Saturday, February 29, 2020

God's Gift to the Word

Your weekly round-up of logophilia, logodaedaly, and idiocy.

The Graphics Format that Sticks to the Roof of Your Mouth

pronunciation, acronyms

File this under “funny marketing ideas we thought no one would ever do”: The company that makes Jif peanut butter is releasing a special edition jar of the stuff with Gif on the label instead. The similarities are cute, sure, but the company also using the opportunity to weigh in on the neverending GIF pronunciation debate. GIF, they say, is pronounced with a hard G, just like graphic.

If your argument for pronouncing GIF with a soft G — like Jif — is “the man who invented GIFs says we should pronounce it that way!,” I will not entertain your argument until you can adequately explain why we pronounce gerrymander with a soft G even though it’s named after Elbridge “Hard G” Gerry. (Hat tip to Madeleine Vasaly for coming up with the gerrymander connection.)

Virginia Is for @*%&#ers

swearing, law

You can now legally curse in public in the State of Virginia.

To be fair, public swearing has been protected speech at a federal level — through a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — since 1971, but Virginia has had a law against profane swearing on the books since 1792. The state legislature voted to repeal that law this month.

While this seems like just a silly story about a pointless law taking up space in a state’s rulebook finally being eliminated, there is more to it than that. An anti-profanity law means that a police officer has cause to arrest someone who calls them a dirty name, and even though the charge might not stand, just think of how disruptive fighting such a charge would be to your life. Though it’s unclear (at least to CNN) how many people have been charged under this law, you can probably guess what type of people were most often targeted. (Hint: It’s not middle- or upper-class white folks.)

Starting Over with a Green Slate


Helen Zaltzman will be taking a break from The Allusionist podcast for a bit, so you should check out the last episode she’ll be putting out for a while. In “Alarm Bells,” she talks with people in the business of talking about saving the planet about the words we use to talk about it (wow, is that too many prepositions?) — and how the words themselves have been used to manipulate how we feel about the arguments. One of the words she defines is one I had forgotten about: greenwash, which refers to disinformation by organizations hoping to present an image of being environmentally responsible. The phrase clean coal comes to mind.

Speaking of podcast hiatuses, Talk the Talk will be off the air soon, but not for good. They’re leaving the RTRFM family but will be coming back in a new form in the future. Host Daniel Midgley doesn’t offer a lot of specifics about their future, but I hope they won't be gone too long. The final RTRFM broadcast, “Outed or Misgendered,” focuses on personal pronouns and the complex nature of even asking someone what their pronouns are.

Euphemistic Boogaloo

euphemism, word history, gun rights 

Nancy Friedman of Fritinancy this week explored and explained how we got from 1984’s Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo to ammosexuals wearing floral Hawaiian shirts under their tactical gear at a Virginia gun rights protest. Inasmuch as mid-’80s breakdancing movies could be ruined, these gun nuts have ruined mid-’80s breakdancing movies for me.

The Round-up Round-up

etymology, word history

Anatoly Liberman of the OUPblog this week published his “Etymological Gleanings for January and February 2020,” a number of quick-shot etymological explications based on comments and letters he’s received over the last two months. There, you’ll find theories and explanations about the history of squirrel, hunt, silk, belong, and more.

Battle of the Bissextus

etymology, self-promotion

Today is Leap Day, and over at The Saturday Evening Post, I wrote “Bissextus: A Short History of Leap Years,” which explains how we got the word bissextus, or bissextile day — another name for Leap Day.

Of course, I’m not the only one promoting his bissextile coverage — after all, the word only becomes relevant every four years. Merriam-Webster has a nice little post about it, Collins Dictionary is tweeting out its definition page, Word Genius gives a brief gloss, and there are others.

What most of these posts don’t point out, but that mine does, is the idea that, to purists, bissextile day isn’t February 29; it's February 24.

Unaltered featured image by Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0.