Archive for Word Up

Either way

An excerpt from Roger Green’s Hawaiian omnibus:

Incidentally, “most people think that ‘Aloha’ is a word that means both hello and goodbye” That is not true. “In Hawaiian we say ‘Aloha’ both when greeting someone and also saying goodbye. But that is not to be taken literally. The real meaning of Aloha in Hawaiian is that of Love, Peace, and Compassion.”

There’s a similarly protean word in Hebrew, which was at the center of a joke in David Frye’s I Am The President, a 1969 LP in which Frye plays, among others, Richard M. Nixon. In this setup, Nixon is being briefed on protocol by George Jessel, inasmuch as Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, was coming to Washington for a state visit.

Jessel: “Now when Mrs Meir comes in, you say ‘Shalom’.”

Nixon: [nods]

Jessel: “And when she leaves, you say ‘Shalom’.”

Nixon: “How do I know which is which?”

Jessel: “If she leaves after you’ve said it, you’ve said goodbye.”

Sometimes, context is everything.

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With fronds like these

I think we all have stumbled over a word or two now and then:

So the martial arts school where I study has replaced a water wall, which really was more of a water on the floor by the wall in the brief period where it was operational, with a fish tank to which they’re slowly adding fish, and I mentioned that I knew a guy who had a saltwater tank and was raising anemone. Sea anemone, that is, not the terrestrial flower after which it is named.

One of the listeners made mock of my pronunciation of the word, which immediately made me self-conscious of my pronunciation.

Which, as it turns out, was correct all along:

The question was whether I was throwing an extra N in it. In my defense, I might have said “an anemone.”

But the problem wouldn’t have occurred in the first place if I’d said sea anemone, which is what I was talking about. But I know aquaria less than I know exotic words and how to use them.

If it’s any consolation, I’ve bungled some truly spectacular pronunciations in my day, and my mad spelling skillz didn’t help one bit.

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Medically-approved dangle

The letter began this way:

“As a patient of [name redacted] Rehab, thank you for trusting us with your health care needs.”

Perhaps needless to say, these are not my go-to guys for copy editing.

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Rosetta Stone to the white courtesy phone, please

Not a repeat from the year 6565. Yet.

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The man and the munition

From the previous post:

Sandbox tree fruit looks like little pumpkins, but once they dry into seed capsules, they become ticking time bombs. When fully mature, they explode with a loud bang and fling their hard, flattened seeds at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and distances of over 60 feet. The shrapnel can seriously injure any person or animal in its path.

“Shrapnel” is such a great word, it deserves some exposition of its own:

Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842) was a British Army officer whose name has entered the English language as the inventor of the shrapnel shell.

In 1784, while a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, he perfected, with his own resources, an invention of what he called “spherical case” ammunition: a hollow cannonball filled with lead shot that burst in mid-air. He successfully demonstrated this in 1787 at Gibraltar. He intended the device as an anti-personnel weapon. In 1803, the British Army adopted a similar but elongated explosive shell which immediately acquired the inventor’s name. It has lent the term shrapnel to fragmentation from artillery shells and fragmentation in general ever since, long after it was replaced by high explosive rounds. Until the end of World War I, the shells were still manufactured according to his original principles.

The Crown awarded him £1200 a year for life, some of which he actually was paid. (This equals about £82,000 today.)

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Careful with those italics, Eugene

The Friar gets an unexpected lesson in emphasis:

[O]ne of the sentences I would write about what I did right this year uses the exact same words that would show up in a sentence that describes what I did wrong.

Right: “I deleted almost every political Facebook post I saw, no matter who it came from.”

Wrong: “I deleted almost every political Facebook post I saw, no matter who it came from.”

Subtle. Nuanced, even.

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Whatever that may mean

As though Japanese wasn’t difficult enough as it is:

There are plenty of dead words in languages all over the world, but can the same be said about ghost words? Floating around the murky regions of digitized Unicode values are anywhere between 60 and 100 yürei-moji — literally, “ghost characters” — haunting the Japanese kanji lexicon.

Though academically obscure, these characters’ origins can be understood readily enough by anyone who has mistaken their doctor’s handwriting for chicken scratch (or vice versa, for that matter). All it took was a few unintentional splatters of ink and some poorly rendered photocopies to bewitch people into seeing kanji that, for all we know, should never have existed.

And are these bogus-ish characters being expunged? Not in the least:

Despite another two decades having passed since the discovery of yürei-moji they can all still be generated using standard fonts in most word processors via Unicode input. The reason for this harkens back to the first JIS Kanji Code revision in 1983. These revisions added some new characters, modified roughly 300 kanji to depict simplified forms, and swapped some kanji around as per the request of the education ministry.

Unfortunately, due to the limited functionality of early-1980s computers, these revisions caused massive technical problems with international Unicode compatibility between both Chinese and Korean computers. So, when the 1997 investigation shed some figurative light on these spectral symbols, the JISC decided that it would be far less of a headache to just register the correct kanji in new code and allow the yürei-moji to remain with their original Unicode values, awaiting the day when an overly enthusiastic translator writes an article about them.

And there will always be the reader, mystified by what she’s read, who chooses to follow up her puzzlement with research; it would be unkind to leave her in the dark.

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The anfractuosity of it all

“I have never in my life experienced any benefits from having a strong vocabulary,” claims the Friar:

During the school years, polysyllables attracted “donees” for my lunch money but repelled the chicks en masse. When writing for the newspaper, they earned me significant editing. While they were useful in seminary, that’s still a form of academia and is therefore of no value to the real world. In fact, seminary gave me an entirely new realm of vocabulary I can’t use in real life, such as “hypostatic union.” The phrase refers to the Christian understanding of how the divine and human natures of Christ co-relate within one person, but I’m never going to say it in a sermon. Not because other people can’t understand it — but because if I do use it I’ll have to explain it and I’m lazy.

Those of us who did not hear The Calling will look at “hypostatic” and think of something like Discwasher, which is supposed to remove dust, and by inference noise, from phonograph records. (Yes, I have one. Why do you ask?)

The one real thrill of having a passing acquaintance with those ten-dollar words, I think, was that you could watch Firing Line, listen to Buckley spill out unScrabbleable terms like “eleemosynary,” and not roll your eyes.

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Social dudity

Gender-specific? Dude?

Is 'dude' gender-specific?

Clearly, “dude” abides.

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Come on, get farty

A Mental Floss piece on “Innocent Words with Surprisingly Naughty Origins” yielded up this gem:

A partridge is an unremarkable game bird or a living gift that sits in a pear tree, right? Its name should mean something similar to “tasty bird” or “eccentric gift.” Instead, partridge originates from the Greek verb perdesthai, which means “to break wind.” Partridge became the “flatulence bird” because its weight and wing shape cause it to make a low, whirring noise when it takes off, creating a rather unfortunate sound.

The late David Cassidy was not, unfortunately, available for comment.

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Cromulence achieved

And high time, too:

Some of the new adds are here.

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Insist on your right to sound stupid

After all, life is unfair:

If ever you need an example of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” [George W. Bush, written by Michael Gerson], there’s a legitimate Exhibit A.

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Hanger management

I know this feeling entirely too well:

We’ve all been there before. Who hasn’t experienced that awful feeling when you’re starving and then start to get mad that you’re starving? When there are no snacks to be found, hunger and anger collide to form the “hangry” phenomena. I’m sure you’ve used the term to describe your desire for pizza (when there sadly was no pizza) before erupting into a volcano of screams and tears.

Well, “starving” is probably stretching it a bit; it’s not like I look emaciated or anything. That said, that particular hybrid emotion is familiar. And now:

If you’re looking for some academic sources to validate your unsatisfied emotional state, well, look no further. The Oxford English Dictionary has just included the word in their latest update.

You’re kidding, right? You’re not?

Here’s how Head of U.S. Dictionaries, Katherine Connor Martin, explained it in a statement:

“It is only in the 21st century that the word hangry, a blend of hungry and angry used colloquially to mean ‘bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger,’ has entered common use. However, the earliest known evidence for the word dates from 1956, in an unusual article in the psychoanalytic journal American Imago that describes various kinds of deliberate and accidental wordplay.”

So there. Next time you’re frustrated because the fridge is empty, at least your plaint is lexicographically approved.

(Via American Digest.)

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Back and forth

By now you know what a palindrome is: it’s a series of letters or of individual words which, when spelled backwards, is identical to the frontward spelling. Bob can tell you about these:

Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?

It occurred to a Canadian lad that there is no word for a series of letters that yields up a word in one direction and a wholly different word in the other:

I mean, Martin Gardner came up with the perfectly sensible “semordnilap” for these, but it never, ever caught on.

Hence: “Levidrome.” It’s “-drome,” from Greek dromos, direction, and “Levi,” the kid’s name.

A word from Oxford Dictionaries on this matter:

So why not “levidrome”?

(Via HelloGiggles.)

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Professor Tom Lehrer turned out a number (actual number: 10) of didactic yet hilarious songs for The Electric Company back in the 1970s. Adverbially speaking, this was my favorite:

I went thirty years without hearing this, and hadn’t forgotten a word, though I did get two verses out of order.

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A noun of pronounced fugliness

I guess this is for people who didn’t take enough umbrage at “staycation.”

And the “experience economy”? Oh, please.

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Not a machine-gun repair part

Nancy Friedman describes a knack one really must have to work with English, the word for which is in German: Sprachgefühl. It’s like this:

It means, literally, “a feeling for language” — sprach is related to English “speech,” and fühl to “feel” — and like some other mouth-filling German words (weltanschauung, gemütlichkeit, schadenfreude) seems both slightly untranslatable and immediately, intuitively understandable. With sprachgefühl, you’ve either got it or you don’t.

You probably remember sprach from Richard Strauss.

She quotes Merriam-Webster’s superstar lexicographer (I do love the idea of a “superstar lexicographer,” so please let this be) Kory Stamper:

Sprachgefühl is a slippery eel, the odd buzzing in your brain that tells you that “planting the lettuce” and “planting misinformation” are different uses of “plant,” the eye twitch that tells you that “plans to demo the store” refers not to a friendly instructional stroll on how to shop but to a little exuberance with a sledgehammer.

I have, I think, a smidgen of this characteristic, though likely not enough to make it possible to earn my living with the pen, or for that matter to avoid ending up in the pen.

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Displaced over the millennia

Truth for our times, and theirs:

Probably why I remember Vercingetorix after all these years, but can’t tell you much of anything about Zachary Taylor.

Curiously, what little remains of my conversational Turkish is the set of integers, one through ten, and “Where is the toilet?” (“Tuvalet nerede?”)

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Whatever that may mean

The Car Talk newspaper column continues, and sometimes it throws me for a loop:

The standard trucks, like the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado, are humongous now. And the so-called smaller trucks, like the Chevy Colorado, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, are simply “big.”

Of those smaller trucks, the Chevy is the most modern, the Tacoma is the most reliable and the Nissan is the most Nissany.

Damning with faint praise, or praising with faint damns? I’m not quite sure what “Nissany” actually means.

I do know one person who has owned two Frontiers in succession. Perhaps I should ask her.

In the meantime, I probably should try to make up adjectives for other auto marques. I plead guilty to using “Bimmeresque” once or twice.

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Effing the ineffable

I picked up a charity compilation a few years back which contained several songs in their “Clean Versions.” Seemed legit: someone willing to put up ten bucks for a Good Cause might not be so willing to hear Bad Words. And besides, it’s not like you can’t hear that stuff everywhere:

[O]veruse has robbed many of our current words of their shock value and power. When every other word is the four-syllable combo that implies the subject is Oedipus in full-on Jocasta-shipping mode, then a user loses the ability to use it to truly insult someone.

This works because it was used only once in 92 minutes, thereby making it unexpected:

(You might not want to crank the volume up at your workplace.)

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Awe, shucks

Remember when “awe” was, well, awesome? Not anymore:

Matched up against all the torrent and cascade of moments though, this genuine awe was rare; it was one of the pearls beyond price, the shining instant of “Ah ha, so that’s what it’s all about.”

Not so today. Today awe is as common as clay. Today all things of man possesses the awe of someness. The movie is awesome. The SmartCar is awesome. The candy bar is awesome. The cheeseburger is awesome. Today it would seem that every slice of tripe spun out of the crap factories of pop culture is awesome even though one note of the 9th Symphony would crush the entire oeuvre of Aerosmith. My morning latte was described by the barista as “awesome” when, like all our cornucopia of crapulous things described as such, it was quite mediocre, thank you.

I wonder if this was a byproduct of lowered expectations: if everything is mediocre or worse, yet we need something to extol, it seems almost inevitable that we’d experience some sort of word inflation of this sort.

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I swear

Probably, so do you. And if you’re in the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government has actually quantified your swearing:

Every swear word in the English language has been ranked in order of offensiveness.

The UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, interviewed more than 200 people across the UK on how offensive they find a vast array of rude and offensive words and insults.

People were asked their opinion on 150 words in total. These included general swear words, words linked to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, body parts and health conditions, religious insults and sexual references, as well as certain hand gestures.

They were asked to rate words as mild, medium, strong or strongest.

Bloody crap. Sod off. (Mild, mild, and mild.)

(With thanks to Lynn S., who doesn’t talk like this. Much.)

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Such language

It might have been a good idea, but the outcome was predictable:

It was intended to be a lighthearted quest to find the least popular word in the English language, but only a day after it launched, Oxford Dictionaries has ended its search following “severe misuse” of the feature by visitors to their website.

The dictionary publisher had invited users around the world to name their least favourite English word, intending to highlight differences between countries, genders and ages. When it opened for submissions on Thursday, “moist” was an early contender to top lists in the UK, US and Australia. It was later overtaken by “Brexit”, which went on to head the UK’s list, with “British” in third place.

But the #OneWordMap feature has now been closed, with a notice blaming the shutdown on “severe misuse”.

For instance?

The dictionary publisher did not expand on which words had caused the shutdown, saying only that it was “a mixture of swearwords and religiously offensive” vocabulary. Posts on Twitter suggest that some users’ picks for their least favourite words included “Islam” and “Israel”.

Such people need to be embedded — up to the clavicle, anyway — in something moist.

(Via Language Log.)

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It was never F plus three

Persistent stories to the contrary, no English swear words come from acronyms, and there are good reasons for that:

Acronyms are intrinsically euphemistic. They are used to camouflage rude, offensive, or otherwise unendurable things (often just unendurably long).

And if you plan to be rude and offensive, camouflage is more or less beside the point.


Acronyms have only really been used to generate words since the mid-20th century.

Most of our serious swears, including George Carlin’s Heavy Seven, date back many centuries.

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They took a shine to her

From last night’s Academy Award tweetstream:

My first thought, and also my second, was “What the hell ever happened to shone?” I duly consulted Grammarist, which says:

The verb shine has two main definitions: (1) to emit light, and (2) to cause to gleam by polishing. In its first sense, shine traditionally becomes shone in the past tense and as a past participle. In its second sense, shine is traditionally inflected shined. So, for example, we might say, “The sun shone brightly while I shined my shoes.”

Which is about the way I remembered things, until I ran smack-dab into this:

In 21st-century writing, however, the distinction is increasingly fuzzy, and shined is often used where shone would be the traditional inflection. Shone rarely appears in place of shined, though.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get my shoes shone.

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Words that gladden the heart

Or maybe some place a bit lower down. Francis W. Porretto, linking to this collection of Utterly Romantic verbiage from stage and screen and story, offers a sampling of “well-proven romantic lines that really ought to have been considered” but somehow never seem to be. I’m at least partially sure that “Yes, I do have five large, empty closets. Why do you ask?” would have worked with some women I know.

Allegedly this will draw the attention of the male:

Axe print ad featuring double-jointed therapist

Although I do think it needs the visuals as much as the quotation.

(Yes, I have posted this before.)

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No, not a rapper who’s fallen on hard times. Oddly enough, it’s a word we’re most likely to understand by contemplating its polar opposite.

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It’s an annual darn event

Too late for 2015, but it’ll be back:

One day a year, visitors to the Saishōji Temple in Ashikaga are invited to shed their stoicism and politeness for a night of cathartic cursing. At the akutare matsuri (“rowdiness festival”), also called akutai matsuri (“festival of abusive language”), held annually on New Year’s Eve, hundreds of worshippers make the forty-minute trek up the mountain to the temple, shouting insults and epithets along the way.

Then again, shedding that politeness doesn’t come easy to the Japanese:

Although all potential targets of these insults are fair game, the curses themselves are typically mild, especially by Strong Language standards. The insult of choice is usually “bakayarō!” — loosely translated to “you idiot!”

I’m just imagining how this sort of festival would play in, oh, New Jersey.

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What goes (somewhat) around

It seems unlikely that the Fisker Karma failed in the marketplace because of its name, but you have to wonder about Henrik Fisker’s future prospects:

Karma is a Sanskrit word that translates literally to “action” or “fate”; in Hinduism and Buddhism it signifies (per Collins English Dictionary) “the principle of retributive justice” or (per American Heritage Dictionary) “the totality of a person’s actions and conduct during successive incarnations.” Bad actions lead to reincarnation in a lower order of being; good actions lead to rebirth in the higher orders.

In other words, if in a past life (say, 2011) you manufactured an unpopular car, in the next life (say, 2015) you are unlikely to prosper.

Meanwhile, China’s Wanxiang Group, which acquired the rights to the car, will restart production next year (maybe) under the Elux brand name. Maybe they can do something with it. So far, Maximum Bob Lutz hasn’t:

During Fisker’s Congressional investigation and plant shutdown, Lutz and his jet-fighter-flying partner, Gilbert Villarreal, had 20 Karma gliders waiting for a transplant and 100 orders. Lutz also said he had Karma owners interested in converting their cars to Destinos so they wouldn’t become “boat anchors.” Production was supposed to start last fall, although when we asked today, VL said it was “still working out the details” and would not comment further. The VL Destino comes with either the Corvette Stingray’s LT1 450-hp V-8 or the old ZR1’s 638-hp supercharged V-8, offering shoppers a choice of a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.

For “today,” read “20 February 2014.” Later that year, VL Automotive merged with WM Greentech. The renamed WM Destino remains vaporware, albeit really fast and expensive vaporware. Whatever cards Wanxiang may be holding, they’re being held close to the corporate vest. As for Fisker himself, we haven’t heard a word.

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Oh, interjection

As we have long known, verbing weirds language. Name expert Nancy Friedman has been collecting examples of such weirding for many years, and this week she blew the lid off two unnecessarily verbed nouns in a piece called “Let’s Family! Let’s Museum!”

Let’s don’t and say we did.

Still, if verbing nouns adds weirdness, what happens when you verb adjectives?

Something to listen to while you think it over:

It used to be, no words could come between us.

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