used by apothecaries.” Sesquiotica opined on pell-mell, euphuism, mojo, and irregardless, and Dialect Blog offered up some ‘going to’ contractions and lax vowels for English learners.
NPR dished on that other four-letter word, slut, and the bad girls of history and their not-so-good nicknames. Some weird restaurant names had us scratching our heads (not sure we’d eat at a place called Virus), while these regional sandwich names got our stomachs growling.
We learned about the benefits of bilingualism, the science of the birth and death of words, and the controversial claims one linguist is making about Universal Grammar. We loved this letter from screenwriter Robert Pirosh (“I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady”) and this piece from Jhumpa Lahiri (“The best sentences orient us, like stars in the sky, like landmarks on a trail”). We wanted to know what books these guys were fighting about.
Finally, our favorite site of the week is Good Show Sir, “Only the worst Sci-fi/Fantasy book covers.”