Posts Tagged: words

Sharing Our Words

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Writers often overuse a few unique words, creating a linguistic fingerprint. Vocabulary words are also exchanged between social groups. Some people contribute new words, while others adopt them. The process is not entirely random, though:

Diana Boxer, a professor at the University of Florida who specializes in sociolinguistics, says that when we find ourselves in a situation where someone uses language differently than we do, or words we’re unfamiliar with, we usually respond in one of two ways.

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Creating New Words

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The act of creating new words helps make language more precise. George Orwell once proposed a ministry responsible for inventing new words for precisely that reason, explains  The Airship Daily. However, the shortcomings of language and the new words created for precision is the reliance on interpretation:

However, coining new words won’t change the fact that these spirits, these significant chunks of human existence, remain trapped inside our skulls, inaccessible fully to anyone but ourselves.

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Authors’ Pet Words and What They Reveal

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How much do an author’s most-used words reveal about his or her thought process?

Quite a lot, according to this New Yorker essay on pet words both common and uncommon, both consciously selected and inadvertent. One of many deeply interesting examples:

Even if we’d never read Milton, we might surmise something of his vast, magisterial temperament on being told that “law” emerges some fifty times in his complete poems.

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These Words All Have Neoflects Coming Off Them

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Did you know that, like aglets for the end of a shoelace or tittle for the dot atop an i, there’s a whole delightful host of terms for the visual cues used in comic strips?

Invented chiefly by cartoonist Mort Walker in a half-joking illustrated mini-dictionary called The Lexicon of Comicana, they include plewds (the big drops of sweat that spring off the foreheads of anxious characters), spurls (the woozy spirals above a characters who’s had too much to drink), and nittles (any star-shaped symbol that subs in for real letters when a character cusses).

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The Evolution of Language

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How did humans learn to talk, anyway?

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.

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