Saturday, June 13, 2020

A Word in the Hand Is Worth Two in the Book

The words people have been writing about other words.
Christian Van Donck portrait of weird writer looking straight at the camera.

For a number of reasons (some of them actually good), I took a couple weekends off from this wordy round-up, but I'm back! And because of that time off, I'll be going back a bit farther in language links than I normally might. So here is my latest collection of word nerdery:

A Bumper Crop of Etymologies

etymology, word history

A number of people have been delving into etymological explorations in fun ways recently:
  • Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman at Grammarphobia take on the important question, "Why are old men called coots?" Their answer is both word-brained and bird-brained.
  • A person who studies geology is called a geologist. A person who practices dentistry is called a dentist. Why, then, do we call a person who practices medicine either a physician or a doctor? The editors at Merriam-Webster elucidate.
  • Jeremy Butterfield explains why a common story about the etymology of round robin is probably wrong, and offers a cogent argument for where it really came from.
  • James Harbeck of Sesquiotica takes a brief look at the flatulent history of the word petard, as in "hoist with his own petard," and does it without once making a "Jean-Luc Petard" joke. He's a better bloke than I.
  • At the OUPblog, Anatoly Liberman responds to some of the comments sparked by his etymological posts during the month of May. Even without going back to his earlier posts, you can glean some interesting info about the history of sword, grammatical gender, the F-word (which isn't really the F-word), and more.
  • These two are mine: On Wednesday, I wrote about the history of migraine, and last week I wrote about the word curfew, which has nothing to do with a small number of dogs and everything to do with a bell.

A Shitload of Swearing

profanity, slang

"Once upon a time . . .  we made a promise to keep you regularly updated with interesting sweary tidbits from the Wide World of Web," writes Nancy Friedman at Strong Language. "It has been, we note with embarrassment, more than 30 months since we posted Sweary Links #25." "Sweary Links #26" doesn't try to include everything relevant from the last 2 1/2 years, but it is a nice collection of both thought-provoking and laugh-inducing stories from the bad word news, including Dominic Cummings' problems with Twitter's profanity filter, creative swearing on the BBC, and a warning not to touch other people's balls.

A Crap-Ton of Political Ads

onomastics, politics

In addition to her work at Strong Language, Nancy Friedman has also been keeping an eye on the language used in political ads (and there will be no shortage of data to analyze until November). Her post from June 4 focuses less on the content of a specific ad as on the name of the production company: MeidasTouch. Why the extra E? You'll have to read it to find out.

Just One Podcast

language podcasts

I mentioned back at the end of February that my favorite podcast, Talk the Talk, was going off the air for a while. It's back! It has a new name, Because Language, but it's still the same great folks — Daniel Midgley, Hedvig SkirgĂ„rd, and Ben Ainslie — talking all about language. In the first new episode, they ask a bunch of their linguistic-minded friends (many of whom you'll recognize) to talk about their favorite part of language and linguistic study.

A Shameful Amount of Self-Promotion

self-promotion, good news

As far as words go, I've been having a great summer:
  • First of all, go buy my book The Body Politic. If you don't like the link in that first sentence, you can find another one at the top of the right column of this blog.
  • A couple months ago, I entered a story in a flash fiction contest hosted by the podcast Semi-Sages of the Pages. Each of the four semi-sages chose one winner of their own, which were read during a live recording of the podcast. I wasn't one of those four. BUT, I did receive an honorable mention, which I don't think they had planned to do when they started the contest. Apparently, they all really liked my story, but there was a problem: It involved and named a living person who apparently is quite litigious. They didn't want to run the risk of legal hassle. (In my defense, in the podcast where they talk about the contest, one of the women specifically said she would love a story about this person. I only delivered what was asked.)

    After I leaned of the problem, I went back and did a little switcherooing in the story so as to keep all the characters fictional. You can read the story (and the story about the story) in a post called "My (Dis)Honorable Mention," or you can just wait a bit and have someone read it to you, because the semi-sages have decided that they will read this new expurgated version on the air in an upcoming episode.
  • You know that I write a weekly word history column at the website for The Saturday Evening Post, right? It's called "In a Word," and if you enjoy all this word nerdery and you aren't keeping tabs on my stuff there, well, you oughta, because I'm still going strong with it.
  • I can now announce that, out of more than 50 entries, my sonnet "The Bolted Door" won third place in Indianapolis Shakespeare Company's "Spring Sonnet-Off." In a small-world-ain't-it coincidence, the second-place sonnet was written by Robert Springer, who was my first supervisor at John Wiley & Sons back when I was proofreading. First place went to Tony Armstrong; I don't know Tony.

    For those of you keeping score at home (and why would you?), this is the second poetry contest I've placed in this year. I won the annual Grammar Day Poetry Contest back in March with a quatrain about a semicolon. I never really thought of myself as a poet; writing poems is just something I do for fun. Perhaps I've missed my calling.

    At any rate, the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company plans to publish the winners soon and a collection of the sonnet entries at some point later in the year, but here is mine now:
Within this house there stands a bolted door,
Substantial, still, and solid as a wall.
Beyond it I hear voices that implore
To open up, to let them in the hall.
No fool am I; I know what I would find!
Pandora's worst: Disease and grief and hate
And all the selfish evils of mankind.
I would be mad to choose that awful fate!
But also there is creativity
Beyond the door, and kindness, friendship, cheer,
Adventure -- nay, a whole vast world to see,
Commingled with the things that I most fear.
For now the door stays fast, and here I hide.
One day I'll twist its knob -- and go outside.

Featured image attributed to Christian van Donck.