The New Devil’s Dictionary, what the words we use really mean

Thursday, 13 August, 2015

In 1906 US journalist and satirist Ambrose Bierce published The Devil’s Dictionary, made up of his sarcastic definitions, or redefinitions, of certain words. For example:

Apologise, v. To lay the foundation for a future offence.

Fast forward one hundred and nine years, and The Verge have compiled their own version of Bierce’s lexicon, The New Devil’s Dictionary.

I can’t argue with some of these updated meanings.

Artist (n.): A pauper who receives admiration in lieu of payment.

Some hit the nail right on the head.

Bitcoin (n.): A revolutionary digital currency free of central banks, deposits, or stable concepts of ownership and value.

There is no escape, not even for the venerable Photoshop.

Photoshop (n.): A picture worth a thousand lies.

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How to get ahead at work? Speak the right words of course

Tuesday, 11 August, 2015

It’s difficult making headway in today’s workplace. Walking the walk is one thing, but it’s not enough. You have to talk the talk as well. But you cannot talk this talk using any old words. You must utter the right ones, and adopt a vocabulary that will make you sound smarter than you already are.

These should help no end:

  • Caustic
  • Idiosyncrasy
  • Paradoxical
  • Beleaguer
  • Exacerbate
  • Didactic
  • Innocuous
  • Parsimonious
  • Bloviate
  • Aplomb

I’ve been using idiosyncrasy, didactic, innocuous, and aplomb, for years, and look where I ended up… CEO of this website. What more need be said?

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Would a language with just 123 words be easy to learn?

Tuesday, 28 July, 2015

Made up of just one hundred and twenty three words, Toki Pona, created by Toronto based linguist Sonja Lang, sounds exactly like the minimal sort of language I could get into. While communicating clearly through a language with so few words might sound like it is fraught with peril, it is still possible to express just about any concept:

While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words. Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.

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What does tech talk mean? Introducing the Silicon Valley Dictionary

Tuesday, 14 July, 2015

A single word can have multiple meanings, or contexts. For a literal definition we can turn to say Dictionary.com, while the Urban Dictionary offers more… figurative interpretations.

The Silicon Valley Dictionary may then round out the trifecta, with descriptions of the more technical, information technology, related words and terms that are bandied about. Such as Linux Minters, a new one on me:

Engineers whose preference in OS is the Linux Mint operating system. They are irrationally smart and work so fast that they are said to literally mint code like machines.

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How would you score a dissertation without punctuation?

Wednesday, 27 May, 2015

A Canadian Doctor of Philosophy candidate, Patrick Stewart, took the less that usual step of submitting his fifty-two thousand word plus dissertation without any punctuation. And to be sure, he didn’t do so merely to save time, or printer ink.

A 61-year-old architect from the Nisga’a First Nation, Stewart explains that he “wanted to make a point” about aboriginal culture, colonialism, and “the blind acceptance of English language conventions in academia.”

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Double spacing in punctuation belongs to the typewriter age

Monday, 6 April, 2015

This is interesting, I don’t know of anyone who uses double spacing at the end of a written sentence, although I’ve seen the practice occur on some websites I occasionally stumble upon.

As far as I understood, it’s something that harks back to days of typewriters, when writers would add the extra gap to their manuscripts for whatever reason.

That some people today still choose to use typewriters – and each to their own, I say – is beside the point. It was my impression that the convention had long since been deprecated, along with, say, any use whatsoever of the word “whom”.

What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone – everyone! – said it was proper to use two spaces.

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Some elegant insults… for a more civilised age, via Martin Luther

Monday, 30 March, 2015

Indeed, gibes for a civilised age, sort of… some of more crass sentences penned by Martin Luther, priest, theology professor, and an initiator of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. Here’s one to get started:

You are an extraordinary creature, being neither God nor man. Perhaps you are the devil himself.

Ouch. You ought to know, by the way, that Luther’s… taunts have a certain context.

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The words invented by James Joyce

Friday, 27 March, 2015

Maybe if I had persevered with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the first novel by Irish writer James Joyce, I might have noticed one, or more, of the seventeen words he is said to have created. As it was, I found “Portrait” ever more forlorn, as I progressed through the story.

A botch-up on my part? Possibly. Because while Joyce didn’t devise the word “botch”, he did introduce us to the term “botch-up”. Other of his neologisms include “Ringroundabout”, “Tattarrattat”, and “Whenceness”.

Then of course there is “Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunnt-rovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk”. That might be useful to know of if you’re a Scrabble player.

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A story of the origins of the percent sign

Thursday, 26 March, 2015

Ah, the % (percent) sign… why ever don’t we use something more like the ‰ (per mille) sign instead? Here’s an explanation by Keith Houston, together with a history of how the percent sign came to be.

I had assumed that the percent sign was shaped so as to invoke the idea of a vulgar fraction, with a tiny zero aligned on either side of a solidus ( / ), or fraction slash.

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The first rule of proper English? There is no proper English

Wednesday, 25 March, 2015

I am, sometimes, and who knows why, asked to offer my advice (I almost said advise), as to what constitutes correct, or proper, English, in certain circumstances. Not an easy question really to answer, given 1200 million people, all across the globe, speak the language.

The user base is simply too diverse, too spread out, too alive and in the moment, to make the imposing of lasting rules possible. Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t learn the rules, or conventions first, before you go – as it were – breaking them.

The grammatical rules invoked by pedants aren’t real rules of grammar at all. They are, at best, just stylistic conventions: An example would be the use of a double negative (I can’t get no satisfaction). It makes complete grammatical sense, as an intensifier. It’s just a convention that we don’t use double negatives of that form in Standard English.

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