Sunday, March 29, 2020

Word and a Prayer

Words words words words words words words.

Diacritical Thinking

diacritics, history

Umlauts are not diaereses, explains Jonathon Owen this week at Arrant Pedantry. What are we talking about here? Twö lïttle döts thät äppear äböve a lëtter, a diacritic mark that we don’t see in English often outside of The New Yorker. Though an umlaut and a diaeresis look exactly the same on the page, they serve two different purposes and developed along two completely different routes.

Epicenter Fielder

vocabulary, word history

There sure seem to be a lot of epicenters of this pandemic — Wuhan, China; Bergamo, Italy; New York City; New Orleans. It’s as if maybe epicenter — the spot on the Earth’s surface directly above the source of an earthquake — isn’t the best word to use to describe a viral hotspot. “[U]sing a word created for another kind of disaster might actually hurt our response to this one,” writes Ben Zimmer for Politico in “Is ‘Epicenter’ the Wrong Word for New York?

Video of the Week

languages, video

Not Your Granddad’s Grand Adz

etymology, word history

Under regular circumstances, adz is just a convenient word for getting rid of the Z tile in a game of Scrabble, but this week, it is the subject of an etymological exploration by Anatoly Liberman at the Oxford University Press Blog. Turns out, the ultimate source of the words is a mystery, but Liberman has a theory.

Tell-Tale Cocktail

word history, spirits

Somehow I missed that last Tuesday was National Cocktail Day, so I’ve been celebrating it every day since. To mark the day, Angela Tung at Wordnik took a closer look at a number of cocktail terms, including jigger, nip, sling, and cocktail itself.

Original featured image by Eduard von Grützner.