Amid all the meanings and uses that give a word its weight, it’s easy to forget that language is ultimately a system of arbitrary signs. Lexicographer Paul Dickson’s new book “Authorisms—Words Wrought by Writers” chronicles some of the most dynamic moments in a language’s history: those instances when writers endeavored not just to create with words but to create the words themselves....more
Posts Tagged: language
The phrase “little did she/he/they know” has plenty of history. The question is, when did it start being used for cheap suspense? The inversion of subject and verb sounds stilted and melodramatic, so the obvious culprit would be 19th century fiction.
In The World Exchange, Alena Graedon’s debut novel, language is in danger, and reading becomes a means of salvation. Over at the New Yorker, bibliophile Peter C. Baker explains the problem with the idea that reading could be a panacea. In his words, “practical urgency and literature have little business mixing.” Baker believes that reading “cuts against the grain of the everyday,” helping us to escape “the jobs we have to work” and “the bills we have to pay.” Reading is not about fixing the world around us, but about finding a way to escape it....more
Adverbs are bad, every writer has been told, repeatedly. Use them sparingly, if at all, is the advice commonly given. But adverbs do serve a purpose, and more often it is misuse, not overuse, that unfortunately taints bad writing. Robin Black, writing at
Beyond the Margins, defends the adverb:
Adverbs are modifiers.
Critics might believe that “like” has infiltrated and degraded American English, but John McWhorter argues just the contrary. McWhorter claims that “like” is not a marker of the downfall of spoken language, but instead, a sign of its “growing sophistication.” He explains that “like” is not necessarily a sign of hesitation and indecision; it can be used to signify consideration....more
The alchemy of desire is much harder to master, its falls more tragic. And yet our language for it is maddeningly woolly. The great poets have striven for clarity here but most of us are doomed...more
“Indeed, fragments are indicative of how quickly we pass judgment while on the Internet without investigating an issue too deeply.
It is rumored that verbomania is an actual word. If we look at the etymology of verbomania, we see that verbo- comes from the Latin word verbum, meaning “words.”...more
We’ve probably all found ourselves in the middle of reading a long internet post only to conclude we’d rather spend our time looking at pictures of kittens. Anobium examines the rise of the “Too Long; Didn’t Read” culture pervasive on the Internet:
The problem is that there are seven billion people on the planet, more than ever before, and a few billion on the Internet, all sharing the same public sphere.
Tasbeeh Herwees has a fantastic essay up at the Toast about her Libyan mother’s insistence that Americans use her given name rather than an anglicized nickname, confusing though they may find it to pronounce.
And apparently most Americans aren’t willing to remedy that confusion, a fact which used to weigh heavily on Herwees....more
“When Nabokov started translating [his English-language memoir] into Russian, he recalled a lot of things that he did not remember when he was writing it in English, and so in essence it became a somewhat different book,” Pavlenko says.
At NPR’s health blog, Shots, Alan Yu explores the controversial linguistic idea that the language(s) we speak helps shape how we perceive the world....more
You’ve probably seen this regional-dialect quiz from the New York Times making the rounds on your social networks. You answer questions about your vocabulary and pronunciation, and it tries to determine where in the United States you’re from.
But the New Yorker‘s Shouts & Murmurs blog is really upping the ante with their own dialect quiz, which asks questions like “What do you call sweetened carbonated beverages?” Do you use “soda,” “pop,” or “Coke”?...more
2013 has become the year of the emoji as the pictographs have made their way into iMessages, poem translations, and recently, an art exhibition. Betsy Morais’ article called “Do You Speak Emoji?” refers to emojis as “a new form of language that is, by turns, keenly expressive and cheerfully cryptic.”
The reasons for using images of shooting stars, thumbs up, and hearts instead of words to convey meaning might be difficult to understand at first, but as Morais writes, “when language poses a risk, employ a playful image whose interpretation may be negotiated upon receipt.”...more
Like it or not, the meanings and uses of words are constantly shifting, because language.
At the Atlantic, Megan Garber writes about how the word “because,” normally a subordinating conjunction, is increasingly being used as a preposition, with examples and possible linguistic explanations:
However it originated, though, the usage of “because-noun” (and of “because-adjective” and “because-gerund”) is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn has a nifty recurring feature called “Making Progress,” in which they interview writers about their process during projects that are still unfinished.
In the latest installment, James Yeh has some really enchanting thoughts about “language that is in some way ‘off’” and how he uses it as a jumping-off point....more
Adverbs acting as manner adjuncts “do not occur between whether and infinitival to,” you guys. Duh.
Or, in other words, you can’t say, “…decide whether unconditionally to attend the Geneva talks.” Instead, you should say, “…decide whether to unconditionally attend the Geneva talks,” because that “rule” about split infinitives doesn’t actually exist....more
Con Slobodchikoff is a word nerd of a different sort than the ones we usually write about on the Rumpus.
After studying prairie dogs for thirty years, he’s concluded that they have a language more complex than humans would ever have imagined....more
If Americans roll their eyes at each other for pretentious uses of British English like “flat” and “queue,” Brits are just as likely to look down on compatriots who use Americanisms like “take-out” and “shopping cart.”
But are the UK’s pet peeves really so trans-Atlantic?...more
Vervet monkeys use different words (or, at least, “different alarm calls to refer to different types of predators, such as snakes and leopards”) but don’t arrange them into diverse kinds of sentences. Songbirds, meanwhile, create elaborate sentences with a variety of notes, but the notes don’t act as words the way the monkey alarm calls do....more
Constance Hale, who has been called “Marion the Librarian on a Harley, or E. B. White on acid,” talks verbs, literacy in the Digital Age, and why “it’s wrongheaded to think that the path to glory is only through standard English.”...more
“Homophobic language isn’t always meant to be hurtful, but how often do we use it without thinking?
So asks NoHomophobes.com, a website “designed as a social mirror to show the prevalence of casual homophobia in our society.” The site tracks, in real-time, the Twitter usage of the terms “faggot,” “dyke,” “no homo,” and “so gay.” Last week, the word “faggot” was tweeted a depressing 218,946 times....more
“Different languages highlight the varieties of human experience, revealing as mutable aspects of life that we tend to think of as settled and universal, such as our experience of time, number, or color.”
At National Geographic, Russ Rhymer writes about the value of protecting the heterogeneity of language in a rapidly globalizing world....more
According to scholars, Homer never mentioned the color blue in any of his works; neither did the Bible, nor an abundance of ancient texts. Also, linguists have found a near-universal pattern in which languages developed color in stages, and blue was always the last to be named....more
“For all those who are in the situation of Hero and Leander, and similarly to them can only exchange secret signs about the feelings of their hearts, here we publish the secrets of the language of stamps. If the stamp stands upright in the upper right corner of the card or envelope, it means: I wish your friendship....more