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!