This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

Greetings, fellow wordniks! It’s time again for our weekly language blog roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news.

Earlier this week, The New York Times rounded up their 50 most looked-up words from January 1 through July 14 of this year.  Topping the list is panegyric, “a eulogy, written or spoken, in praise of some person or achievement; a formal or elaborate encomium.” Words that also appeared on the NY Times’ 2009 and 2010 lists are inchoate, opprobrium, and hubris.

Also in the Times this week was Ben Zimmer with a piece about forensic linguistics, used to help prove the authorship of texts, while Fast Company reported on a study on the detection of gender patterns in Twitter.

The Boston Globe discussed the banning of Creole in Haitian schools.  Meanwhile, over in Manchester, England, a department store has “banned staff from using words they believe sound ‘too Mancunian‘” when speaking with customers, such as hiya, see ya, and cheers, and demanding they use only hello, goodbye, and thank youMark Nichol at Daily Writing Tips considered some other taboo words, while Slate defended a speech tic that, um, some think should be banished as well.

Meanwhile, the debate over “irritating” Americanisms continued with part two of a post from Lynneguist, some words from Grant Barrett of A Way With Words, and some thoughts from Stan Carey.

The prolific Mr. Carey also had posts on the expression open kimono, and the ongoing fuss over the word ongoing. Lynneguist, aka Lynne Murphy, posted at Macmillan Dictionary blog on how Americans might want to handle small talk in the UK.

Robert Lane Greene at Johnson taught us how to do a bad southern accent (“Sookie!”), how to use mixed metaphors badly, and how to use them well. From Grammar Monkeys we learned how to correct others’ grammar with a smile, while the Yale Grammatical Diversity project is seeking to document the “syntactic diversity found in varieties of English spoken in North America.”

Our own Erin McKean wrote about why dictionaries make good novels; the A.V. Club listed 11 movies that give language a twist (“Well, smurf me with a chainsaw” is going on my tombstone), and fiction writer Jennifer Egan turns a list into a story, or a story into a list (what’s the diff, we like them both).

Arnold Zwicky explores boldly going, discusses a few unsatisfactory portmanteaus, and how even euphemistic exclamations can be offensive to some.  The Virtual Linguist took a look at the British saying, as you do; a lot of words for toilet; and slang initiatives in Wales and ScotlandThe Dialect Blog wondered why so many fantasy movies and shows are done with British accents, and mused on animal accents and vowel shifts.  K International examined the translation of movies, as well as languages in New Guinea that have fallen silent.

Fritinancy reviewed the names of fake chicken (or chikn?) products.  Every Station gave us some words from London’s Victorian underground (just a few of our favorites dollymop, lushington, and gonoph).  Mental Floss detailed 15 words for which there is no English equivalent  (though we’d argue that for number eight, the Turkish gumusservi, “moonlight shining on water,” there is one: moonglade).  Gothamist let us know that Scrabble street signs will be back in Queens, New York this fall.

Finally we wanted to congratulate Sue Fondrie for writing 2011’s worst sentence in English and winning the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction annual bad writing contest. Without further ado, here is Ms. Fondrie’s winning entry:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Ah, those bloody, sparrow-like pieces of memories, I know them so well. (“Sookie!”)

Till next week!

Wordnik, Varnish

I just added a Wordnik chiclet to the word pages. The new link has pole position, on the far left of the row of links beneath each word.

I love Wordnik’s kitchen sink approach—they have tremendous data, all of which they dump in your lap—and that they include real-time search from Twitter, which will hopefully expand to include FriendFeed and other real-time services. They* are cataloging the language as it’s being used and created, which is awesome. Each of Wordnik’s 1.7 million words has a summary page which links to detail pages for etymologies, examples, tags, and more. It’s not much to look at yet, design-wise, but the content is fabulous. Slap on a coat of varnish and it’ll be perfect.

Speaking of varnish, last night I added a new caching mechanism to Wordie, called… Varnish. Wordie is serving pages considerably faster now, and I think this will also fix an occasional issue that made the homepage molasses-slow when it was being updated during high traffic periods. The changes may have broken some stuff in the margins (like Errata, for a while—thanks to telofy for alerting me to that), so let me know if Wordie is more erratic than usual.

* “They” are celebrity lexicographers Erin McKean and Grant Barrett, on the editorial side. Wordnik is pedigreed 🙂

Who Gives a F*** About An Oxford Comma?

That’s the question posed by New York band Vampire Weekend in a song of the same name, and posed in turn to a bunch of wordie types by Michael Hogan of Vanity Fair.

The panel included Grant Barrett of Double-Tongued (answer: “a little bit”), V.F.’s own copy editor, Peter Devine (“a modest-size fuck”), and David Rose, a V.F. writer and actual Oxford grad. Perhaps not coincidentally, Rose was vociferous, ardent even, in the comma’s defense, professing to also give “a damn and a bean.”

Vampire Weekend’s lead singer, Ezra Koenig, says “the song is more about not giving a fuck than about Oxford commas.” But Ezra, it’s just so rare that anyone outside of our tiny world even knows what an Oxford comma is. Yours is almost certainly the first song ever to mention it. Even if you are using it as a metaphor for small-minded failure to see the forest, please, let us have this little moment.

Vampire Weekend is having an extended moment, and their new record is great, laced with Afro-pop and ska beats, twinkling guitar and piano parts, and lyrics that are literate without being all Professor Von Schmartzenpanz about it. The band themselves claim to be “specialists in the following styles: ‘Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa’, ‘Upper West Side Soweto’, ‘Campus’, and ‘Oxford Comma Riddim.'”

Fred Wilson, blogging about their record release show last night at the Bowery Ballroom (funny that they’re just getting around to releasing a CD), has posted an MP3 of “Who Gives a Fuck About An Oxford Comma.” I don’t want to hotlink him, but it’s worth heading over for a listen.

NYTimes Buzzwords 2007

The “Word of the Year” roundups just keep coming. Grant Barrett’s guide to this year’s award season starts with Webster’s nomination of “grass station” on October 31st* and runs through the American Dialect Society’s 18th annual WotY vote, to be held January 4. It includes a full 17 events, including The New York Time‘s Buzzwords 2007 piece, also by Grant, which came out today and is the best of the lot so far.

Grant makes no pretense at being complete or authoritative, though as a professional linguist, author of The Lexicographer’s Rules, and host of the radio show “A Way With Words” he’s more qualified than most to do so. This is a list of words and phrases that caught the eye of someone whose business it is to pay attention to such things, and it’s a welcome change from the typical pseudo event.

Most importantly, Grant has a good eye, and ear. Earmarxist, crowdsource, and ninja loan are delightful, as are most of the others on this list.

* Amazingly Webster’s New World doesn’t seem to have a blog entry or even a press release about it. Here’s a newspaper article.

When lexicographers strike!

Daniel Cassidy’s “How the Irish Invented Slang” was recently the subject of a flattering (some might say fawning) story in The New York Times.

Grant Barrett, professional lexicographer and the editor of The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English, called bullshit on Cassidy in a post on his blog and here on Wordie. Our own beloved sionnach weighs in as well.

It’s not exactly bareknuckles–this is Wordie, we try to be civilized–but it’s edifying to hear from the pros about what constitutes proper lexicography. I’d like to hear Cassidy’s response (Barrett isn’t the only one to find fault), but as far as I can tell he hasn’t responded to his critics, on Wordie or anywhere else.