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, W-O-R-D-N-I-K, Wordnik

Buzz buzz, the 84th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee starts today!

From May 31 through June 2, elite spellers from around the world will compete for the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship. The winner receives some nifty prizes, including $30,000 cash, scholarship funds, and a Nook eReader.

Of course we here at Wordnik love spelling and the Bee, so much so that we’ll be live-tweeting the final championship round this Thursday, June 2, starting at 8:30 PM eastern time. Join us for our live commentary by following us on Twitter.

But we also have all-things-spelling you can check out now, such as tags of all the winning words over the years, from gladiolus“the center part of the sternum; any of several flowering plants, of the genus Gladiolus” in 1925, to last year’s stromuhr, “an instrument for measuring the velocity of blood flow.”

You want lists? We got lists, from unrecognizable spelling bee words, to recognizable ones, (and more here and here). We have lists of potential spelling bee words, of different types of bees, and of words that look misspelled but aren’t.

Speaking of misspellings, Wordnik pal Ben Zimmer spoke with Scripps News about bad spellers in history, including Abraham Lincoln, and the dangers of spellcheckers and automatic correction.

Still not enough bee-ness for you? Think you can guess the word that will win the 2011 bee? We’ve started an open list for your guesses (2011 Spelling Bee Bingo) and if you guess the winning word, we’ll send you a Wordnik t-shirt and other Wordnik schwag! (If you’re not the betting type, you can also play this totally addictive spelling bee game from Visual Thesaurus.)

Also remember to join us on Twitter this Thursday as we live-tweet the championship round.

Best of luck to all the spellers!

The Cupertino Effect

Ben Zimmer* has an interesting and amusing post in today’s OUPblog about the Cupertino Effect: the tendency of spellcheckers, due to outdated dictionaries, bad algorithms, or a combintion thereof, to insert or suggest nonsensical words.

The recent addition of WordNet definitions to Wordie (which I’ll blog at greater length on Monday) was resulting in a version of this before I tweaked the algorithm. As someone famous once said (Barbie, I think), natural language processing is hard.

* update: I incorrectly called Ben “Bill Zimmer” when this was first posted. Not sure where that came from, sorry Ben!