Here’s something we wouldn’t say nowadays. It’s in a “parlor ballad” published in The Social Harp (1855):
Farewell, farewell is a lonely sound,
And always brings a sigh,
But give to me that good old word
That comes from the heart, good-bye.
Adieu, adieu, may do for the gay,
When pleasure’s throng is nigh,
But give to me when lovers part,
That loving word, good-bye.
Farewell, adieu, goodbye—it’s strange that a 19th-century song should ascribe such loving emotion to the latter. We still say goodby…
Thomas Watson, the Puritan
(via Wikimedia Commons)
When it comes to innovations in language, give me a Puritan. Not a regressive, arch-conservative type, whose pleasures might be in the way things allegedly once were and forever should be, but a linguistically fun-loving fellow with buckled shoes and a closet full of black.
Poking around in Perry Miller’s classic anthology, The American Puritans, one might come upon many a tasty morsel of linguistic innovation.
To take just one example, in the M…
Electronic technology has had an impact on our language. And one of the greatest impacts, like that of an asteroid smashing into the Yucatan peninsula, is the way we greet each other: Hello!
Most greetings, in English or other languages, involve respect (Sir), the day (Good morning), health (How do you do, Howdy), or the like. Informally nowadays we say Hey or Hi, which might be condensations of How are you.
But none of these is the case with Hello. It has nothing to do with the day or the heal…
This past weekend I escaped the polar vortex for a few days of vacation in warmer climes, and I found myself thinking a lot about the word perfect. It had nothing to do with the weather (which was lovely, but not perfect) or the hotel (also lovely, but is any hotel perfect?). It was the service. Not that the service was perfect. It just seemed that everything I ordered or said was perfect.
Server: “What can I get for you?”
Me: “I’ll take the salmon bento box.”
Server: “Perfect. And how would y…
“Can I be spermed?” a student asked in an email last year, requesting to forgo an extra assignment. I laughed. At the bottom of the message, it read: “Sent from my iPhone.”
In less than five minutes, the student wrote back. “Apologies, Prof. It wasn’t me but A-C. I really meant ‘spared’.” And she added: “It won’t happy again.”
This time I just smiled.
The complications brought on by technology are countless. And in them, the opportunities for Freudian slips never stop. Are we in charge, or has a…
I’d like to tell you something about what it’s like to have a training in linguistics, if I may.
The cheap pine boxes used for shipping bottles of wine from vineyards in France, Italy, and Spain make nice storage boxes when cleaned up and oiled. Several are in use in my home. (I am getting to my point; trust me.) One box bears the name MONTRESOR™, together with some lines in Italian:
Egli me riprese il braccio,
e continuammo il cammino.
- Queste cantine – osservò – sono molto estese.
- I Montres…
In a piece the other day about Ronan Farrow’s new MSNBC chat show, Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times noted that Farrow “made an effort to seem hip. He referred to marijuana as ‘weed’ and made an aside about the Ukrainian opposition leader, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, who was recently freed from prison, saying that she ‘also has amazing hair.’”
Yes, weed is apparently the broadly hippest current term for marijuana, that venerable fount of slang. (I’ll save for another day a discussion of the rela…
Erin Hamlin made Olympic history as the first American to medal in singles luge.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The manufactured snow has barely melted at the Sochi Winter Olympics, but I’ll take a moment to reflect on what I thought was the rise of the verb to medal, meaning of course to win gold, silver, or bronze in Olympic competition.
If you’re an Olympic athlete, you want to medal. You want to medal even more than you want to win a medal. If you’re covering the Olympics, you want to use the verb t…
Not too long ago in this winter of discontent, my Facebook friend David Edelstein posted this status update:
This was in The New York Times.
“New York City public schools are open—to the chagrin of many parents—but field trips are canceled.”
Ben and others who care, when did “chagrin” come to mean annoyance, irritation, displeasure? It means embarrassment. It’s another GREAT word I fear we can’t use anymore because people think it means what it doesn’t. This does NOT fill me with chagrin. It mak…
The poet Bunthorne, courtesy Blackburn Gilbert & Sullivan Society
Clichés are something else. By definition, they are weeds in the gardens of language. No more, no less.
And there’s the rub. Clichés are a whole different ballgame.
No plants are weeds by nature or by definition. They are weeds if and only if a particular gardener doesn’t want them around. One man’s uprooted dandelion is another man’s dandelion soup.
Likewise, no words or phrases are clichés by definition. They are clichés if an…