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 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!
Boner. It hasn’t always referred to a penis, you know. In fact, in the early ’80s, there was a sitcom character named Boner, that had absolutely nothing to do with erections. But for those of us born in the ’90s, the term will likely be linked to hard-ons.
There are quite a few words like this — words that may have started out innocently enough but are now “not-ready-for-prime-time” terms. We thought it’d be interesting to explore where words like douchebag, twat and cunt came from. It’s not always where you’d think!
I blame Zooey Deschanel. Not just because I blame Zooey Deschanel for most of my problems — why men in my demographic seem to all want some unattainable manic pixie dream girl, why my bangs will never be perfect — but I specifically blame her for the rise of the word “Adorkable.” Deschanel used it on her new TV show “The New Girl” and somehow, inexplicably, it has taken hold. And it is a terrible word.
But “adorkable”–which we assume means something or someone that’s both dorky and adorable–is hardly the only newish term that’s made a creeping rise into our vocabularies and the general consciousness. We’ve come to cringe at a variety of oft-heard terms. Below, the words, phrases and annoying sayings that we’re hoping we won’t hear in 2012. And please, feel free to add your own “adorkables” in the comments. Keep reading »
Do you want to feel old? Really old? While words like sexting, jeggings and mankini have found their way into the collective consciousness, one term has been exorcised forever from the official record of English language — “cassette tape.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “cassette tape” will no longer appear in future editions of the publication, having been replaced by tons of text speak, such as LOL, OMG, and <3. Yes, the text sign for “love” is the OED, but cassette tape is not. And this, my friends, is just WRONG. Keep reading »
OMFG, I am LMAO. Apparently, the Oxford English Dictionary announced some new additions to its iconic pages this week. A few of the words being taken into the fold: “LOL,” “OMG,” and “♥.” And yes, they are fully aware of the fact that these are not actually words. The OED calls them “initialisms” and explains “there often seems to be a bit more than simple abbreviation going on.” They say the expressions can be an “informal, gossipy mode of expression” or can “parody the level of unreflective enthusiasm or overstatement that can sometimes appear in online discourse.” So highbrow for text talk, no?
Also interesting: apparently, the first use of OMG appeared in a letter in 1917. And LOL goes back to 1960, only then it meant “little old lady.” Keep reading »
“Spillcam,” “vuvuzela,” and “refudiate” are three of the most important words of 2010. Yup! The Global Language Monitor has just announced its all-important list of the top ten words of the year. Oooh, this is fun. It feels strangely scholastic, doesn’t it? Oh well, let’s go with it. The full list of the most important words of 2010 after the jump. Please note: your pop quiz on all the words and definitions will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. Extra credit will be given to Friskians who can use all ten words in a sentence. Uh oh, my former teacher is showing. Keep reading »
Maybe two years ago, a strange word came out of my mouth: “dude.” I don’t know why it came to mind or what inspired me to use it exactly. But next thing I knew, the word was back in full force and, oh, pretty much everyone was saying it. So I was very excited to see a piece titled “History of the ‘Dude’” on a website called Good today. The piece charts the different uses of the word, and shows that it has gone through quite an evolution in the years. It started off in the 1800s being a word to describe a man who went slightly overboard with his penchant for fashion, kind of like the word “dandy.” Then in the American West, it took on the new connotation of a city dweller visiting a ranch. Keep reading »