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

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!

Vampire Vords (And Accents)

animated bela

What comes to mind when you imagine a vampire accent (as we’re sure you often do)? Bela Lugosi perhaps, or Count von Count. We’ve found that the ways to “speak vampire” are about as varied as the ways to say the word.

Vampire has Slavic origins, and may come from the Kazan Tatar ubyr, “witch.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first appearance of the word in English in 1734, while there have been “scattered English accounts of night-walking, blood-gorged, plague-spreading undead corpses from as far back as 1196.”

Non-English accounts are even older. From Greek mythology we have lamia, “an enticing witch who charmed children and youths for the purpose of feeding on their blood and flesh.” The word probably comes from lemures, “the spirits of the departed considered as evil-disposed specters or ghosts.” Lemures also gives us lemur, named for its eerie appearance and nocturnal habits.

Also from Greek folklore we get vrykolakas, “generally equated with the vampire of the folklore of the neighbouring Slavic countries.” The word is derived from the Bulgarian word vǎrkolak, which is derived from another term that means werewolf. The dhampir is “a half-human half-vampire mythical hybrid creature” in Balkan folklore, and comes from the Arabian dham, “teeth,” and pire, “to drink.” In gypsy or Roma folklore is the mulo, literally “one who is dead.”

The soucouyant is “a night witch who sucks people’s blood, sheds her skin, and can turn herself into a ball of fire and fly,” and comes from West Indies Creole. In Caribbean folklore, the soucouyant is known as the loogaroo, which possibly comes from loup-garou, which you may remember from our werewolf post.

Now how about that vampire accent? The titular vampire in Bram Stoker’s quintessential bloodsucker novel lives in the “the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Transylvania, Bukovina and Moldavia,” basically in and around Romania. Aruguably the most famous film adaptation of the book is Dracula with Bela Lugosi. (The unofficial first film adaption of the book, Noseferatu, is silent, so we don’t get to hear Max Schreck’s vampire accent, or how he managed to speak around those pointy teeth.) Lugosi was Hungarian, not Romanian, and it’s Lugosi’s accent the vampire accent trope is based on.

The accents of film vampires after Lugosi are varied. In the Son of Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. sticks with his American accent (and morphs into an incredibly slow-moving bat). Christopher Lee keeps his British accent.

In the blaxploitation film Blacula, William Marshall, an American actor “trained in Grand Opera, Broadway and Shakespeare,” sounds rather Shakespearean as the African prince-turned-human leech.

New Jersey born and bred Frank Langella has a vaguely European accent in his Dracula rendition.

Count von Count of Sesame Street is modeled after Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (“Ah! Ah! Ah!“) and like many vampires has a bad case of arithmomania (this is based on the superstition that fishing nets and poppy seeds can keep vampires away because the vampires would be compelled to count the knots in the nets and the individual seeds).

In the vampire comedy, Love at First Bite, George Hamilton also seems to imitate Bela Lugosi and, even more disturbingly, discos.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Stoker’s novel stays true to form with a Hungarian accent from Gary Oldman (and a couple of bad British accents, courtesy of Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves).

In Interview with the Vampire, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst play American vampires so they speak with American accents while Tom Cruise speaks with a Tom Cruise-accent.

In the television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vampires don’t have any particular accent, or rather they have the regional accents of wherever they’re from (Drusilla’s is Cockney, Spike’s is north London, while Angel‘s was Irish). The real interest is around the inventive slang of the Scooby gang.

Michael Adams (who teaches a course simply and awesomely titled, “Vampires”) has written extensively on “slayer slang” for VERBATIM magazine and in his subsequent book, Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon (both edited by Wordnik’s own Erin McKean), for example, X-free (“I’m destiny-free”), proper names as verb (“I cannot believe that you of all people are trying Scully me”), and adding the suffix –age to traditionally non-age words (saveage, sliceage, slayage). For even more on slayer slang, check out these posts from Language Hat (“Much?”) and Language Log (“X much”).

As for True Blood, some would argue the only accents are badly executed Southern.

For even more things vampire, check out Word Spy’s entries on vampire state, vampire time, and Twilight mom; go to Fritinancy’s blog and have some vampire wine; or get your degree from Transylvania University.

Next week, the devil made us do it.