Math or Maths?
A few minutes with Dr Lynne Murphy (an American linguist in England) should clear this right up. Via Numberphile
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]
"The perception of Shakespeare's matchless linguistic inventiveness
is closely bound up with his role as an icon of English nationalism." New computerized research indicates he didn't make up so many words
. [more inside]
The Walrus And The Lexicographer
, or How Tolkien's OED Etymology Makes An English "Walrus."
stuff. Here's two to get you started:
Calling from the grave - If you ever felt slightly claustrophobic using a traditional BT telephone kiosk, this might be down to its unique architectural history – the design of the UK’s world famous red telephone boxes was inspired by a nineteenth century tomb.
Mass trespass - The Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers were on high alert. A left-wing group had been agitating in the Derbyshire village of Hayfield, threatening to “take action to open up the fine country at present denied us.” Their target was Kinder Scout, part of the Duke’s extensive moorland estate in the Peak District. But if they wanted to trespass on His Grace’s land, they would have to get past the gamekeepers.
Trench Talk now entrenched in the English Language
- Military historian Peter Doyle
and Julian Walker
, an etymologist at the British Library, have written Trench Talk
about how words from the first World War have become part of everyday English. [more inside]
Are you enthusiastic ("pertaining to possession by a deity," from Gk. enthousiastikos "inspired," from enthousiazein
) about Etymology? ( ethimolegia "facts of the origin and development of a word," from O.Fr. et(h)imologie (14c., Mod.Fr. étymologie), from L. etymologia, from Gk. etymologia, properly "study of the true sense (of a word),"
Then why not explore ( 1580s, "to investigate, examine," a back formation from exploration, or else from M.Fr. explorer (16c.), from L. explorare
) the vast resources (1610s, "means of supplying a want or deficiency," from Fr. resourse
) of the ONLINE ETYMOLOGY DICTIONARY [more inside]
Alphabet Horror Vacui
is a satire of children's alphabet books utilizing unnerving themes such as nightmares, war, monsters, institutionalized ignorance, and willful ambivalence to human suffering in lieu of familiar alphabet scenes of busy city streets, animals amongst nature, and happy fanciful scenes. Each piece takes a slightly different tack with Marsh's self-imposed assignment, and while some of them are funny
in an almost Edward Gorey way
, others worm their way
into your brain
) [more inside]
The alphaDictionary Historical Dictionary of American Slang
presents a unique way for studying slang. It contains over 2200 slang words with the centuries in which they were first printed. The dates were taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, the Online Etymological Dictionary, or the earliest occurrences the editors can remember. [more inside]
Mysteries of Vernacular
is a series of delightful papercraft animations about etymology, by filmmaker Jessica Oreck
. Four of a projected 26 videos, one for each letter of the alphabet, have been completed so far: Assassin
, and Clue
) the (O.E.
) push (O.Fr.
) of a button (Fr.
), get (O.Norse
) and (O.E.
) visualize (L.
) the etymology (O.Fr.
) of a piece (O.Fr.
) of text (O.Fr.
Visualizing English Word Origins
across genres of text.
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'.
Dave Wilton of wordorigins.org
) has been compiling etymological snapshots for each year of the past 100 years, based on words that first appeared in English that year. As of now, he is up to 1941
. The 1911
entry gives a good overview of his goals and parameters. (via
) [more inside]
My brother often informs me that I live 'the life of Riley'. The other night while re-reading Bill Bryson's Made in America
I noted he mentioned the origin of the phrase was a popular 1880s song (possibly 1883) Is That Mr. Reilly?
by Pat Rooney, in which "the hero speculates on what he would do with a fortune", and revived for use during WWI
. Curious, I found several possible origins
, though the song remains the top contender. Dictionary.com defines life of Riley
as "a carefree, comfortable, and thoroughly enjoyable way of living. The term became popular and eventually 'The Life of Riley' was used as the title of an American radio sitcom
(Wiki), followed by a movie and television series. It was used again with the alternate spelling 'The Life of Reilly' in 1995 as the title of a short film from Ireland
, and in a 2006 movie starring Charles Nelson Reilly
. In 2009 'The Life of Riley' was the name of a British television comedy
. Now that's a phrase with staying power. It's the name of an Irish band
, an online store
in the UK, it was used by a
, and quite obviously, as the moniker of several drinking establishments, such as the Life of Riley Tavern
in Portland, Oregon; The Life of Reilly - Irish Pub & Restaurant
in Baltimore, in the United Kingdom as the 'Life Of Riley' in Glasgow, Lanarkshire; and 'Life of Reilly Pub' in Harrow, Middlesex; and with a strange possessive at the 'Life of Reilly's Pub and Grill' in Long Beach, New York. Let's also not forget the mysterious MeFite LifeofRiley
, whose stats stand entirely at zero. My main reason for writing all this is to ask: how many Mefites use this term? I do, but unfortunately my brother is wrong: I don't live the life of Riley. I might one day, if I win the lottery . . .
Words of the World
is a site dedicated to the exploration and life of words and language. [more inside]
The Language of Food
is a blog with only four entries, but each one is an excellent, well-researched essay on, yes, food and language: ketchup
, and ceviche
. The author, Dan Jurafsky, teaches a parallel course at Stanford, the syllabus for which you can peruse here
. via (mefi's own) honestengine.blogspot.com
The Atlas of True Names
reveals the etymological roots, or original meanings, of the familiar terms on today's maps of the World, Europe, the British Isles and the United States. For example, Britain = Great Land of the Tattooed, New Jersey = New Island of Spears, and Chicago = Stink Onion. There's now an iPhone app
. However, at least one linguistic historian takes issue
with some of their methodology. Mefi's own languagehat responds
I've considered myself a fanboy
on occasion in the past, but it never occurred to me to investigate the history of the term. Technologizer's Harry McCracken (god I love that name) has a *far* more detailed and interesting look into the history of the term
than I would ever have considered undertaking. [more inside]
MTV's Jersey Shore
, a Real World
-style reality program centered around eight young Italian-Americans living together in a beach house, is garnering charges of racism
following their use of the allegedly pejorative terms guido
and the feminine counterpart guidette
in advertisements. But what exactly is
a guido? [more inside]
Slang in the Great Depression.
Less'n you're a dumbcluck, you're gonna open up that bazoo and speak the language taught John Swartzwelder everything he knows. [more inside]
Do you know what you would see a hypothecary
about? Have stared down into a joola
? Ever come across a jigget
of sheep? Has someone called you a slubberdegullion
to your face? Learn these and many more words from blogger Robin Bloor's fun 10 Words You Don't Know
series of posts. Perhaps the most entertaining is the one where Bloor provides explanatory limericks
with his definitions.
The origin of the word testimony
probably has nothing to do
with Romans taking oaths while holding their testicles
, though interpreting the Bible
in a certain way might make you think so.
"It's a secret to everybody"
-- an unbelievably comprehensive blog post about the etymologies of the names of famous (and not-so-famous) video game characters.
From the Dungeon to the Dictionary.
A brief discussion of the origins of that least popular form of government, the magocracy, the author analyzes the dweomer
of the word itself, consulting many a hefty libram
in the process.
Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel
between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two
, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty
has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel
, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens
. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview
John Hodgman: "Did I ever tell you people how much I hate the word 'meh'? Nothing announces 'I have missed the point' more than that word. It is the essence of blinkered Internet malcontentism. And a rejection of joy. By definition, it may mean disinterest (although simple silence would be a more damning and sincere response, in that case). But in use, it almost universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear. It's part of the toxic Internet art of constant callous one upsmanship.
" (via Andy Baio)Andy Baio
: "Part of the problem is that 'FAIL' implies objective truth, when it's just your personal opinion. Tantek Çelik pointed out that, in LOLspeak, 'DO NOT WANT' would be more appropriate since it clearly conveys a personal opinion. [...]
I know many people who make stuff for the web, all of them very passionate about what they do. And every time I see a 'FAIL' assigned to their work, it makes me sad. Yes, I know you're trying to be funny. But I'm starting to see a trend away from the funny, and towards the angry, bitchy, or mean. So please, mind yer words." [more inside]
A false etymology
is "an assumed or postulated etymology that current consensus among scholars of historical linguistics holds to be incorrect." The internet has provided a platform for the rapid spread of some false etymologies - Snopes has posts debunking Picnic
On the other hand, a folk etymology
can mean "the process by which a word or phrase, usually one of seemingly opaque formation, is arbitrarily reshaped so as to yield a form which is considered to be more transparent." Other interesting anomalies of etymology: backronyms
Ever wonder what a quocker-wodger
was? Just what did they mean when they said that you were all kippers and curtains? Worldwidewords.org
has the answer. "More than 1600 pages on the origins, history, evolution and idiosyncrasies of the English language worldwide." Word geeks, say goodbye to the rest of your afternoon.
Hot For Words
- a youtube classroom series on etymology taught by Marina
, a... hot Russian philologist. Mildly NSFW. [more inside]
- claims to be the toughest word game on the web.
(among other spellings) is a Pacific Northwest party drink, a mixture of alcohol and fruit
, frequently made in a trash can and left to marinate a day or two before the party. The origin of the word is unknown, but it seems likely to come from the classic R&B song "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"
by Stick McGhee
, which in 1949, was the first big hit record for Atlantic Records
. (More inside, including links to sound files)
Did you ever wonder where nursery rhymes came from?
Of course, the etymology of some rhymes
but at least you can get the tune right
[uses flash] while you argue about them.
Ever wondered why they use K to record a baseball strike
? How about the origin of eavesdrop
? What about vamping on a piano
? All this and more at the Online Etymology Dictionary
Etymology-wise, which hormone is an island? What word both denotes a prime and euphemizes Satan? What word denotes "the future" and abbreviates the unknown? Is urine pith? These are some of the questions from "Moot: The World's Toughest Language Game
," a homemade and little-known board game for lovers of words. Some puzzles
are available online; there are a few more available on a page detailing the interesting story
behind the game's creation. You can sign up
to have a new language puzzle e-mailed to you every week.
The Chinese character meaning 'to have a stuffy nose'.
A remark by a Chinese language student on the complexity of the aforementioned symbol turns into an interesting discussion, trawling through a very thick etymology, that almost makes me want to learn Chinese! Fascinating if you're into languages, Chinese or not.
If you don't like dictionary posts, look away, NOW!
But if you like to play with words, the dictionarians at Merriam-Webster
have announced the winners in their poll for the Ten Favorite Words for 2004
Also, a list of runners-up with more of my personal faves: oxymoron, copacetic, curmudgeon, conundrum,
euphemism, superfluous, and of course, Smock! Smock! Smock!