Saturday, November 16, 2019

Logomania Weekly — November 16, 2019

A week's worth of word news.

It’s the Most Wordiful Time

dictionaries, word of the year

Is it just me, or is Word of the Year season coming a bit earlier every year? Collins Dictionary has chosen their 2019 WOTY already: climate strike, “a protest demanding action on climate change.” There’s a nice animated illustration of Greta Thunberg to go along with it.

Their announcement also includes an illustrated list of other words that were shortlisted for the award, including rewilding, entryist, hopepunk, and influencer.


usage, bad writing

I couldn’t disagree more with the idea embodied in the title of “Ban These Words,” a post by Alexandria Neason at the Columbia Journalism Review, because bans on personal expression never end well. But the words she calls out as being misused or overused are worth considering if you’re a writer — especially if you’re writing woke content about the problematic and unprecedented issues facing us today.

A Confidant Man

spelling, headline, suffixes

Mark Liberman was momentarily flummoxed this week by the WaPo headline "Trump Confidant Stone Guilty on All Counts, Faces Up to 50 Years in Prison." Many people have problems remembering whether particular words get an -ent or -ant ending (e.g., a dependent's pendant), and considering that our president never shows anything but uncompromising confidence in his own decisions, "Trump Confident" seems like a reasonable way to start a headline (it shows up quite a bit, actually). Liberman wrote about these confusing endings at Language Log, briefly laying out the etymological evolution that gave our language these spelling-bee eliminators. 

Mael Man

etymology, vocabulary

This week, editor and Seattleite Mike Pope discovered (and wrote about) the word acopia, which you should definitely add to your vocabulary if you think you can cope with it. (You won't find that joke funny until you go read post.*) He also offers some interesting background on the word maelstrom, which isn’t an “evil storm” — well, it is, but not etymologically.

Male Man

etymology, history, podcast

In this week’s Lexicon Valley podcast, "Men, Women, and Children," linguist John McWhorter gives us a great history of some of the most basic words we use to identify people, and why so many of them have irregular plurals, including woman/women, person/people, and child/children. Also in the podcast: show tunes (as usual), 17th-century boobs, and an explanation of how umlaut written in an I Love Lucy script would lead to this:

Mum's the Word?

book, slang

At The Guardian, an unattributed piece called "From SWI to AIBU: How Mumsnet Created a Whole New Language" has appeared. Written in an interview format, the article claims that a parenting website launched in 2000 created a whole slew of abbreviations that are now going mainstream, including FWIW, OTOH, and DH (which does NOT stand for "dickhead"). I'm dubious, but this claim isn't what draws my attention most. It's the dek for the article:"A new book claims the parenting website’s digital reach has led to a large and wide-ranging vocabulary – a rare example of slang created from a female perspective."

  1. The name of the book mentioned in the dek does not appear in the story.
  2. I've heard from numerous linguists whom I trust that teenage women are always at the forefront of language change. It seems odd to me that such changes would not fall in the realm of "slang." Is this really a "rare example" of female-led slang creation?
  3. And really, are these acronyms and initialisms really considered slang?

Maybe any linguists who happen to read this could help us understand the veracity of these claims.


*And even then, I can't guarantee you'll find the joke funny.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Week of the Word — November 9, 2019

A weekly look at the latest word news. Eventually I'll land on a title I'd like to keep, right?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Forever Me

Forever Me:

In Which the Author Chronicles His Ongoing Efforts to Achieve Immortality

November 7, 2019 — Day 16,436
So far so good!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Weekly Word News — November 2, 2019

A weekly newsletter-style post of the latest in word news

Shaming Shaming

pronunciation, spelling, social media, manners 

In the UK, Member of Parliament Peter Kyle accidentally tweeted the word boarder when he meant border. And, of course, people noticed and tweeted out their own responses. "Mostly it's kindly or humorous which is appreciated," Kyle tweeted. "Sometimes it's sneering or brutal." Some twitterers even suggested he should resign his position — because he misspelled a word.

Here's the thing: Peter Kyle has dyslexia.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

What's the Word? October 26, 2019

Of late I've been discontent with the trajectory of my life, both personally and professionally. I've been feeling like I need to get out there more, to do more, to make sure I'm still connecting with my people and contributing something to the world. (This is the personal bit; feel free to skip down to the actual content below the break.) And I've been racking my brain for what new project I might undertake and perhaps find some fulfillment.

What I really want to do a podcast, but I think that'll take a lot more than I can give to do right. And I'd want to do it right. Maybe someday. (And maybe some other word nerd out there is looking for a podcast partner/co-host? Hit me up.)

But I realized there was something I wish I had that, it turns out, I can actually create for others: a weekly newsletter focused solely on words. Not editing, not proofreading, not grammar — just words, talk about words, news about words, people figuring words out. You know, the good stuff.

But those newsletter services cost cash, and I ain't got none. Besides, I have no idea whether anyone would even be interested in receiving such a thing. Or if I could collect enough stories every week to fill one out. Or if I would even find the motivation to follow through every week on something like that. Because, after all, "Followthr-Oh-Look-A-Puppy" is my middle name.

So here is test case of the compromise between my desire and my wallet: A weekly blog post that collects the week's wordy goodnesses. Who knows; maybe this could turn in to something. (And I'll probably be trying on some different names for it, too. Just watch for it on the weekends.)

Anyway, enough blathering:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

5 Podcasts for Logophiles (and Then Some)

Only in the last year have I begun swimming in the warm, infinite ocean of podcasts. And in that time I've found a handful of wonderful islands of wordy goodness. Here are my five favorites, plus a few others I also enjoy. Every logophile should check them out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Phenomena Phenomenon?

In the last week, I have heard two people who should know better misuse the word phenomena. I didn't think this was word that needed much explaining, but twice in a week? (At any rate, maybe these flubs will be the impetus that gets me blogging here more regularly again.)

Here's how it works:
  • Phenomenon is the singular form: The blinking purple light hovering over the White House remains an unexplained phenomenon.
  • Phenomena is the plural:  Three or four strange phenomena were occurring there every week, so the city banned food trucks in the clown cemetery.
Any time you find yourself saying or writing "a phenomena," pause and think. Unless you're using the word in some modifying phrase, like "a phenomena-explaining discovery," you want to use the word phenomenon instead.

I have generally been shying away from writing about words from a strictly prescriptivist point of view. I don't want to be the guy who tries to tell you how you must use your language. Rather, I'd like to be the guy who shows you how to do more with your language, and to use it to better effect.

But singular phenomena just won't float. Sure, a couple decades hence we might be having the same arguments we used to have about data being singular or plural, but we're not there yet. And besides, misuse of these two words might be more dangerous than data ever could be.

Legend has it that if you stare into a mirror and say "phenomena" three times in a row, a pair of eerie pink monsters will appear behind you.

Scarier still, if you say "phenomenon" three times, John Travolta will show up and try to recruit you to Scientology.
Although these phenomena are unproven, I advise you to use these words with care.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Buddies (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

The door swung open, and a small but severe young man in a gray, secondhand, pinstriped suit sauntered in. Behind him, filling the doorway, was a wall of a man, six-and-a-half feet tall if he was an inch. He clasped his huge, calloused hands respectfully in front of his genitals over faded denim overalls. He had to duck to get through the door, showing the top of his navy blue newsboy cap that, though it was probably the largest size they made, seemed two sizes too small for his cinder block of a head.

Mark stood. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting two of you. I’ll have Janice bring us another chair.”

The smaller man waved his hand. “No need,” he said. He turned to the larger man. “Have a seat, Lennie.”

Monday, December 24, 2018

Oliver Twist, Zombie Hunter? (A Mark Flyleaf Story)

"Do you know who I was?!" the scrawny blond boy screeched.

"Yes," Mark said, trying to remain calm. "Of course. I understand that—"

"I was Oliver. Bloody. Twist. You hear me? The original. From Dickens' pen itself."

"Yes, I—"

"I've been fan-fictioned, bowdlerized, plagiarized, and reimagined like you would not believe."

"Yes, I understand, but—"

"I've been a musical, a whole slew of movies, and three graphic novels. And now I hear that Oliver Bloody Twist is going to be in a new novel fighting zombies, and I wasn't offered the part?"