Monday, November 30, 2009

Today's Word: statusphere

We've all heard of the twitterverse and the blogosphere, but as social media have grown, the different online outlets for self-expression have blurred. Facebook now supports hashtags and retweet-type abbreviations. Your tweets can be automatically sent to your Facebook page, MySpace page, or other social networking page. Third-party Twitter apps like Tweetdeck can now also update your Facebook and MySpace statuses, as well as monitor your friends' updates.

As the lines blur, platform-specific terminology becomes less useful, and more general terms are needed to describe what people are doing online.

Along comes this wonderful neologism, statusphere, to describe the morass of personal updates and information being channeled through social networking sites. Or, as Brian Solis more eloquently puts it, statusphere is "the new ecosystem for sharing, discovering, and publishing updates and micro-sized content that reverberates throughout social networks and syndicated profiles, resulting in a formidable network effect of movement and response."

Brian traces the origin of this term — at least in this context — back to February 7, 2009, but the word statusphere is noted to have appeared in Time magazine way back in mid-1978. Back then, though, it referred to the places where "people of status" lived — like Hollywood, New York, and Nashville.

I'd love to see statusphere take off as a common online term. It's simply a perfect neologism, drawing equally from age-old vocabulary (stratosphere) and new-fangled technology (status updates). I'd love to see it become 2010's Word of the Year (are you listening, lexicographers?), so start using it today!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Today's Turkey Word: snood

snood: The useless growth that grows on top of a turkey’s beak. A snood is also a bag-like hair net that holds a woman’s hair at the back of her head.

While I was looking for a picture online to illustrate a turkey’s snood, I learned something very important: turkeys are perhaps the ugliest creatures on the face of the earth. It looks like someone forgot to put skin on their heads, and the organs underneath didn’t know when to stop growing. Then there’s the snood; there’s no real use for it, and it looks like it would get in the way when you’re trying to eat.

Of course, the hip turkeys display their snoods in a fashionable way. As do the women.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Today’s Word: euhemerism

euhemerism (you-HE-muhr-izm): the interpretation of myths and mythology as traditional accounts of actual historical persons and events, eponymously named after the 4th century BC Greek mythologist Euhemerus. This is not to be confused with a literal interpretation of mythology — that, say, there was a guy living at the top of mount Olympus who could hurl thunderbolts to Earth and whose daughter sprang forth from his freshly cracked skull. Euhemerism is based on the idea that the stories of the gods and of mythological events are based on the actions of real (and mortal) men and actual natural events, and that these men and events, over time, were deified, and their now exaggerated stories were over time collected and evolved into a complete mythology. At its most basic, euhemerism states that, when it comes to mythology, the line between man and god is not always clear.

There are certain mythologies in American culture that can be viewed euhemistically. The story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, for instance, might be based on an actual event, but because the story serves our cultural mores well, it has taken on a life outside of historical fact. Johnny Appleseed is another story based on fact that has euhemistically become a type of American mythology. You might be able to analyze those old tall tales euhemistically — like Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and John Henry — but it will be more difficult.

I wonder what stories, years from now, will take on a mythological bent. Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon? The assassination of JFK? The life of Elvis?

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Oxford American Dictionary’s Word of the Year

When things get busy, blogging time is the first to get cut. But I'm back now, and ready to do some catch-up!

Last week, the lexicographers at the New Oxford American Dictionary announced their Word of the Year for 2009: unfriend, defined as "To remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook." I guess online social networking is here to stay, eh?

The fun part about the WOTY isn't the word itself, but the conversations that it can spark, especially when you look at the other words that were considered but passed over — in this case, hashtag, netbook, sexting, freemium, birther, brown state, green state, tramp stamp, and a number of others (read the OUPBlog post). Which word would you have chosen?

You'll also find in the OUPBlog post two lists of "Notable Word Clusters." The longer of the two lists catalogues neologisms based on Obama, including Obamamama, Obamanomics, and Obamalicious. The other list touches on something I wrote about recently: Twitter-related vocabulary. Some of the common ones are in there — retweet, tweetup, twitterati — but my favorite is one I haven't heard often enough: twitterhea.

And no, no one really wants to know what you eat at every meal.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Today's Word: nonplussed

nonplussed (or nonplused): Flummoxed to the point of inaction. "At the debate, Eric's references to Freudian physiology, ichthyological anthropology, and mythological proctology left Joan nonplussed; she spoke not a word during the two minutes alloted for her rebuttal."

Nonplussed is one of those words that throws people off because it uses a common prefix — which points us toward understanding — at the head of an uncommon word. We hear of people being nonplussed, but rarely do we hear of people being plussed. Along the same lines, you've probably been nonchalant at times, but have you ever been called chalant? I've been incorrigible before, but no one has ever mentioned those times when I've been corrigible. You know indubitable facts, but have you ever wondered about something dubitable?

Nonchalant, incorrigible, and indubitable are used often enough in conversation and in print that, in general, we understand what they mean without having to analyze the different parts of the word. We understand them as stand-alone words, not as words altered by prefixes. Nonplussed isn't so well-used, and is misused often enough to muddy the waters even more.

(An aside: I wonder which is more often misused: nonplussed or comprised?)

According to Webster's New World College Dictionary, nonplussed comes from the Latin non- "not" and plus "more." So you might think of nonplussed as meaning "not being able to do anymore." The derivation doesn't really explain how the idea of perplexity (or flummoxity) entered into the meaning, though.

What nonplussed ought to mean: Not added together, as in this sentence, which might appear on an epoxy dispenser: "The epoxide and polyamide should remain nonplussed until right before you're ready to start binding items together permanently."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Small Changes, and Possibly Big Ones

There comes a time in every blogger's life when he or she must reevaluate the purpose, format, and success of his or her blog.

It isn't that time for me yet.

There also comes a time in every blogger's life when he or she goes back to the beginning, evaluating his or her growth as a writer and as a person, as revealed by his or her public musings.

It isn't that time yet, either.

There come a number of times in every blogger's life when there is tedious or boring work to be avoided, when procrastination becomes a lifesaving tool. That time is now.

So, in lieu of doing actual productive work, I've begun making changes here at Logophilius. The first is to create a more focused blog roll. On the right, in the Word Wide Web section, you'll find links to other linguablogs that you might find enjoyable or otherwise edifying.

Please share your favorite word-related blogs in the comments section. (English-only, please, though some of the Engrish blogs might make it up there.) I won't put every one of them in my blogroll because, of course, some blogs are better than others. Some of them are wonderful; some just suck. (Note: This is not an invitation to evaluated the quality of Logophilius, though I won't stop you if you want to heap praise upon me.) I reserve the right to evaluate a blog's suckitude based on my own criteria and to omit from the blogroll any blogs that fall below a certain suckiness threshold.

Also, in the days and weeks to come, and as other work needs to be avoided, I plan to revamp the look of Logophilius with a new template, new color scheme (puce anyone?), and new image. And who knows what else I'll decide to futz with?

Defining Optimism and Pessimism

Kin Hubbard said that "an optimist is a fellow who believes what's going to be will be postponed." Oscar Wilde defined a pessimist as "one who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both." To Jean Rostand, "My pessimism goes to the point of suspecting the sincerity of the pessimists."

And of course, there's the old saying that the optimist sees a half-full glass,and the pessimist sees a half-empty glass.The true pessimist, though, dwells on the fact that, eventually, he's going to have to clean the glass.

We all know -- or at least think we do -- optimistic and pessimistic people. But how do you define optimism and pessimism to fit in with your world view? How can you tell an optimist from a pessimist? And which is closer to realism?

I await the wit and wisdom of the cybermasses.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Oh Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo

I am constantly surprised by the fact that I can still be constantly surprised by the things I find on the Internet. I have two interesting things to share today.

The first is the blog "My First Dictionary," where you'll find 1950s-era illustrations for words combined with example sentences that you hope you never see in an actual children's illustrated dictionary. It's a fun little creative blog that you ought to frequent. I love this blog so much, I 'm adding it to my blogroll.

The second is what I reference in the title of this post. I was Stumbling around the Internet the other day, and I landed on the Wikipedia entry for, believe it or not "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo." This, says William J. Rappaport, is a grammatical and complete sentence that illustrates the use of homonyms and homophones.

The meaning of the sentence relies on these definitions:

  • Capital-B Buffalo refers to the city of Buffalo, NY. In the three instances it's used in this sentence, it is used as a descriptor for a noun, aka an adjective.
  • One of the lowercase-b buffaloes refers to the animal. The author uses buffalo as a plural noun, like moose and sheep, in place of the more common buffaloes.
  • Lowercase-b buffalo is also used as a verb to mean "to bully, confuse, deceive, or intimidate."

Here is the same sentence with indication of how each word is being used:

Buffaloa buffalon Buffaloa buffalon buffalov buffalov Buffaloa buffalon.

Wikipedia offers a few clarifications of the meaning of the sentence; this is the one that makes the most sense to me. Replacing bison for the animal buffalo, and bully for the verb buffalo, the new sentence looks like this:

Buffalo bison Buffalo bison bully bully Buffalo bison.


The Buffalo bison that Buffalo bison bully also bully Buffalo bison.

You can read the Wikipedia article for more info and clarification.

Not one to just absorb information, especially when it relates to wordplay, I immediately began racking my brain to come up with another (and hopefully better) example of this type of sentence. It isn't easy. the best I've come up with, so far, is to turn

Harrison Ford battles infighting among the Star Wars cast.


Star Wars star wars Star Wars star wars.


Mechanical movie shark head talks about the statements made by backup mechanical movie shark head.


Jaws jaws jaws Jaws jaws jaws.

All right, that one's a stretch. Here's one along the same lines:

The squat squatting squatter squats squat squatter's squat.

Got anything better? (If you want to cheat, see Wikipedia's List of linguistic example sentences.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Word of the Year (from Webster's New World Dictionaries): distracted driving

Every year, many dictionary publishers announce their own word of the year. Often, the chosen word (as well as the runners-up) is a fairly new coinage that just has the ring of newness to it — words like locavore, overshare, blogging, and podcasting, that simple weren't around a decade ago. This year, though, the lexicographers at Webster's New World Dictionary have chosen as word of the year a two-word phrase whose constituent parts have been around for centuries, so it doesn't seem so new.

This year's WOTY winner, distracted driving, has seen increased use of late as courts deal with the legalities of accidents (and accidental deaths) caused by drivers' inattentiveness while they attempt to drive while texting, talking on cell phones, or watching DVDs.

Runners-up for word of the year are

  • cloud computing: common computer operations performed and stored on the Internet instead of on one's own computer
  • go viral: to become extremely popular, without the budget outlay that goes along with it, because hoi polloi shares your creation with friends, who share with more friends, ad inifinitum.
  • netbook: a small laptop computer designed to be used primarily with the Internet
  • wallet biopsy: the examination of a patient's ability to pay before any medical service is provided
  • wrap rage: the outrage and exasperation of struggling to open an impenetrable blister pack or cardboard box to get at the contents

You can find the announcement and a brief video on the Webster's New World Word of the Year site (which, you guessed it, isn't updated very often).