The Week: Most Recent Language Posts recent posts.en-usMon, 20 Oct 2014 06:23:00 -0400http://theweek.com Recent Language Posts from THE WEEKMon, 20 Oct 2014 06:23:00 -04005 words that are spelled weirdly because someone got the etymology wrong<img src="" /></P><p>English spelling is complicated, but it has its reasons for being that way. Given that it borrowed from other languages, pronunciation changes over time, and peculiarities in the evolution of printing standards all played a role in getting us to where we are today. The way a word is spelled tells a part of its history. But for a few words, the spelling gets the history totally wrong.</p><p>In the early days of printing, spelling varied a lot. As a standard began to develop in the 16th century, a fashion for all things classical led some people to look to Latin and Greek for spelling inspiration. So...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 20 Oct 2014 06:23:00 -0400In defense of 'anyways'<img src="" /></P><p>"Sounds illiterate."</p><p>"Used by people who don't know the difference between <em>there, their,</em> and <em>they're</em>."</p><p>"Obviously incorrect."</p><p>"Just an affectation."</p><p>What are these people going on about, anyways?</p><p>What they're going on about is <em>anyways &mdash;</em> with an <em>s</em>. Indeed, few words draw more fire from the sort of people who like to condemn other people's English.</p><p>Why? Well, as Minnesota Public Radio helpfully points out, you wouldn't say <em>anyhows</em>, so you don't say <em>anyways</em>. But more to the point, <em>any</em> takes only one: any <em>thing</em>, any <em>idea</em>, and so on. So <em>anyway</em>.</p><p>The only problem is that that's not where...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 20 Oct 2014 06:04:00 -0400The secret emotional lives of 5 punctuation marks<img src="" /></P><p>Punctuation is the homely, workaday cousin to the glamorous word. It works quietly in the background, sweeping up and trying to keep the information flow tidy, while words prance around spilling thought, meaning, and feeling all over the place. Punctuation marks accept their utilitarian roles, but they too carry feelings, and they express them in subtle ways that are sometimes easy to miss. Let's take a look at the secret emotional lives of five punctuation marks.</p><p><strong>1. THE ANGRY PERIOD</strong></p><p>What could be simpler than period? One little dot that ends a sentence, a few pixels. But lately, the period has...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 14 Oct 2014 06:17:00 -0400How an awesomesauce new suffix came to be<img src="" /></P><p>In the beginning (as far back as the '80s), there was <em>weak sauce</em>. Laid back California dudes and college jocks alike wielded it in judgment of the uninspiring. <em>Weak sauce</em> at first hovered between noun phrase and adjective. It could literally refer to a type of sauce (that was lacking in flavor or alcoholic content), but as a whole it meant "lame." Eventually it became a single concept (reflected in the spellings <em>weaksauce</em> or <em>weak-sauce</em>) and an unambiguous adjective &mdash; you could say things like "that is so weaksauce" rather than "that is such weak sauce."</p><p>What then, was the opposite of <em>weaksauce...</em></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 13 Oct 2014 10:02:00 -0400It's all right to spell it 'alright'<img src="" /></P><p><em>Already</em> does not mean <em>all ready</em>. <em>Always</em> does not mean <em>all ways</em>. <em>Also</em> does not mean <em>all so</em>. <em>Although</em> does not mean <em>all though</em>. <em>Almost</em> certainly does not mean <em>all most</em>. And <em>alright</em>? Well, it doesn't <em>always</em> mean <em>all right.</em></p><p>Some people think it's bad to use <em>alright. </em>They demean it as an "illiteratism," a sign of poor education, "not a word," and so on. Why, when we can make a nice and tidy distinction between "Your responses were alright" and "Your responses were all right," do nearly all the people who dispense grammar advice wave you away from this one lest mobs bearing torches and pitchforks appear...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 09 Oct 2014 06:09:00 -040011 facts y&uuml; should know about the umlaut<img src="" /></P><p><strong> 1. The word "umlaut" comes from one of the Brothers Grimm.</strong></p><p>Jacob Grimm was not only a collector of fairy tales (along with his brother Wilhelm), but also one of the most famous linguists ever. In 1819 he described a sound-change process that affected the historical development of German. He called it <em>umlaut</em> from <em>um</em> (around) + <em>laut</em>(sound).</p><p><strong>2. <strong>"Umlaut" is originally the name for a specific kind of vowel mutation.</strong><br /></strong></p><p>Technically, "umlaut" doesn't refer to the dots, but to the process where, historically, a vowel got pulled into a different position because of influence from another, upcoming vowel...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 06:16:00 -040015 words you didn't realize were named after people<img src="" /></P><p>When something is named after a person or a place or a company, we call that name an eponym. Eponyms are everywhere &mdash; in science, medicine, the arts. This list from our friends at focuses on words that are historically eponyms but are so common that their history has been obscured. Here, the hidden history of eponyms is revealed.</p><p><strong>1. SAXOPHONE</strong></p><p><em>A single-reed woodwind with a conical bore.</em></p><p>It's pretty clear that the sousaphone was named after John Phillip Sousa, but the saxophone is named after its inventor, a Belgian musical instrument designer named Adolphe Sax.</p><p><strong>2. NICOTINE...</strong></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:26:00 -0400Don't buy into nonsensical etymologies of the F-word<img src="" /></P><p>When I was young, other kids &mdash; and sometimes certain adults &mdash; used to half-whisper secret, privileged information. Information about&hellip; <em>four-letter words</em>. Information that made me see things in a whole new way. Information that was sometimes conflicting. Information that polluted my mind with disreputable ideas.</p><p>I imagine this has happened to you, too.</p><p>An older gentleman, maybe, says quietly to you &mdash; as one did to me &mdash; that "golf" is derived from the saying "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden." Another, an aesthete, might raise an eyebrow and haughtily declare, "Port...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Mon, 29 Sep 2014 06:09:00 -040018 apple varieties with badass names<img src="" /></P><p>It's apple season again, and the markets are filling up with varieties bearing lovely names, from <em>honeycrisp</em> to <em>autumn glory</em>, with plenty of variations on <em>gold</em>, <em>sweet</em>, <em>delicious</em>, <em>sun</em>, and <em>beauty</em> in between. But not all apples are into being judged by some fake-grin, beauty-queen standard. Some apples don't need to keep waving you down with a name that is really just a desperate cry of "look how yummy I am! Don't I look pretty?" Here are 18 varieties that, frankly, don't care what you think. They know their worth and don't need to act all cute. They aren't bad apples, but they are badass.</p><p><strong>1. STARK...</strong></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sat, 27 Sep 2014 14:00:00 -040010 words with difficult-to-remember meanings<img src="" /></P><p>Sometimes there are words that you've seen, read, and maybe even used in conversation whose meaning you can never keep straight. Even after looking it up, the right definition doesn't stick. From our friends at, here are 10 words with definitions that can be difficult to remember. Some look like they have a negative element in them, but either because their positive counterpoint has fallen out of use or because it never existed in the first place, the word doesn't really have a negative sense. Other words below are often confused for their opposite or have come to have connotations...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sat, 20 Sep 2014 11:00:00 -0400