Can gender be discerned by analysing vocabulary?

Thursday, 26 June, 2014

Men and women have distinct preferences for certain words it seems, and knowing who is more likely to use a particular word may be useful in determining the gender of a person – who you know little of – that you may be interacting with online.

Well, up until now that is. Someone wishing to be evasive in this regard may find this information of assistance…

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The Oxford comma, used by me, myself, and I, but should you use it?

Thursday, 12 June, 2014

I didn’t study, or should I say, read, at Oxford University, but I’ve been using their comma, also known as the Harvard, or Serial comma, since my high school days.

English language linguists, editors, and writers, meantime have been in disagreement over its application since day one. So to use, or not to use? Arika Okrent, writing for Mental Floss, offers arguments for and against, to help you decide…

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Forget peeling bananas, you may be using the wrong dictionary

Tuesday, 10 June, 2014

We know we’ve been eating apples the wrong way, and not peeling bananas correctly… you’ve probably spotted some of the dozens of videos and articles floating around in recent months gently breaking the news that you’ve not been doing something fairly basic, something you otherwise give no thought to, properly.

Well, hey hey, my my.

Here’s something I can for go though, it seems we’ve been using the wrong dictionaries all this time, or so says James Somers, who thinks many lexicons in use today leave a lot to be desired:

Worse, the words themselves take on the character of their definitions: they are likewise reduced. A delightful word like “fustian” – delightful because of what it means, because of the way it looks and sounds, because it is unusual in regular speech but not so effete as to be unusable, is described, efficiently, as “pompous or pretentious speech or writing.” Not only is this definition (as we’ll see in a minute) simplistic and basically wrong, it’s just not in the same class, English-wise, as “fustian.” The language is tin-eared and uninspired. It’s criminal: This is the place where all the words live and the writing’s no good.

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Sorry, rolling sarcophagus is not an option

Thursday, 29 May, 2014

Sure, we shouldn’t be trying to overly accentuate the negative, but you just might find yourself in hot water as an employee of General Motors (GM), if it is found you’ve been using words such as bad, defective, failed, flawed, gruesome, horrific, mangling, never, and, wait for it, rolling sarcophagus, in official correspondences.

They are among sixty-nine words and terms some staff of the motor vehicle manufacturer have been told to avoid. Alternatives are, however, offered. For instance, rather than saying “defect”, it is suggested the phrase “does not perform to design” be used instead.

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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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