Welcome to another edition of the A Way with Words newsletter.
What was college slang like 100 years ago? That's what we talked about on the air this past weekend. We also talked about "go fly a kite," nicknames for Vancouver, and why young men refer to each other by their last names. Listen:
This morning we posted another minicast, this one in the form of "language headlines," including a tidbit about odd names, why we capitalize the pronoun "I," and whether there's such a thing as an "unreal" word. Listen here:
The Dictionary of Old English has finally started posting its content online. It's not free, but there are sample entries and a word of the week. This week it's "hord-cofa," meaning a private or secret chamber, or a treasure-chest. Thinking of it as "hoard coffer" might be a way to remember it.
Here's a book for you: "On the Dot: The Speck that Changed the World," by Alexander Humez and Nicholas Humez. It's about a single piece of punctuation: the period, the decimal, the dot.
The book is incredibly thorough, coursing through all of the dot's incarnations and uses throughout history, including its use in programming languages, ham radio, music, and as part of other puncuation like the exclamation mark.
A short extract from the preface:
"Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if it awoke one morning to discover that during the night the dot had completely disappeared as though it had never been: The morning newspaper would be a single monster sentence, broken only by the occasional comma; accounts receivable would no longer distinguish between dollars and cents (at least in the United States); Internet addresses and much of the programming that supports the dot-coms that they identify would be unintelligible; the sheet music for your favorite jig would be quite out of kilter with the tune."
Dot dot dot…
Law student Robert wrote to ask about how best to punctuate when quoting in legal briefs. Should he keep the punctuation *exactly* as it was in the original, or can he modify it to suit his own style?
He's unsure because one law professor said "no punctuation should appear within the quotation marks unless it was present in the original." Another said he could change the punctuation, as long as he didn't change the meaning.
We're not legal experts, but from here it looks like the rules for quoting in legal briefs are similar to those for writing about computer programming: you sometimes don't want people to think your punctuation is part of the original text you are quoting because it does change the meaning and can ruin the software code.
Likewise, when you're talking about matters of the law and courts, you're in one of those areas in which it pays to be very careful or else you risk losing a decision.
The best guide, in our opinion, is something like Garner's "Redbook Manual of Legal Style," or a style guide that your professors prefer. If Garner (who also edits "Black's Law Dictionary") allows certain kinds of quoting, then you're following the advice of a trusted source. Such a book should help keep you consistent and clear.
Of course, you always want to please your professors, if only to get the highest marks possible, and you should also adapt as necessary in other environments. What a professor prefers may differ from what is standard in the industry or from what judges prefer.
To close this newsletter, we'd like to congratulate our colleague Jeff Prucher, whose "Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction," won the prestigious Hugo Award, a noteworthy prize given in the field of science fiction.
Best wishes and bonne vigueur!
Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett<