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.

You can read more about his struggles with language in this BBC story from Monday, but this is just one example of an ongoing problem that has only grown with the proliferation of social media: grammar shaming. When someone has made a spelling or grammatical or capitalization (or even factual) mistake on social media, it's sometimes okay to point it out so that they can correct it. But too many people see errors as opportunities for attack, thinking perhaps that they're earning some sort of political or social points.

In reality, of course, people who do this are just being dicks.

I can feel you nodding in agreement. It seems like a perfectly reasonable argument, right? You would never do such things on social media. But here's the thing: It applies to everyone, including the president of the United States.

At The Web of Language this week, Dennis Baron argues that, while attacking Trump's hamberders, smocking guns, and covfefe can be fun and even therapeutic (and so very very easy), it's also counterproductive. "The real problem with grammar shaming Trump," Baron writes, "is that it distracts us from the real problems of the language of his presidency: Trump broadcasts fascist tropes like fake news, human scum and enemy of the people. He calls anyone who disagrees with him sleepy, shifty, stupid, or a loser. ... Against all this, spelling doesn’t come close to counting."

And also, "there’s no point grammar shaming Trump because he’s incapable of feeling shame. "

This Etymology Is Outrageous


Nancy Friedman points out in the Fritinancy word of the week that, though there's both a lot of rage and a lot of outrage out there right now, the words aren't etymologically related. Outrage "wasn't out plus rage, it was outré — an adjective that means bizarre, unconventional, going beyond accepted limits — plus the noun-forming suffix -age." Get the fuller history at Fritinancy.

Spectator Crash Blossoms Post

crash blossom, headline

If you don't know why an ambiguous headline like this one is called a crash blossom, you might want to check out Dot Wordsworth's explanation at The Spectator. And if you've never even heard of crash blossoms, you definitely should go read it.

Tweet of the Week

American English, racism

Another contribution from Dennis Baron, mentioned in the first story this week, is this 1918 flier advertising "Better American Speech Week" that encourages young people to "Speak the language of your flag." ("Flap flap wiggle," he said patriotically.)

Examples of the unjustified conflation of language skill and both intellect and patriotism are a dime a dozen, but this one has some added racism, and it also deftly avoids using the word English in order to shield readers from the dissonance that might occur from being reminded that "American speech" is primarily European.

Big Dictionary Energy

dictionaries, pronunciation

Over at Merriam-Webster, Peter Sokolowski has published a half-hour-long video explaining why the “nucular” pronunciation of the word nuclear is so horribly wrong and that anyone who pronounces it that way is evil. Okay, not really. In the lexicographer’s usual judgment-free, descriptivist way, he gives us, in a minute-long video, some linguistic explanations that might explain why people pronounce it that way.

The pronunciation is still horribly horribly wrong though, says I — infinitely more cringe-worthy than moist could ever hope to be.

Butt-Dial M for Merriam-Webster 

dictionaries, idioms

Speaking of Merriam-Webster, at Language Log this week, Mark Liberman is wondering when butt-dial will finally get its own entry in that esteemed dictionary.

The Subtle Psychology of Server-Speak

podcast, psychology, manners

In this week's Allusionist, Helen Zaltzman chats with Stephani Robson and Sara Brooke Curtis about "how what servers say is affected by such things as restaurant furniture, tipping, the need to turn a table around quickly for the next diners, and customer moods and caprices." Depending on your temperament and where you eat out, this episode will either help you understand and connect with your server or ruin date night forevermore.