The Week: Most Recent Language Posts recent posts.en-usMon, 21 Apr 2014 02:05:00 -0400http://theweek.com Recent Language Posts from THE WEEKMon, 21 Apr 2014 02:05:00 -0400How do you do a Philadelphia accent?<img src="" /></P><p>I have been living in Philadelphia for nine years now, and while I can tell a Philly accent when I hear one, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to do it myself. Something about the vowel system gets me all tripped up, and I end up sounding like cockney Tony Soprano.</p><p>Part of the problem is that there aren't any well-known popular culture characters to imitate. You know, if you want to do Minnesota, you channel <em>Fargo</em>. To do Boston, you put on a little <em>Good</em><em> Will Hunting</em>. But who do you imitate to "do" Philadelphia? The accent rarely shows up in movies or TV, even when they are explicitly...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 21 Apr 2014 02:05:00 -0400There's a number of reasons the grammar of this headline could infuriate you<img src="" /></P><p>There's a number of reasons this sentence could be right. But do you think it is?</p><p>It's not uncommon; the set of words "there's a number of reasons" gets almost 3 million hits on Google. But the phrase "<em>there are</em> a number of reasons" returns more than 63 million results. And perhaps the least natural-sounding possibility, "<em>there is</em> a number of reasons," gets even more hits: About 73 million.</p><p>So there's a division of opinions. But this division is a strange one. The people who prefer "there's a number of reasons" are likely to be either very sloppy or very fussy, while the great middle ground is...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Tue, 15 Apr 2014 06:08:00 -040011 fun word lists to drill your vocabulary on<img src="" /></P><p>I was feeling pretty smug about my big, nerdy vocabulary when I tried out the word challenge at, but it didn't take long for the game to find my weak spots. That's because it quickly adapts to your level and learns to predict what words you don't know. There's also an app version you can take around with you, which is good, because while there are lots of ways to kill time on your phone while waiting in line, this one actually pays off in words learned. In the past few days I've gained osculate, litotes, and flagitious.</p><p>You can customize by choosing particular word lists to work...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sun, 13 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -04003 awesome translations from this sign language rap battle on Jimmy Kimmel Live<img src="" /></P><p>Holly Maniatty, Joann Benfield, Amber Galloway Gallego are American Sign Language interpreters who have worked concerts for some of the biggest names in rap. Jimmy Kimmel had them on his show for a "rap battle" where they took turns interpreting for Wiz Khalifa as he performed "Black and Yellow."</p><p><iframe width="620" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p><p>People often watch sign language interpreters to see how they're going to sign a particular word, but sign interpretation isn't a word-for-word recreation of a song. In fact, no kind of language interpretation works that way. When it comes to interpreting, meaning is key, and that means finding not...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:08:00 -0400Our favorite Heathers slang<img src="" /></P><p><br /></p><p>We can hardly believe it but <em>Heathers</em> is turning 25 this year. We thought we'd celebrate with some slushies, croquet, and TNT, but that seemed like a lot of trouble so we're rounding up our seven favorite slang terms from the movie instead.</p><p>EXPLETIVE ALERT: if you're familiar with <em>Heathers</em>, you're familiar with its, um, colorful expletives, two of which will be discussed at some length below.</p><p><strong>damage</strong></p><p>Veronica: "What is your damage, Heather?"</p><p>The writer of the film, Daniel Waters, says he stole the phrase, "What's your damage?" &mdash; another way of saying, "What's your problem?" &mdash; from...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Angela TungTue, 08 Apr 2014 11:25:00 -040014 abstract nouns we need to bring back<img src="" /></P><p>English has a few suffixes that can make abstract nouns out of adjectives. There's the relatively rare &ndash;cy, which turns fluent into fluency and idiot into idiocy, and there's the more common &ndash;ty or &ndash;ity that gives us certainty, subtlety, absurdity and the like. The only one that is truly productive, however, able to make a noun out of almost anything in English, is &ndash;ness. We can talk about hunky-doryness, pumped-upness or even lolwhutness without too much awkwardness. In the past couple of decades the &ndash;ty ending has acquired a certain amount of productivity in words...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 07 Apr 2014 11:40:00 -0400Our favorite regional words from waaaay Northern Michigan<img src="" /></P><p>Merriam-Webster recently announced that it was finally putting "Yooper" in the dictionary. What's a Yooper, you ask? Why someone from the U.P., of course. What's the U.P.? The Upper Peninsula, what's wrong with you!</p><p>The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is connected to the rest of the state by only one little four-lane bridge (okay, actually the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere), and in its relative isolation, has developed its own distinct culture. Here are nine other words it might be good to know if you ever decide to pay a visit to Yooperland.</p><p><strong>1. HOLY WAH!</strong><br />The Yooper version of...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Thu, 03 Apr 2014 06:55:00 -0400Holy prefix, Batman! A look at Bat-words in honor of Batman's 75th anniversary<img src="" /></P><p>It's been 75 years since Batman made his comic book debut. Since 1939, the cowled hero has contributed villains, sidekicks, gadgets, and thousands of stories to popular culture &mdash; and no less significantly, quite a few additions to the English language.</p><p>Almost everyone can recite the names of the major Batman allies (Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Robin) and villains (The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, Two-Face). Nicknames such as "the caped crusader," "the dark knight," "the world's greatest detective," and "the boy wonder" are thrown around in any number of contexts, as is the fill-in-the...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Mark PetersThu, 03 Apr 2014 06:15:00 -0400Don't use 'pants' for 'pantaloons': 19 surprising rules copy editors used to enforce<img src="" /></P><p>Last week, a cherished usage distinction was killed in a shot heard round the copyediting world. During a session at the American Copy Editors Society, <em>AP</em> <em>Stylebook</em> editors announced that it would from now on be acceptable to use "over" for "more than" when referring to quantity.</p><p>In other words, according to <em>AP</em> rules, it's no longer incorrect to say, "over 500 editors fainted at the news." If you can't imagine how anyone could find that phrasing objectionable, you are not alone. "Over" has been used to mean "more than" for hundreds of years. But the insistence that "over" was only to be used for...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Arika OkrentTue, 01 Apr 2014 09:57:00 -0400Why do we say 'probly' and 'libry' instead of probably and library?<img src="" /></P><p dir="ltr">We've all done it one time or another. Instead of enunciating the syllables in "probably," a slurred "probly" comes out instead. Why does this happen?</p><p dir="ltr">It's really a question of efficiency. English words tend to have one or two syllables that are stressed. In this case, we say PRO-bab-ly, not pro-BAB-ly or pro-bab-LY. This naturally also means that the stressed syllables are more interesting and important to your production and understanding of the word than the unstressed ones.</p><p dir="ltr">Over time, and especially in rapid speech, people tend to reduce the contrast of the vowels in the unstressed syllables...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Gretchen McCullochThu, 27 Mar 2014 08:06:00 -0400