Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two-year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. Whether they express anger or exhilaration, are meant to insult or to commend, swear words perform a crucial role in language. But swearing is also a uniquely well-suited lens through which to look at history
I expected that my series on dogs would inspire a torrent of angry comments. After all, dog is one of the most enigmatic words in English etymology, but the responses were very few. I am, naturally, grateful to those who found it possible to say something about the subject I was discussing for five weeks, especially to those who liked the essays.
I write a lot of thank you notes. I thank donors of organizations that I support, gift givers after the holidays and birthdays, friends who have invited me over for dinner, guest speakers who come to my classes, community partners who work with my students, colleagues who help me solve problems, and editors and publishers (you know who you are).
For all its supposed isolation out there beyond the pale of acceptable discourse — marginal words in the mouths of marginal people — we know a good deal about slang. We know its lexis, and keep chasing down the new arrivals; we know its lexicographers, some very well; we know its speakers, and note that far from monosyllabic illiterates, they coin some of the most inventive usages currently on offer.
It’s an election year and that means we get to think about the language of politicians—their vocabularies, vocal timbre, gestures, accents, metaphors, style, mistakes, and recoveries. I’m always on the lookout for interesting apologies, and the 2016 election has not been a disappointment.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) latest update includes more than 1,800 fully revised entries, including the entry for brother and many words relating to it. During the revision process, entries undergo new research, and evidence is analyzed to determine whether additional meanings and formations are needed.
You just lost your job. Your partner broke up with you. You’re late on rent. Then, you dropped your iPhone in the toilet. “My life’s in shambles!” you shout. Had you so exclaimed, say, in an Anglo-Saxon village over 1,000 years ago, your fellow Old English speakers may have given you a puzzled look. “Your life’s in footstools?” they’d ask. “And what’s an iPhone?”
The decision by Oxford Dictionaries to select an emoji as the 2015 Word of the Year has led to incredulity in some quarters. Hannah Jane Parkinson, writing in The Guardian, and doubtless speaking for many, brands the decision ‘ridiculous’ — after all, an emoji is, self-evidently, not a word; so the wagging fingers seem to say.
William Shakespeare died four hundred years ago this month and my local library is celebrating the anniversary. It sounds a bit macabre when you put it that way, of course, so they are billing it as a celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy. I took this celebratory occasion to talk with my students about Shakespeare’s linguistic legacy.
Preparation for the Spelling Congress is underway. The more people will send in their proposals, the better. On the other hand (or so it seems to me), the fewer people participate in this event and the less it costs in terms of labor/labour and money, the more successful it will turn out to be. The fate of English spelling has been discussed in passionate terms since at least the 1840s.
Since the groundbreaking Original Pronunciation productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in 2004-05, OP has captured the imagination of performers, directors, and the play-going public. Going back to the pronunciation of the late 16th and early 17th centuries reveals nuances, puns, and rhymes that otherwise lie completely hidden, and gives fresh dynamism to productions.
Name studies have been around for a long time. In Ancient Greece, philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle saw names as central to the understanding of language, providing key insights into human communication and thought. Still, to the present day, questions such as Are names nouns? and Do names have meaning? are still hotly debated by scholars within both linguistics and name studies.
In 2004, Shakespeare’s Globe in London began a daring experiment. They decided to mount a production of a Shakespeare play in ‘original pronunciation’ (OP) – a reconstruction of the accents that would have been used on the London stage around the year 1600, part of a period known as Early Modern English. They chose Romeo and Juliet as their first production, but – uncertain about how the unfamiliar accent would be received by the audience – performances in OP took place for only one weekend.
The idea of today’s post was inspired by a question from a correspondent. She is the author of a book on foxes and wanted more information on the etymology of fox. I answered her but thought that our readers might also profit by a short exploration of this theme. Some time later I may even risk an essay on the fully opaque dog. But before coming to the point, I will follow my hero’s habits and spend some time beating about the bush and covering my tracks.
I’ve read a lot of résumés over the years. I’ve read 35-page résumés from senior academics documenting every Rotary talk, guest lecture, and letter to the editor. I’ve read not-quite-one-page résumés from high school students giving their neighbors as references. In the process, I’ve come to think of résumé reading as an acquired literary taste, like flarf or fanfiction. And I’ve come to think of résumé writing as a unique genre with its own rhetorical nuances and conventions.
Our mother tongues seem to us like the natural way to communicate, but it is perhaps a universal human experience to be confronted and confused by a very different language. We can’t help but wonder how and why other languages sound so strange to us, and can be so difficult to learn as adults. This is an even bigger surprise when we consider that all languages come from a common source.