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Posts Tagged ‘vocabulary

“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

Increase your vocabulary!…

If, as Dr. Johnson suggested, “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language,”  Wordnik is a veritable Santa’s sack…  One can watch the language evolve before one’s very eyes:

As we mind our p’s and q’s, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1993– a bad day for word games–that both of the broadcast series “Scattergories” and “Scrabble” aired for the last time on NBC, effectively marking the end of the brief vogue for adapting popular board games into television quiz shows (the trend before and after being in the other direction:  television to board)…

Scrabble’s TV logo

Your correspondent is turning to some family business for the next few days, a period during which these missives will likely be more roughly than daily.  Apologies.

Written by LW

June 11, 2009 at 12:01 am

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