As the television show Mad Men recently reached its conclusion, we thought it might be fun to reflect on the contributions to language during the turbulent decade of the 1960s. This legacy is not surprising, given the huge shifts in culture that took place during this point in time, including the Civil Rights movement, the apex of the space race, the environmental movement, the sexual revolution, and—obviously—the rise of advertising and media. With this in mind, we picked 16 words from the 1960s that illuminate this historical moment.
It’s graduation time at many of the nation’s schools and colleges. The commencement ceremony is a great exhalation for all involved and an annual rite of passage celebrating academic achievements. Commencement ceremonies typically feature a visiting dignitary who offers a few thousand inspirational words. Over the years, I’ve heard more of these speeches than I care to admit and have made my own checklist of suggestions for speakers. For those of you giving commencement speeches or listening to them, here’s my advice.
It is curious that, although the modern theory of evolution has its source in Charles Darwin’s great book On the Origin of Species (1859), the word evolution does not appear in the original text at all. In fact, Darwin seems deliberately to have avoided using the word evolution, preferring to refer to the process of biological change as ‘transmutation’. Some of the reasons for this, and for continuing confusion about the word evolution in the succeeding century and a half, can be unpacked from the word’s entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
23 April marks St. George’s Day. While St. George is widely venerated throughout Christian communities, England especially honors him, its patron saint, on this day. Indeed, his cross, red on a white field, flies as England’s flag. St. George, of course, is legendary for the dragon he slew, yet St. George bested the beast in legend alone. From Beowulf to The Game of Thrones, this creature continues to breathe life (and fire) into our stories, art, and language; even the very word dragon hoards its own gold. Let’s brave our way into its etymological lair to see what treasures we might find.
False friends (‘faux amis’) are words in one language which look the same as words in another. We therefore think that their meanings are the same and get a shock when we find they are not. Generations of French students have believed that demander means ‘demand’ (whereas it means ‘ask’) or librairie means ‘library’ (instead of ‘bookshop’). It is a sign of a mature understanding of a language when you can cope with the false friends, which can be some of its most frequently used words.
Does the word cyber sound dated to you? Like the phrases Information Superhighway and surfing the Web, something about the word calls one back to the early era of the Internet, not unlike when you ask a person for a URL and they start to read off, ‘H-t-t-p, colon, forward slash…’
As somebody who loves words and English literature, I have often been assumed to be a natural enemy of the mathematical mind. If we’re being honest, my days of calculus and the hypotenuse are behind me, but with those qualifications under my belt, I did learn that the worlds of words and numbers are not necessarily as separate as they seem. Quite a few expressions use numbers (sixes and sevens, six of one and half a dozen of the other, one of a kind, etc.) but a few are more closely related to mathematics than you’d expect.
Sometimes, we say what we don’t really mean. ‘You look really tired’, for example, when we mean to be caring rather than disparaging of appearance. ‘I thought you were older than that!’ when we mean to applaud maturity rather than further disparage appearance. And so it is with the gay thing. The accidental difference between what people are saying or writing, and their intended meaning, is becoming perplexingly polarized.
Fresh Off the Boat, the newest addition to ABC’s primetime lineup, has garnered more than its share of attention in the lead-up to its recent debut: based on restaurateur Eddie Huang’s critically-acclaimed memoir, it’s the first sitcom in 20 years since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl to feature an Asian-American family at its epicenter, assuming a place among the network’s recent crop of 21st-century family comedies, including Modern Family, Blackish, and Cristela.
Where I live in New York State, about two hours north of the Pennsylvania border, the transition from one season to the next is rarely (if ever) coincidental with the astronomical designation applied to it. Of the four annual calendar dates of seasonal shift, none is more laughable to us in the Leatherstocking Region than the winter solstice.
Doris Lessing (22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013) was an astonishing wordsmith, as any reader of her many novels, stories, plays, and poems would attest — and the genesis of this talent can be seen in her upbringing and surroundings.
This week is the twelfth instalment of our ‘Word Window’ series, in which we present some of the Oxford English Dictionary’s more remarkable words. Last week, we discussed the triple meaning of ‘Big Apple’. This week we have chosen a rather mysterious term; ‘Cruciverbalist’…
We are now in week four of our ‘Word Window’ series, in which we display an Oxford Word of the Week, in the windows of our New York Offices. Last week’s word was: ‘Rashomon’ n.: ‘Designating something resembling or suggestive of the film Rashomon.’ This week’s word is ‘Mondegreen’…