A late-summer harvest of idioms, acronyms, neologisms, and hench-words:
"At the drop of a heartbeat." "A bull in a candy shop." "Green behind the ears." They're all odd amalgamations of familiar idioms collected at Conflation, whose editors write:
The purpose of this website is not to provide an inert list of expressions that can be chuckled at and then put aside. We have compiled this collection with the genuine hope that readers will deliberately use conflations in their day-to-day lives. These expressions should be studied and memorized to the point where the reader is comfortable using them in proper context without hesitation or awkwardness. It should be pointed out that conflations are not to be slipped into conversation with the intention of fooling the uninitiated. Conflation is not an inside joke. Any pleasure gained from successful conversational usage should be derived from the knowledge that you are activating the evolution of language toward a vernacular of resistance.
Could be a fun party game, too. (Via ThatWhichMatter, which does not appear to have a website but is well worth following on Twitter if you're interested in language. UPDATE: And which just launched a Tumblr log.)
A different species of neologism is the specialty of Mark Peters, curator of Wordlustitude. Guest-posting at the Oxford University Press blog, Peters writes about the "underrated prefix" hench-, which turns up most famously, but hardly exclusively, in henchman. (The title of the post is "Send in the Hench-poodles!") To wit:
I’ve found uses of henchblob, henchboob, hench-chicken, hench-Cylon, henchdemon, henchgoat, henchidiot, hench-lady-men-partners, hench-monster, henchscum, hench-wench, plus spokeshenchman, sub-sub-henchman, under-henchlings and many others.
Who doesn't love a "hench-wench"? By the way, hench comes from Old English hengest, meaning horse or stallion: a henchman was originally a groom.
Ben Schott, author of the Schott's Miscellanies and occasional contributor to the New York Times op-ed page, writes a Times blog, Schott's Vocab, where he documents new words and phrases. Once a week he hosts a contest in which readers submit their own inventions. Read the results of the most recent competition, to devise "weasel words, euphemisms, dysphemisms and circumlocutions for items in the news."
I recently discovered Beg to Differ, the bright blog produced by Brandvelope Consulting in Ottawa, and couldn't resist subscribing. Two posts sealed the deal: "The 25 Worst Acronyms in the World" (RUMPS? WinCE? MANPADS?) and "25 Meaningless Tag Lines" (Exxon: "We're Exxon.").
Another new discovery, this one via Editrix: Funny Typos, Misspellings, Bad Grammar & Engrish, which delivers the goods, or the bads. Examples: a DeLonghi coffeemaker with a "permanent god filter" and a hand-lettered sign for a "Hugh Sale." Hugh Sale, meet Hugh Reductions.
Speaking of errors, NPR's Page Not Found page transforms a wrong turn into a jolly adventure. "It's a shame that your page is lost, but at least it's in good company," the page consoles. "Stick around to browse through NPR stories about lost people, places and things that still haven't turned up." Links go to stories about Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, "Your Luggage," and other missing people and things.
The Estonian language uses lots of umlauts and is related to Finnish and not much else. That was all I knew about Estonian until I found this well-written (in English), gorgeously illustrated Brief Guide to Estonian, which made me want to learn more. Did you know that Estonian has 14 grammatical cases, no grammatical gender, and no articles (definite or indefinite)? Or that there's an Estonian Sign Language, used by about 2,000 people? Just knowing that sort of thing makes me happy.