Archive for Word Up

Manitoba in February is colder than this

It is often said that the most versatile word in the English language, despite its utter lack of suitability for polite conversation, has only four letters, the first of which is an F. I’m not sure I buy that, but it’s a word that I’m not particularly uncomfortable overusing.

That said, a ridiculous idea popped into my head yesterday: how hard would it be to come up with a complete 30-item Jeopardy! board in which every single correct question contained some variation of that word? You couldn’t actually play it, of course: apart from taste considerations, any player who demonstrated enough smarts to get on the show in the first place would figure out the pattern about halfway through the second answer, and then it would simply be a Fastest On The Buzzer game. Still, there’s that whole versatility thing, which occurred to me while I was reading some unfortunate prognostication for next week that included the dreaded phrase “polar vortex,” a term describing a condition some people apparently believe simply did not exist before 2013. (“These individuals are dumber than this.”)

And you know, both these weather-related examples work just as well with the, um, S-word.

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800 years ago today

Something I found while looking for something else:

The Siege of Sinope in 1214 was a successful siege and capture of Sinope by the Seljuq Turks under their Sultan, Kaykaus I (r. 1211–1220). Sinope was an important port city on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey, at the time held by the Empire of Trebizond, one of the Byzantine Greek successor states formed after the Fourth Crusade. The siege is described in some detail by the near-contemporary Seljuq chronicler Ibn Bibi. The Trapezuntine emperor Alexios I (r. 1204–1222) led an army to raise it, but was defeated and captured, and the city surrendered on 1 November.

I knew that Sinope — today’s Sinop, a nifty little town of 35,000 on the Black Sea, occupies that same space — had changed hands several times over the years, though I hadn’t paid much attention to the details, and the last time I dug around for anything was when I was actually there, forty years ago.

What opened my eyes, though, was the demonym for persons from Trebizond: “Trapezuntine.” I felt briefly abashed for not knowing this. (It’s from the Latin “Trapezus,” which I am told was adapted from ancient Greek.) The Trapezuntine empire expired in 1461 at the hands of Mehmed II of the Ottomans; the surviving city of Trabzon, a place I had a chance to visit but didn’t, was its capital.

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Translation airier

There are enough examples of this phenomenon, I think, to declare a metalaw about it:

Given that there are a couple of thousand somewhat-widely-spoken languages, and (say) 500 somewhat embarrassing words or short phrases in each one of them, there’s a pretty good chance that any randomly-chosen brand name will turn out to be uncomfortably close in sound to something that means “snot” or “trashcan” or whatever in at least one of them.

One example given, from a reader:

I used to live in Moscow, where everyone has long been amused that Ikea chose to name a line of wine glasses “svalka”. свалка can either mean a garbage dump or a dumpster.

Although “svalka” means “coolness” in Swedish.

From my own archives, 2003:

The Buick LaCrosse sedan/sport/utility/whatever vehicle, replacement for the aged Regal, will be sold in Canada, but not with that name.

To us, “lacrosse” is a sport played on a field with sticks. To the Québécois, apparently, it’s a solo act, practiced often in the bathroom, rumored to cause hair growth on one’s palms and/or blindness.

So it was the “Allure” through 2010 or so, when Buick decided the hell with it, this is the LaCrosse, and we’re going to sell it that way. And come to think of it, the Regal didn’t stay dead, either.

(Via Nancy Friedman.)

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It’s a proper noun

Derpy HoovesPejman Yousefzadeh performs the useful task of ragging on Paul Krugman, as raggable an egghead as exists in our time, and while I applaud such activity in general, Yousefzadeh chose to close the raggage with this observation:

Nota bene: If the word “derpy” could be excised from our vocabulary, no one would be more pleased than me.

I would be somewhat distraught at the loss, if only because “Nameless Pegasus No. [whatever]” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. If Krugman happens to misuse it on occasion, well, this is almost certainly true of several other words he uses, including “of,” “several” and “other”: one does not rise to such heady heights without risking oxygen deficiency — or maybe just strabismus.

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Benzifying man

In the November issue, Car and Driver’s Aaron Robinson describes their tested Mercedes-Benz C400 4Matic as “solid and Benzily secure.” As adverbification of an automotive marque goes, this is pretty euphonious: “Benzily, Benzily, Benzily, Benzily, life is but a dream,” especially if you can pony up $61,755, which is E-Class money, for a spiffed up C-Class. And besides, anyone with road experience in an older Mercedes — even I, who had only a few minutes in a Seventies-vintage 240D with acceleration at the lawn-tractor level — knows the feeling of being Benzily secure: it’s like having a bank vault around you.

Still, what I care about here is the word itself. While the Mercedes half of the name is long and inflexible, Benz enters into compounds nearly as avidly as oxygen: already I’m contemplating the FWD demi-lux buggy coming from Daimler, which will also be sold by Infiniti as the Q30 after, I assume, serious deBenzification.

One can play this game all day long. Complain about the indifferent Lincoln product line? You’ve just called for increased — or maybe decreased — Forditude. Quality problems with the ATS and CTS sedans can be traced to Cadillaxity. And if the two of you were getting jiggy in a Tahoe … well, never mind.

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Three Fs, anyway

And it’s not like you won’t figure it out on your own:

As the young folks say, well played.

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Ahead of the game

Which is where you want to be at all times, right? A helpful hint from Tam:

You might note that the first three letters of “preparedness” are “PRE”. You know, Latin for “before”, “in front of”, “ahead of”. This is not a coincidence. The whole notion of preparedness is that when unexpected stuff happens, you have already taken steps to deal with it. It’s the opposite of running to the store for bread and milk because the weatherman said it was going to snow; you don’t need to do that, because you already have bread and milk. (Or if you’re really a hardcore prepper, sacks of grain and a cow, I suppose.)

Still, some people gotta have their French toast.

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You might even call it ruptive

The dis- prefix, says Dictionary.com, is “a Latin prefix meaning ‘apart,’ ‘asunder,’ ‘away,’ ‘utterly,’ or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.” This is almost, but not quite, the opposite of ad-, and most of the dis- words I know sound funny with dis- thus replaced. In some cases, it’s more sensible to remove dis- entirely, as in the case of “disestablish.”

But can you be combobulated? (Or “accombobulated”?) Apparently combobulation is something you have to lose before you can gain:

Taking off your shoes and pulling out your laptop at airport security may leave you feeling discombobulated.

The Mitchell International Airport staff has set up some chairs and a sign just past one of the security checkpoints to help you out. They’ve labeled it the “recombobulation area.”

I can deal with that.

(Plucked from a listserv; the sender was Bryan Doe, who actually reads this stuff now and then.)

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Too silly; didn’t click

Grammar Girl has decided that the semicolon that bisects “tl;dr” is in fact ironic:

Semicolons appear in long, complex sentences — they’re a hallmark of writing that would likely earn the tl;dr label. I can’t think of another acronym or initialism that includes a semicolon (or any other punctuation mark), so whoever included the first semicolon in tl;dr was bucking abbreviation conventions. He or she took an abbreviation meant to endorse brevity and made it longer and more complex by adding a semicolon.

And furthermore:

Some people have speculated that programmers put the semicolon there because some programming languages end lines with semicolons. Others have pointed out that using the semicolon is grammatically correct because if you were to write tl;dr as a sentence, it is two clauses that could be properly joined by a semicolon. But, if you view the semicolon as a symbol of long, perhaps pedantic writing, it would be funny to include the semicolon in the barb you’re directing at writers of such works—ironic because it’s the opposite of what you would expect in an abbreviation.

Although “too long; didn’t read” seems to lack something, complete sentence-wise.

Still, it’s true, you don’t see punctuation in most such constructions, except for the exclamation point — see, for instance, OMGWTFBBQ!!1!

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A fool such as I

An operation called Grandiloquent Word of the Day came up with this polysyllabic portmanteau:

tibuloconcupiscent

A Facebook friend was kind enough to paste this on my wall, suggesting that it was right up my alley. I argued that “I’m just as interested in watching her take them off.” And besides, ZZ Top has already described this phenomenon more than adequately.

Morley, a famed British brand since 1795, was rebooted in 2011, though today they manufacture men’s wear only.

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Metaphor, when the idiots prate

A lot of words have fallen into desuetude over the years, such as, well, “desuetude”; the Friar proposes to bring back their concepts, if not the words themselves, in the manner of the Children of Tama. Try this out for size:

Instead of saying, for example, “ultracrepidarian,” which is supposed to mean “someone who gives opinions on subjects they know nothing about,” we might say, “Chris Matthews, his mouth open.”

It’s a shame that term fell into disuse, inasmuch as we now find ourselves with a surfeit of such individuals.

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Iconically free, or something

In all probability, the Virginia Assembly will not enact this measure in 2014:

The English Language Integrity Act: Makes it a class 6 felony to do any of the following: (1) use the word “iconic” when what is meant is that something is “familiar”; (2) use the word “literally” to describe something figurative (“I was so mad my head literally exploded”; (3) use “as far as” when “as for” is needed (“as far as Miley Cyrus, I think she’s a tramp”); (4) advertise a product as “free” if the consumer must purchase another product to get it. Reference to a product as a “free gift” shall bring a minimum sentence of five years.

As far as this bill goes, I think it has literally no chance of passage.

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Future idiom

I have always been fascinated by the unexpected paths this language has taken over the past several centuries, and how some terminology has survived long past the actual objects it describes: we may not know what a petard is, but we’re damned sure we don’t want to be hoist on, or with, it.

Now Shakespeare wrote Hamlet back around 1600. Is there anything that happened during my lifetime that could produce an idiom which might engage readers — assuming there will still be readers — in 2400?

I’m thinking there’s at least one possible candidate:

Seriously. I’d bet there won’t be knobs of any sort in 2400 — the first blow already has been struck — but the decimal system as we know it will remain, and 11 will always be just a little bit beyond it. We’re already practically to the point where you can talk about turning something up to 11 without having to explain it at all: the idiom is just that handy. Four hundred years from now, when the last Marshall stack is tucked away in the corner of a Museum of Curiosities, there will still be things that go to 11.

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Hardly ineffable

It’s always F-bomb time somewhere:

The site FBomb.co maps in real time whenever the F-word is dropped on Twitter. America and Britain are leaders in cursing online, according to the interactive map, with New Yorkers tagged as the biggest offenders.

Thanks to its creator Martin Gingras, a junior at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, the map not only tracks the F-bombs as they happen, but also features pins that can be clicked to see a tweet and who tweeted it. On Twitter, @FBomb_co retweets random tweets that make up the map.

There are days when I suspect it’s retweeting my entire timeline.

In the time it took me to type this and paste that, about 40 effers were lofted into the Twittersphere. While the tweets are not identified by specific location — all you get is the map — they do include the entire text (with links, if present, though not directly clickable) and the username.

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Cleaving to sanctions, literally

Roger has literally had it up to here with “literally”:

When Webster and other dictionaries announced that the second definition of the word “literally” means “figuratively” — “My head literally exploded” — I had some difficulty with that. Still I tried to shoehorn this new meaning into my vocabulary. Alas, I have failed.

There’s only one honest alternative left:

So while using literally to mean figuratively may be OK (for some), what do I use when I REALLY, REALLY mean literally? How can I make this clear to the reader/listener?

Therefore, I must sadly conclude that the word “literally” has been rendered useless to me. If it doesn’t mean one thing, but rather the thing OR its opposite, then it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Thus, I must purge it from my vocabulary — literally. And by “literally,” I mean the first, original meaning of the term.

While we’re at it, let’s move away from “democracy,” which in 2013 means absolute rule by a self-selected aristocracy via manipulation of 50.1 percent of the electorate, and from “upgrade,” which in 2013 means “whatever we feel like foisting off on you miserable whining users, so shut up and click Agree to the EULA.”

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That sort of goes without saying

This is what happens when lexicographers look up from their work:

Perhaps this was a training class?

(She is, after all, a Dread Descriptivist. Not that this is at all relevant.)

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Why bring this up?

Morgan Freeberg has a neologism for us:

A regurgication is an education dealing entirely with either muscle-memory, memorized verbiage, memorized glossary entries, foreign language accents, or anything else that is entirely separated from command of the topical concepts. Accomplished scholars who have fulfilled all the requirements of their regurgication will be able to reliably pass entrance exams, questionnaires and interviews, so long as none of these challenges demand too much by way of what’s called “thinking on your feet.” But they won’t be able to detect contradictions in the material, nor will they be able to respond intelligently to someone else who has found such a contradiction.

Some things, of course, you have to memorize: think “multiplication tables.” (You can’t assume we’ll always have calculators handy.) But if I’ve escaped this particular form of miseducation, it’s simply because I have had the useful combination of decent recall and the ability to reword stuff more or less on the fly.

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A worthy neologism

Scarcely a day goes by that I can’t find some use for this term:

Just imagine that emphasis is added on the appropriate word, because Twitter doesn’t know how.

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Not to be diacritical or anything

I wouldn’t have thought anything brand-name-related bothered Nancy Friedman more than gratuitous umlauts, except maybe for gratuitous umlauts coupled with an egregious -ify or -ly ending. (Should some poor sap come up with a name like “Exëmplïfy” — well, let’s say I fear her wrath.)

But apparently there is one step beyond:

[G]ratuitous acute accents are worse: Even monolingual English speakers are likely to have encountered a few acute-accented French words such as sauté and cliché. (Hello, McCafé!) We know what the accent is supposed to do to a word’s pronunciation; undermine our expectations and you undermine our confidence in your brand.

One example she cites: The Lé Edge exfoliating tool, which scrapes away just enough epidermis for the purpose of “revealing the newer younger cells and more radiant skin.” Now I know of no circumstances in (my admittedly limited) French in which “le” is rendered as “lé”; but given the shape of the corporate logo, I wonder if maybe they thought that without “guidance” we’d pronounce it as a single syllable. (“I live only to serve, my Leedge.”)

The one I never did figure out was Mazda’s Protegé, predecessor to the current Mazda3. If you ask me, they should have either left off the one accent mark, or given the name its proper Frenchification: “protégé.”

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Not to mention various Yares

A piece about the Levin ZR variant of the Toyota Corolla, which apparently will not come to the States — those crazy Americans hate hatchbacks — drew this quasi-lexicographical comment:

  1. Could it be that Toyota wants to sell their Matrixes before introducing a car that would halt the sale of Matrixes.
  2. Shouldn’t the plural of Matrix be Matrices?
  3. Does Toyota name cars with the sole intent of subverting the English language when they pluralize the name?

As Troilus would tell you, there is only one Cressida, faithless though she be. (This remains my favorite model name ever.)

Then again, one must deal with Prii.

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This post has been scheduled

The following was originally posted by Morgan:

My Mom saw a sultry and subtle evil behind passive-voice sentences. When she was still alive, I didn’t quite understand the rationale for this … it’s just a construct of the English language, which like any other, might make sense in some situations. With each year I see come and go, I get a little bit more wise to the true nature of her complaint. Verbs should be connected to subjects. Oops, uh, pardon me … writers should connect verbs to their subjects. The “who’s doing it” should, at the very least, exist as a common and successfully-communicated idea, between writer and reader, speaker and listener … whether or not it’s stated specifically, it should be spec’d out in some way. To fall short of that goal, is to deceive.

Perhaps the most blatant failure on this count is “Mistakes were made,” so common it now rates a Wikipedia article, tracing usage beyond Nixon’s henchpersons to Ulysses S. Grant, who tossed it into his 1876 State of the Union message — though Grant did finish off the phrase with “I admit it.”

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The urge to concierge

Each issue of The Atlantic ends with a Big Question of varying import, posed to several individuals presumably known to subscribers. The answers are usually predictable — the only thing I really need to hear from Bill McKibben, for instance, is the answer to “What’s your thermostat setting?” — but sometimes inscrutable. An example of the latter, from Sandra Tsing Loh, in the current (July/August) issue, in which the question is “How and when will the world end?”

The world — or at least my sense of an outside world — will end next year, when Barbara Walters finally goes off the air. I’m just old and cranky enough to not want to deal with any of it anymore when the great diva is no longer around to soothingly concierge my news, or newslike substances.

Being older and crankier than Loh, I’ll happily concede the utility of “newslike substances,” but “concierge” as a verb? Merriam-Webster, at least, is not on board with this particular weirding of the language — yet. (Note that I did not complain that Loh split an infinitive.)

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Not a laughing matter

The Guardian’s Sam Leith doesn’t see the humor in LOL:

In the last decade it has effortlessly overtaken “The cheque’s in the post” and “I love you” as the most-often-told lie in human history. Out loud? Really? And, to complicate things, people are now saying LOL out loud, which is especially banjaxing since you can’t simultaneously say “LOL” and laugh aloud unless you can laugh through your arse. Or say “LOL” through your arse, I suppose, which makes a sort of pun because, linguistically speaking, LOL is now a form of phatic communication. See what I did there? Mega-LOL!

Bonus points for “banjaxing.” As it happens, “banjaxed” is an Irish term for “broken or unusable, usually by result of violent damage.” (Admittedly, I JFGI’ed.)

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Thou shalt take heed

Something perhaps lost in translation over the millennia (well, two of them, anyway):

[J]ust about any time I teach from the Scriptures I have to point out a place where the English Bible says “you,” but the original Hebrew or Greek indicates you plural rather than you singular. This means the original author was addressing to a group of people, but a modern English reader can’t detect this because in common English we use “you” for both singular (“you are awesome”) and plural (“you are a team”). This often leads modern readers to think “you” refers to him or her as an individual, when in fact it refers to the community of faith.

Here in Texas (and in the Southern US more generally), I tell my audience that we have a perfect equivalent to the original Greek/Hebrew second person plural: “y’all” the contraction of “you all.”

In some particularly Suthun climes, it’s even more subtle than that: there is Singular (“you”), Specific Plural (“y’all”), More Generalized Plural (“all y’all”). This inevitably baffles New Yorkers and such, who are used to constructions like “youse.” However, with a little practice, anypony can get used to a new set of pronouns.

(Via Finestkind Clinic and fish market.)

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A wrenching dilemma

Something to contemplate:

Do you think it's too ratchet if I painted a car all pink, very light pink or normal pink? border=0

Well, let’s see. I have a vague idea about “ratchet,” and it’s not the kind in my socket set.

Urban Dictionary for the definition:

A diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos, that has reason to believe she is every mans eye candy. Unfortunately, she’s wrong.

See also this possibly apocryphal PS3 game.

And you know, I don’t have a problem with pink cars. (My whole house is sorta pink.) Although I’d be leery of, say, an ’02 Impala with 22-inch wheels and subwoofers capable of generating seismic readings, no matter what color it was.

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This might be literally accurate

Figuratively speaking, anyway:

Silly pie graph

(Clearly, via GraphJam.)

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Perhaps they’ll like it

In the process of grumbling about Air Google’s new digs, Warren Meyer notes:

By the way, if anyone read the fabulous book Barbarians and the Gate, they** will remember RJR Nabisco’s construction of a corporate aircraft palace in Atlanta marked the beginning of the end of that company’s fiscal extravagance.

Which, shortly thereafter, became the beginning of the end of that company, period.

But what I wanted to talk about was the footnote connected to “they”:

I know this is grammatically incorrect, but I am exhausted with English’s lack of a third person singular gender-neutral pronoun and hate saying “he or she.” English is a language built bottom up from actual usage, so lacking any better idea, I support “they” as the solution.

It’s a legitimate gripe, and “he or she” does sound somewhat clumsy. Still, I’ve used it fairly often, on those occasions when I haven’t decided simply to reword the whole sentence just to get out of using that particular construction. (And once in a while I’ll use “she” as the default, partly because of some vague concept of “fairness” and partly because I write stories in a fantasy universe with a preponderance of female characters.)

“They,” I suspect, can migrate from plural to singular; “you” did it, largely supplanting “thou” along the way. And what will we miss if — when — it does? Not much, really.

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#interdit

Le Commission Générale de Terminologie et de Néologie has now taken l’umbrage over the word “hashtag,” and while French Twitter users will not necessarily have Le Commission looking over their shoulders as they type or text, the government-approved term is now “mot-dièse”: “sharp word.”

This doesn’t sound so sharp to me, but hey, it’s France; they’ve got a language to preserve, after all, and un-French terms like “email” and “Quarter Pounder with Cheese” are just so déclassé.

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Authentic robot gibberish

Somewhere in the vast botnet, there is a machine sending out this weird text sample under the title “PC Error Removal”:

mentiams seemasm crosoduching portle drenation ousnappitters filesspective squero tourness scoper shamps oblelibell shamps. oblindings progichastits ritelenmens waywortsmarks extota bequanized viscent exciand matempendully velyncies peneed romesseld. pealth scrium advelnes shrianest compast forgst simposconcia decluble thsterenth efering acticiouts withendes obscor stickerysly farecienies matemper disgroonesset. jurinap burliner sionce scamation bumbericated benesin franno recroutratess ovissivers atered crifyinger riathelmedly climaxons polimillowerly norment scoffects paratole reascessies reextruch gramazing euchbows rantenvics.

It pains me that there are no definitions for these nonwords, so once, anyway, unto the breach:

Portle, v.i. To make use of a portal. (“We portled our way to Beta Centauri to save time and fuel.”)

Compast, n. A pile of organic material that has decayed beyond usability. (“You’re never going to get your tomatoes to grow if you dump that compast on them.”)

Efer, v.i. To use the F-word (q.v.) profusely. (“The Big Lebowski sets the curve for contemporary efering.”)

Burliner, n. A sock of unusual thickness, intended to protect the ankles from certain weeds. (“Better wear your burliners, there’s a bumper crop of stickers this year.”)

Scoffects, n. pl. The personal property of an individual arrested for a misdemeanor. (“We’re holding Mr Franno’s scoffects as evidence.”)

Norment, v.t. To assail an individual with statistics. (“The doctor normented me for half an hour before she’d give me the prescription.”)

Climaxon, n. The theoretical unit particle of orgasm. (“Two hundred sixty climaxons! I’m telling you, Cindy, this one’s a keeper!”)

Feel free to bumbericate your way to some definitions of your own.

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The edge of wetness

Back in the 90s, there was a pre-post-grunge band from British Columbia named Moist, and after reviewing a handful (okay, three) of their songs, I have concluded that they are not responsible for pushing the word “moist” toward its current status as one of the grossest words in existence:

When it comes to nasty words, moist is the biggest offender. But what exactly is moist? Moist is when you step in a warm puddle wearing socks and for the next hour, your feet clop on the hardwood floor and your socks stick to your heels for a split second with every step. Moist is taking your clothes out of the dryer 10 minutes too early and feeling that lingering wetness rest upon your skin. Moist is a kitchen sponge that holds room-temperature sink water from the day before. Moist is when you wear your jacket in a hot room for too long and sweat droplets start to quiver from the pores under your arms. Most importantly, moist is gross.

I think part of the problem with “moist” is that it’s so often paired with “towelette,” a word which also grates on the ears, a word which is supposed to be a diminutive of “towel,” in every other context an instrument of dryness.

Ben Greenman of The New Yorker has an alternative explanation:

“People hate the word moist,” he says. “Without the word, it would leave bakers, meteorologists and amateur pornographers lacking for what to do. I think it’s the texture of the word.”

And at least Greenman doesn’t blame Canadian bands, even vaguely grungy ones.

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