Swearing has been clinically proven to reduce pain. It also is known to be processed by a different part of the brain than other kinds of language. [more inside]
Braconid (a parasitic wasp) scored 176 plus a 5 point failed challenge penalty; this helped Brett Smitheram win the world Scrabble championship, with the finalists both connected with the UK TV words and numbers gameshow Countdown. Brett takes home around £5,800 from the event at the Grand Palais in Lille. The board in the final match.
The splendid word "incarnadine" for example, who can use that without remembering "multitudinous seas?" "In the Only Surviving Recording of Her Voice, Virginia Woolf Explains Why Writing Isn’t a “Craft” (1937)"
The Many Ways The Media Gets Around Saying [Groin] By Kyle Wagner [FiveThirtyEight] It’s the oldest laugh in sports: Some poor schmoe takes a sports ball to the crotch, keels over and, once we’re reasonably sure no lasting damage has been done, the TV announcers deadpan some dad jokes while the camera pans around to giggling teammates. It’s as much a familiar sports yuk as other not-all-that-uncommon oddities, like a field player on the mound or the fat guy touchdown, only with funnier GIFs. At least, that’s how things work when the hit comes in a relatively low-stakes setting. But what happens when the stakes are raised? And just as important, when reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers.
Kafkaesque: A Word So Overused It Has Lost All Meaning? by Alison Flood [The Guardian] On Monday night, Han Kang’s strange, disturbing, brilliant novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International prize. Shortly afterwards, dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announced that searches for the word “Kafkaesque” had “spiked dramatically” in the wake of her win, because the novel “has been described by its British publishers (and by a number of reviewers) as Kafkaesque”.
What's in a word? The enduring mystery of "jawn", Philadelphia's all-purpose noun [more inside]
"Unlike the names of almost every celestial body in the solar system, the names of the moons of Mars are words. They’re names, but they’re words as well.", Fortunato Salazar
Does "human trafficking" mean "modern-day slavery," as President Obama says? No, "the word is a way to target marginalized groups like immigrants and sex workers in the name of a (confused or cynical) humanitarianism." [more inside]
corpora is a Github repository containing machine-readable lists of interesting words and phrases that "are potentially useful in the creation of weird internet stuff." The corpora range from the mundane (common English words, animals, corporations, pizza toppings) to the obscure (types of knot, wrestling moves, Lovecraftian deities) to the absurd (states of drunkenness, deceased Spinal Tap drummers, unrhymable words).
‘Moment’ Is Having a Moment [New York Times]
“What, exactly, is a cultural moment? How long does it last? Who participates in it? Who on earth gets to decide? Can you marshal literally anything that has happened in the last 10 years, or 10 months? What are the parameters? Is there a minimum Q rating? Who has to experience a thing, be aware of it, find satisfaction (or prestige) in discussing it? And how do we distinguish kairos from chronos — a moment from an ordinary shred of time? How do we distinguish a meaningful, fateful, crucial moment from all the other moments that fall all over the place like bread crumbs out of an overturned toaster?”
Do recipes for moist cakes make your skin clammy? Did that article about hardscrabble pugilists leave you nauseated? Do you feel super-embarrassed (YT) when you have to say completely innocent words like onus or cunning or bean curd out loud? Or even in writing? If so, you are far from alone! Word aversion, or logomisia, is an extremely common phenomenon that affects up to one in five (links to PDF) of us, and it's extremely contagious. [more inside]
In the 1970's, Sesame Street wasn't the only educational puppet show in town. The Letter People was a literacy program and television series that taught phonics with an unusual bunch of 26 characters. Here's the entire 60 episode run. The production values improved a bit as the show went on, evolving from black backgrounds and simple sets to more elaborate ones. Every Letter Person had their own theme song, featured in their introductory episode; here's all twenty-six of those in alphabetical, and thus wildly anachronic, order. Absent from the show are the songs of Misters R, X and Q (the last three Letter People to debut in the show - they'd clearly gone through design changes by then, ESPECIALLY Mr. X). [more inside]
"While Friday marked a historic victory for the LGBTQ community, it turns out there’s another advancement to celebrate: Last week, the Oxford English Dictionary released a list of 500 new entries, and among the more notable additions was cisgender. The word —which is defined as 'designating a person whose sense of personal identity matches their gender at birth'— is seen as an opposite and complementary term to transgender." Why the Oxford English Dictionary's Addition of Cisgender Matters (Anna Diamond, Slate) [more inside]
Taming of the Fuckery is graduate design student Sneha Keshav's 100 day project to identify colorful alternatives to the formerly taboo but now all too ubiquitous 'F-Word' and display them creatively. If you don't like it, you can Go Hug a Porcupine, because I Don't Give a Tiny Rat's Buttcrack.
From plitter to drabbletail: a few writers choose the words they love. [The Guardian] [Books]
Dialect terms such as yokeymajig or whiffle-whaffle; all-time favourites like cochineal, clot or eschew; antiquated phrases such as ‘playing the giddy ox’ … leading writers on the words they cherish.[more inside]
Robert Macfarlane says we are losing the best descriptive words for our landscape. This matters, he says, "because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted. To quote the American farmer and essayist Wendell Berry – a man who in my experience speaks the crash-tested truth – “people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”"
Um, here’s an, uh, map that shows where Americans use 'um' vs. 'uh.' "Every language has filler words that speakers use in nervous moments or to buy time while thinking. Two of the most common of these in English are 'uh' and 'um.' They might seem interchangeable, but data show that their usage break down across surprising geographic lines. Hmm." And these lines may give evidence of the so-called Midland dialect. [more inside]
The OED in two minutes is a visualisation of the change and growth of the English language since 1150, showing the frequency and origin of new words year by year. Notes and explanations about the project. [more inside]
CRUMBLES is a webapp that combines one-word clips from various movies/tv/webvideos into a video mishmash that 'says' whatever you type into the input box. Yes, whatever. Obviously, it doesn't have EVERY word in its wordlist (it does have a couple that are totally NSFW), but for anything not there, it mixes a video snippet with a computerized voice. Or you can improvise and get close. BONUS: Instead of the standard word list, you can use an all-Homer Simpson or all-Bee and Puppycat list. Not perfect or ultra-flexible (yet), but what do you expect from a free webapp?
Pencil and Paper Games is devoted to games you can play with nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper (some of which can be played on the site, for those who do not have access to a pencil and paper, or remember what those are.) [more inside]
Mad:)Takes - 188 Free Online Mad Libs™
Search for word usage in movies and television over time.
Movies and television shows often reflect cultural trends of the time they are made in. Even movies that take place during the past or future can say something about the present through metadata or production style. Using the Bookworm platform, Benjamin Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, provides a tool that lets you see trends in movie and television dialogue.
In Lexicopolis, buildings are constructed from the letters that make them up. Construct buildings by typing words like "HOUSE," "OFFICE," or "PARK."
"We ornithologists, with our Important Capitals, continue to look Curiously Provincial" : copy-editors and ornithologists fight a very pilkunnussija-esque war over conventions of bird names.
A list of things I don't want you to say by Carlie Lazar
Calligraphy-skills.com is a wonderful throwback to the early days of the Web, when someone would just helpfully organize and present a wealth of information on a given topic for free, simply because they were that into it. [more inside]
55 Canadianisms You May Not Know or Are Using DifferentlyA (non-scientific) survey providing a thorough & fascinating look at words in Canadian English [more inside]
What do the words "safety," ''chaotic" and "problem" have in common? They're all on General Motors' list of banned words for employees who were documenting potential safety issues. The revelation of the 68-word list is one of the odder twists in GM's ongoing recall of 2.6 million older-model small cars for defective ignition switches. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver weighs in.
A Browser Extension That Replaces "Literally" With "Figuratively". Built by a programmer named Mike Walker, it’s an extension for Google’s Chrome browser that replaces the word “literally” with “figuratively” on sites and articles across the Web, with deeply gratifying results. Previously.
"In very many cases, English has borrowed a word from one language that had previously borrowed it from elsewhere. Among those Portuguese and Spanish words there are many that originated among speakers of very different languages. For instance, piranha comes ultimately from Tupi (a language of Brazil) and acai comes from a related language called Nheengatu, while mango is probably ultimately from Malayalam across the other side of the world in India, and monsoon is ultimately from Arabic (and in a further twist, Dutch may also have played a hand in how it came into English from Portuguese). " (There was a previous BBC article on this topic which is linked in the post which contains more examples.) BBC article about how words have flowed back and forth over the centuries.
The Made Up Words Project is an on-going undertaking by illustrator Rinee Shah (who you may remember from her Seinfood poster series.) The goal is to collect and catalog the made up words that we share with family and friends.
A thesaurus only lists adjectives. English Synonyms and Antonyms takes the time to explain the small distinctions of meaning and usage between, for example, example, archetype, ideal, prototype, type, ensample, model, sample, warning, exemplar, pattern, specimen, exemplification, precedent, and standard--or, at least, such distinctions as author James C. Fernald, L.H.D., perceived in 1896.
"We began the present study by asking, as some linguists have asked before us, why the ordering of certain conjoined elements is fixed." -Cooper and Ross, 1975 (pdf) Siamese twins in linguistics: examples are "here and there (and everywhere)" and "peas and carrots." Siamese twins are also known as "binomial freezes," "irreversible binomials," or "freezes," and they can change over time, too. And that can lead to fossil words! Speaking of fossil words, did you know about cranberry morphemes? [more inside]
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]
What Three Words has changed the complex numbers of zip codes and post codes, longitude and latitude, into three English words. [more inside]
Download The Stories: Five Years of Original Fiction on Tor.com Nearly 4000 pages of some of your favorite authors for free. [Past offers not valid in all countries. Sorry if yours is one of these.]
"Trading Faith for Wonder: On Judaism's Literary Legacy". The LARB reviews Jews And Words, by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger. [more inside]
"In 1872 two men began work on a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India. Since its publication the 1,000-page dictionary has never been out of print and a new edition is due out next year. What accounts for its enduring appeal? Hobson-Jobson is the dictionary's short and mysterious title." [more inside]
POWER VOCAB TWEET. Boost your vocabulary with these fiercely plausible words and definitions. About. [via mefi projects] [more inside]
Mining books to map emotions through a century. Emotion words aren't consistently used through time, it seems. Things got scary in the 80's.
As lexicographers revel in the capabilities of online dictionaries, one person notes the death of print encyclopedias.
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]