Into the final weeks of 2015 with one final link roundup!
Lucy Kellaway,who writes about language and writing for the Financial Times,has created Guffipedia, “a repository for the worst jargon I’ve seen over the years.” All the devils are here: onboard more resource, flex-pon-sive, diverse hairdos, etc. ad nauseam. “The point of Guffipedia,” writes Kellaway, “is not just for you to admire the extent of my guff collection, but to help me curate it going forward, as they say in Guffish.” Good point of entry: the many Guffish euphemisms for you’re fired. (Hat tip: Molly Walker.)
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus takes a look at how nouns become verbs – and vice versa – in the language of commerce and elsewhere. If you’ve seen ads inviting you to beauty, to movie, or to pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. But what about to gift, to share, and to contact? All began their lives as nouns before being undergoing the process known as functional shift or anthimeria (and not without controversy, in some cases).
Access to the column is open to all this month! Here’s an excerpt:
Although the examples I’ve cited here are recent, the phenomenon is not. “Flaubert me no Flauberts. Bovary me no Bovarys. Zola me no Zolas,” the novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1937. “And exuberance me no exuberances. Leave this stuff for those who huckster in it...” Facebook may have popularized to friend (the verb has been in widespread use since about 2005), but friend had occasionally been used as a verb since the 1200s, according to the OED. Four and a half centuries before there were mobile text messages, to text meant “to write in text letters” – the large writing used by clerks in the body of a manuscript. (The past-tense form of text still stymies many people. For the record, it’s texted. As linguist Arnold Zwicky pointed out in 2008, “Verbing has always weirded [not weird] language.”)
Don’t read “How to Name a Baby” to learn how to name a baby. Read it for insights into historical baby-naming trends and to confirm your hunches (e.g., “the popular girl name Reagan is for Republicans”). Also: charts!
Given names are “one of the last social acceptable frontiers of class war.”Also: nominative determination, implicit egotism, and how the Internet has made baby naming more difficult. Part 1 of a four-part podcast series about names from Australian radio network ABC. The presenter, Tiger Webb, has an interesting name story himself. (Hat tip: Superlinguo.)
The not-so-secret jargon of doctors is full of acronyms: a flea—fucking little esoteric asshole—is an intern, an FLK is a “funny-looking kid,” and an “SFU 50 dose” is the amount of sedative it takes for 50 percent of patients to shut the fuck up.
Ever wonder what value-creating winners do all day? Here’s Business Town to enlighten you. It’s “an ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.”
“The decision is made. The name won’t be changed.” – Tim Mahoney, head of marketing for Chevy, speaking to the Detroit Free Press about the Bolt electric vehicle, whose name is strikingly similar to that of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. In fact, a Spanish speaker would pronounce the two names identically. (Hat tip: Jonathon Owen.)
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.”
Anglish: A form of English “stripped clean of the last 1,000 years of non-Germanic influence, while also being brought up to date in terms of modern syntax, grammar and spelling.” (Source: Tom Roswell, guest-blogging at The World in Words.) Also known as New English. Its complement is Anglo-Norman Conventional Written English, or Ancwe.
Scholars and linguistic hobbyists have dabbled in Anglish for more than a century. Tom Roswell writes [punctuation sic]:
The Anglish movement has roots way back in the late 1800s when Elias Molee advocated an English purged of its Romance components. He made his case in two books; “Pure Saxon English” and “Plea for an American Language, or Germanic-English”. He proposed a language similar to Anglish called Tutonish, which was intended to be a “union tongue” for all the Germanic-language speaking peoples, with a schematised English syntax and a largely German- and Scandinavian-based vocabulary.
A wiki called The Anglish Moot—mootis Old English for society, assembly, or council—puts the origins of Anglish even earlier:
Modern ideas about New-English started around the mid-1800s with William Barnes, the Dorset dialect poet. He reasoned that if English words were closer to everyday speech, then the language as a whole would be easier to understand for the average speaker of Common English. He published a book along these lines, and gave some suggestions for new words which could be used to replace some of the more difficult borrowed words.
In 1989 an American science-fiction writer, Poul Anderson, wrote an essay in Anglish called “Uncleftish Beholding” (“Atomic Theory”). An early passage demonstrates both the familiarity and the pleasant strangeness of Anglish:
The firststuffs have their being as motes called *unclefts*. These are mightly small; one seedweight of waterstuff holds a tale of them like unto two followed by twenty-two naughts.
The Anglish Moot’s wordbook—“dictionary” in Anglish—includes “all known and suggested Anglish/New English words and their meanings”—but not, unfortunately, most of Anderson’s invented words, such as seedweight (gram) and waterstuff (hydrogen). There are entries for historical Old English words (pith, abaft, eady, meadow-month) and also creative inventions such as banewave (tsunami), mindsee (imagine), and limberhall (gymnasium).
Anglish is not to be confused with Anguish Languish (English Language), created by Howard L. Chace in the 1940s and most famously examplified in “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” (Little Red Riding Hood).
“Picking a product name is all agony and no ecstasy,” writes Trello founder Dan Ostlund (“The Agonies of Picking a Product Name”). His detailed account of his own DIY effort is a cautionary tale, although he doesn’t explain why the company felt it necessary to jettison its perfectly good placeholder name.
Top executives writing about verbal branding may be a trend now. Here’s Larry D. Kramer, president of the Hewlett Foundation in Menlo Park, California, on how his organization developed a new tagline (“What’s in a Tagline?”):
When I first proposed reexamining the tagline, I felt almost sheepish. The Hewlett Foundation pays little attention to self-promotion (that itself is a core value here), so why bother putting time and effort into something so marginal. Instead, the project proved to be both interesting and fruitful—an opportunity to reaffirm and remind ourselves about who we are and who we want to be.
You’ll have to scroll down to the tenth paragraph to learn what the new tagline is. Otherwise, nice process story.
This parody trailer for the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted, aired during Sunday night’s live Golden Globes broadcast, and it was so smart and funny I wished I could hit the rewind button. AdFreak says the promo “does a double public service by also making fun of all the mass-media self-adulation that studios crank out during Hollywood awards season.”
The Oxford University Press blog has a comprehensive words-of-the-year roundup that includes words of the year in Spain, Norway, France, and elsewhere. I’m fond of “plénior,” the mot nouveau pour 2014; it’s a more positive word for “senior citizen” that implies “full of life.”
While we’re in Oxford, check out the Oxford English Dictionary birthday word generator, which scours the OED database for words’ first occurrences, 1900 through 2004, and offers up one for your birth year. If you were born in 1984, for example, your word is “shopaholic.” Happy 30th, you crazy shopper, you!
“Unneeded warnings against sentences that have nothing wrong with them are handed out by people who actually don’t know how to identify instances of what they are warning against, and the people they aim to educate or intimidate don’t know enough grammar to reject the nonsense they are offered. The blind warning the blind about a nonexistent danger.” That’s linguist Geoffrey Pullum in “Fear and Loathing of the English Passive.” It will be published later this year in the journal Language and Communication; but you can read the PDF now.Pullum cites 46 examples of tsk-tsking about “passive” constructions that aren’t passive at all.
Great news for researchers and thesaurus-lovers: the Historical Thesaurus of English is now fully online, with many new features. It’s based on the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements, with additional materials from A Thesaurus of Old English. (Via Marc Alexander.)
I linked to the Wordbirds blog back in 2009. Now this “irreverent lexicon for the 21st century” is available as a book containing more than 200 neologisms—150 of them not on the blog—coined by Liesl Schillinger and illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel. An excellent gift for the person who finds himself rushing cell-mell to a clusterfete, wouldn’t you say?
On his excellent Big Apple blog, Barry Popik documents the rise of “spicedictive” (Sonic Drive-in’s portmanteau of “spice” and “addictive”) and “beefulness” (McDonald’s South Africa’s blend of “beef” and “fullness,” and yes, I thought it had something to do with beekeeping). By the way, you can finally follow Mr. Popik on Twitter!
You know what else got started 20 years ago? The “Got Milk?” ad campaign. Ad man Jeff Goodby, who was present at the creation, tells how “the most boring product imaginable” inspired “the most remembered tagline in beverage history, outstripping those of beer and soft drink companies with budgets many times the size of ours.” (Not mentioned in Goodby’s story: The campaign didn’t translate well into Spanish: “¿Tiene Ud. Leche?” means “Are you lactating?”)
In Canada, Dutch-owned bank ING Direct was sold to Scotiabank and is now called Tangerine. Design blog Brand New says the name choice is “ballsy”: “At first, the name sounds like a late 1990s, early 2000s doomed clever company name, like Monday, but the longer you watch the video ... and the more you let the name sink in, it’s a rather impressively sticky name. It’s memorable. It stand outs [sic] in the banking sector. It’s interesting.” Name development by Bay Area agency Lexicon; logo by Toronto-based Concrete.
William Germano and I have something in common: a minor obsession with gratuitous umlauts. Germano writes in Lingua Franca about “the rise of the reckless diacritical,” a meditation triggered by a sighting of Clöudz travel blankets and pillows. And it gets worse, writes Germano: “The Tommy Hilfiger clothing line has launched, with a linguistic swagger, a global marketing campaign entitled Cärpe-díem Mañana.” (Also see my Pinterest board of brand names with gratuitous umlauts and my Visual Thesaurus column on the Ündeniable Ümlaut.)