Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sittin' on Top of the Word

All my books are so excited that I'm spending more time at home with them.

Blather, Mince, Repeat

swearing, word history

James Harbeck set out to give us a historical background on the words gadzooks and zounds, and in the process gave us a nice disquisition on why we swear, what makes a word taboo, and some of the odd minced oaths that have bubbled up through the English language.

The short version: Gadzooks and zounds are shortenings of God’s hooks and God’s wounds, and there have been plenty of other swears along this line, like God’s eyes, God’s fish (?), and even God’s lids. (I didn’t know Jesus even wore a hat.) Harbeck lists more, but absent from this list is God’s abs. I’ve never seen or heard God’s abs used as an oath before, but it seems like I should have. If you look at any artistic rendering of the crucifixion of Christ (including the one below, which I saw at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in March), you can come to no other conclusion than that artists are obsessed with Christ’s six-pack. How are we not all wandering around today shouting "Zabs!" at every amazing thing?

Verb Appeal

verbs, language change

There’s a common language myth about how the Civil War brought the United States together so completely that it even changed what verbs we use with it. No more “The United States are…,” but now “The United States is…”

But that’s just bunk, writes Ben Yagoda (I’m paraphrasing) at Not One-Off Britishisms.

Poxy Lady

swearing, word history

When you’re stuck at home, daily routines can get, well, routine. Even the little things, like cursing. Expand your collection of historical and international malady-related vulgarities with Nancy Friedman’s “Swearing in the Time of Coronavirus,” for Strong Language.

Virtual Unreality

etymology, self-promotion

As so many of us work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are discovering the virtues of virtual meetings — or more likely learning that, as they say, “This meeting could have been an email.” Nonetheless, I consciously noticed for the first time this week how similar those words virtue and virtual are. So, naturally, I wrote about it, in “In a Word: Virtue in the Virtual.”

Clown Collage

bullying, presidential vocabulary

If you’ve had enough with the constant juvenile bullying by the president of anyone who challenges his anything, skip this article. But if you’re interested in how his name-calling stacks up with previous presidential japes (short version: not well, but it’s effective with the right people), then check out Edwin Battistella’s “Donald Trump’s Insult Politics” at the Oxford University Press blog.