Saturday, December 7, 2019

Words on Words — December 7, 2019

Our words on display for the week ending December 7, 2019.

 And You Thought Dildo Island Was Bad

onomastics, geography

When a town in southern Quebec came together around a bountiful mine in 1897, it made sense to name that burgeoning area after the mineral that allowed its work force to thrive. Unfortunately, though, they weren't pulling diamonds or gold, sapphires or opals out of the mine. Not even helium. It was asbestos.

The City of Asbestos, Quebec, has finally had it with its name. Citing low tourism and difficulty attracting business, city officials are trying asbestos they can to come up with a new name. They plan to announce their choice sometime in the new year and begin the official renaming process.

So, considering how the world works these days, start planning your visit to Towny McTownface, Quebec, now.

Word of the Year, Australian Edition

WOTY, dictionaries

Word of the Year season continues, and now that it’s December, it doesn’t seem so early. The Macquarie Dictionary editors in Australia looked “at all the new words and new definitions that have entered the Macquarie Dictionary in the past year” and came up with a longlist of 75 words (see them in a PDF). From that list, they bucked the climate change trend and chose cancel culture as the Macquarie WOTY.

But that’s not all! Macquarie has opened voting for a “People’s Choice Word of the Year.” Follow the link and scroll down to vote, but do it by Tuesday, when voting ends. I'm on the fence between hedonometer and silkpunk, even though I don't know for sure what either of them means.

She’s Good with Her Brands

onomastics, branding

Upping the ante on “...of the Year” lists, onomastician Nancy Friedman of Fritinancy has offered up her Brands of the Decade. To qualify, a brand had to be founded, or made its presence felt, or landed in the headlines hard and often in the last ten years. The top-12 list — presented unranked in alphabetical order — includes Airbnb, Netflix, Uber and Lyft, and (*le sigh*) Trump.

Pedant’s Throw Up Their Hand’s in Disgust

punctuation, pedantry

This news is really only word-adjacent, but it's (not its) still, I think, pertinent to this audience: Last week, 96-year-old John Richards, founder in 2001 of the sounds-like-an-Onion-thing-but-is-really-real Apostrophe Protection Society, has given up. The APS is no more. “We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!” writes the snoot who offered “three simple rules for the correct use of the punctuation mark.” (Three? Simple?)

Laziness 1, Pedants 0. Your move, Society for the Preservation of the En Dash.

I should note that the APS website will remain live, eventually. It seems that widespread knowledge of the society's existence came simultaneously with news of its demise, and the website's servers have been overtaxed by visitors. Here's what appears at the site as I write this:
Come back in January to see what the society has been doing for the last 18 years. Or, like me, you can just forget it existed in the first place.

Forth and Back

podcast, idioms

Idioms can be fun, especially when you break them down, look at them unidiomatically, and realize that they don’t really make sense. In this week’s short episode of That’s What They Say, Anne Curzan takes apart the idiom back and forth, which, to a non-English speaker, seems to be in the wrong order. After all, you can’t come back to where you are until you go forth from it first. To and fro makes much more sense — at least, if you know what fro means. (Hint: froward is the opposite of toward, or once was.)

There Is an Existential Crisis


At the Oxford University Press blog, Edwin L. Battistella introduces us to the “existential there,” that often-overused but rarely named “grammatical form [that] asserts the existence (or non-existence) of something and is often used to introduce new information, to shift the topic of discussion or to call something to mind.” When a sentence starts with “There is…” or “There are…,” you’re probably looking at an "existential there."

As a copy editor, I’ve eliminated quite a few of these in favor of more descriptive subjects and more interesting verbs, but I never knew the form was called the “existential there.” Now I do.

And now you do, too.

My Cursin’ Vinny

swearing, movies

At the best NSFW blog for word lovers, Strong Language, Stan Carey takes a look at the usually foul-mouthed Joe Pesci’s role as Harry Lyme in the decidedly child-friendly Home Alone Christmas movies. Reining in his four-letter vocabulary for the part, Pesci gives us what Carey calls “a masterclass in family-friendly pseudo-swearing.”