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.