The Week: Most Recent Language Posts recent posts.en-usTue, 29 Jul 2014 10:04:00 -0400http://theweek.com Recent Language Posts from THE WEEKTue, 29 Jul 2014 10:04:00 -0400What's the difference between in- and un-?<img src="" /></P><p>English has two different prefixes that make a word into its opposite. OK, yes, there are more than two (dis-, a-, anti-, de-, etc.), but in- and un- are the most common. They bring the sense of "not" to an adjective, and they cause trouble because it is often not clear which one should be used for a particular word. Many pairs of in-/un- words are interchangeable. For example, "inalienable" and "unalienable" are both correct and mean the same thing (even the drafters of the Declaration of Independence went back and forth on that one), as do "inadvisable" and "unadvisable." Still, the two prefixes...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 29 Jul 2014 10:04:00 -0400Grammar quiz: Do you know the passive voice?<img src="" /></P><p>One "rule" that many self-appointed experts on writing return to again and again is: "Don't use the passive!" Or, as some puckishly put it, "The passive voice should be avoided."</p><p>The passive voice is often disliked because it can be used to evade responsibility: "Mistakes were made." However, not every construction that avoids pinning blame uses the passive voice, and not every use of the passive voice avoids pinning blame. Sometimes the passive is the better choice because you want to put the focus on the receiver of the action.</p><p>And sometimes people criticize sentences for being in the passive...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:11:00 -040029 adorable slang terms for sex (from the last 600 years)<img src="" /></P><p>Lexicographer Jonathon Green's comprehensive historical dictionary of slang, <em>Green's Dictionary of Slang</em>, covers hundreds of years of jargon, cant, and naughty talk. He has created a series of online timelines (here and here) where the words too impolite, indecent, or risqu&eacute; for the usual history books are arranged in the order they came into fashion.</p><p>Here are the most adorable terms for sexual intercourse from the last 600 or so years. Many of them have origins so obscure they hardly make sense at all, but that doesn't detract from their bawdy adorability in the slightest. When it comes...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:37:00 -0400Hey, grammar nerds! Stop freaking out about 'alot.'<img src="" /></P><p>There's one word that upsets alot of people. And I mean <em>alot</em>. It's been around for awhile, but don't let anyone who's particular about grammar get ahold of it! "It's not a word!" they'll tell you. "It's <em>two words</em>!"</p><p>I'll be honest: writing that paragraph practically made my teeth hurt. I'm about as allergic to <em>alot</em> as most of you probably are. But I'm here to tell you to get used to it. It will be around for quite awhile.</p><p>Should that be "for quite a while"? And what about "get a hold" instead of "get ahold"? Many people will tell you so. But, ah, there's the key to why <em>alot</em> is not going away....</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:29:00 -040011 classy insults with classical Greek and Latin roots<img src="" /></P><div class="field field-name-body field-type-text-with-summary field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><p>Do you ever go on such an epic internet rant you just feel you've run out of words with which to hammer your enemies? Do you want to up your game without resorting to the tired tropes of excretion and sexual metaphors? Next time pull out these fancy insults and really class up the joint while you twist the dagger.</p><p><strong>1. PEDICULOUS</strong></p><p>Lice-infested. From Latin <em>pediculus</em> (louse).</p><p><strong>2. XANTHODONTOUS</strong></p><p>Yellow-toothed. From Greek <em>xanthos</em> (yellow) and <em>odont-</em> (a combining form for tooth).</p><p><strong>3. RUCTABUNDE</strong></p><p>Gasbag. From Latin <em>ructus</em> (belch) and <em>abundus</em> (abundant).</p><p><strong>4. FLAGITIOUS</strong></p><p>Thoroughly wicked, villainous...</p></div></div></div> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:09:00 -04007 language habits that reveal your age<img src="" /></P><p>The psychologist Steven Pinker was once quoted as saying that the best way to tell if someone was under 30 was if they were comfortable using "fun" as an adjective.</p><p>About 15 years later, that still seems on target. The farther away in the rear-view mirror 45 is for you, the odder it seems to hear something like "his party was funner than hers." And the younger you are, the more it seems perfectly normal.</p><p>In my new e-book, <em>You Need to Read This: The Death of the Imperative Mode, the Rise of American Glottal Stop, the Bizarre Popularity of "Amongst," and Other Cuckoo Things That Have Happened to...</em></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/ben-yagoda" ><span class="byline">Ben Yagoda</span></a>Fri, 11 Jul 2014 08:35:00 -0400'I know, right?': The anatomy of a wonderfully nonsensical phrase<img src="" /></P><p>Sometimes people say something that you understand perfectly well, but if you stop and think about it, it doesn't make literal sense. I know, right?</p><p>There are those who argue that "I know, right?" is stupid and meaningless, and that we should stop using it. After all, when you say it you're not really asking whether or not you know.</p><p>But "I know, right?" is a great example of how language actually works. Language is not just a means of passing literal information. Welcome to the world of pragmatics: the study of speech as behavior intended to produce effects on an audience.</p><p>Language carries a...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 11 Jul 2014 06:14:00 -0400Our 12 favorite World Cup words<img src="" /></P><p><br /></p><p>We wouldn't call ourselves rabid fans of soccer (or football, depending on your side of the Atlantic), but then that guy bit that other guy (and gave us Suarezing), the Colombia team danced after every goal, and Tim Howard made 16 record-breaking saves (and while he couldn't save the U.S. team, he did save the internet). Now we're hooked.</p><p>And we're celebrating the best way we know how: with words. Here are 12 of our favorites from the world of the World Cup.</p><p><strong>1. corridor of uncertainty</strong></p><p>The <em>corridor of uncertainty</em> is a pass delivered into the area between the goalkeeper and the last line of...</p> <a href="">More</a>By Angela TungWed, 09 Jul 2014 10:45:00 -0400It's time to kill the word 'troll'<img src="" /></P><p>At the risk of being accused of trolling, I'd like to suggest that everyone who spends their days on the digital playground of social media should henceforth cease invoking the facile, vacuous, imprecise, insipid term "trolling."</p><p>For the handful of readers who may not be familiar with this ubiquitous bit of internet slang, allow me to explain. A "troll" is someone who makes inflammatory, outrageous, and ostensibly insincere statements in order to draw attention to himself by provoking an emotional reaction in readers.</p><p>The problem with the term "troll" is (at least) three-fold:</p><p>First, the internet...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/damon-linker" ><span class="byline">Damon Linker</span></a>Mon, 07 Jul 2014 06:07:00 -040010 words that are badly broken<img src="" /></P><p>Think about when you were a kid discovering the wonder of glue. Hey, why not glue Barbie to this teacup? Let's glue Daddy's fancy pen to Mommy's ceramic figurine! But when you try to <em>unglue</em> them, you discover that glue can be strong &mdash; sometimes stronger than the things you were gluing. Now Barbie is permanently holding a teacup handle and Daddy's pen has a ceramic arm on it.</p><p>Words can be like that. They can be made of bits glued together, and then sometimes they break apart at places they weren't meant to break at. Here are 10 examples of English words that you may not have known are broken...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Fri, 20 Jun 2014 09:46:00 -0400