I spend an inordinate amount of time reading and writing and thinking about words, why they’re used, how they’re used; how sentences are structured, what human motivations are behind those structures, and what human motivations are behind the assumptions we make about language. That all being said, there are an awful lot of words that have sort of died and become useless, and I’d like to just remove them from popular usage. Here they are, and why. Keep reading »
“Sure, you can borrow that Junot Diaz book. It’s in the tsundoku pile on my desk.”
As a writer, I’m totally fascinated and obsessed with language, including the absence of specific words from the English language that match fairly common experiences. Like, for example: I have a growing stack of books that I buy and then don’t read — at least not for awhile. When I walk into a bookstore, I just can’t seem to help myself and I know I’m not alone — so why isn’t there a word to describe this impulse?
Well, turns out there is — in Japanese. Tsundoku is defined as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up together with other such unread books.” And here is how tsundoku is visually explained by designer Anjana Iyer, who’s embarked on a 100 day project to visually explain untranslatable words from non-English languages. Iver is on Day 41 of the “Found In Translation” series and I am obsessed. So many words I’ve been dying to learn — just in other languages.
Here are 14 of my favorite words that Iver has illustrated so far, along with how you might go about integrating them into your English vocabulary. (And be sure to keep an eye on Iver’s website for a new word and illustration every day!) [100 Days Project]
I’m obviously fluent in English, and can speak a wee bit of Italian, French and Spanish — enough to help me get by in countries where those languages are spoken, but not enough to carry on any real stimulating conversation. I’ve always been envious by people who are fluent in multiple languages, but consider me absolutely amazed by this Finnish-Swedish YouTube user who is so good at speaking other languages, that she can pull off speaking them in gibberish. To the ear, thanks to her pronunciation, accent, and cadence, it sounds like she’s rambling on, making perfect sense in Japanese, French, Italian, Hindi, etcetera. But in actuality, which you really realize when she gets to British English and American English, she’s spewing a bunch of nonsense, using made up words and everything. I find this kind of mesmerizing actually. [Gizmodo]
Late Saturday, The New York Times published an open letter written by Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, in which Farrow, for the first time in her own words, described the sexual abuse she allegedly endured as a child at the hands of Allen. At the end of the letter, Farrow specifically called out celebrities who have continued to work with and champion Allen’s talent, despite the publicness of these allegations. “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?” Farrow asked. “Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?” (Allen has continued to deny Farrow’s allegations.)
Cate Blanchett responded vaguely and delicately when she was asked about Farrow’s allegations at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. But Alec Baldwin, who has never been delicate with words, had stronger words for Twitter followers who said he owed Farrow an apology. “What the f&@% is wrong w u that u think we all need to b commenting on this family’s personal struggle?” he tweeted angrily to one. To another follower he responded, “You are mistaken if you think there is a place for me, or any outsider, in this family’s issue.” Both tweets have since been deleted. Keep reading »
I’m totally fascinated by the way people talk. Accents, vocabulary and emphasis varies so much, depending on where in the country you live. I lived in the Midwest (land of “pop,” not “soda”) until I was 9, which is probably why my speaking accent is generally pretty flat and indistinct. But I also happened to move with my family to the South and the Northeast, so I’ve heard a wide range of accents and ways of speaking. My flat accent is probably why I won my fifth grade declamation contest when I lived in Fort Worth, Texas. (It was with a poem creepily titled “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” ahem.)
Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics at North Carolina State University, created a series of 22 maps exploring the varied and wonderful language and pronunciations around the country. Katz looked at everything from the way people pronounce the word “lawyer,” to the various and sundry terms for traffic circles (roundabouts, rotaries, etc.). The data is really fun to look at, but I must take exception with his discussion of how people around the country address a group. Yes, there’s “y’all” in the South, “you guys” in the West and “you all” in a small pocket of Kentucky. But there’s also “youse” in Philadelphia and “yinz” in Baltimore and Pittsburgh!
Take a look at Katz’s map, and some of the other ones at the link and tell us about the little phrases and words people say where you live!
Anthony Weiner’s communications director calling a former intern a “cunt,” “slutbag” and other slurs is just one aspect of the choppy waters surrounding the sex scandal-ridden NYC mayoral candidate’s sinking campaign. But of all the what-are-they-thinking? Weiner campaign moments in the past few weeks, it is the one that has stood out in my mind. Because when Barbara Morgan, the communications director, went off to a Talking Points Memo reporter about former intern Olivia Nuzzi, who dished secrets about the campaign in the New York Daily News, it wasn’t just Morgan’s overall frustration or unprofessionalism that was questionable. It was how she called another woman “cunt.”
That’s a word that I use myself, quite liberally in fact. Now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t anymore. Keep reading »
These days, most people use their phones for texting or as very expensive paper weights. So it makes sense that since we’re texting way more than we’re talking, we’d need to develop some extra punctuation to handle all of the little intricacies of a typing-based world. Like Mockwotations, for when you’re like “I’m totally going to do that thing that’ll never ever do, kthanksbye!” Thankfully, Mike Trapp of College Humor created a whole slew of new marks that perfectly encapsulate the needs of our irony-rich, highly truncated world. Click through to see some of our favorite marks. [College Humor]
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I don’t like hearing about any languages disappearing, but the idea of French’s demise seems intolerable. Fortunately, it is also probably impossible, at least in the near future, but French is a language in decline. Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) is an organization dedicated to promoting democracy, peace, and human rights in the 70 French-speaking countries, and also to preserving the French language. In honor of Bastille Day (today!), here are 10 words and phrases with no English equivalents that make the unmistakable case for Français. Read more…
Women! Our strange vocal tics and annoying upspeak patterns are actually groundbreaking and important, so says science. Linguists now say that a lot of the vocal embellishments women and girls use are actually a lot more sophisticated and refined than previously thought. Take that, Valley Girl doubters!
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