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…
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…
OK. Mark your calendar now for March 23, OK Day. It’s the day we pause to celebrate the birthday of OK in Boston, Hub of the Universe, on March 23, 1839.
Yes, OK! How can we sufficiently sing the praises of America’s and the world’s greatest word?
Let’s try. OK is the expression we use countless times every day to make arrangements, give approvals, and get by, often with a cascade of OKs:
“How about 2 o’clock? OK?”
And of course that’s not all. There’s the “OK” that …
Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, wanted to simplify English.
The other afternoon I was surprised by a phone call from a concerned citizen who identified himself as Eugene Segar of Detroit, 83 years old. He wanted to talk about reforming English spelling to make it more accessible to students and second-language learners.
His message wasn’t what surprised me. The ineluctable complexity of English spelling has been evoking calls for reform for centuries. No, it was rather…
G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); steel engraving by Lazarus Sichling after a lithograph by Julius L. Sebbers
(via Wikimedia Commons)
This week in his superb, extraordinary, unparalleled, remarkable Lingua Franca post on the “tenure code” (I hope I’ve included enough superlatives to properly sustain his reputation at Amherst), Ilan Stavans wrote, “What I don’t know, where I’m in the dark (as other outside reviewers surely are, too), is in regards to particular institutional codes.”
When a usage change oc…
Martha Vickers as Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep”
(Image courtesy of Filmfanatic.org)
It’s so cute the way people use it. Like in the “Cute Quotes” on Pinterest:
but in a cute way.
Like an elevator ride,
but with puppies.
There’s a contemporary definition of cute posted a decade ago by “anonymous” on Urbandictionary.com:
cute A girl who is lovely and dreamy and cuddly and shy and beautiful and awwww *druels.*
That definition has been affirmed by more than 8,000 thumbs up a…
Moonack in the sun (courtesy of Wikimedia)
On what we could have called Otchig Day, February 2, legend says the gopher rat will emerge from its underground burrow to look for its shadow. In case of shadow, this pasture pup will retreat underground, and we’ll have six more weeks of winter. But a cloudy day will encourage the johnny chuck to stay above ground, and winter will be over.
Most of us know this subterranean dweller by the widely used names groundhog and woodchuck. The recently published…
(Yeasaris, via Flicker)
Consider the following words. What do they have in common?
They all have transparent etymologies. That is, once clearly comes from one. Baseball is a game involving balls and bases. And a cupcake is a cup-sized cake, or a cake made in or with a cup, something like that.
Here are some more:
It doesn’t take deep thinking to recognize that storage has to do with storing things; a radiator radiates; and outdoors has something …
Freshman orientation, Washington & Jefferson College, 1934: The sophomores inspect socks.
(Photograph via Wikimedia Commons)
Last month in Lingua Franca, Anne Curzan considered the curious case of “freshman,” a word with perceptible gender bias that nevertheless has not been eradicated by efforts to promote gender-free “first year” in its place.
She notes that despite the “man” at the end, “freshman” to many students seems inclusive. The second syllable isn’t pronounced “man,” for example, an…
So what can the newly electrified cloud-based version of the Dictionary of American Regional English do that its paper antecedent can’t? If you’re lucky enough to have your own set of six volumes on your shelf, or have a nearby library that houses the print volumes that you can consult free, why would you pay $150 for a year’s subscription to the electronic version? Or why, in these times of tight budgets, should you ask your favorite library to subscribe for $1,200 a year?
The answer is simple….