Saturday, November 30, 2019

Carvin' the Word — November 30, 2019

A look at the week's worth of word news. A short work week, so a short round-up.

A Trucked-Up Name

neologisms, onomastics

“People who are good at engineering or starting companies don’t always have the skills required to create memorable, evocative, inspirational brand names.” So writes Nancy Friedman of Fritinancy in her explanation of why Cybertruck is such a bad name for Elon Musk’s new vehicular offering, which looks like a futuristic truck of 2020 as drawn by a child in 1982. I wouldn’t be horribly surprised if we were to discover a sketch of this very same truck in the margin of a piece of Musk’s fifth-grade homework glued to some scrapbook page in his attic.

What do you think Musk should have named the Cybertruck? Let us know in the comments.

Flights of Fallacy

etymology, linguistics

We get a two-fer from the Oxford University Press this week. The first is “Etymology and Delusion, Part 2,” by linguist Anatoly Liberman, and it deals with historical (and failed) etymological attempts to trace all languages back to a single language — or in some cases to a single word. One late-19th-century Russian purported to have proven that all words in all languages evolved from a verb meaning “to eat.” Another that all words could be traced to the concept of “earth.”

And these theories weren’t from uneducated crackpots, but from academic circles. (I leave it to you to decide whether “crackpot” still applies.)

Una Problema

Spanish, gender

OUP’s second offering this week comes from Arturo Hernandez: “The Truth about ‘Latinx.’” That word, he points out, is a gender-neutral term coined primarily by anglophones. With a quick overview of some of the nuances of gendered Romance languages (like Spanish), he argues that a more natural, less English-centered choice is Latine.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. What did you expect?

self-promotion, etymology, podcast

Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, posted her latest podcast episode on Thanksgiving Day, so, naturally, she talks all about St. Patrick’s Day.

That would be silly. Actually, she talks turkey, she talks talking turkey, she talks cold turkey, and she touches on a few other turkey idioms, as well as the etymology and mythology behind the word cornucopia.

She wasn’t the only wordster to post on Thanksgiving, either. As it happens, I posted a new “In a Word” column that gives a little history of the word cornucopia as well. The etymology is fairly straightforward: corn means “horn” (as in unicorn) and copia is related to copious; the word literally means “horn of plenty,” which is the other name we know the cornucopia by. But what I didn’t know until I started looking into it is that the cornucopia, a common symbol of Thanksgiving, has its roots in Greek mythology, all the way back to Zeus’s infancy.