Welcome to our weekly Language Blog Roundup, in which we bring you the highlights from our favorite language blogs and the latest in word news and culture.
This week we were saddened to learn of the death of Michael S. Hart, the founder of the Gutenberg Project and the inventor of electronic books. Our condolences go out to his family and loved ones.
Ben Zimmer spoke with NPR about how 9/11 changed the American lexicon, while the debate continued about retiring the term Ground Zero.
For Labor Day week, Fritinancy had a fitting word of the week, touch labor, “production (hands-on) labor reasonably and consistently applied to a unit of work,” while PWxyz listed the five biggest slackers in literature. In back-to-school news, Columbia University now only wants 200-character application essays – that’s 200 characters, not words, which is little more than a tweet. Best hone your texting poetry skills, and be sure not to commit twagiarism or show bad twittiquette.
In politics, Salon gave us a history of American mud-slinging slurs (you snollygoster!), as well as a the dog-whistle dictionary, which has less to do with canines and more to do with conservative shibboleths.
Meanwhile, another whistle was blown, this time on dolphin language and the recent findings that dolphins actually don’t whistle but “use their nose to produce a different kind of tonal sound.” Word Spy gave us the buzz on beehacker, “a beekeeper who uses digital tools and technology to help monitor and manage a collection of hives,” and Mark Liberman at Language Log told us about vocal learning in wild parrotlets.
Mr. Liberman also axed the zombie rule of ending sentences with a preposition, and had fun with some amusing Amazon reviews for some ridiculously expensive cables. Victor Mair pointed out the economics of Chinese character usage, and Robert Lane Greene at Johnson discussed the lack of –ing in Chinese, which didn’t stop their “fall fashions” from “selling fast.”
In other fashion news, The Wall Street Journal showcased its collection of male fashion lingo (mankini, anyone?). As Erin McKean explained: “‘man’ is used to describe the masculine version of inherently feminine objects.” Erin’s Boston Globe column focused on an infamously unstylish font, while in a classic McSweeney’s piece said font defended itself (NSFW-ly). NPR interviewed Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts; Brain Pickings offered ten essential books on typography; and a designer breathed life into liquid typeface.
At the Macmillan Dictionary blog, Dan Clayton picked a fight about whether or not there’s any difference between how men and women speak; Janet Gough explored gender-neutral words; and Stan Carey considered hopefully. Arnold Zwicky took us on a tour of –ollywoods, while Sesquiotica brought us on their venture/adventure/misadventure, and tested the nocebo effect.
John McIntyre at You Don’t Say discussed John McWhorter’s new book, What Language Is, while at The New York Times‘ Bloggingheads, Mr. McWhorter explained when to yo and when not to yo.
Dialect Blog posted about yod-dropping in American accents, as well as great minds who kept their wonderful regional accents, such as Arthur C. Clarke, who in this 1964 video at Open Culture, predicted the future and got much of it right. The NY Times profiled some other writers who predicted the future with eerie accuracy, while this week back in 1966, a TV show depicted a future in which one could “explore strange new worlds” and “seek out new life and civilizations” (just don’t wear a red shirt).
Grammarphobia explained the origin of the expression, what the dickens (think Shakespeare, not Charles Dickens); Mark Twain wrote his wife a lovely love note; and Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, and other poets will all be appearing on forever stamps next year.
Here are some awesome people reading, and here’s how to play the authors card game. Here are authors and books transformed into warriors, video games, and Legos. Here are Dr. Seuss’ stories transformed into cakes. Here’s something about imitating dead writers on Twitter, and writing like a live one on Yelp. Here’s a list of roller derby girl names, a field guide to social media avatars, and 12 songs with made-up words. Here’s some love for a new site, Word Love.
And here’s the end of our post. See you next week!