Saturday, January 4, 2020

New Year, Same Old Language — January 4, 2020

Start this brand new, pristine year full of hope with more of the same types of stuff you ended the previous year with. Hurrah, or something.

Word of the Year, Still

WOTY, vocabulary

Word of the Year season is almost done. Almost. As I write this, the American Dialect Society is wrapping up voting for its 2019 word of the year. Nancy Friedman (aka Fritinancy) has written up a nice overview of the nominated words — which include complixifier, hamberder, and bedbug — as well as a quick overview of other groups' WOTY choices.

You know, if you haven’t already followed all my links.

By the time you read this, though, you can probably just google “ADS WOTY” to see how the voting turned out. (As an avid-but-not-Trump-level-avid Twitterer, my vote is for Hellsite.)

Last-second update: The ADS has chosen (my) pronouns as Word of the Year and singular they as word of the decade. Read the announcement here.

But Wait! There’s More!

WOTY, vocabulary, OMFG how many more WOTYs can we have?

Linguist and NPR contributor Geoff Nunberg announced his choice for WOTY this week: disinformation. It’s not a new word, but it has seen a significant uptick over the last, um, presidential administration. You can read about it (or listen to it Nunberg talk about it — the audio from his Fresh Air appearance is embedded on the page) at NPR.

A Banner Year

peevery, snoots

While dictionaries, language-based organizations, and linguists lift up the words we found interesting or useful in the last year, Lake Superior State University takes a different tack: They recently published their annual “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” I can feel you rolling your eyes, so here are a few things you need to know:
  1. Yes, they hyphenated misuse and overuse in the headline. The Queen’s English is perhaps a bit more dashing than you expected?
  2. This is their 45th annual list. FORTY. FIFTH. They posted their first list of banished words in 1976, about two years before I learned how to use a toilet.
  3. The purveyors of this list do so (thankfully) with tongue planted firmly in cheek. In their explanation of this year’s banished words, they manage to actually use most of them.

The descriptivist in me who believes in the democracy of language knows that word banning, even as a joke, is counterproductive and only denigrates, if not actually vilifies, the (usually young, usually female) people who are doing new things with language.

But as a 45-year-old copy editor and logophile, there are quite a few items on this list that I would love to never read or hear again. Some of the now-verboten words and phrases:
  • Totes (as in "totes gonna lose weight this year")
  • Living my best life (which, obvies, they're not)
  • Artisanal (as in "artisanal hemorrhoid cream")
  • Influencer (which are, according to Erik Deckers of Laughing Stalk, "self-indulgent, over-entitled people with social media degrees who think they should get free food for posting photos of themselves eating it.")
  • Literally (as in "you literally saw this one coming a mile away")

Video of the Week: SQUIRT!!!

video, etymology

From, "The Disgusting Origin of the Word Squirt." Unfortunately, I find no option to embed the video here, so you'll have to click over to watch it. It's not even a minute and a half long, so go give it a little of your time and give a little of your love.

How to Get People Interested in Linguistics

linguistics, clickbait

With the headline “How Linguistics Can Help Us Catch Sex Offenders” — an actual article by Eleanor Robson on the Oxford University Press blog.

Ruling Class

grammar, snoots

And finally, John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun wraps up his year with a quick run-down of the different types of "rules of grammar," most of which are neither rules nor grammar. It's also a good reminder that native English speakers naturally internalize a lot of the conventions that English learners have to slog through intentionally. If you're the type who finds yourself correcting other people's "grammar" often (and you don't get paid to do so), first: Go read this. Second: STOP IT!

Featured image: Leonid Pasternak's The Passion of Creation.