Saturday, December 28, 2019

Jingle all the Word — December 28, 2019

The last word round-up of the year, and it isn't a "best of" list!

Sit Back and Lax Again

etymology, self-promotion

A lot of people are taking time off from their duties — both contractual and self-imposed — here at the end of the year, ostensibly to charge through the rigors of the holidays and then to find a bit of relaxation on the other side.

And by people, I mean those wordsmiths who write and publish the pieces I pull together into this weekly round-up. Among the blog posts and podcasts and thought pieces published in the last week, there is a lot about Christmas, plenty about the best and worst of the year, and too much about politics. Not so much about language, though, because, as I said, many of the people who create it are getting some R&R instead.

But not me! (And not the people who created what I link to below.) I found a bit of relaxation in a different way: By literally writing about the word relax.

The Pajama Game

initialisms, pluralization

The common name for comfy sleeping clothes seems to be weighed down by just about every usage problem a word can have. The first is how it’s spelled: pajamas or pyjamas? Then, we decide to abbreviate it, but how — capitalized or lowercase? With periods or without? And as if that weren’t enough, we have to figure out how to pluralize that initialism: Does one wear P.J.s or pj’s or what?

And that’s where this post from The Grammarphobia Blog begins, with a simple question about how to properly render the title of the song “Christmas PJs.” Patricia and Stewart take us quickly through the finer details of where p(a/y)jamas come from, both the clothing and the word; the various ways to abbreviate it; and finally, how to pluralize that initialism.

I’m Going to Quiz-Me Land!

podcast, quiz

If you consider yourself a true logophile, or if you aspire to expand your understanding of this wacky language, take a 15-minute break and test your knowledge in this year's final episode of The Allusionist, the 2019 word quiz. (Or you can just follow the link and take the quiz there on the page.)

How well do you know your etymological roots, your word histories, and your eponyms?

Video of the Week

languages, new year

See how many of these you can work into conversation next week.

A So-So So

speech trends, bleaching

So on Boxing Day, Mark Liberman posted his observations about the last Democratic presidential debate — and they have nothing to do with politics. What he noticed was that several of the candidates, when asked a question, began their answers with the word so, and it wasn’t used in the traditional adverbial sense that connects the ideas in the sentence with a previous statement. Liberman compares the semantic bleaching of so to that of really, very, and literally, and points to some evidence that such use is on the rise.

So what do you think: In ten years, will people be railing against the pointless overuse of so the way they railed ten (and twenty, and two) years ago about like? Do you think you overuse so?

You're Never to Old to Gurn

British English, vocabulary

Do you know what gurning is? I didn't, and neither did Mike Pope when he stumbled over the word in an article from the BBC. He did a little searching and discovered it's a British English word that doesn't even appear in American English dictionaries. He wrote about it here. Frankly, this is a useful word that I think is missing from our American vocabulary, and we should start using it right away. After all, isn't it time to see America crushing the World Gurning Championships?

It’s a Word Irregardless

dictionaries, snoots

It seems like the editors at Merriam-Webster have to comment on the old “irregardless isn’t a word” non-argument once or twice every year, because irregardless of how often they explain the situation, people continue to perform their moral outrage over the fact that it appears in their dictionary and by God it shouldn’t be there because it isn’t a word! (And take out literally while you're at it!)

So here is their latest calm, reasonable explanation of irregardless, which not only explains how it found its way onto Merriam-Webster’s pages (and the OED, and, and the American Heritage Dictionary), but how any word gets its own entry in the dictionary.

None of this is to say, of course, that you ever have to actually use irregardless yourself. Just file it away with impactful, nucular, Worcestershire, and all the other real words out there that you will never allow to fall from your own lips.

The featured image is the aptly titled Sleeping Woman with a Cat
by Władysław Ślewiński, painted in 1896.