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”).
Mx.: A gender-neutral honorific that may be used in place of “Mr.,” “Mrs., “Miss,” or “Ms.” Pronounced mix or mux.
Mx. was in the news this week after Jonathan Dent, assistant editor at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), told the Sunday Times (UK) that the term is being considered for inclusion in the dictionary’s next edition. (Access to the full article is restricted to subscribers.) The term is regarded as an option for transgender people and people who wish to conceal their gender identities.
“Over the past two years the title has been quietly added to official forms and databases” in the UK, the Times reported. Dent told the Times that the first recorded use of Mx. was in an American magazine, Single Parent, in 1977: “The early proponents of the term seem to have had gender politics as their central concern [and] saw the title as one which could sidestep the perceived sexism of the traditional ‘Mr’, ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’.” The blog Practical Androgyny has traced the subsequent history of the term.
In the US, the PBS Newshour reported last week, “There is currently no widely-used gender-neutral replacement for ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs./Ms,’ and this addition would mark the first time that such an option appeared in the dictionary.”
In Sweden, the neuter pronoun hen—coined in the 1960s—was added earlier this year to the official Swedish language dictionary as an alternative to han (he) and hon(she).
Mx—the period is American style; periods are omitted from honorifics in British English—has several other meanings:
An abbreviation for Maxwell, a unit of magnetic flux named for James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), who presented the unified theory of electromagnetism in 1865.
Hobson-Jobson: The title of a lexicon of words of South Asian origin, compiled by Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, that were used by the British during in India. The title is the English rendering of “yā ħassan! yā ħussayn! (“O Hassan! O Hussein!”), a cry uttered by Shia Muslims during religious processions. By extension, Hobson-Jobson can mean any alteration of a word or phrase “borrowed from a foreign language to accord more closely with the phonological and lexical patterns of the borrowing language, as in English hoosegow from Spanish juzgado.” (Source: Dictionary.com.) Hobson-Jobson can also refer to a game in which competitors use as many Anglo-Indian words as possible in a sentence.
The cover of the 1903 edition of Hobson-Jobson. First published in 1886, the book has never been out of print; the most recent edition was published in 2013 by Oxford University Press. (The publisher describes it as “a unique work of maverick scholarship.”) The text is also available online at Open Library.
Hobson-Jobson is invoked in Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play Indian Ink, currently enjoying a revival (with rewritten ending) at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (It’s the same production—with the same director, Carey Perloff—that played last autumn at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company. I saw a preview performance in San Francisco, and was enthralled throughout the nearly-three-hour running time.) The play weaves together the stories of a fictional English poet and freethinker, Flora Crewe, visiting Jummapur, India, in 1930; and her elderly sister, Eleanor, whose scenes are set in England in the mid-1980s. In Act I, an Indian artist, Nirad Das, asks to paint Flora’s portrait, and their conversations cover art, politics, and what it means to be Indian and English. At one point they take a break:
Flora and Nirad are playing Hobson-Jobson, an Indian-English word game in which each player tries to use as many hybrid words as possible in a sentence. They discuss language and the increasingly important role English has played in India, particularly in making possible the growing nationalist movement.
In a story about the 2013 edition of Hobson-Jobson, BBC News excerpted some of Flora and Nirad’s dialogue:
Flora: "While having tiffin on the veranda of my bungalow I spilled kedgeree on my dungarees and had to go to the gymkhana in my pyjamas looking like a coolie."
Nirad: "I was buying chutney in the bazaar when a thug who had escaped from the chokey ran amok and killed a box-wallah for his loot, creating a hullabaloo and landing himself in the mulligatawny."
After several rounds, Flora delightedly exclaims to Nirad: “You know your Hobson-Jobson!”
(Amok, by the way, is a borrowing from another Asian language, Malay; it entered English in the late 17th century.)
Many of the words that seemed exotic to Yule and Burnell—bungalow, bazaar, thug—have of course been fully integrated into standard English. But, as Pico Iyer observes in an essay that accompanied the 1999 A.C.T. production, many remain curiosities:
[A] whole world comes into view when one reads that a “Lady Kenny” is a Ablack ball-shaped syrupy confection named after the Lady Canning to whom it was first presented, and a “James and Mary” is the name of “a famous sandbank in the Hooghly River behind Calcutta.” Every inflection of what was once known as Butler English and Kitchen English is spelled out with a gravity worthy of the facts of life, and besides reading solemn explications of “pish-posh” and “ticky-tock” and the derivation of “burra-beebee,” you can learn that “a four and twenty” meant “a criminal” and “ducks” referred to the “gentlemen belonging to the Bombay service.” “Home,” the venerable archive informs one, “in Anglo-Indian and colonial speech ... means England.”
Two years ago, the American Dialect Society selected hashtag as its word of the year for 2012. Last week, for its 2014 word of the year, the ADS chose an actual hashtag, #blacklivesmatter, the slogan that—as the press releaseput it—“took on special significance in 2014 after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in both cases.” It was the first time in the contest’s 25 that a hashtag had been selected for the distinction. The vote at the Hilton in Portland, Oregon, was nearly unanimous, but the response has been anything but. (“It’s not a word” and “It’s too political” were two of the negative reactions.) Read Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee, on the WOTY selection (and on other words discussed at the meeting). For supporting viewpoints, see Anne Curzan’s post on the Lingua Franca blog(“The linguistic work of hashtags is especially interesting”) and linguist/librarian Lauren B. Collister’s post on her own blog(“a pretty historic moment for the field of linguistics for a number of reasons”). For a dissenting view, see Schnaufblog: “Call me old school -- I like the idea of a word as a combination of form (sound, gesture, writing) and meaning (lexical or grammatical) that can combine with other words according to the rules of grammar to form a clause.”
As usual, Oxford Dictionaries was first out of the gate, nearly a month ago, with its WOTY choices. And the winner was… vape.
As e-cigarettes (or e-cigs) have become much more common, so vapehas grown significantly in popularity. You are thirty times more likely to come across the word vape than you were two years ago, and usage has more than doubled in the past year.
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year—based on a spike in number of lookups on the dictionary’s website—is culture:
Culture is a big word at back-to-school time each year, but this year lookups extended beyond the academic calendar. The term conveys a kind of academic attention to systematic behavior and allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group: we speak of a “culture of transparency” or “consumer culture.” Culture can be either very broad (as in “celebrity culture” or “winning culture”) or very specific (as in “test-prep culture” or “marching band culture”).
This year, the use of the word culture to define ideas in this way has moved from the classroom syllabus to the conversation at large, appearing in headlines and analyses across a wide swath of topics.
Runners-up include nostalgia, insidious, legacy, and feminism.
The twentieth Kanji of the Year took a total of 8,679 votes, or 5.18% of the total 167,613. The reasons for its selection are clear: on April 1 this year the government raised Japan’s consumption tax for the first time in 17 years, bringing it from 5% to 8%. Meant to bolster funding for the country’s future social security needs, this tax hike impacted Japanese wallets and brought about drastic swings in the economy as a whole, with consumers front-loading major appliance, vehicle, and home purchases ahead of April 1 and curtailing spending after the higher rate went into effect. Two straight quarters of negative growth thereafter convinced Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to put off the next planned rate hike, from 8% to 10%, until the spring of 2017.
The German word of the year is lichtgrenze, the “border of light” created by thousands of illuminated helium balloons that were released November 9 to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other words on the German list were less celebratory: “It was a year of terror, strikes, and football frenzy.”
Geoff Nunberg, the linguist-in-residence on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” picked God view as his word of the year:
It’s the term that the car service company Uber uses for a map view that shows the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out that the company had been entertaining itself and its guests by pairing that view with its customer data so it could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York.
Nunberg continued: “What we’re talking about here, of course, is the sense that the world is getting more and more creepy. …Creepy is a more elusive notion than scary. Scary things are the ones that set our imagination to racing with dire scenarios of cyberstalkers, identity thieves or government surveillance — whereas with creepy things, our imagination doesn't really know where to start.”
Also in radioland, Ben Schott presented the most ridiculous words of the year, from the ridiculous active nutrition (“sports nutrition for people who don’t exercise”) to the appalling catastrophic longevity (“insurance-speak for people living too long”). Schott writes the Jargonator column for Inc. magazine; he spoke with NPR’s “The Takeaway.” (Link includes full audio and partial transcript.)
Here’s a reminder that there are as many Englishes as there are words of the year: the Australian National Dictionary Centre selected shirtfrontas its word of the year for 2014. It’s a verb, it comes from the vocabulary of Australian Rules football, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott used it in a threat to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin:
The term was little known outside of its sporting context, although the figurative use has been around since at least the 1980s. Abbott’s threat to shirtfront Putin, and the word itself, was widely discussed and satirised in the Australian and international media.
The ANDC’s shortlist includes man-bun, Ned Kelly beard, and coward punch.
The leaves of Citrus hystrix are used in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines; they’re sometimes called by their Thai name, makrut, but in many English-speaking countries they’ve long been called kaffir lime.That’s changing thanks to a protest “against the racial and religious slur of ‘kaffir’,” writes Tiffany Do in SF Weekly(“Citrus-Based Racism Leads Market to Change Product Names”). “Kaffir,” which comes from an Arabic word meaning “unbeliever,” was appropriated by English colonizers in South Africa, where it was used as a slur and a term of abuse against blacks. “What’s most surprising in this whole controversy is that the issue hasn't been addressed – and remedied – before now,” writes SF Weekly’s Do. Most markets are switching to the neutral “lime leaves.”
Who decides what makes a word “real”? Anne Curzan, a language historian and member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel, explains why she finds language change “not worrisome but fun and fascinating.” (TEDxUofM talk; video and transcript.)
We say: meet (not ‘meet with’),consult (not ‘consult with’), talk to (not ‘talk with’), protest against a decision (not ‘protest a decision’), appeal against a verdict (not ‘appeal a verdict’).
And, n.b., the BBC does not punctuate the abbreviations i.e. or e.g.
In the early to mid-1960s, Mad magazine carried on a “glorious” and “fearless” anti-smoking campaign through parody ads that “closely resembled the real ones that ran on television and in magazines,” writes David Margolick in the New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog. The ads attacked tobacco companies, ad agencies, and smokers with equal-opportunity opprobrium. Mad has always been ad-free, and—unusual for the 1960s—its offices were “largely smoke free” as well: the magazine’s publisher, William Gaines, “was fanatically opposed to the habit,” writes Margolick.
It’s not every day that a name developer has the chance to name a radically new technology. Anthony Shore had such a chance when the makers of a “cinematic virtual reality” device hired him. Read about how Jaunt got its name.
“Machines don't need names, but we feel the need to name them,” writes Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic (“Why People Give Human Names to Machines”). The urge has long been with us, or at least some of us: a siege engine was named “Domina Gunilda” (“Lady Gunild”) in an Anglo-Norman document of 1330-1.
(My favorite submission comes from Erica Friedman, who once worked for an ad agency whose conference rooms were named Ideation, Creation, Dream, Coopetition [sic], and Resonate. “It was horrible and miserable and it still makes me shudder,” she writes. Erica and I are not related, but we are definitely soulmates.)
We binge-watched revenge porn while leaning in and snacking on cronuts. We took a break from being selfie-absorbed (not to mention shelfie-, welfie-, and lelfie-) to cheer Batkid and jeer Glassholes. We ducked out of Thanksgivukkah dinner to vape our e-cigarettes. We worried about drones that spied on our metadata. Wow. Such doge!
It was the silliest of years, it was the most serious of years. And our favorite words expressed all the mood swings.