The Week: Most Recent Language Posts recent posts.en-usThu, 11 Dec 2014 09:56:00 -0500http://theweek.com Recent Language Posts from THE WEEKThu, 11 Dec 2014 09:56:00 -0500Why linguists freak out about 'absofreakinglutely'<img src="" /></P><p> Fan-freaking-tastic!</p><p>What?</p><p>Ling-freaking-guistics, that's what!</p><p>Too damn right.</p><p>Want to get a bunch of linguists on a problem lickety-frickin'-split? Just drop something naughty in the middle of a word or phrase. Like <em>fan-freaking-tastic</em> or <em>too damn right</em> or <em>Judas H. Priest.</em></p><p>The exact linguistic analysis of something like <em>abso-freaking-lutely</em> has gotten quite a few linguists pretty exercised over the years. They don't all agree.</p><p>So let's talk about what it's not.</p><p><strong>It's not new.</strong></p><p>Let's start with this one: the insertion of emphatic words, usually rude, in the middle of other words or fixed...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Thu, 11 Dec 2014 09:56:00 -0500The 11 best new words added to Oxford dictionaries<img src="" /></P><p>The editors at try to stay on top of the latest developments in English vocabulary, and they just added 1,000 new words to their online dictionary.</p><p>Updates include acronyms like <strong>WTAF</strong> ("what the actual f__"), shortenings like <strong>jel</strong> (jealous), and creative spellings like <strong>hawt</strong> and <strong>fone</strong>.</p><p>The new entries aren't necessarily new words; some are very old (<strong>cool beans</strong>, <strong>five-second rule</strong>), and some are so "last year (or five)" ( <strong>lolcat</strong>, <strong>duckface</strong>, <strong>Obamacare</strong>), but quite a few were new to me. And I like to think I keep up with the latest in word news.</p><p>Most of these are British or Australian...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 09 Dec 2014 10:25:00 -0500Check out these fascinating experiments in Ngram art<img src="" /></P><p>Google </span>Ngram<span> Viewer is a tool that allows users to search for a word or phrase in Google's vast collection of digitized books and graph the results.</p><center><br /></center><p>The above graph shows the use of words for various technologies over time. <em>Telegraph</em> had its modest moment in the early 20th century. <em>Telephone</em> started its rise right after it had its first major public demonstration in 1876. <em>Television</em> had a steep increase mid-century, but was quite outdone by the sharp leap taken by <em>computer</em> in the second half of the century.</p><center><br /></center><p>A lot of what you find exploring Ngram is pretty obvious. Above, a search on the word...</p></span> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sun, 30 Nov 2014 11:00:00 -05008 words coined and popularized by Jonathan Swift<img src="" /></P><p>Three hundred and forty seven years ago today, Jonathan Swift was born.</p><p>A poet and cleric, Swift published many satirical works under various pseudonyms. Best known are his essay, "A Modest Proposal," in which he suggests the "impoverished Irish" sell their children to the rich as good eats; <em>A Tale of a Tub</em>, a satire on religious excess; and <em>Gulliver's Travels</em>, often seen as a children's book but also as "a satirical view of the state of European government."</p><p>Swift was also a proponent for "correcting" English as much as possible and hated "invented" words such as <em>banter</em>, <em>mob</em>, and <em>bamboozle....</em></p> <a href="">More</a>By Angela TungSun, 30 Nov 2014 09:00:00 -0500These fascinating maps show countries as named in their own languages<img src="" /></P><p>Countries are called by different names depending on who's doing the calling. Is it <em>The United States of America</em> or <em>Les &Eacute;tats-Unis</em>? <em>Deutschland</em> or <em>Germany</em>? A country's own name for itself is called an endonym, and at you can find a map of the world's endonyms. The map at the site allows you to zoom in and explore more fully, but here are a few interesting close ups:</p><p><br /></p><p >(<em>Endonym Map</em>)</p><p>Above, you can see how in local languages, country names can be quite different from their English versions. Finland is <em>Suomen Tasavalta</em> (Republic of Finland), Hungary is <em>Magyarorsz&aacute;g</em>,...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Sat, 29 Nov 2014 11:00:00 -0500The bizarre syntax of 'sexiest man alive'<img src="" /></P><p>In the wake of <em>People</em> magazine's announcement last week of its choice for this year's "Sexiest Man Alive," our thoughts, naturally, turned to the unusual syntax of this phrase.</p><p><br /></p><p>Why "alive"? Isn't that a given? Not quite. After all, this is not a competition between all the sexy men of history. That would be ridiculous, not to mention very hard to judge. "Alive" narrows the field, takes Gary Cooper and Alexander the Great out of the running. Let the dead men have their own competition.</p><p>However, "Sexiest Man Dead"? That doesn't work, and the fact that it doesn't reveals something interesting...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Thu, 27 Nov 2014 16:00:00 -0500How a deaf couple had their baby officially registered with a sign name<img src="" /></P><p>Parents tend to give their children names in their own languages. What could be more natural? When Tomato Lichy and Paula Garfield, a British couple who are both Deaf (the capital "D" indicates that Deaf is a cultural identity), were about to have their second child, they began to look into whether it was possible to give their baby, legally, a sign name.</p><p>A sign name is not just an English name spelled out with the fingers. While Deaf people do have English names, which can be written, spelled out, or mouthed, they use signs, created specially for individuals, to refer to each other within their...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Thu, 27 Nov 2014 14:00:00 -0500A linguist's guide to HULK SMASH<img src="" /></P><p> HULK TWEET. HULK READ TWEETS. HULK CONFUSED. WHY HULK SMASH GRAMMAR?</p><p>There are over 200 Twitter accounts having fun with The Incredible Hulk, a comic book giant known for his muscles, green skin, and unique locution. There's FILM CRIT HULK, HIPSTER HULK, LAWYER HULK, BUDDHIST HULK, EDITOR HULK, GRAMMAR HULK, MUSIC CRIT HULK, TRANSGENDER HULK. What field doesn't need the occasional bit of brutish inarticulacy to express blunt ire?</p><p>Obviously, like lolcats, doges, and Yodas (there are several of those on Twitter too), Hulks are distinguished by a style of speaking. Some Hulks do little more than...</p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/james-harbeck" ><span class="byline">James Harbeck</span></a>Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:01:00 -050017 old proverbs we should use more often<img src="" /></P><p><strong>1. MANY A LITTLE MAKES A MICKLE</strong></p><p><em>Mickle</em>, an Old English word meaning "much" or "a lot," went out of fashion in the 16th century (except in Scotland, where it held on), but it has such a nice ring to it. It's sometimes spelled "muckle." Later versions of this phrase like, "many a muckle makes a mickle" and "many a mickle makes a muckle," don't really make sense, but are very fun to say.</p><p><strong>2. THE MOTHER OF MISCHIEF IS NO BIGGER THAN A MIDGE'S WING</strong></p><p>A <em>midge</em> is a small, gnat-like flying insect.</p><p><strong>3. NEAR IS MY KIRTLE BUT NEARER IS MY SMOCK</strong></p><p>A fine way to say "look after your closest interests." A <em>kirtle...</em></p> <a href="">More</a>By <a href="/author/arika-okrent" ><span class="byline">Arika Okrent</span></a>Tue, 25 Nov 2014 13:40:00 -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 -0500