Henge: A type of Neolithic earthwork featuring a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch. The most famous henge is Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, England; it is estimated to have been built between 3000 and 2000 BCE. The -henge element “may have meant something ‘hanging’ or supported in the air,” according to the OED.
Detached henge first appeared in the mid-18th century; Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote in his 1742 Tour of Great Britain that “The present Name [sc. Stonehenge] is Saxon, tho' the Work is beyond all Comparison older, signifying a hanging Rod or Pole, i.e. a Gallows, from the hanging Parts, Architraves, or rather Imposts; and pendulous Rocks are still in Yorkshire called Henges.”
Henge is in the news this week because of Manhattanhenge, an affectionate name for an annual east-west alignment of the setting sun with New York City’s street grid. The phenomenon occurs today, May 31, at about 8:12 p.m. (It also occurred on May 30, and will be visible again on July 11 and 12.)
According to a Wikipedia entry:
In accordance with the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, the street grid for most of Manhattan is rotated 29° clockwise from true east-west. Thus, when the azimuth for sunset is 299° (i.e., 29° northward of due West), the sunset aligns with the streets on that grid.
Other cities with fairly uniform grids and unobstructed views of the horizon may also experience the event. A similar phenomenon, dubbed MIThenge, can be experienced at varying times of the year.
Manhattanhenge observed from 34th Street. Photo via American Museum of Natural History.
I have a pair of related posts up on Strong Language (a sweary blog about swearing) that may be of interest to some of you. In them, I take a deep dive into a word whose offensiveness is variable and subjective: uttered by a presidential candidate, it caused consternation among headline writers; used as a brand name, it may run afoul of trademark laws. Yet it’s unobjectionable as a botanical or fashion modifier.
What in the world am I talking about? See for yourself in Part 1 and Part 2 of “A Feline Profanity.”
Breakfastarian: “A person who recognizes the superiority of breakfast over other meals. A person who eats only breakfast foods” (Urban Dictionary, July 20, 2013). A blend of breakfast with the Latinate suffix -arian, denoting “association with a place or thing or idea.” Compare vegetarian, fruitarian, and breatharian (and contrast omnivore, locavore, and carnivore, in which -vore comes from a Latin root meaning “to devour.”)
There’s a curious little kerfuffle going on between two businesswomen whose flower-shaped logos are suspiciously similar in shape and embellishment. What makes it especially newsworthy is that one of the businesswomen is the actress Reese Witherspoon, and she’s the one being sued.
But that’s not the only thing I find interesting about Ms. Witherspoon’s retail venture, which is called Draper James, after the actress’s grandmother (Dorothea Draper) and grandfather (William James Witherspoon). For me, that name – no matter how sweetly familial – is all too reminiscent of another, much older retail chain, Draper’s & Damon’s.
Crowler: A 32-ounce or 750-milliliter aluminum can filled to a customer’s order with beer or cider at a brewery. Also the name of the machine used for making the cans. A blend of can and growler (a 64-ounce vessel, traditionally made of glass, for take-home beer).
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.)
With 8 percent of 2015 still in the mysterious future, the first Word of the Year (WOTY) nominations have already begun. Oxford Dictionaries made history, and stirred up some controversy, by selecting an emoji – “Face with Tears of Joy” – as its, um, lexical unit of the year. (Emoji was a Fritinancy Word of the Week in January 2012.)
And at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Lingua Franca blog, Allan Metcalf – he’s the executive secretary of the American Dialect Society – makes the case for basic: “the word this year to describe someone or something that fits a stereotype, especially the ‘basic white girl’.”
Canadian retailer Kit and Ace – see my post about the company name here – is adding coffee shops to its boutiques: The first Sorry Coffee opens tomorrow in Toronto. “Sorry” can mean “worthless” or “inferior,” but here it’s “an attempt to poke fun at Canadians — a winking nod to the quick-to-apologize stereotype,” co-founder J.J. Wilson toldthe Star. Be sure to pronounce it the Canadian way: SORE-ee.