Howdy and happy new year! It's another newsletter from "A Way with Words."
Last week there was no newsletter as we celebrated the new year by hauling our dictionaries out of the low-hanging winter sun. We wish they were self-antiheliotropic; they're so heavy and faded onionskin is so hard to read.
So, we have a double dose of encore episodes to talk about.
This past weekend we got all frothy about Australian English, the connection between stereotypes and stereos, the plural of "moose," and why we call the person clearing tables in a restaurant a "busboy."
Two weeks ago, we chewed over words we mispronounce intentionally, the pronunciation of "beaux arts," which thesaurus is best to use, and "janky."
We also posted our final "word of the year" minicast, this one about words related to automobiles:
The word-of-the-year season is nearing its zenith with the American Dialect Society's 19th annual word of the year vote, this year in San Francisco. All the words of the year you've heard about so far have only been qualifiers for this gathering. It is the cup, the bowl, the big dance, the mother of all word-of-the-year votes (and the only one completely open to the public).
Grant, who is also head of the society's New Words Committee and the new editor of the "Among the New Words" column in the society's academic journal "American Speech," will be leading the vote. It's a whimsical affair, usually, with much jesting and joking from the floor. There will be a maximum of two bow-ties permitted in the room.
Everyone, public and press included, are invited to attend and participate. There's no cost. Bring your nominations and be prepared to defend them with gusto! You'll find four big batches of early nominations at the link above.
The Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial in advance of the gathering, apparently thinking, "Let the interns get shirty and puckered over language because they don't have anything better to do."
We've been posting a barrage of language-related content to the "A Way with Words" discussion forums, which have become a good jumping off point for keeping up with the national discourse about language without being completely swamped by Google Alerts, which is the predicament of a certain balding smart alecky radio-active lexicographer we could name.
These are just a few of the recent treats:
Academic research has been done on the gradations behind slang words for "drunk." Are you more drunk if you're hammered or sloshed? Tipsy or buzzed? Wasted or blasted?
William Safire takes on the neutering of expletives by the popular press in covering the Blagojevich scandal:
The latest newsletter from the Dictionary of American Regional English includes a sample of entries that will be appearing in the soon-to-be-released volume V. Among them are "ticky," meaning fussy or touchy, "tree lawn," the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, and "wedge" or "wedgie," a large sandwich in southeast New York. Don't use that last word in the junior high lunch line.
The Politics Blog at the Guardian asks, "Is 'sustainability' really the worst example of official jargon?" Andrew Sparrow responds to a 2009 lexicon of irritating jargon put out by the "Centre for Policy Studies." Apparently, peeving and griping are the only ways some people are capable of talking about language.
In a similar vein is the 2008 banished words list from Lake Superior University, which shares a lot with the LA Times editorial linked above.
Gah! More negativity passing as commentary about language. Why are you blighting us with these lists of things you hate? Where are the annual lists of "words most often whispered into a lover's ear" or "sweet things children say"? Language is fun, people! Where's your sense of delight? Are there no cabins left in the mountains of Montana that you can hole up in?
By the way, the discussion forums have recently had a "refresh," meaning that we've updated the software, softened and widened the layout, improved the responsiveness, and generally made it easier to romp and have a good time. Please join others as they do so:
All of our laugh,
Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett