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!

This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

It’s Friday again, folks, which means it’s time for our Language Blog Roundup, in which we give you the highlights of our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news.

The ignoramus of the week award goes to the narrator of Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s biography video. Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China and Utah governor, speaks Mandarin Chinese and Hokkien, “whatever that is,” quips the folksly narrator. As the article helpfully notes, it’s “a Chinese dialect based in Taiwan, and spoken throughout Southeast Asia by about 47 million people.”

Ben Zimmer at Language Log commented that we “now face the fascinating prospect of having two major presidential candidates who can speak Asian languages with some degree of proficiency” (President Obama knows Indonesian, from his time in Jakarta), and Huntsman has talked about “the importance of learning foreign languages as a bridge to cross-cultural understanding.”  Robert Lane Greene at The Economist wrote about presidential language abilities, while the prolific Ben Zimmer noted some new words from this early stage of the election campaign.

The New York Times pondered Sarah Palin’s undeniable influence on the English language (“How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?”), while K International discussed how Twitter is changing language, and Stan Carey reviewed Guy Deutscher’s book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.

Hopefully after you’ve read Through the Language Glass, or any book, you won’t have biblio-amnesia and forget what you’ve read, though chances are you will (here’s a whole list of book recommendations for you to forget).  In “Whatpocalypse Now?” Mark Liberman at Language Log talks about libfixes, in this case sportspocalypse.  Arnold Zwicky, coiner of the libfix term, has an extensive list.

Meanwhile, a pub brawl broke out in Penrhyndeudraeth, a Welsh village, when bar patrons in the predominantly Welsh-speaking area were forced by management to make their orders in English. We’re happy to report that the pub is now “back under Welsh-language friendly management“. In the Twitterverse a less violent, though no less passionate, disagreement occurred over accent marks.

The Virtual Linguist engaged in a taming of the various meanings of shrew, which originally referred to a “wicked, evil-disposed or malignant man,” and in “the 14th and 15th centuries. . .was applied to the Devil.”  The Wrdnrd enjoyed some sake terms, while Mark Peters over at Oxford University Press blog informed us he likes bullshit and other slang.

Stan Carey also wrote about Silbo Gomero and other whistled languages, while The Dialect Blog posted about Quebec English and California English and the “gay accent,” if there’s a such a thing.  Separated By a Common Language explored the American and British expressions, respectively, “it’s up to you” and “it’s down to you.”

Like Scots words? You can contribute them to an online dictionary.  Meanwhile the Squamish Nation published their first dictionary, “designed to help the Squamish learn their own language and bring it back from the brink of extinction.”

In our neck of the woods, medical students at the University of California, San Francisco are helping to bridge the language divide between doctors and patients through a “free mobile translation application” they invented, which “allows health care providers to play medical history questions and instructions out loud, so far in five languages.”

In fun stuff, the Oatmeal taught us the difference between “ie” and “eg”; the Phoenix New Times listed the best bands with punctuation or typographical marks in their names; and hey, did you know there’s a Language Museum? Flavorwire alerted us to the 30 harshest author on author insults in history. Our favorite? Some William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway – and vice versa – action.

Finally, we wanted to give a special shout-out to our librarian friends as they kick off ALA 2011 in the Big Easy. Nowadays, librarians and libraries are often heading the way in terms of increasing access to information online. For instance, the National Library of Medicine released its “Turning the Pages” iPad app, which  “is free and features selections from three rare books from the Library’s collection.”  The Biodiversity Heritage Library helped to digitize and hosts part of Charles Darwin’s huge personal scientific library.  It was announced that the British Library and Google would be working together to digitize “about 250,000 texts dating back to the 18th Century.”  (Of course “the project will take some years to complete,” so until then, have some fun with the British Library’s interactive timeline on the history of the English language.)

The Atlantic went as far as to suggest that big media could learn a lot from the New York Public Library and what it has been doing around “innovative online projects,” such as “smart e-publications, crowdsourcing projects, and an overall digital strategy that shows a far greater understanding of the power of the Internet than most traditional media companies show.”

Speaking of an innovative online project, this week JK Rowling revealed, an interactive website that will exclusively host the e-book formats of the Harry Potter series, as well as include a social networking element and additional background for the original stories.  The site goes live July 31, Harry’s birthday, though you can sign up now.

That’s it from here!  Tune in next week, same Wordnik-time, same Wordnik-channel.

This Week’s Language Blog Roundup

It’s time again for our weekly Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite blogs and the latest in word news.

First up, the Bee! Congratulations to Sukanya Roy! The eighth-grader from South Abington Township, PA won with cymotrichous, “characterized by having wavy hair.” Congrats also to all the spellers for their stupendous performances! Check back here on Monday for full recap, as well as a couple of fun announcements.

Last week the word world lost an important figure with the passing of Gil Scot-Heron. A “notable voice of black protest culture . . . and an important early influence on hip-hop,” he was a spoken word artist and musican who rose to prominence in the 1970s. You can learn more about Scot-Heron’s life and work at his official website.

The New York Times discussed another man of letters in its review of Joshua Kendall’s The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture. While most famous for penning that famous dictionary, he was also “notably dislikable,” as well as “[a]rrogant, condescending, humorless and socially tone-deaf.”  We still like him.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal spoke with a modern lexicographer challenged with keeping up with today’s rapidly changing slang while Fully (sic) railed against an old Australian law that hasn’t caught up with modern times, namely the Summary Offences Act (1966), which rules that one may be fined for “antisocial behavior,” including “sing[ing] an obscene song or ballad.” Perhaps to avoid the fine, one may want to use one of Arnold Zwicky’s many suggestions for replacements of, shall we say, the king of four-letter words (we like frak).

The Columbia Journalism Review listed some other words and phrases one may want to avoid, as well as a recent word best described as “wish it wasn’t the word of the week” – Weiner (there, we said it).  Johnson considered legalese and misunderstandings around euphemisms, while the Dialect Blog blogged about l vocalization; the difference between a pub and a bar (pub = cozy, bar = sleazy?); the supposed Fargo accent; and the relationship – or lack thereof – between climate and accent.

While we’re on accents, NPR had a story on the curious case of the foreign accent, incidents of individuals suddenly acquiring an accent, probably as the result of head trauma, while there were reports that bilingualism is no big deal for the brain, and in may in fact be an advantage. While that may be true for most people, this translator of cruise ship memos, pointed out by Language Log, seemed to have trouble (“Timid and rapidly grown prostitutes, anyone?”).

K International wrote about the Amondawa, a small tribe in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest, unique in that it has no word for time, and instead “see[s] events in the context of life stages and transitions.” They don’t celebrate birthdays or keep track of how old they are, but “change their names to reflect what stage of life they are in and their current role in their community.”  (Sounds good. I’ll be “Phyllis” instead of 40.)

The Word Spy spied TINO, a political candidate who is “Tea in Name Only” and does not actually ascribe to the party’s views; a haycation, or vacation on a farm; the last name effect, or how people with surnames closer to the end of alphabet are supposedly quicker to make purchase decisions; and our favorite, chartjunk.

Motivated Grammar pronounced the “one another” versus “each other” distinction “a bunch of made-up hooey,” and proposed that grammar mistakes may often be due to speedy delivery, rather than ignorance, perhaps one of the many arguments for why the world needs editors.

On a final bittersweet note, Ben Schott announced this week that he is leaving The New York Times, and that “after two and a half years, thousands of posts and tens of thousands of comments, Schott’s Vocab is closing its doors.”  However, he’ll continue to supply Schott Op-Eds for The Times, and you can always follow him on Twitter.

That’s it for this week. Remember, if you have a tip or would like your language blog to be included in our weekly roundup, let us know in the comments, via email (feedback AT wordnik DOT com), or on Twitter.

After Deadline: Murky Passages

I just discovered that After Deadline, an internal New York Times newsletter on language and writing, is also adapted for inclusion in the Times Topics blog. The most recent post is on murky language and overstuffed sentences, and there’s a nice stash of earlier posts on grammar, usage, words, and other things language-related.

Among them is a piece on the rise of the word we love to hate, the s-word. Even if it pains you to see it in print, the post has some interesting statistics on the rise of this scourge word, which, amazingly, wasn’t used in the Times a single time in 1980, and only once in 1985 (by my nemesis, William Safire). Usage crept up through the ninteies, and set a record last year with over 40 appearances. The author, Philip B. Corbet, doesn’t offer any theories about the source of the plague, though he does suggest it’s time to give it a rest. Here’s to hoping it goes the way of the Bush administration.

Times People: Another Social Network for Adults

Times PeopleThe New York Times* just soft-launched “Times People,” a simple and compelling social networking tool. By following other Times People users you can see stories they recommend, their ratings of movies and restaurants, and their comments on stories and blog posts. In turn people following you can see your Times activity. I’ve been using it for a few weeks, and I love it.

It’s available right now as a Firefox plugin; support for other browsers may come later. There’s also a Facebook app, which ties Times People into your mini-feed.

While I applaud the decision to keep this first release dead simple, I hope it evolves into a proper profile system for the Times, and replaces the existing “member center,” which needs to be put out to pasture.

The Times has launched some cool stuff lately, and this is by far my favorite. It’s elegantly straightforward and truly useful. Unlike most social networks, where adding to your contact list doesn’t give you much more than the queasy sense of being an acquisitive stalker**, your Times People network gives you something immediately useful, in the form of great stuff to read.

*I work at the Times, but wasn’t involved with this, other than as fanboy. The project was lead by Derek Gottfrid, the same guy who wrote TimesMachine.

** One reason Wordie doesn’t have ‘friends.’ Everybody stalks everybody.

Requiem for the print OED

My overlord, the Times (actually, Virginia Heffernan, who I’ve never met), has a nice bit in this Sunday’s Magazine about the end of the printed OED, her discomfort over that, and her chagrined realization that most of her dictionary use has been electronic for some time.

As has mine, but it doesn’t make me love my 1934 Webster’s Second any less. But it illustrates the fact that ginormous printed dictionaries are now fetish objects, as often as not. For practical day-to-day use, the Interblag wins.

Heffernan closes with a few suggested lexicographic resources. One too few, as she omits Wordie. Otherwise a great piece.