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Edwin Battistella’s Word of the Year Fantasy League

By Edwin Battistella
Oxford Dictionaries have been collecting lexicographic material and updating dictionaries for over a century now, though its Word of the Year award is still relatively recent. Only since 2004 Oxford Dictionaries have been selecting a word that captures the mood of the previous year. Thinking about the possible contenders for 2013 (twerk? fail? drone? shutdown? bitcoin?) got me to wondering about the past.

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Edwin Battistella’s words

By Edwin Battistella
The annual Word of the Year selection by Oxford Dictionaries and others inspired me to an odd personal challenge last year. In November of 2011, about the time that Oxford Dictionaries were settling on squeezed middle as both the UK and US word of the year, I made a New Year’s Resolution for 2012.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

How synonymy rolls

If you look up the synonym of big, you are likely to find words like large, huge, immense, colossal, enormous, and ginormous, among others. Some of these will cause you to raise an eyebrow because they are bigger than big: something can be big, but not huge or enormous.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Janus words

January gets its name from Janus, the Roman god of doors and gates, and (more metaphorically) the god of transitions and transformations. What better time to talk about so-called Janus words.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

More than emotion words

Interjections like oh or wow are sometimes described—too simply—as “emotion words.” They certainly can express a wide range of emotions, including delight (ah), discovery (aha), boredom (blah), disgust (blech), frustration (argh), derision of another (duh) or one’s self (Homer Simpson’s d’oh).
They certainly can express a wide range of emotions, including delight (ah), discovery (aha), boredom (blah), disgust (blech), frustration (argh), derision of another (duh) or one’s self (Homer Simpson’s d’oh).

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Is it a noun or an adjective?

The distinction between nouns and adjectives seems like it should be straightforward, but it’s not. Grammar is not as simple as your grade-school teacher presented it.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

In praise of phrases

Writers need to love words—the good, the bad, and the irregular. And they need to respect syntax, the patterns that give words their form. But when writers understand the power of phrases, their sentences shine.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

What’s coming down the pike?

During the news coverage of the COVID pandemic, I enjoyed seeing Dr Anthony Fauci on television and hearing his old-school Brooklyn accent. My favorite expression to listen for was his use of “down the pike” to mean “in the future.”

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

What does a technical writer do?

When people think about careers in writing, they may focus on writing novels or films, poetry or non-fiction. But for steady work, there is nothing like technical writing.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

When meanings go akimbo

The realization started with the word akimbo. I had first learned it as meaning a stance with hands on the hips, and I associated the stance with the comic book image of Superman confronting evildoers. Body language experts sometimes call this a power pose, intended to project confidence or dominance.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Semantic prosody

When linguists talk about prosody, the term usually refers to aspects of speech that go beyond individual vowels and consonants such as intonation, stress, and rhythm. Such suprasegmental features may reflect the tone or focus of a sentence.

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Title cover of "Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President from Washington to Trump" by Edwin L. Battistella, published by Oxford University Press

Do nouns have tense?

English noun phrases have something called a “temporal interpretation.” That’s linguist-speak for how we understand their place in time relative to the tense of the verb.

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