All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Greek Weekend

As the Romans did thousands of years ago, so today we continue to hold the ancient classical Greek language in high regard. Among other things, this regard gives us a triad of Greek occasions on the second weekend of March 2015.

One is pi day. Not pie but pi, although many celebrate the day with pies. But this is the Greek pi, standing for perhaps the most famous number in mathematics, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The ancients, starting with Archimedes, figured thi…

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Going Native

IMB-branded-content-on-AtlanticIf you search the web for an example of “native advertising,” surprise! You will not find National Geographic photos of quaint retailers in Belize or Brooklyn painting handmade signs, or of rustics at farmers markets lettering labels for the vegetables they vend.

No, you’ll find something like this, perhaps, in the middle of Lingua Franca:

[paid advertising]

PARSE ME, LA!

By  a Lingua Franca Blogger

I’ve just spent the most enjoyable moments of my recent life demolishing the pretensions of my en…

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Greek Gift: Triskaidekaphobia

Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” begins during the Lupercalia, an ancient purification festival celebrated from the Ides of February (the 13th) to February 15. Here, Caesar refuses the diadem presented to him by Mark Antony.

By a quirk of the calendar, or more fundamentally by a property of the set of integers, the number 14 always follows immediately after 13. It has been thus ever since the invention of counting, countless years ago.

So when the 13th falls on a Friday, the 14th will always be a S…

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‘Dibs’: the Great Northern Parking Tradition

Say the magic word, and it’s yours.

Please? No, not please. The magic word that truly cements ownership, at least for a lot of us, is dibs.

If you’re not familiar with dibs, you can look it up. For this word, the grand new Dictionary of American Regional English has first dibs for lookup. There we find dibs (always plural) defined as “a claim; rights; right of priority—often used as exclamation.” And DARE presents examples of use going back to 1930 in South Carolina. Likewise,  the Historical Di…

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Hashtags Hammer Grammar (or Not)

The hashtag is a major innovation in language. It was invented just a few years ago, to allow quick and easy categorizing of tweets. And then hashtags became an easy way to comment on the topic of a tweet, as in You had one job: A show about a detective with OCD, and that’s how they designed the box for the last season. #wellplayed Often a hashtag is a comment on a comment: I’m done with science #stopcorrectingparties2k14 Im extremely obsessive about everything I love Fall Out Boy so much #Super…

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O Canada! in New Orleans

LouisiCANADA“I’m so New Orleans, when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian.”

A joke, right? No, it seems that, contrary to all expectations, a certain Canadian pronunciation is beginning to emerge in the Big Easy.

I heard about it in a talk by Katie Carmichael of Virginia Tech at the annual gathering of linguists this month in Portland, Ore. She found “when I go out of town people ask me if I’m Canadian” on Facebook, together with this response: “most people don’t come out and say, ‘are you canadi…

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A Real Tweet for Linguists

Early in January every year, nearly a thousand people who study how language works flock together for the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America together with six smaller groups under its wings, including the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, the Association for Linguistic Evidence, and of course the American Dialect Society.

This year they migrated to Portland, Ore., for meetings January 8 through 11. There were hundreds of talks on the workings of …

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D-Day for Word of the Year

Selfie. Photographer: Jacek Halicki

At last the moment has arrived to determine the ultimate Word of the Year 2014.

Others have already announced their choices.The Oxford Dictionaries liked vape, having to do with smokeless cigarettes. Merriam-Webster chose culture because the word was so often looked up on its website. Dictionary.com chose exposure. And the Global Language Monitor, noticing how frequently the  heart-shaped emoji was used throughout the world, proclaimed that symbol as its word …

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Waiting for the Word of 2014

For 2014 there seems to be no leading candidate for Word (or Phrase) of the Year, as I said last week. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of candidates. Just last week, for example, the news from Washington was generously sprinkled with enhanced interrogation techniques, the disputed CIA practice for obtaining information, and cromnibus, the disputed Congressional practice for obtaining government funding.

The lack of an obvious WOTY 2014 doesn’t mean that the American Dialect Society won’…

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Vape-ing Till Ready

15495901505_202ae094cf_mSo on a rainy Monday in D.C. last month, at the Pavilion Café in the sculpture garden on the National Mall, I was lunching with Joan Hall, editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, and Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Vocabulary.com, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. That’s the committee that oversees the society’s annual choice of Word of the Year. And we agreed 2014 hasn’t been the greatest year for a WOT…