Posts Tagged ‘English language’
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”*…
There are over 1 million words in the English language; still, all too frequently, one can’t find just the right term… One can, of course, turn to other languages for le mot juste. And happily, our friends at Mental Floss have provided a list to jump start the process; e.g.,
The act of gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking.
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, “grief bacon.”
Thirteen more precisely-right words at “15 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent.”
* Mark Twain
As we add a Larousse to our Roget’s, we might send tasty birthday wishes to Henry John Heinz, the gifted marketer who founded H.J. Heinz Co.and coined its “57 varieties” slogan. By age 12 he was peddling produce from the family’s Pittsburg garden. At 25, in 1869, he and a friend launched Heinz & Noble; its first product: Henry’s mother’s grated horseradish, bottled in clear glass to reveal its purity. Heinz & Noble thrived until the bumper crops of 1875 tanked prices and led to bankruptcy. But Heinz plunged back in, this time solo, eventually building a model factory complex along the Allegheny River. By 1896, “The Pickle King” had become a millionaire and celebrity.
(Roughly) Daily often visits the British Library (as does your correspondent, every time he’s in London: pound for pound, the best museum experience in the world).
Now, as part of that august institution’s on-going efforts to make its extraordinary collection more widely available, the BL has created an online English Language and Literature Timeline.
From the very early (c. 1000)…
Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. It tells the breathtaking story of a struggle between the hero, Beowulf, and a bloodthirsty monster called Grendel. Poems of this kind would often have been recited from memory by a court minstrel, or scop, to the accompaniment of a harp.
This fire-damaged manuscript is the only surviving copy of the story. It was written down in about 1000, but the poem may have been created by storytellers as early as the 700s.
…to the very recent (1970’s)…
Sniffin Glue, the first punk fanzine, was produced by Mark Perry in July 1976 a few days after seeing US punk band The Ramones for the first time at the Roundhouse in London. He took the title from a Ramones song ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue’. Perry’s fanzine was the perfect punk form. It reported the moment immediately as it happened, from an insider’s point of view. Because Perry used everyday tools that were immediately to hand, Sniffin’ Glue fitted with the do-it-yourself ethos which was already an important part of punk culture. A flood of punk zines followed, with identifiable cut and paste graphics, typewritten or felt tip text, misspellings and crossings out. Photocopying also contributed to the punk zine look by limiting graphic experimentation to black and white tones and imagery based on collage, enlargement and reduction. Sniffin’ Glue demonstrated that anyone could easily, cheaply and quickly produce a fanzine.
…and with fascinating contextual call-outs, e.g.
Language in the 11th Century
The Normans transform England, both culturally and linguistically. For over 300 years French is the language spoken by the most powerful people – royalty, aristocrats and high-powered officials – some of whom can’t speak English at all. French is used in political documents, in administration, and in literature. Latin is still the language of the church and of scholars, but most of the general population speak English in their everday lives.
Thousands of French words become embedded in the English vocabulary, most of which are words of power, such as crown, castle, court, parliament, army, mansion, gown, beauty, banquet, art, poet, romance, chess, colour, duke, servant, peasant, traitor and governor.
…it’s all there– the extraordinary pageant that is our language.
As we re-visit Dr.Johnson, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded the Best New Artist Grammy to Milli Vanilli. NARAS probably wishes that it could take back any number of Grammys awarded over the years; this is the only one they ever did. Later that year German producer Frank Farian revealed that he had put the names and faces of the beauteous but voice-less Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan on the dance records he had created in his studio using actual (but less sightly) musicians. Four days later, Milli Vanilli’s Grammy honor was withdrawn.
Rob and Fab (source)
Trying to master a role in a Tennessee Williams play? Place someone by their accent? Steven Weinberger, a linguist at George Mason University can help. He’s created The Speech Accent Archive, where one can click on a map to hear some native, some non-native English speakers from all over the world– but in each case reciting the same short English paragraph, crafted to contain every sound in the Queen’s Language.
(C.F. also the previously-reported British Library Map of Accents and Dialects.)
As we smooth our sibilants, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Northwestern University conferred an honorary degree on ventriloquist’s dummy Charlie McCarthy (whose “partner,” Edgar Bergen, had attended Northwestern, but never graduated).
Lest we doubt that Bergen and his wooden friend were worthy of the academic accolade, we might note that they have been credited by some with “saving the world”: later that same year, on the night of October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles performed his War of the Worlds radio play, panicking many listeners, most of the American public had tuned instead to Bergen and McCarthy on another station. (Dissenters note that Bergen may inadvertently have contributed to the hysteria: when the musical portion of Bergen’s show [The Chase and Sanborn Hour] aired about twelve minutes into the show, many listeners switched stations– to discover War of the Worlds in progress, with an all-too-authentic-sounding reporter detailing a horrific alien invasion.
Charlie McCarthy, BA (left), with his friend Edgar Bergen (source)
In 2004, the British Council asked over 40,000 non-native English speakers in 46 different countries to name the most beautiful word in the English language. The top ten, from a non-native speaker’s perspective are:
Contrast this to the list of (native) lexicographer Willard Funk (author of the Reader’s Digest “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” column):
(Thanks, Beyond Words)
As we choose our words with care, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 Marilyn Monroe made Tom Ewell’s day: the famous shot of Marilyn Monroe, laughing as her skirt is blown up by the blast from a subway vent in The Seven Year Itch, was filmed.