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Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

We may not speak with the butter-toned exchanges of the characters on “Downton Abbey,” but in substance our speech is in many ways more civilized.... We are taught to celebrate the idea that Inuit languages reveal a unique relationship to snow, or that the Russian language’s separate words for dark and light blue mean that a Russian sees blueberries and robin’s eggs as more vibrantly different in color than the rest of us do. Isn’t it welcome, then, that good old-fashioned American is saying something cool about us for once? - John McWhorter on colloquial American English (SLNYTIMES) [more inside]
posted by beisny on Apr 6, 2014 - 53 comments

 

THE LIFE OF A PEOPLE IS PICTURED IN THEIR SPEECH.

This book deals with the Dialect of the English Language that is spoken in Ireland. As the Life of a people—according to our motto—is pictured in their speech, our picture ought to be a good one, for two languages were concerned in it—Irish and English. ... Here for the first time—in this little volume of mine—our Anglo-Irish Dialect is subjected to detailed analysis and systematic classification.
P.W. Joyce's 1910 work, "English as We Speak it in Ireland," is a fascinating chronicle of a language's life, and no mistake. [more inside]
posted by MonkeyToes on Mar 6, 2014 - 8 comments

Future of the OED

The new chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary discusses its future. "My idea about dictionaries is that, in a way, their time has come. People need filters much more than they did in the past."
posted by anothermug on Jan 26, 2014 - 50 comments

Old words never die; they just wend their way to their just deserts.

12 Old Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms. We generally know what the idioms we use every day mean, but do we give much thought to the individual words that make them up, or why we rarely, if ever, see some of them out of that context? Maybe they're just plain outdated. [more inside]
posted by The Underpants Monster on Dec 29, 2013 - 52 comments

ELECTRICAL ELUCIDATION OF THE THRICE-CURSED SEPULCHRAL IDIOM

Like other forms of English, Death Metal English is a tool kit.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot on Nov 23, 2013 - 24 comments

You're reading this because procrastination.

English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet. The word "because," in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, "because" has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I'm reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I'm reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which "because" lends itself. I mention all that ... because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use "because." Linguists are calling it the "prepositional-because." Or the "because-noun."
posted by scody on Nov 19, 2013 - 163 comments

The Debate over H: the 'istory of aitch

Why H is the most contentious letter in the alphabet is a quick overview of the letter H. Though the visual form of the letter has been pretty stable in Medieval writing, it's the pronunciation of the letter that has caused issues, from Catullus' poem mocking Arrius's addition of H's to words, to the Irish clash of Protestants and Catholics including how each group pronounced H. Such regional and generational shifts in pronunciation were of interest to the British Library, as documented in their Evolving English exhibit, which includes an online "mapped" catalog of sound clips (previously).
posted by filthy light thief on Nov 7, 2013 - 33 comments

A Lackadaisy Air

From the New-York Mirror of February 24, 1883:
“. . . a new and valuable addition has been made to the slang vocabulary. … We refer to the term “Dood.” For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present. … The Dood is oftenest seen in the lobbies of our theatres on first-nights. He puffs cigarettes or sucks his hammered-silver tipped cane in the entr actes, and passes remarks of a not particularly intellectual character on the appearance and dresses of the actresses. His greatest pleasure lies in taking a favorite actress or singer to supper at Delmonico’s or the Hotel Brunswick—places he briefly calls ‘Dels’ and the ‘Bruns’—where he will spend his papa’s pelf with a lavish hand. … ”
[more inside]
posted by mannequito on Oct 26, 2013 - 40 comments

A History of Meh, from Leo Rosten to Auden to The Simpsons

The problem with tracing meh over time, as with so many fleeting interjections, is that it’s terribly underrepresented in the linguistic and lexicographical literature. [more inside]
posted by whyareyouatriangle on Sep 8, 2013 - 13 comments

Speaking in foreign tongues

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates has spent the last few months in Paris specifically studying French. His latest dispatch, "Or Perhaps You Are Too Stupid to Learn French," looks at how hard it is to apply the rules of new language in real time, while fighting with one's perceptions and limitations (Other dispatches are here).

Washington Post writer Jay Matthews asks if learning a foreign language is worth it and recounts his own struggles studying Chinese. Another WaPo writer, Elizabeth Chang, recalls her experience in learning Arabic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher on Aug 22, 2013 - 200 comments

Frances Brooke literally destroyed the English language

A sentence from her novel History of Emily Montague is the earliest OED citation for "literally" used to mean "figuratively." Frances Brooke may be responsible for negatively impacting the English language by actioning a disconnect between a word's definition and its usage. Google was called a traitor to the English language for recognizing this use. Others are suggesting that since we've totally busted the English so much we probably shouldn't even use the word "literally" anymore.
posted by ChuckRamone on Aug 15, 2013 - 141 comments

Bears. And etymology!

An animated history of the word "bear"
posted by moxie_milquetoast on Jun 7, 2013 - 27 comments

Mischievous or Mischievious?

Interactive map of pronunciation and use of various words and phrases differs by region in the US. Based on Bert Vaux's online survey of English dialects, the program allows you to see results for individual cities, as well as nationwide (though inexplicably it does not include Alaska or Hawaii).
posted by Cash4Lead on Jun 5, 2013 - 133 comments

English and Dravidian

Many languages have "high" and "low" layers of vocabulary. But in most other languages, the two sets are drawn from the same source. By contrast, contact between Old English and French, Dravidian languages and Sanskrit, Japanese and Chinese, Persian and Arabic, and other pairings around the world have created fascinatingly hybrid languages. These mixed lexicons are, for linguistic and social historians, akin to the layers of fossils that teach paleontologists and archaeologists so much about eras gone by. Some people even think English is descended from Latin, or Kannada from Sanskrit. That’s frustrating not only because it’s wrong, but also because the reality is far more interesting. - The Economist, Unlikely parallels (via)
posted by beisny on May 15, 2013 - 31 comments

International Art English

"The internationalized art world relies on a unique language. Its purest articulation is found in the digital press release. This language has everything to do with English, but it is emphatically not English. It is largely an export of the Anglophone world and can thank the global dominance of English for its current reach. But what really matters for this language—what ultimately makes it a language—is the pointed distance from English that it has always cultivated. " - Triple Canopy magazine on why do artists' statments and press releases sound so utterly odd and confusing.
posted by The Whelk on Apr 26, 2013 - 45 comments

Is this a new conjunction slash what is its function?

Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore - Anne Curzan writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a new slang word that she learned from her undergraduate students in a History of English course slash analyzes how it fits with traditional parts of speech.
posted by codacorolla on Apr 25, 2013 - 79 comments

I help students learn how to study all types of rocks.

Complex scientific concepts explained using only the thousand most used words in the English language. In the spirit of xkcd's Up-Goer Five comic. (Previously.) Use the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to make your own contributions.
posted by Cash4Lead on Jan 18, 2013 - 108 comments

You Can't Say That In English

Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language, and 470 million to over a billion people speak it as a second language (to varying degrees). Even so, there are some words that do not exist in English, even with new word entries periodically being added to the Oxford Dictionary. 25 words that do not exist in English. [more inside]
posted by anya32 on Jan 10, 2013 - 134 comments

"There are many species in the asshole kingdom."

"So what is an asshole, exactly? How is he (and assholes are almost always men) distinct from other types of social malefactors? Are assholes born that way, or is their boorishness culturally conditioned? What explains the spike in the asshole population?" -- The Chronicle talks to two professors, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and philospher Aaron James, about their recent work on, well, assholes. [more inside]
posted by bardic on Jan 6, 2013 - 71 comments

Suspiciously familiar...

Y est-ce deux dés? (not exactly what it says on the tin) [more inside]
posted by BungaDunga on Nov 25, 2012 - 24 comments

Wet your whistle on these

What ho, dearest cousins in the Western Colonies. You appear to be increasingly using the vernacular of the mother country. Splendid! [more inside]
posted by Wordshore on Oct 17, 2012 - 180 comments

His tooth was pulling out

...it's true that the progressive passive first appeared in the English language in the second half of the 18th century, replacing what historians of English grammar call the passival.
via Slate
posted by ancillary on Jun 3, 2012 - 18 comments

False Fronts in the Language Wars

"Not since Saturday Night Live’s Emily Litella thundered against conserving natural racehorses and protecting endangered feces has a polemicist been so incensed by her own misunderstandings." - Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker responds to Joan Acocella's New Yorker piece, The English Wars [more inside]
posted by beisny on Jun 1, 2012 - 60 comments

As she is spoked

The myth of English as a global language One would have to say that English, far from being a pure maiden, looks like a woman who has appeared out of some distant fen, had more partners than Moll Flanders, learned a lot in the process, and is now running a house of negotiable affection near an international airport
posted by infini on May 26, 2012 - 76 comments

A Database of Metaphor

The Mind is a Metaphor. A database of thousands of metaphors organized by category, like 18th century, Liquid, or Jacobite. It's maintained by University of Virginia English Professor Brad Pasanek.
posted by shivohum on Mar 27, 2012 - 19 comments

What Would Babbage Do?

If PHP Were British. (via an Ars comment.)
posted by veedubya on Feb 22, 2012 - 95 comments

Need a word for it?

The Lonely Planet has come up with a list of thirty travel terms that aren't in the dictionary.
posted by gman on Feb 5, 2012 - 70 comments

My Word

The Corpus of American Historical English is a searchable index of word usage in American printed material from 1810 to 2009. Powerful complex searches allow you to trace the appearance and evolution of words and phrases and even specific grammatical constructions, see trends in frequency, and plenty more. Start with the 5-Minute Tour.
posted by Miko on Jan 7, 2012 - 23 comments

Because MeFites love proving that they are better than 90% of [X]

"If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud."
posted by Phire on Jan 3, 2012 - 236 comments

Blame Brit for pitch shift!

American Woman: Vocal fried. On the partial glottalization of speech in young English speaking American women.
posted by emilycardigan on Dec 12, 2011 - 181 comments

The History of English

How new words are created - just one section of a site that charts 'How English went from an obscure Germanic dialect to a global language'.
posted by unliteral on Dec 1, 2011 - 37 comments

Phenomenology of Error

It has long been noted that style manuals and other usage advice frequently contain unintended examples of the usage they condemn. (This is sometimes referred to as Hartman's law or Muphry's law - an intentional misspelling of Murphy.) Starting from this observation, Joseph Williams' paper The Phenomenology of Error offers an examination of our selective attention to different types of grammatical and usage errors that goes beyond the descriptivism-prescriptivism debate. (alternate pdf link for "The Phenomenology of Error") [more inside]
posted by nangar on Nov 28, 2011 - 17 comments

Ashta

Gullah—the African-influenced dialect of Georgia’s Sea Islands—has undergone few changes since the first slave ships landed 300 years ago, and provides a clear window into the shaping of African-American English. This classic PBS program traces that story from the west coast of Africa through the American South, then to large northern cities in the 1920s. Studying the origins of West African pidgin English and creole speech—along with the tendency of 19th-century white Southerners to pick up speech habits from their black nursemaids—the program highlights the impact of WWI-era industrialization and the migration of jazz musicians to New York and Chicago.
posted by cthuljew on Nov 15, 2011 - 12 comments

Local Twitter Slang, And All That Jawn

The Awl takes a look at how Twitter has allowed local slang to go global, and the unhappiness this causes for some.
posted by reenum on Oct 28, 2011 - 34 comments

Fake English

Skwerl is a short film in which the dialogue sounds like what a person who speaks very little English might hear. Be sure to turn on the closed captioning and choose "Transcribe Audio". (Previously)
posted by gman on Oct 13, 2011 - 46 comments

"Speak In Tongues"

100 common English phrases from Tyndale's King James Bible (SLYT)
posted by bardic on Oct 9, 2011 - 30 comments

North American English Dialects

North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns
posted by edgeways on Sep 25, 2011 - 83 comments

Don't Call Me Limey, Yank! Limey, Don't Call Me Yank!

Last summer the BBC did a series on "Americanisms," or how American English was "infecting" the Queen's English. Ben Yagoda responds and documents how in fact it's the other way around. He documents "Britishisms" on his blog.
posted by bardic on Sep 25, 2011 - 204 comments

Vocabulary fail

Ten insulting words you should know. And a good deal of words you may wish you didn't. (SFW unless mild swear words count).
posted by londonmark on Sep 9, 2011 - 57 comments

Samosapedia

Samosapedia "The definitive guide to South Asian lingo". Eg., Enthu Cutlet: An enthu cutlet is an earnest eager beaver who is able to muster up inordinate amounts of energy, inspiration and enthusiasm towards a variety of things. (via)
posted by dhruva on Aug 9, 2011 - 14 comments

Those poor forgotten Jutes

The History of English in Ten Minutes (Chapter I: Anglo-Saxon), from Open University. [via] [more inside]
posted by Bukvoed on Jun 28, 2011 - 21 comments

English Language and Usage

Linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts, check out free Q&A site English Language and Usage. [more inside]
posted by Foci for Analysis on May 11, 2011 - 20 comments

In the country of blinds, the one eyed men are kings.

"English As She Is Spoke is a broken Portuguese-to-English phrasebook written by two translators, José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino. Sort of. You see, in reality, translator Pedro Carolino wanted to create a phrasebook on his own. Not knowing English, he took José da Fonseca’s French-to-English phrasebook and then used a Portuguese-to-French phrasebook to translate that. It’s sort of like what you and your friends do on Google Translate, but with a poor, mislead Portuguese man doing it by hand in candlelight." [more inside]
posted by item on Apr 18, 2011 - 52 comments

Direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.

The "King of English", H.W. Fowler wrote A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Although "modern linguists are almost by definition incapable of understanding the function of a book like Fowler’s Dictionary", the "half-educated Englishman of literary proclivities" who just wants to know: "Can I say so-&-so?’" may now buy the classic first edition of the Dictionary again. An earlier book, The King's English, is free for anyone seeking advice on Americanisms, Saxon words, the spot plague, archaism or split infinitives.
posted by TheophileEscargot on Mar 3, 2011 - 27 comments

One Language, Many Voices

Evolving English: The British Library's Evolving English exhibition runs until 3rd April but if you can't make it to London you can view the English language timeline, map your voice, or try this quiz on the website.
posted by Lezzles on Feb 8, 2011 - 12 comments

Online Corpora

Online Corpora. In linguistics, a corpus is a collection of 'real world' writing and speech designed to facilitate research into language. These 6 searchable corpora together contain more than a billion words. The Corpus of Historical American English allows you to track changes in word use from 1810 to present; the Corpus del Español goes back to the 1200s.
posted by Paragon on Jan 24, 2011 - 11 comments

"It is of such stiff stuff that the upper lip of the British phonetician should be fashioned, giving short shrift to chauvinism."

Howjsay.com is a unique online speaking dictionary that offers clear pronunciations of English words, phrases, slang terms, technical terms, brand names, proper names, profanity, and many foreign words, including common variations and alternatives. Astoundingly, the sound files are not computer-generated -- every single one of the site's 138,152 entries are enunciated in the dignified tones of British academic and polyglot Tim Bowyer, who has steadily expanded its glossary over the years using logs of unsuccessful searches and direct user suggestions. The site is part of Bowyer's Fonetiks.org family of language sites, and is also available as a browser extension and as a mobile app for iPhone/iPod and Blackberry.
posted by Rhaomi on Dec 23, 2010 - 27 comments

The Wonderful World of Babel

Unlike many cinematic exports, the Disney canon of films distinguishes itself with an impressive dedication to dubbing. Through an in-house service called Disney Character Voices International, not just dialogue but songs, too, are skillfully re-recorded, echoing the voice acting, rhythm, and rhyme scheme of the original work to an uncanny degree (while still leaving plenty of room for lyrical reinvention). The breadth of the effort is surprising, as well -- everything from Arabic to Icelandic to Zulu gets its own dub, and their latest project, The Princess and the Frog, debuted in more than forty tongues. Luckily for polyglots everywhere, the exhaustiveness of Disney's translations is thoroughly documented online in multilanguage mixes and one-line comparisons, linguistic kaleidoscopes that cast new light on old standards. Highlights: "One Jump Ahead," "Prince Ali," and "A Whole New World" (Aladdin) - "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata," and "Luau!" (The Lion King) - "Under the Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (The Little Mermaid) - "Belle" and "Be Our Guest" (Beauty and the Beast) - "Just Around the Riverbend" (Pocahontas) - "One Song" and "Heigh-Ho" (Snow White) - "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (Cinderella) - Medley (Pinocchio) - "When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2) - Intro (Monsters, Inc.)
posted by Rhaomi on Nov 12, 2010 - 31 comments

Could you really care less?

"I couldn't care less" vs. "I could care less"... A letter to Ann Landers in October 1960 is credited with starting the debate over "one of the great language peeves of our time." Via. [more inside]
posted by amyms on Oct 31, 2010 - 167 comments

“When words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.”

Words I love, not to be confused with Words I hate.
posted by Fizz on Oct 24, 2010 - 32 comments

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