Sunday, April 20, 2014

Theme: Words

  • When it happens I feel as if I have stepped into a Far Side cartoon. I am a magazine editor, and the galley of an article will come back from a proofreader with a low-frequency word circled and this comment in the margin: “Does this word even exist?” or “Is this a real word?” Read more
  • Creators of electronic literature are progressing toward a more pervasive employment of the “ludic” — of the spirit of play inhabiting not just the writing, and not just the programming, but both in an elaborate, symbiotic combination. The tradition of “ludic” writing is well-rehearsed in criticism of electronic literature, for example in the magisterial anthology The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort.Read more
  • The publisher Collins has recently adopted crowd-sourcing as a lexicographical tool, inviting members of the public to propose new words for its online dictionary. Some of their suggestions, like howlerious and crapalicious, are reminiscent of the Blackadder episode where Edmund torments Dr Johnson with a string of absurd neologisms.Read more
  • Differences between different natural languages on this point are most in evidence, I think, in the way we talk about food, in particular, which foods are referred to with mass nouns, and which with count nouns. Almost all languages, as far as I know, refer to rice, for example, using a collective or mass noun: there is no language in which you would order 'some rices', or even 'some grains of rice'.Read more
  • They are putting Tennyson up in the Olympic village. Last year, the final line of 'Ulysses' - 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield' - prevailed in a public competition to select 'Winning Words', which means it will be emblazoned on a purpose-built wall on the Stratford site by the time the immense, sweaty circus comes to town this summer. Read more
  • Proposing anal sex to someone, for example, is not the same as using the words “anal sex” in a classroom discussion as one topic of publicly unacceptable jokesRead more
  • A search for the word this on the Web will get you RickRoll’D. The various unrelated hits that appear include This American Life, This Is Why You’re Fat, and a site that asks: “If you are feeling suicidal now, please stop long enough to read this.” Read more
  • I love that a handful, a mouthful gets you by, a satchelful can land you a job, a well-chosen clutch of them could get you laid, and that a solitary word can initiate a stampede, and therefore can be formally outlawed—even by a liberal court bent on defending a constitution guaranteeing unimpeded utterance. I love that the Argentine gaucho has over two hundred words for the coloration of horses and the Eskimo a flurry of words for snow.Read more
  • Some lovers of the language deplore the whole business of verbing (Benjamin Franklin called it “awkward and abominable” in a letter to Noah Webster, the lexicographer, in 1789); others see it as proof of a vibrant linguistic culture. Certain words seem to bring people out in a rash—among them “actioning”, “tasking”, “impacting”, “efforting”, “accessing”, “progressing” and “transitioning”. Often, though, the dictionary yields surprising precedents: “impact” was used as a verb in the 17th century, and “task” in the 16th. Other verbs have managed to escape linguistic ghettoes (“to access” was recognised by the “Oxford English Dictionary” over 20 years ago, but only as a computing term), or acquire new meanings: “to reference”, originally meaning “to supply with references”, has now become a near-twin of “to refer to”.Read more
  • Slang words aren’t the only ones that clean up their acts and join the ranks of the upright citizens of the dictionary. Arcane science terms also settle down into mundane boring lives. There was a time when calorie was a laboratory term, not a word printed on the wrapper of everything in the grocery store. And then there are terms like acid test and fallout, where the original technical meanings have been largely overshadowed by their figurative uses. Read more
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