Oh Boy, New “Words”

A news item in a CNN email series that I subscribe to announced on September 19, 2018, that Merriam-Webster has added 840 words to their dictionary. In a prepared statement, the publisher noted that, “The addition of new words to a dictionary is a step in the continuous process of recording our ever-expanding language. The dictionary’s job is to report that usage as it enters the general vocabulary.”

Translation: “Because Americans are too lazy to use real language, and too offended not to be included, we’ll make them feel better by putting their disgustingly stupid non-words in our book.” Continue reading “Oh Boy, New “Words””

Words Require Labels

When you look up a word in a dictionary, you may see a qualification for that word, such as “slang”, “vulgar”, “archaic”, “colloquial”, and so forth. These labels are meant as a guide to proper usage; if what you wish to express requires a certain crudity (or even downright obscenity), then perhaps you’ll use that word, choosing it precisely because it is considered to be crude, obscene, vulgar. Webster’s Third International Dictionary, Unabridged made an attempt to eliminate these labels, because they felt that the labels were considered judgmental rather than descriptive. In so doing, Webster’s attempted to make all words free from judgment, in which case “The F Word” would no longer have any purpose in the English-speaking world. In order to save the sacred F-bomb, let’s talk about it for a bit. Continue reading “Words Require Labels”

Crucifying Cruciverbalists

Cruciverbalist (krew-sih-VER-bull-ist, noun) — someone skilled in creating and/or solving crossword puzzles.

I’ve loved crossword puzzles for many years. They make wonderful vocabulary-building exercises, as well as being a great excuse to get away from whatever else you’re doing, thus performing the 7th Habit that Stephen Covey calls “Sharpening the Saw” (see — if you can stomach it — his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). It can be an entertaining and mind-stretching exercise to wrestle down a good clue and line up the letters in that challenging grid. Cruciverbalists, however, don’t always play fair. I’ve discovered over the years that, essentially, there are four types of crossword puzzle clue: Direct, Clever, Deceitful, and Irrelevant. Continue reading “Crucifying Cruciverbalists”

“Quid Quo Pro, Clarice…”

Even as the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins oozed forth those lines as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (which was released in 1991… on Valentine’s Day, no less), I was surprised by how many people didn’t know quite what that bit of Latin meant. Although primarily used in legal circles these days (mostly for the purpose of confusing the layman), Latin pops up in everyday speech from time to time. When it doesn’t, I do my best to make it pop, mostly so that I can watch other people’s brains pop as well. Yes, I can be wicked. Allow me to introduce you to some of my favorite bits of Latin lingo, for your own edification and the astonishment of those around you. Continue reading ““Quid Quo Pro, Clarice…””

Flame Wars

Linguists and language experts — including two of my more favorite foils, Dr. John McWhorter and Dr. Anne Curzan — tell us that a living language changes, evolves, and creates new words (or new meanings for old words) through usage. The idea is that some words, even though they are illegitimate corruptions that should never have been created (or were created through ignorance of proper usage), simply won’t go away. I doubt that this rant will change anything, but I wish at least to re-register my protest. Continue reading “Flame Wars”

We Are Not Bemused

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,
“it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

 

Language is not a stagnant thing; it grows, changes, and evolves, as long as there are people around who still use it regularly enough to need it. Latin is called a “dead” language in that there are no new words being made. Sometimes, a language can be infiltrated by uses of certain words or inclusions of words from a language different from their own, creating what is called a patois or a vernacular. There are times, however, when language seems to undergo bits of mutation that serve only to wear down the value of the language itself. When these monstrous word-creatures take over a language sufficiently, we get what is termed a dialect. As Professor Henry Higgins notes in the musical My Fair Lady, “There even are places where English completely disappears; in America, they haven’t used it for years.” (The play on which the musical is based, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, was published in 1913.) Continue reading “We Are Not Bemused”

Oh, it’s SO on…

logamachy (low-GAH-mah-key) n. — a dispute over or about words

I hereby declare myself a Knight Errant and Defender of Logos in the ongoing war over words, neologisms, the purpose and flexibility of language, and the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Let the controversy begin. Continue reading “Oh, it’s SO on…”