This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Mars, Olympics, and more

by Angela Tung on August 10, 2012

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 start off this week’s installment with a guide to the language of the Mars mission. Wondering what “the pair of 2-megapixel color cameras on the rover’s ‘head’” are called? That’s the Mastcam. How about the radiation detector? That’s RAD.  And a Martian day? Sol, Latin for “sun.”

In Olympic word news, we learned about Zil lanes, “special Games Lanes for Olympic athletes and officials,” which “comes from the infamous traffic lanes in Moscow reserved for the most senior officials of the Soviet Union travelling in their black Zil limousines.” We also read up on Ping-Pong diplomacy, whiff-whaff, and Double Happiness Sports, as well as some athletic poetry. Sesquiotica taught us about the word swim, Fritinancy posted about a mix-up between medals and metals, and Liz Potter at the Macmillan Dictionary blog discussed the verbing of some Olympic nouns.

The New York Times had some taboo avoidance fail this week, as explained by Arnold Zwicky: “Ah, that wonderful English adjective cocksuckers (in its plural form, of course, and serving as the object of the preposition like). Adjective, noun, who really cares? Not Jim Rutenberg and/or his editors.” Also at The Times was 17th century writer Thomas Browne and the words he coined (with some corrections from Ben Zimmer). Meanwhile, James Gleick discussed the dangers and annoyances of autocorrect, and Ben Yagoda exclaimed about exclamation points.

At Lingua Franca, Geoff Pullum expounded on the uselessness of spelling bees and the riddle of frisney and frarney, while Ben Yagoda tested a couple of automated grammar checkers. Robert Lane Greene at Johnson told us why language isn’t like computer code, and like Yagoda, tested some grammar software.

At Language Log, Victor Mair addressed all the single ladies in Chinese, and Mark Liberman considered texting and language skills and some journalistic unquotations (Electric Lit rounded up seven more unquotationers). At Macmillan Dictionary blog, Michael Rundell had more issues around “issues,” Orin Hargraves got funky, and Stan Carey felt groovy. On his own blog, Carey compared different ways of writing OK and discussed contrastive reduplication.

Kory Stamper delved into defining colors; Jan Freeman whispered about X whisperers; and Sesquiotica got uglily and celebrated his 100,000th page view with lakh. The Virtual Linguist discussed toad-eater and the origins of weird.

In words of the week, Word Spy spotted Skypesleep, “to create a Skype connection with a faraway partner and then fall asleep together”; Applepicking, “snatching a person’s iPhone, iPad, or iPod”; greentape, “excessive environmental regulations and guidelines that must be followed before an official action can be taken”; salmon, “to ride a bicycle against the flow of traffic”; and do-ocracy, “an organization or movement where power and respect go to people who get things done.”

Fritinancy’s weekly highlights were wazzock, “a stupid or annoying person; an idiot,” and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, “a cognitive bias that causes unskilled people to mistakenly rate their ability as much higher than average.” Erin McKean noted bombfellow, “the male equivalent of ‘bombshell’”; gu gu gu, “a Japanese onomatopoeia that denotes a sticking sensation”; and ambo, “a platform usually reserved for priests” but used by the band Pussy Riot for their performance in a church. McKean also came to terms with fashion terms at the San Francisco Chronicle.

While Lynneguist discussed the British English and American English differences in bed linens and other bedding accoutrements, Dialect Blog wondered if it should take a bath or have a bath. Dialect Blog also considered the Belfast accent and the Pennsylvania question. Meanwhile, Stanford linguists are trying to identify the California accent.

In books and writers, Publishers Weekly gave us eight areas of culture that Moby Dick influenced, and Infinite Boston maps the real-life places in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In music, we learned 23 adjectives that modify rock and a glossary of Mariah Carey’s 10-cent words. In health, we got behind the scenes in the naming of a drug and learned of a disease that could literally scare people to death.

We loved these decoded culinary secret codes and these literary devices found in science fiction. We were surprised to learn that OMG is 100 years old. We agree that actually is actually the worst word on the planet, but think that Trampire is also pretty bad. Finally, if you like limericks and grammar, you’re in luck: Lingua Franca is holding a contest! The deadline is next Friday, August 17.

See you next time!

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