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Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary

“To paraphrase Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, and all those guys, “I wish I had known this some time ago”*…

 

irony

 

“Irony” is a term that everyone uses and seems to understand. It is also a concept that is notoriously difficult to define. Much like Winona Ryder’s character in the 1994 rom-com “Reality Bites,” whose inability to describe irony costs her a job interview, we know it when we see it, but nonetheless have trouble articulating it. Even worse, it seems as if the same term is used to describe very different things. And following your mother’s advice — to look it up in the dictionary — is liable to leave you even more confused than before.

Uncertainty about irony can be found almost everywhere. An American president posts a tweet containing the phrase “Isn’t it ironic?” and is derided for misusing the term. A North Korean dictator bans sarcasm directed at him and his regime because he fears that people are only agreeing with him ironically. A song about irony is mocked because its lyrics contain non-ironic examples. The term has been applied to a number of different phenomena over time, and as a label, it has been stretched to accommodate a number of new senses. But exactly how does irony differ from related concepts like coincidence, paradox, satire, and parody?…

A handy guide to distinguishing the notoriously slippery concept of irony from its distant cousins coincidence, satire, parody, and paradox: “What Irony is Not,” excerpted from Irony and Sarcasm, by Roger Kreuz.

* Roger Zelazny, Sign of the Unicorn

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As we choose our words, we might recall that it was on this date in 1483 that Pope Sixtus IV consecrated the Sistine Chapel (which takes its name from his) in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City.  Originally known as the Cappella Magna (Great Chapel), Sixtus had renovated it, enlisting a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli to create a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe-l’œil drapery below.  Michelangelo’s famous ceiling was painted from 1508 to 1512; and his equally-remarkable altarpiece, The Last Judgement, from 1536 to 1541.

220px-Sistina-interno source

 

” ‘Opsimath’: a person who begins to learn late in life”*…

 

Words

Fun with words: dive into the Twitter thread

* Merriam-Webster Dictionary (entry for March 30)

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As we enlarge our lexicons, we might spare a thought for Noël François de Wailly; he died on this date in 1801.  A grammarian and lexicographer, he published Principes généraux de la langue française (1754) which revolutionized the teaching of grammar in France.  The book was adopted as a textbook by the University of Paris and then more generally used throughout France in an adapted form in primary education.

Wailly grammar

Title page of the 1757 edition

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Written by LW

April 7, 2020 at 1:01 am

“If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing”*…

 

… one of hundreds of evocative entries in Greg Borenstein‘s wonderful Dictionary of Fantastic Vocabulary.

* Henry Hazlitt

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As we contemplate coinage, we might spare a thought for George Joseph Herriman; he died on this date in 1944. A cartoonist best remembered for Krazy Kat, which ran from 1913 until his death, he was never a commercial success; his strip survived via the admiration (and support) of his publisher, William Randolph Hearst.  But Herriman was enormously influential, a primary influence on cartoonists like Will Eisner, Charles M. Schulz, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Bill Watterson, and Chris Ware… and no mean wrangler of language himself.

1922 self-portrait

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Written by LW

April 25, 2016 at 1:01 am

Deliciate in the ludibrious…

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From MatadorAbroad, a heart-felt plea: “20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback.”

Read it and kench!

As we scribble in the margins of our dictionaries, we might recall that it was on this date in 1866 that the first U.S. patent for a yoyo was issued to James L. Haven and Charles Hittrick.  Though the device is called a “Whirligig” or a “Bandalore” in the patent form, it had the unmistakable “two disks coupled together at their centers by means of a clutch” design.  (It was also the first time rim-weighting to maintain momentum was mentioned in a patent: “it will be observed that the marginal swell … exercises the function of a flywheel.”)

Messrs. Haven and Hettrick mass-produced yoyos over a half century… during which time, in a 1916 Scientific American Supplement article, the name “yoyo” was first used in the U.S. in print.  the name “yoyo” was popularized in America starting in 1928 by Pedro Flores, who borrowed it from the Philippines (where it had been borrows from China, where the toy has ancient roots) for the products of his Yo-yo Manufacturing Company.

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“Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio”*…

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The ever-illuminating Jason Kottke dips into Statistical Reasoning for Everyday Life (Bennett, Briggs, and Triola; Addison Wesley Longman; Second Edition, 2002) for a measure of Shakespeare’s vocabulary.  Using a method recounted here, the authors concluded:

This means that in addition the 31,534 words that Shakespeare knew and used, there were approximately 35,000 words that he knew but didn’t use. Thus, we can estimate that Shakespeare knew approximately 66,534 words.

Linguist Richard Lederer observes (as cited in in this piece) that Shakespeare hadn’t begun to reach the bottom of the barrel:  there are currently over 600,000 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary (and in Shakespeare’s time things were especially fluid– as witnessed by the Bard’s own fevered invention of new words and phrases).

Still, Shakespeare’s facility is easier to appreciate in context when we recognize that the average English speaker has a vocabulary of (only) 10,000 to 20,000 words, and, as Lederer observes, actually uses only a fraction of that (the rest being recognition or recall vocabulary).

* Love’s Labour’s Lost I,ii

As we reach for our copies of Word Power, we might wish a glittering birthday to Anita Loos, who was born on this date in 1888. A writer from childhood, she sold a movie idea to D.W Griffiths at Biograph while she was still in her teens– and began a career through which she wrote plays, movies, stories/novels, magazine articles, and finally memoirs.

She’s probably best remembered for her 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Loos claimed to have written the spoof, which she started on a long train ride, as an entertainment for her friend H. L. Mencken (who reputedly had a fondness for Lorelei Lee-like blonds).  In any case, the book was an international bestseller, printed in 14 languages and in over 85 editions. It was a hit on Broadway in 1949, then adapted again into a movie musical in 1953– the Howard Hawks classic in which Marilyn Monroe reminds us that “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Loos with fellow writer (and sometime husband) John Emerson
by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, July 1928

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