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]
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”.
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).
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]
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]
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.
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]
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.
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.
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]
"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]
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]
Starting with a bracket for every letter of the alphabet, a bracket suggested by readers and a "Fuck" play-in bracket, blogger Ted McCagg just finished a contest for the Best Word Ever. In the running were Umpteen, Eke, Isthmus, Skedaddle and Akimbo. The Final Four. The finals. The champion. [Via The Paris Review & Kottke.]
Fearing cacodemonomania from jettatura, the acersecomic leptosome set off a biblioclasm of his scripturient neogenesis on ktenology, unwittingly bringing about hamartia.
Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.
Collins Dictionary is seeking suggestions for popular new words that deserve official definitions. Most recent suggestions: blurge, wammocky, dingbat, sloading, and many more.
Recent technologies developed at American universities are making communication easier for the sight and hearing impaired. Last summer a Stanford undergrad developed a touchscreen Braille writer that stands to revolutionize how the blind negotiate an unseen world by replacing devices costing up to 10 times more. Thanks to a group of University of Houston students, the hearing impaired may soon have an easier time communicating with those who do not understand sign language. During the past semester, students in UH’s engineering technology and industrial design programs teamed up to develop the concept and prototype for MyVoice, a device that reads sign language and translates its motions into audible words, and vice versa.
"Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
Save the Words: Adopt words that have been abandoned by the English language.
Sound-Word Index — Emotions and their sound can invade our digital messages. Our words become flexible and vibrate according to the volume of our voices, transforming their written form into an expressive and resonating language. Without the help of body language, words can sometimes fall short in our digital conversations. However, sound, volume and rhythm can influence the spelling of our words, helping to translate our emotions hidden behind our screens.
The Lonely Planet has come up with a list of thirty travel terms that aren't in the dictionary.
What's in a name? The UK riots and language: 'rioter', 'protester' or 'scum'? [Guardian.co.uk] "The BBC drew a small storm of criticism for the word it initially used to describe the people taking part in this week's trouble."
Worn-out Words: [Guardian] Last year Ledbury poetry festival asked poets to name their most hated words. For this year's festival – running from 1 to 10 July – they've asked for the expressions that have become such cliches that they have lost all meaning. Here are their responses: please add your own.
Daniel Soar on the militarisation of metaphor: Spies aren’t known for their cultural sensitivity. So it was a surprise when news broke last month that IARPA, a US government agency that funds ‘high-risk/high-payoff research’ into areas of interest to the ‘intelligence community’, had put out a call for contributions to its Metaphor Program, a five-year project to discover what a foreign culture’s metaphors can reveal about its beliefs.
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.
word: /wɜrd/ -noun 1. a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.
Words of the World is a site dedicated to the exploration and life of words and language. [more inside]
Climate change and the vuvuzela leave mark on Oxford Dictionary of English. Other words and phrases introduced for the latest edition include 'toxic debt', 'staycation', 'cheesebal' and 'national treasure'. To balance them out among the 2,000 or so new items there are a few more left-field choices. Among them are 'cheeseball', which refers to someone or something lacking taste, style or originality, and the more disturbing phenomenon of 'hikikomori', the Japanese word for the acute social withdrawal that occurs in some teenage boys.
The Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English is a searchable collection of almost 2 million words of transcribed spoken English from the University of Michigan, including student study groups, office hours, dissertation defenses, and campus tours. Researchers use the Michigan corpus to investigate questions about usage, like "less or fewer?" (cf. this contentious Ask Meta thread) and more general topics, like "Vague Language in Academia." Browse or search MICASE yourself.
Forvo: All the words in the world, pronounced by native speakers. At the time of this post, the tally stands at: 327,492 words; 239,165 pronunciations; in 220 languages; with 25,040 users submitting.
Java Demo: "four-letter words have a special status in the english language and culture. counting in at over 1650 words,...this small project is an attempt to give a spacial overview of the entirety of this part of english language heritage, as well as to explore and visualize relations between all those words."
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.
International House of Logorrhea, at The Phrontistry, a free online dictionary of weird and unusual words to help enhance your vocabulary. Generous language resources, 2 and 3 letter Scrabble words l The Compass DeRose Guide to Emotion Words l all kinds of glossaries for color terms, wisdom, love and attraction, scientific instruments, manias and obsessions, feeding and eating, carriages and chariots, dance styles and all kinds of fun word stuff. [more inside]
Annoying and/or pretentious terms: "jejune", "pyjamas", "piping hot", "social justice". Cool terms: "cogitate", "cul-de-sac", "high dudgeon", "orangutan".
A Brief History of English, with Chronology by Suzanne Kemmer is one of many articles at Words in English, a website designed as "a resource for those who want to learn more about this fascinating language – its history as a language, the origins of its words, and its current modern characteristics."