Archive for Word Up

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 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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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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How to drop names

Lesson 1: Be sure you’re dropping an appropriate name.

Facebook screenshot referencing Hakkar the Soulflayer

Mentioning Hakkar the Houndmaster would not have been quite so effective.

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The umble instrument hath decreed for this month:

Yes, consumers are more demanding, time-starved, informed, and choice-saturated than ever-before (we know you know). For brands to prosper, the solution is simple though: turn SERVILE. This goes far beyond offering great customer service. SERVILE means turning your brand into a lifestyle servant focused on catering to the needs, desires and whims of your customers, wherever and whenever they are.

Um, no, it does not mean that. You don’t have to believe me, but you should definitely believe Nancy Friedman:

It isn’t a neutral term meaning “of service”; rather, it means “abjectly submissive,” “slavish,” “relating to servitude or forced labor.” Its synonyms are “obsequious,” “toadyish,” “sycophantic,” and “fawning.”

Not a positive association in the bunch.

See, for instance, “Check our monthly Servile Specials.” And does “ever-before” actually require a hyphen?

(Title courtesy of Uriah Heep. No, not the band.)

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You’re so syllable

I can’t say I’ve always wondered about this, but I must acknowledge the truth of the matter:

It has been noted that “Uh”s and/or “Uhm”s in linguistic, cultural and situational settings can perform varying functions not only according to their timing and their intonation, but also dependent on their position in a sentence.

Curiously, I tend to use “um” here and “uh” in fiction. I’m not quite sure why I make the distinction.

(Via the Local Malcontent.)

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More dinty

Or, we can have archaic and eat it too:

“[B]y dint of” — does any American speaker of English actually use that? I only know it as an “English” translation of some French construction — which I have now forgotten. But of course the English phrase sticks in my head, and even though it may be archaic, it still fits some situations, so I use it.

I duly typed “by dint of” into the Google Custom Search box over in the sidebar, restricting it to just this domain. Got 857 results. Admittedly, some of them were for the same page — this happens when you have individual, monthly and category archives — but still, that’s more than a hint of dint.

Then there’s Antarctica’s Dint Island, within a handy 7 km of Vittoria Buttress.

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Not to be confused with “sembling”

Smitty has a neologism to offer:

The sense of the word prevaricate seems to be a sequence of fact distortion moving from false to true, as investigation drags facts to light.

Maybe one of the few genuine “accomplishments” of this administration is creation of a new form of lying: postvarication, where the truth is served up for the target audience, and then a pile of hooey follows for the purported rubes. Postvarication goes from true to false.

Not that this necessarily replaces the old forms of lying, which are still getting plenty of use on both sides of the aisle, but hey — progress!

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Open the door, Richard

Based on a post from yesterday, Fillyjonk has come up with the term priapiumcephaly, which combines scientific lingo for “genitalia” and “head.” It’s almost a certainty that you know at least one individual who can be described in those terms. And while using seven syllables to express an idea that requires only two goes somewhat against my grain, I have to admit that the derivation of this term was sufficiently elegant to leave me with the classic coprophagic grin.

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We demand an explanation, and by “we” I mean Lynn:

What makes a pro tip a pro tip, as opposed to just a plain, ordinary tip. Most of the “pro tips” I come across don’t seem to be related to any particular profession nor are they professional in any way. But of course I’m just assuming that “pro” is short for professional. Maybe it’s short for progressive? Profound? Probable? Or maybe just pro, as opposed to con?

Having seen the term inserted in front of some fairly unsanitary-sounding concepts, I can say only that I’m pretty sure it’s not short for “prophylactic.”

However, Know Your Meme offers an actual explanation:

PROTIP is a term often used in forums and comments to preface snarky, obvious, counterintuitive, or sometimes genuine advice for the novice. Its usage is derived from the laughably obvious and even inadequate gameplay suggestions originally found in video game magazines published in the 1990s. While it implies an offer of friendly suggestion similar to FYI, “protip” is commonly used online as a false preface to obvious or sarcastic comments that are generally unhelpful.

KYM has an actual 1995 citation for the term.

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What does “orange” mean?

Well, yeah, it’s the color of an orange; but if you’re in the business of putting together a dictionary, that definition might seem remarkably unspecific. For comparison, Kory Stamper of Merriam-Webster on “coral”:

[S]ense 3c yielded up the fresh wonder, “a strong pink that is yellower and stronger than carnation rose, bluer, stronger, and slightly lighter than rose d’Althaea, and lighter, stronger, and slightly yellower than sea pink.” Carnation rose was clearly the color of the pinkish flower on the tin of Carnation Evaporated Milk, and Rose d’Althaea was clearly Scarlett O’Hara’s flouncy cousin, but it was the last color that captivated me. “Sea pink,” I murmured, and incurred the harumphing wrath of my neighbor. As he stalked off to find a quieter corner, I wanted to stand up and shout, “I grew up 1500 miles from an ocean! I didn’t know the sea was pink!”

Depends on how early in the morning you see it, I suspect. (Then again, I live 1500 miles from an ocean, and I sleep late when I can.)

Oh, and “orange”?

“Orange” in our Learner’s Dictionary is not a color between red and yellow, as it is in the Collegiate. It is the color of fire or carrots.

Or, presumably, carrots on fire.

(Via this Nancy Friedman tweet.)

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Well, frick

Instead of “frack,” which seems to upset people:

It was hypothesized by the Public Policy Research Lab [at LSU] that the actual word “Fracking” may have a negative connotation that is separate from the environmental concerns that often accompany discussions of the process. Due to the harsh consonant sounds in the word itself, and an undeniable similarity to a certain other four letter word starting with the letter “F”, it seemed plausible that some of the negative public sentiment about “Fracking” may result from how unpleasant the word itself sounds.

In order to test this hypothesis the Public Policy Research Lab placed two randomly assigned blocks of questions into the 2012 Louisiana Survey. Half of the respondents got one block, half got the other. One block contained questions about “Fracking” and used the word “Fracking” while the other block of near-identical questions … used a description of the “Fracking” process without actually using the words “Fracking” or “Fracturing.”

Apparently using that particular F-word reduces support for the process:

Comparison of responses to the 2012 Louisiana Survey

Still, I can see myself adapting this research to the vernacular: “What the hell kind of fracking response (or, for that matter, non-fracking response) was that?”

(Via Language Log.)

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O wicked Prescriptivist, forcing people to speak, and presumably to write, according to some moldy old rules:

For the individual looking for a higher education or trying to secure a decent job, what seems more humane: Admitting that, ugly, élitist, and unfair as it is, prescriptivism is currently the dialect of power and being able to manipulate that dialect can help you get ahead, or pretending that utopia is at hand, that everyone is a revolutionary, that linguistic anarchy will set you free? The choice to use our natural dialects whenever and wherever we please, to live in a world free of language-based racism and classism, may indeed be a worthy end for which to strive, but it’s also worth remembering that individuals don’t live in the end. They live now.

Whereas The New Yorker, which published this piece on one of their blogs, lives in whatever ancient period still demands an accent aigu on the E in “elitist.”

Nancy Friedman, who has listened to speakers from every percentile, seems to think this whole “dialect of power” business is a load of dingo’s kidneys:

Maybe “prescriptive English” is how the powerful people at the New Yorker speak and write. But as far as I can tell from my sorties into other corridors of power, it sure ain’t how “the system works right now.”

You want to know how “people in power” — company presidents, board chairmen, politicians, and other members of the .01 percent — communicate? I’ll tell you. They say and write things like “between you and I” and “please circle back to Fred and myself.” They write “alot” and “alright.” They say “hearken back.” They use comma splices. They confuse your and you’re, rein and reign. They’ve never met a Business Concept that didn’t merit Promotion through Capitalization. They smiled benignly upon the 43rd president of the United States — a former person of power — when he publicly said misunderestimate and Grecians.

Or is he “a person of former power”? Someone who would insist on that construction, I aver, is in need of swift refudiation.

My usual rule for such things is “What would William Safire say?” Then again, over the years, he probably wound up eating more than his recommended daily allowance of words.

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Superlativer than thou

If you looked at that title and immediately thought you’d seen similar constructions before on these premises, well, let it be known that Nancy Friedman might not approve of sloppily assembled comparatives like that:

Sticking an -er or an -est on an adjective doesn’t tell me you’re creative. It’s no longer a way to stand out from the competition. All it says is that you’re too lazy to do some truly original thinking about what your brand means.

She may have me deader to rights than I anticipated.

And I must quote from her footnote about the perfectly cromulent (it’s the cromulentest!) word “embiggen”:

[Its] coinage is usually attributed to Simpsons writer Dan Greaney, who used it in a 1996 episode. In fact, the first citation for “embiggen” appeared in 1884.

Of course, she’s right:

The verb previously occurred in an 1884 edition of the British journal Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc. by C. A. Ward, in the sentence “but the people magnified them, to make great or embiggen, if we may invent an English parallel as ugly. After all, use is nearly everything.”

The idea that “use is nearly everything” is controversial to this day.

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Stumbling over objects

Laura Conaway at the Maddow Blog quoted Hob Bryan, a state senator from Mississippi:

What we have not done is to pass bill after bill after bill that was obviously unconstitutional just so we could all get on record one more time as casting another vote realizing that what was going to happen was someone would file suit the next day and the legislation would never take effect.

And “for the pure geek of it,” she invited Maddow readers to diagram that salamander of a sentence — which they did.

Mark Liberman of Language Log is pleased to nominate Bryan’s effort for the semi-coveted Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding.

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