How do you translate a colloquial, nonliteral expression like Trainwreck—the title of the new Amy Schumer feature film—into non-English languages? IMDb has a list of global akas; Mashable has helpfully re-translated some of them. (Not included in the Mashable list: Y de repente tú (“And suddenly you”), probably the most romantically inclined of the bunch. In France, by the way, the official title is Crazy Amy—yes, in English.
Translation of the French Canadian title, Cas désespéré.
Three guys were watching HBO’s “Silicon Valley” when it occurred to them to create a dictionary of jargon used on the show. The result is Silicon Valley Dictionary, where you’ll find definitions for terms like This changes everything (“Nothing has changed. Pure marketing”) and Awesome journey (“used when a startup has failed”).
“Clickspittle: an unquestioningly loyal follower who obediently shares every trivial thought of their idol on social media.” Post-modern portmanteaus from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present, excerpted in The Independent. (Via @Catchword)
“Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.” A knowledgeable Quora answer to the question “What is the history of the i prefix in Apple product names?”(Via @AlanBrew)
“Around the time of the birth of OK, there was a fad for komical Ks instead of Cs on the pages of newspapers … including from 1839: ‘The gentleman to the left of the speaker, in klaret kolored koat with krimson kollar, is Mr. Klay, member of Kongress from Kentucky’.”Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, marks the 176th anniversary of “OK” with a post about the word’s “konspicuous, kurious, komical” … uh, kwalities. (Read my 2010 post about “OK.”)
What do we lose when dictionaries delete words like bluebell, catkin, lark, and mistletoe to make room for blog, broadband, MP3 player, and chatroom? British nature writer Robert Macfarlane—most recently the author of Landmarks—writes in The Guardian about “the importance of preserving and plenishing a diverse language for landscape.” His essay includes some beautiful, obscure words like ammil, “a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs, and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.” Plenishing is pretty wonderful, too. (Via @StanCarey)
I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it two or three years ago: a bear that was part-grizzly, part-polar bear, roaming the land where tundra meets sea ice? People called it the grolar bear, I was told, or sometimes the pizzly bear.
Pizzly bear? I thought at the time. Come on.
But the hybrid is very real. (Although, clearly, “grolar bear” is the superior choice of name.) And if some scientists’ predictions are correct, it could be just one of a whole host of potential hybrid mammal species to emerge from the Arctic as it continues to warm.
Polar and grizzly bears have long been bred in captivity, but the first wild hybrid wasn’t seen until 2006, when hunter shot “an odd looking bear—white with brown patches” in the Canadian Arctic. Since then, at least three other sightings (two unconfirmed) have been reported. Unlike some interspecies hybrids, these animals are fertile.
Brendan Kelly, the chief scientist and director of conservation research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, spent 35 years in Alaska studying Alaskan marine mammals; in an interview with Holland, he theorized that the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice is leading to a dramatic rise in hybridization. There’s evidence, he said, that beluga whales and narwhals are mating in the eastern Arctic. The hybridization “is cause for concern,” writes Holland:
With every mating season that rolls around, each remaining polar bear will be statistically more likely to encounter and mate with a grizzly rather than a fellow polar bear. That will produce more hybrids, which will also be more likely to mate with a grizzly bear or a fellow hybrid. And so on.
“It can be the final nail in the coffin,” Kelly says.
In addition to grolar bear and pizzly bear, the Arctic hybrid has also been dubbed nanulak, a blend of the Inuit names for polar bear (nanuk) and grizzly bear (aklak).
Endling: The last individual of a species. Coined from end and the suffix -ling, indicating possession of a quality (compare yearling, weakling, earthling).
Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise, died in the Galápagos on June 24, 2012. Photo via New Statesman.
Writing in the New Statesman, Helen Lewis callsendling “a wonderfully Tolkien-esque word.” It was born in the pages of the journal Naturein April 1996. suggested in a letter written by two men working at a convalescent center. (They worked with dying patients who thought of themselves as the last of their lineage.) Dolly Jorgensen, a historian of the environment and technology, writes in an April 2013 blog postthat the suggestion “was met with counter-suggestions in the May 23rd issue: ender (Chaucer used it to mean he that puts an end to anything), terminarch (because it has a more positive ring than endling which sounds pathetic according to the respondent), and relict (which means last remaining, but typically for a group).”
Nothing more appears to have been made of the suggestion or the word in scientific circles. Endling doesn’t show up at all if you search the Web of Science and it doesn’t appear in any English dictionary as far I was able to find. It has, however, made it into Wikipedia, which is why I got curious about where the word came from.
Endling “got a boost” in 2001, Jorgensen writes, when the National Museum Australia opened. One of the inaugural exhibits displayed specimens of the extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger); the wall text above the exhibit displayed the definition of endling.
What’s fascinating about this [writes Jorgensen] is that the museum staff took the endling concept and made it real. They wrote the definition on the wall as if that definition was official: it is written as if it was copied from a dictionary complete with the part of speech designation as a noun, yet I’ve found no Australian dictionary (or any other) that defines endling. And the definition the museum exhibit used is not exactly what the original Nature letter had defined endling as. Yet there it was in black and white defined. The word had been claimed. But what had it named? Was endling the last wild thylacine (represented by the skin) or the last thylacine ever (Benjamin)? That’s not entirely clear.
Endling is the title of a novel by Katherine Applegate scheduled to be published in 2016, the first in a proposed trilogy for middle-grade readers. Applegate told Publishers Weekly in September 2013 that “her son Jake … came across ‘endling’ on Wikipedia and shared it with his mother. ‘It seemed so poignant and inherently dramatic that I couldn’t let it go,’ said Applegate. ‘I went back to the word a few times and felt that it was a book, but not just a single title. It was a trilogy. I knew it would be a quest story, and would take some time to tell’.”
The endling of the series, Applegate said, will be “an invented, dog-like species with the ability to communicate with humans.”
“Sea lioning” is a very recent neologism inspired by a September 19 cartoon, “The Terrible Sea Lion,” by David Malki, who blogs at Wondermark.
“This comic is the most apt description of Twitter you’ll ever see,” wrote Dina Rickman in The Independent (UK) in late September. By early October “sealion” (verb) was appearing in tweets, and on October 23 Malki proudly announced that“‘sea lion’ has been verbed.”
The context for Malki’s cartoon and the subsequent verbing is Gamergate, a controversy involving misogyny and harassment in video-game culture (and also, sometimes, ethics and video-game journalism). On October 27, the technologist and blogger Andy Baio wrote on Medium:
Anyone who’s mentioned the #Gamergate hashtag in a critical light knows the feeling: a swarm of seemingly random, largely-anonymous people descending to comment and criticize.
I’ve been using Twitter for eight years, but I’ve never seen behavior quite like this. This swarming behavior is so prevalent, it got a new nickname — “sea lioning,” inspired by David Malki’s Wondermark comic.
It’s possible to interpret Malki’s comic in more than one way, as commenter David Hopkins observed:
The most interesting thing about it to me is that it’s quite ambiguous to me which of the parties is supposed to be “in the wrong”. The general reception of the strip seems to be “oh yes, I recognise that archetype, sea-lioning is an obviously terrible thing to do”. But that’s not at all how I read it originally.
* In the Chez Apocalypse definitions, “gaslighting” is derived from the title of the 1944 George Cukor film Gaslight, in which the Ingrid Bergman character is psychologically manipulated by her husband, played by Charles Boyer; the verb officially entered the lexicon in a 1969 psychological textbook, but had been circulating for more than a decade. “Gish galloping” is “the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time” (RationalWiki), more conventionally known as “spreading.” “Gish gallop” was coined in 1994 by Eugenie Scott, the director of the National Center for Science Education, and is named for creationist Duane Gish.
First sighting: in a story from early September about a BBC radio announcer (oops, presenter) who admitted snorting a drug called mephedrone—street name “meow meow.”Precisely how meow meow got that sobriquet is subject to some debate, but it may derive from the drug’s chemical name, 4-methylmethcathinone, or MM-CAT for short. According to a 2011 Mindhacks post, journalists (and one anonymous Wikipedia editor) were responsible for popularizing the feline nickname.
A blog called Revolting Foods of America published a catty review of these squiddy crisps last year. I’m inclined to be more generous, although the crackers (not really crackers in the US sense; more like small tentacle-shaped chips) are too sweet for my taste. You should, however, check out the review to gaze in wonder at a full-size photo of the package art, which is worthy of Jules Verne.
Just one Meow, but three M’s.
Mmmeow party picks (“cool cats with good taste”) from Fred and Friends. I’m not sure why they belong in the San Jose Museum of Art gift shop, but that’s where I found them.
When I was a kid we called them “thongs” or “zoris.”
What exactly can you expect when you commission a $5 logo from Fiverr? To find out, Sacha Greif invented a company (“SkyStats”) and tested the waters. Among his conclusions: “Fiverr apparently sees nothing wrong with designers appropriating other people’s work. And not only do they tolerate it, they even directly profit from it since they feature these fake work samples prominently.”
Cherevin may be the evil aggressors of economic warfare, but I’d love to have them as a client. They could teach me about propping up housing markets, and I might be able to offer them a nugget or two about reducing security breaches through better interaction design. Plus, I bet it’s fun to get a project brief with the objective of ‘instilling fear and obedience.’
UPDATE: This morning (June 18), the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an independent tribunal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, recommended that the federal registrations for “Redskins” trademarks be cancelled. Read the TTAB fact sheet.
Power Vocab Tweet was invented by the creator of Everyword, which recently completed its mission to tweet every word in the English language. From the blog:
On the surface, Power Vocab Tweet is a parody of “word-of-the-day”blogs and Twitteraccounts. My real inspiration, though, comes from the novel Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin. In that book, a group of underground linguists invent a language (Láadan) that “encodes” in its lexicon concepts that aren’t otherwise assigned to words in human languages. …
The definitions are generated via Markov chain from the definition database in WordNet. The words themselves are generated from a simple “portmanteau” algorithm; each word is a combination of two “real” English words of the appropriate part of speech. (The forms of the words and text used to generate the associated definition aren’t related.)
Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.
The comment section closed a week after publication, by which time 1,359 reader comments had been posted. The majority were critical. “Sadly, this almost reads as parody,” wrote one reader. Others called the protesting students “coddled,” “whining,” and “thin-skinned” as well as “hothouse flowers” and “wimps.” A few readers pointed out a distinction between, as one reader put it, “likely PTSD triggers and warnings of anything that may not be politically correct”; the former are valuable, the reader said, while the latter are not.
On May 18, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf took up the issue, reminded readers that “The Sopranos,” back in Season 3 (2001), displayed a “rape” warning before airing a particularly troubling episode. But even in unusual cases, Friedersdorf wrote, “where the concept behind ‘trigger warnings’ is likely useful, invoking the phrase itself is much less so, because it has become jargon.” (There are 350 reader comments on this article.)
On May 22, the New Yorker entered the fray with Jay Caspian King’s essay, “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind” in the Page-Turner blog. “A trigger warning reduces a work of art down to what amounts to plot points,” King argued. (100 reader comments.)
For arguments in favor of trigger warnings, see Fuck Yeah Trigger Warnings, a Tumblr “dedicated to proper use and necessity of trigger warnings.”
Word Spy’s Paul McFedries has tracked the earliest citation of trigger warning to a September 1993 post on alt.sexual.abuse.recovery. (The post was also prefaced by “spoiler alert,” a term that’s been circulating since the early 1980s.)
Triggerentered English in the mid-17th century; it was spelled tricker until about 1750. Its origin is Dutch trekker, from a verb meaning “to pull” that also gave us the noun trek (a march or journey). The verb to trigger is much more recent, surfacing around 1930. Although “trigger warning” hasn’t yet appeared in any standard dictionaries, many other trigger compounds are in the OED, including trigger point (1891; a price level at which price controls are imposed or re-imposed); trigger man (1930; a gangster who guns people down); and trigger price (1978; a minimum selling price for steel imported into the U.S.).
Trigger was also the name of Roy Rogers’s horse and the nickname of a character in the British TV series “Only Fools and Horses” (because “he looks like an ’orse”). In the last decade or so, “Trigger”—along with other gun-related names like Shooter and Cannon—has surged in popularity as a U.S. baby name, according to the Baby Name Wizard blog. The blog’s author, Laura Wattenberg, observes:
Consider ... that gun names were always popular for dogs, suggesting that a love of guns is nothing new. A foxhound named Trigger would never have surprised anyone. Today, parents are more willing to “pull the trigger” on that kind of eye-catching name for babies, too. Just as we’re naming our pets more like children, it seems that we’re naming our children more like pets.