Saturday, January 11, 2020

Lingua Fracas — January 11, 2020

 The words that make words worth wording.

These Roots Were Made for Walkin'

etymology, vocabulary

James Harbeck of Sesquiotica introduced me (and now I introduce to you) to the word solivagant this week. I had never heard it before, but it’s pretty easy to break down etymologically: soli- “one” + vagari “to wander.” It’s a great word for us introverted, peripatetic types.

A Pluralization of Singular Theys

pronouns, singular they

This isn’t new, but it was new to me, and if it's new to you, you might want to keep the upcoming link in your back pocket. Writer and editor Gael Spivak has been collecting and has made public (via this Google Doc) a massive list of links to online articles in support of singular they. As I type this, the list includes 92 links, and considering that the American Dialect Society just named singular they the word of the decade, I expect (if Ms. Spivak is still updating the list) this will soon pass 100 as she adds new articles — like this one on the ACES website by Mark Allen, published last Monday.

If you ever find yourself banging heads with someone who is adamantly opposed to singular they “because it’s ungrammatical,” send them the link and tell them to leave you alone.

Trivial Pursuit

self-promotion, etymology

I used the word trivia for years without recognizing that the tri- at the beginning indicated three of something. In fact, I recognized trivia as a plural (of trivium) before I recognized the threesomeness of this word. Looking at in now, tri + via meaning “three roads” seems obvious — but there’s so much more to it than that. Read this week’s In a Word column, “Trivia Three Ways,” for the full story.

Special ED

onomastics, branding

Nancy "Fritinancy" Friedman dealt with erectile dysfunction this week.

Let me rephrase that: This week, Nancy Friedman's exposure to erectile dysfunction led to ...

That's not any better. So what happened is this: A brand name in an ad for an erectile dysfunction treatment caught her attention. Roman was the name, and it's billed as a “digital health clinic for men.”

She thought it was a pretty good brand name; it’s even got “man” right there at the end! Her curiosity piqued, she researched the company a bit more, did a bit of speculating, and wrote about the whole thing. If you've ever wondered what kind of weird things can be encoded in a brand name, especially for an ED treatment, check out how Ms. Friedman links implicit egotism theory, Japanese numbers, and Greek letters. And, of course, erectile dysfunction.

Plurals with Ease

podcast, pronunciation, plurals

John McWhorter’s latest Lexicon Valley podcast starts with a simple question: How do you pronounce processes? This meant that for the entire 45 minutes I listened to this episode, I was thinking about my ex-wife. She pronounces processes with a long E at the end, as if it were Processese, the language of the Land of Process. (I should note that this pronunciation had no bearing on our divorce, though it didn’t make our married life any more pleasant. For me, at least.) Apparently, she’s not alone in this pronunciation. Mr. McWhorter tackles the question why?

But if you're hoping to stockpile the linguistic evidence you need to convince your significant other to start pronouncing processes like a normal person, prepare for disappointment. In typical linguist form, Mr. McWhorter doesn’t make judgments on the pronunciation but merely describes why some people might be pronouncing it that way. It has a lot to do with our relationship to Latin plurals and our sense of formality and informality.

These Toots Were Made for Walkin'

word history

At the Grammarphobia blog this week, Patricia O’Connor and Stewart Kellerman answer this perfectly worded question: “How come youse did a whole story on the term ‘darn tootin’’ without letting us square guys know where ‘toots’ comes from? I know you can toast your tootsies next to a nice warm fire, but how did feet become dames?”

The question is enjoyable enough, but so is the answer.