To my regret, I took only one linguistics class in my six years of higher education. I'd expected to love that class, but the professor--who I later learned was universally known as the Department Head, as in pothead--was so unfocused and just plain weird that I lost all desire to continue my formal studies.
To compensate, I've made an effort to self-educate, mostly through written-for-laypersons books such as Anthony Burgess's A Mouthful of Air and John McWhorter's The Power of Babel. Thanks to the blogosphere, though, I've been able to expand my scope by reading linguists' blogs. Every day I learn something new--something like parataxis, circumstantial modal, or discourse marker--and never do I experience that lost-in-space sensation I'd had in the halls of academe.
As a practical practicing wordsmith, I've been curious about the names linguists give their blogs. They tend to occupy well-defined areas of the naming spectrum. On one end are the descriptive, matter-of-fact names: The Linguistics Zone, The Language Guy, Language Geek. The most widely read linguistics blog of all is called simply Language Log.
In the middle are the semi-descriptive, semi-evocative blog names with a metaphor or a subtle twist: Language Hat (whose About pages include My Languages and My Hats), HeIdeas (a nice blend of Heidi Harley's first name and "ideas"), and Canny Linguist (a Schrödinger's blog whose name just barely escapes being a dirty joke) .
And then there are the magnificently, proudly obscure blog names--names that dare the non-professional to guess their meaning. To save all of you the effort and possible embarrassment, I've asked the owners of some of these blogs to explain themselves. Which, I'm happy to say, they seemed eager to do.
In random order:
Wishydig is the blog of Purdue University graduate student Michael Covarrubias, whose areas of interest include English-language history and phonology. Michael explained in an email:
"Wishydig" is an Old English word meaning wise, thoughtful or prudent. It's a compound of wis meaning 'wise' and hygdig meaning 'careful' 'modest' (from hygd: mind, thought, consideration). Note that the 'g' dropped from hygdig to hydig. The -ig ending corresponds to the Modern English -y adjectival ending. So etymologically it's similar to something like the silly sounding 'wisemindy'--but 'wise thinking' is a common gloss.
In order to justify such a presumptuous title for the blog I had to remind myself that most readers wouldn't know what it meant. (But I must have known that some would ask.) And I figured it's a nice simple way to communicate my interest in OE and English language history.
I had been going with "In a Word" as my blog name for a while but that just doesn't pop out in a list of words or phrases. So I went for a single word that an interested person could easily hang on to. One friend thought wishydig was a made-up compound word for some sort of optimistic excavation: a wishy dig. And that's the way I expect most readers pronounce it (in the unlikely event that anyone ever mentions my blog out loud). It looks like it fits standard English spelling and pronunciation conventions with a nice simple dactyl.
Of course the OE pronunciation would not have had the "sh" sound. The 'i' would have been phonemically long in duration (somewhat like the vowel in 'bee') and the 'y' is a rounded high front vowel like the 'ü' in German 'flügelhorn'. And altho when I'm talking about the word I pronounce 'wis-hydig' according to OE rules, when I'm saying anything about my blog I do say "wishy-dig". I find a playful catchiness in the word. I like that it's easy to learn.
Unfortunately because most people have never seen the word before there's no real likelihood that they'll be searching for it and stumble across my blog. But I do like that once you seen the word it's easy enough to remember--leading to some recall and certainly recognition.
Epea Pteroenta is Greek for "winged words"; the phrase first appeared in Homer's Odyssey and now refers to words that were first used in a specific literary context and have "flown" into common usage. The blog is written (mostly) in English, thankfully.
Tenser, Said the Tensor--written by "a graduate student in linguistics" whose interests include "language, science fiction, computers and technology, comics, anime, and other geekery." The author provides an extended "word of explanation" that begins: "The title of this blog come from the novel The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, which won the first Hugo award for novel in 1953" ... and if that piques your interest, you'll certainly want to read the whole post.
Mr. Verb is both a blog name and the pseudonym of its primary author, who swore me to keep his identity a secret. I agreed. (Other contributors to the blog include Mrs. Verb and Stumblerette.) Mr. Verb emailed me this origin story:
A buddy of mine who blogged had been encouraging me to start a blog. He's not a linguist and I was always telling him (mostly off-the-beaten-path) stuff about languages and linguistics; he thought there was a niche for a blog that dealt with language the way we talked (and still talk) about it. I resisted, but posted comments a few times on blogs. Mostly anonymous, I think, and nothing big or interesting really, but enough to start thinking about what it would mean to write in the weirdly public way that is blogging. Lo and behold, the main blog I was commenting on was getting odd comments from somebody and the blogger decided to restrict comments to people with blogspot accounts. I was figuring I wouldn't comment anymore, but then there was some post I just had to comment on. I'd given some thought to actually starting a blog but finding a name just seemed impossible. But I started a blogspot account to comment and just decided to go for a silly name for the account. So, it was a brainstorming session in a sense, but hardly extensive. And for the record, verbs are pretty remote from the stuff I actually do for a living -- I know shockingly little about them in fact, in most respects.
The weird twist is, once I had the name (the account was pretty trivial of course), it seemed like it was just a matter of time before I actually created a blog. I don't know if the casual dorkiness of the typical Mr. V post is related as cause or effect to the name, but it feels pretty comfortable by now.
That's a long-winded answer to a simple question, but that's the story.
Polyglot Conspiracy is written by L.M. Squires, a (surprise!) linguistics grad student at the University of Michigan. She writes:
I have posted before about senses in which I think "Polyglot Conspiracy" is suited for a linguistics blog name, though this perhaps seemed intentionally cryptic and too open-ended.
The real story is owed to one of my best friends. Before I was about to start my MA in linguistics, I was talking one night with him about going to grad school for linguistics. He went through college with me and had seen my interest in linguistics develop. Somehow or another - maybe we were talking about grad school language requirements or something - our discussion turned to the typical linguist's complaint that the first thing anyone asks you when you tell them you're a linguist is "How many languages do you speak?" So I was saying how, for me, this question always managed to make me feel both a) annoyed/indignant, because it's a confusion of "linguist" as "polyglot," but also b) pretty guilty or underqualified, because I really speak only English and am, to be frank, not very dedicated to turning myself into a polyglot - other languages just aren't where my interests in language come from; language-learning has never come easily to me - but this makes me feel somehow uncommitted to the project of Language, about which I often feel remorseful and consequently I am envious of linguists (and non-linguists, like my friend) who ARE actually polyglots. Anyway, in response to my complaint about the "How many languages do you speak?" trend, my friend said, "Well ok, but I feel like you're getting a little too upset with the public about this. I mean, it's not like it's some vast polyglot conspiracy to make linguists who don't speak other languages feel bad." or something similar; that's a paraphrase. Anyway, the phrase "polyglot onspiracy" stuck out to me, and came back to me when I was thinking what to name the blog. After I thought a bit more about what these two words meant, and what they could mean together (an apt description of the trouble people seem to find with the linguistic state of the world, if you ask me), it just seemed right.
Roguish – 1.a. Pertaining or appropriate to, characteristic of, rogues (or vagrants); disreputable. b. Vile, wretched. 2. Acting (or wandering) like rogues; knavish or rascally in conduct. 3. Playfully mischievous; arch, waggish. 4. Of plants: Inferior, degenerate.
Chrestomathy – A collection of choice passages from an author or authors, esp. one compiled to assist in the acquirement of a language.
Bradshaw of the Future, which specializes in etymology (with an emphasis on Proto-Indo-European), is written by "goofy," who emailed this explanation:
Bradshaw of the Future is a from Lewis Carroll's A Tangled Tale. It's the name of one of the characters who writes in with answers to Carroll's mathematical puzzles. As far as I know, it's a complete fiction and all the people writing in were created by Carroll himself. My blog wasn't about linguistics originally, and I just thought that "Bradshaw of the Future" was a really cool name."goofy" because I'm sometimes very goofy. But my online personality has turned out to be quite serious. :)