The Week: Most Recent Language Posts recent posts.en-usMon, 17 Nov 2014 09:30:00 -0500http://theweek.com Recent Language Posts from THE WEEKMon, 17 Nov 2014 09:30:00 -0500The sign language interpreter for Mayor de Blasio's press conference was deaf. How does that work?<img src="" /></P><p>At Mayor Bill de Blasio's press conference on the Ebola situation in NYC, the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter attracted a lot of attention. Viewers commented on his animated facial expressions, posted screenshots, and joked about what he might <em>really</em> be saying. The same thing happened when the interpreter for a press conference about Hurricane Sandy was televised. As we explained then, facial expressions are an important part of ASL grammar. Eyebrow movements convey syntactic information, mouth movements mark adverbial content, and other body and face movements organize the discourse as...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 17 Nov 2014 09:30:00 -050011 versions of 'Average Joe' from other countries<img src="" /></P><p>Average Joe, Joe Schmo, John Doe. He's bland and average. Faceless, but not nameless. Every country needs a way to talk about just "some guy." Here's what 11 countries call that typical guy, who might have no specific qualities, but is still "one of our own."</p><p><strong>1. GERMANY: OTTO NORMALVERBRAUCHER</strong></p><p>Otto "normal consumer" or "middlebrow."</p><p><strong>2. CHINA: ZHANG SAN</strong></p><p>Translates to "Zhang 3." Sometimes shows up with Li Si (Li 4) and Wang Wu (Wang 5).</p><p><strong>3. DENMARK: MORTEN MENIGMAND</strong></p><p>Morton Everyman.</p><p><strong>4. AUSTRALIA: FRED NURK</strong></p><p>Sounds pretty normal to me.</p><p><strong>5. RUSSIA: VASYA PUPKIN</strong></p><p>With a name like that, it's hard...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sun, 16 Nov 2014 11:00:00 -050015 tricky words -- and how to pronounce them hilariously wrong<img src="" /></P><p>Even the most worldly people sometimes come across words they aren't sure how to pronounce. It's a state of not-knowing that is fraught with anxiety and insecurity. No one wants to be caught out in an embarrassing pronunciation blunder. Luckily, the internet is there to help. If you Google something like "how to pronounce quinoa," the first hit will likely be a video from the YouTube channel PronunciationBook, a collection of short clips that blandly &mdash; and a little creepily &mdash; tell you how to pronounce tricky words in American English.</p><p>Into this market for pronunciation help stepped...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sat, 15 Nov 2014 11:00:00 -0500Our favorite words from the final season of Boardwalk Empire<img src="" /></P><p><br /></p><p>Our favorite Prohibition era gangster show has ended, and what better way to pay homage than with a last round-up of our favorite words?</p><p>While you're at it, check out our <em>Boardwalk Empire</em> glossary from last year.</p><p><strong>agony aunt</strong></p><p>Psychiatric patient [to Gillian]: "I do love a bit of the <em>agony aunt</em>, don't you?"<br />"The Good Listener," September 14, 2014</p><p><em>Agony aunt</em> is such a great term &mdash; too bad it's from the 1970s. While advice columns have been around since at least 1690, this particular phrase referring to a presumably female newspaper advice columnist wasn't coined until 1972, according to...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Angela TungFri, 14 Nov 2014 09:10:00 -0500Why so strangely Yoda speaks<img src="" /></P><p>Let's examine one of the great classic problems in linguistics: Yoda. And how he talks.</p><p>Yoda? Know him you do, surely. The great Jedi master he is! The little green Jedi master he also is. And speak in backwards sentences he does.</p><p>OK, that last statement isn't really true. The sentences aren't completely backwards. He doesn't say "Him to you take will I"; he says "Take you to him I will." What's more, not all his sentences are like this. Actually only about half are, depending on the movie; the rest are in normal English word order.</p><p>What language does Yoda speak? The answer to this is surprisingly...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 13 Nov 2014 10:05:00 -05008 delightfully strange beard and mustache words<img src="" /></P><p dir="ltr"><strong>1. dasiberd</strong><br />An insult of the 15th century variety, a <em>dasiberd</em> is a fool or simpleton. Another form is <em>dasybead</em>, says the <em>Oxford English Dictionary</em>, as formed by combining <em>dazy</em>, "in a dazed condition," and <em>beard</em>, either with the idea of a beard representing a man in general, or a scatter-brained man during a time when "most European men were clean-shaven."</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>2. frumbierding</strong><br />According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a <em>frumbierding</em> is "an excellent Old English word meaning 'a youth.'" The <em>frum</em> part of the word means "first, beginning"; <em>bierd</em> means "beard"; and <em>-ing</em> acts like the diminutive suffix...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Angela TungWed, 12 Nov 2014 08:35:00 -0500A linguistic dissection of the 2016 contenders' book title choices<img src="" /></P><p>So-called "candidate lit" &mdash; in which seemingly every politician in America with at least one eye on higher office races to publish a credibility-boosting book &mdash; may seem like a recent trend. But it actually dates back to at least 1956, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy penned <em>Profiles in Courage</em>.</p><p>But today's politician-authors have certainly upped the ante. Publication is more than just an opportunity to introduce yourself to a national audience by boasting about your experience and laying the planks of your policy platform. Book tours have become none-too-subtle proto-campaigns, where...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a> and <a href="/author/lauren-hansen" ><span class="byline">Lauren Hansen</span></a>Tue, 11 Nov 2014 09:00:00 -050020 Italian hand gestures, demonstrated by male models<img src="" /></P><p>Italians have a large collection of gestures they use while speaking (or in many cases instead of speaking). The gestures convey subtle differences in meaning which can be hard to pick up on. There are plenty of videos out there that will teach you a few of them, but why not learn them from Dolce&amp;Gabbana male models?</p><p>Here Elbio, Evandro, Tony, and friends will show you the gestures for when something doesn't make sense, when you want to gossip about a "maybe" couple, when something has gone perfectly, and a bunch of other situations. Remember, the gestures are on their hands &mdash; lest you...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Thu, 06 Nov 2014 12:29:00 -0500Explained: English's 3 different prefixes for 'half'<img src="" /></P><p>English has a number of prefixes that come from the concept of "half." Why do we have so many? And what's the difference between them?</p><p><strong>1. SEMI</strong></p><p><em>Semi-</em>, from the Latin for "half," is the most common and the earliest to show up in English. It was first used, with the straight sense of "half," in the word <em>semicircular</em>, but soon attached to concepts that were harder to quantify. It's easy to see what a half circle looks like, but what amount of "abstract" is "semi-abstract"? How permanent is "semi-permanent"? Through these less concrete uses, which proliferated wildly in the 1800s, <em>semi-</em> came to mean...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sat, 01 Nov 2014 11:00:00 -0400Feast your eyes on this beautiful linguistic family tree<img src="" /></P><p>When linguists talk about the historical relationship between languages, they use a tree metaphor. An ancient source (say, Indo-European) has various branches (e.g., Romance, Germanic), which themselves have branches (West Germanic, North Germanic), which feed into specific languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian). Lessons on language families are often illustrated with a simple tree diagram that has all the information but lacks imagination. There's no reason linguistics has to be so visually uninspiring. Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic <em>Stand Still. Stay Silent</em>, a story set in a lushly imagined...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:25:00 -0400