Saturday, March 21, 2020

Languishing and Languaging

Reading words about other words, because what else can you do?

A Coronacopia of Neologisms

neologisms, portmanteaux, wordplay

I think it’s fair to say that the coronavirus pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives — including our language. New word coinages are popping up all over, from quarantini and coronarita to coronacation and iso bro. Nancy Friedman of Fritinancy posted a collection of them this week, what she calls coronacoinages.

Decimated Driver

etymology, etymological fallacy, snoots

Let Stan Carey’s “Literal Decimation,” at Sentence First, serve as your latest regular reminder that the argument “Decimate can only mean 'eliminating one in ten'” does not hold water, and that the etymological fallacy, “the belief that a word’s older or original meaning is the only correct one or is automatically more correct than newer, conventionally accepted ones,” is, well, a fallacy.

Video of the Week

language history, Scots

This week, Fire of Learning explored the question “Is Scots an English dialect or a language all its own?” The answer to the question, if one exists, has implications for how we categorize other languages and dialects.

The video includes a brief overview of some of the migrations and invasions that contributed to the evolution of language on the island of Great Britain, as well as a deconstruction of the words of “Auld Lang Syne.”

There are more resources out there like this; help me find them! Schools all over the world are closing down in-person classes and shifting to elearning, and many of these new online resources are available to anyone with an internet connection. While we’re all holed up in our homes, this may be a prime opportunity to learn about, well, anything — and from actual experts and teachers.

So if you find a great new resource to learn about any aspects of the English language, please do share. We’ve all rolled our eyes at people who are famous just for being famous; we might have a chance here to make more people famous for being great teachers and innovators.

A Man of Few Birds

etymology, word history

If a group of twenty crows is called a murder, what are they called if one of them dies?
A Corvid-19.

Don’t get this (horrible, horrible) joke? Here's what you're missing: Corvid is the name for a large family of birds that includes ravens, jackdaws, magpies, and others, including crows. On Sunday, James Harbeck of Sesquiotica wrote about corvid, the bird and the word, which resembles COVID but isn’t etymologically related at all, though in the twisty twiny way languages evolve, there are some interesting connections between the birds and pandemics.

COVID-19 itself isn’t some technical, esoteric word that’s impenetrable outside of scientific circles: It’s an abbreviation for COronaVIrus Disease of 2019.


book review, dictionaries

Here’s one I missed from earlier in the month: Kory Stamper, Our Favorite Lexicographer, wrote a review of Peter Martin’s book The Dictionary Wars for TLS, (the Times Literary Supplement). When I started reading it, I was excited that there was a new book about the lexicographical and marketing battles between dictionary-makers Noah Webster and Joseph Worcester — another book for my (practically infinite) to-be-read list. Then I kept reading: After a brief, basic explanation of what Martin’s book is all about, Stamper skewers the author, calling out an obvious bias toward Worcester, questionable editing of quotations, factual errors, and important threads of research that were snipped too short. Maybe it wouldn’t be worth reading after all.

Who am I kidding. Of course I’m going to read it. A book like this as practically custom-made just for a guy like me. (Now if only I could find a good, non-academic book about the Great Vowel Shift.)

Warning: TLS is a British outlet, so expect British-style formatting and spelling, including periods outside of quotation marks, towards, and the occasional -our.

Just for Pun

puns, images

From The Language Nerds this week, “27 Brilliant and Funny Puns That Will Make You Giggle.” Though brilliant is perhaps a step too far, there are some cute ones in here, including this great visual pun of Bill Clinton hiding in the bushes:

Featured image from The Public Domain Review.