I made a movie and all I got was its title added to the dictionary

Monday, 26 May, 2014

Hashtag, crowdfunding, and steampunk, are among one hundred and fifty new words that US dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster will add to this year’s edition of its Collegiate Dictionary.

Also joining the rank of neologisms is “catfish”, a term that found its way into the vernacular by way of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s 2010 documentary of the same name.

catfish (n., new sense): a person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.

Having a word, based on the title of a film that you made, added to a dictionary has to be just as good as winning an Oscar wouldn’t you think?

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Office speak, the language of an industry

Friday, 2 May, 2014

I think the few times I use any sort of corporate, or office buzzwords, is solely for parody purposes. While never a big fan, I think I made a determined effort to eliminate the few I was using after hearing of a company that referred to people as “resources”.

I don’t think anyone thought twice about the way they spoke either. One or two higher-ups had introduced its usage, and the next minute conversations were peppered with comments such as “well we need a resource to deal with that issue”, or some such.

Over time, different industries have developed their own tribal vocabularies. Some of today’s most popular buzzwords were created by academics who believed that work should satisfy one’s soul; others were coined by consultants who sold the idea that happy workers are effective workers. The Wall Street lingo of the 1980s all comes back to “the bottom line,” while the techie terms of today suggest that humans are creative computers, whose work is measured in “capacity” and “bandwidth.” Corporate jargon may seem meaningless to the extent that it’s best described as “bullshit,” but it actually reveals a lot about how workers think about their lives.

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Cutting out your work, tracing the origin of common phrases

Tuesday, 29 April, 2014

You probably, possibly quite unwittingly, lace your speech with these phrases, but where do they take their origins, and what do they actually mean?

  • back to square one
  • bite the bullet
  • blackmail
  • Dickens to pay
  • freeze the balls off a brass monkey
  • cold feet
  • got up on the wrong side of the bed
  • you’re fired
  • getting the sack
  • go with the flow
  • going for a song
  • hat trick
  • got your work cut out for you
  • not fit to hold a candle
  • in a nutshell
  • let the cat out of the bag
  • lost their bottle
  • mad as a hatter
  • plum job
  • pull your finger out
  • red herring
  • rule of thumb
  • saved by the bell
  • scot free
  • sling your hook
  • sour grapes
  • square meal
  • start from scratch
  • sweet Fanny Adams
  • the hair of the dog
  • the full monty
  • under the weather
  • upper hand
  • warts and all
  • without batting an eyelid

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A palindrome sentence that is… 17,826 words long

Monday, 7 April, 2014

I’m hoping this article isn’t an April the first remnant, but if it isn’t, then US computer scientist Peter Norvig has succeeded in creating a palindrome sentence that is 17,826 words long. Norvig is the Director of Research at Google, so I’d say this can be taken at face value.

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The secret life, and work, of a dictionary’s lexicographer

Friday, 4 April, 2014

Working as a lexicographer might seem like the ideal role for a wordsmith, or writer. Make no mistake, it’s not an easy task, but the work has an aspect to it that I hadn’t quite anticipated

Most of the time, the definition is pretty easy to deduce from the context, but sometimes it’s not. The hardest words to define are the smallest: “but,” “as,” “be,” “go,” “run” – words like that. You can spend months on one of those words, and you get so deep into in that you begin to look a little Uncanny Valleyish by the end of it: real people encounter you, and while you can have a conversation, they are put off by your empty, dead eyes which only stare inward at the diminishing point that was once your humanity.

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Sometimes the best way to be understood is to use a loan-word

Friday, 14 March, 2014

The English language is full of loan-words, words that have been taken, borrowed that is, from another language, and incorporated – as is, sans translation – into the vernacular. Still, between our own words, and those of other languages, there are still instances, I’m sure, where we can’t quite find the right term to apply to a particular situation.

With words such as “tartle” being a Scottish phrase for situations where one has momentarily forgotten the name a person they are introducing to someone else, or “jayus”, an Indonesian word that describes a joke so bad it is actually funny, this list of words that we should use more often, may then be what you need.

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The beauty of a language is in the ears of the heholder

Thursday, 13 March, 2014

While French is always a language I enjoy listening to – it may then explain my penchant for French made films – I wouldn’t go so far to describe other languages, that I don’t speak, as harsh, or even obnoxious. It seems though some people take exception to certain languages simply because they don’t like the way they sound

Languages have been described as sounding “decent,” “terrible,” “whiny,” “obnoxious,” and even “like a headache.” They are praised as “efficient,” “advanced” and “modern,” or “sweet” and “poetic,” or accused of having “too much vowels” or just sounding “strange” – whatever that means. One critic even condemned a language as “annoying,” which sounds like a forthright statement, if a bit judgmental.

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Retronyms: new names for old things that had to be renamed

Tuesday, 4 March, 2014

Non-electric guitars once used to be known simply as guitars*. It was only after electric guitars came along, did people start referring to them as “acoustic guitars”. That is an example of a retronym, a new word, or term, that gives a new name to the original version of an object, device, product, service, whatever.

Landline telephone instead of telephone, is another example, and plenty more retronyms are listed here.

*Anyone care to myth-bust that claim/assertion?

(Thanks Sarah)

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The origin of the world’s favourite expletive starting with f

Wednesday, 19 February, 2014

A friend’s young son recently found himself in hot water for using the word in question, in a Disney operated discussion forum no less, so I shall refrain from actually making mention of it here and now. Still, if language and history are your things, you can read more about the origins of said word here:

Another theory for its late arrival is that it’s a borrowing from Norse (the Vikings) via Scottish because several early instances are found in Scottish writing (such as the fifteenth-century one discounted in that other article). However, this is generally believed to be unlikely, in part because the Scottish weren’t considered influential enough for English to borrow words from them. Perhaps there were more early written examples in Scottish simply because they were less prudish about writing it.

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Neologisms from the year you were newly born

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

Did the words/terms gazillion, air guitar, or nu skool, come into being the year you were born? Find out with the OED birthday word generator, compiled by Oxford Dictionaries Online.

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