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Posts Tagged ‘words

“I like good strong words that mean something”*…

 

Lox

 

“One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than a lox bagel—a century-old popular appetizing store, Russ & Daughters, calls it “The Classic.” But Guy, who has lived in the city for the past 17 years, is passionate about lox for a different reason. “The pronunciation in the Proto-Indo-European was probably ‘lox,’ and that’s exactly how it is pronounced in modern English,” he says. “Then, it meant salmon, and now it specifically means ‘smoked salmon.’ It’s really cool that that word hasn’t changed its pronunciation at all in 8,000 years and still refers to a particular fish.”

How scholars have traced the word’s pronunciation over thousands of years is also really cool. The story goes back to Thomas Young, also known as “The Last Person Who Knew Everything.” The 18th-century British polymath came up with the wave theory of light, first described astigmatism, and played a key role in deciphering the Rosetta Stone. Like some people before him, Young noticed eerie similarities between Indic and European languages. He went further, analyzing 400 languages spread across continents and millennia and proved that the overlap between some of them was too extensive to be an accident. A single coincidence meant nothing, but each additional one increased the chance of an underlying connection. In 1813, Young declared that all those languages belong to one family. He named it “Indo-European.”…

Delight in the detective work recounted at “The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years.”

* Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

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As we celebrate continuity, we might spare a thought for James Burnett, Lord Monboddo; he died on this date in 1799.  a Scottish judge and scholar of linguistic evolution, he is best remembered a one of the founders of the modern field of comparative historical linguistics.

Monboddo was one of a number of scholars involved at the time in development of early concepts of biological evolution. Some credit him with anticipating in principle the idea of natural selection in papers that were read by (and acknowledged in the writings of) Erasmus Darwin.  Charles Darwin read the works of his grandfather Erasmus and, of course, later developed the ideas into a scientific theory.

Lord_Monboddo01 source

 

“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours”*…

 

Lyrics

 

From Glenn Macdonald (in his capacity as Spotify’s genre taxonomist– or as he put’s it “mechanic of the spiritual compases of erratic discovery robots that run on love”)

This is a mapping of genres to words, and words to genres, using words that are used distinctively in the titles of songs. A genre’s words are ranked by how disproportionately they appear in that genre’s songs’ titles compared to all songs. A word’s genres are ranked by the position of that word in each genre’s word list. 1525 genres and 4712 words qualify.

Visit “Genres in Their Own Words”  And while you’re there, explore the genre map and the other nifty resources at Glenn’s site, Every Noise At Once.

* Bob Dylan

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As we slip on the headphones, we might spare a thought for Sir George Henry Martin; he died on this date in 2016.  A record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer, and musician, Martin began his career as a producer of comedy and novelty records in the early 1950s, working with Peter SellersSpike Milligan, and Bernard Cribbins, among others.  In 1962, while working at EMI/Parlophone, Martin was so impressed by Brian Epstein’s enthusiasm, that he agreed to record the Beatles before seeing or hearing them (and despite the fact that they’d been turned down by Decca).

Martin went on to produce 23 number ones on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, 19 of which were by The Beatles.  Indeed, Paul McCartney referred to Martin as “the fifth Beatle.”  He also produced chart topping hits for McCartney (“Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson and “Ebony and Ivory” with Stevie Wonder), Elton John (“Candle in the Wind”) and America (“Sister Golden Hair”).

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George Harrison, Paul McCartney, George Martin, and John Lennon in the studio in 1966

 

Written by LW

March 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The language mint is more than a mint; it is a great manufacturing center, where all sorts of productive activities go on unceasingly”*…

 

Words

Language is, famously, a living thing.  Just how alive is powerfully demonstrated by Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler: enter a date; see the words and phrases that “officially” entered the language that year.

Your correspondent entered the distant year of his birth… and got a list that ran from anti-matter and carpal tunnel syndrome through federal case and Maoism to sweat equity and tank top.

Try it for yourself.

* Mario Pei

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As we contemplate coinage, we might recall that it was on this date in 1604 that Shakespeare’s Othello was performed for the first time, and on this date in 1611 that The Tempest premiered (both at the Whitehall Palace).

Shakespeare was a prodigious coiner of words and phrases, creating over 1,700 across his works, several hundred of which are still in common use.

blog_Shakespeare.words_-240x300 source

 

Written by LW

November 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”*…

 

victor

One of dozens of definitions, from acrimony to wrath, that make up the language of resentment– “Glossary: Rivalry & Feud.”

* Carrie Fisher

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As we slog through the swamp, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Ronald Reagan delivered what is still considered one of the most effective political speeches ever made on behalf of a candidate, “A Time For Choosing,” an endorsement of Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.  While Goldwater was roundly defeated the following month, the speech launched the political career of Reagan, who was, soon after, asked to run for Governor of California… and who carried the tag “the Great Communicator” for the rest of his life.

A_Time_for_Choosing_by_Ronald_Reagan.ogv source

 

Written by LW

October 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice”*…

 

A few of the words first used in the year of your correspondent’s birth…

Enter a year (in recorded history) and find the words first used then: Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler.

* T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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As we root around for roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that the Beatles played their first evening gig at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.  One month earlier, fresh back from Hamburg, they had played a lunchtime set; the club, which had focused until then on jazz, was experimenting with rock.  The test was a success, so the club’s owner, Ray McFall, declared Tuesday nights “Blue Jean Guest Night,” and kicked off with Dale Roberts & The Jay Walkers, The Remo Four, and the Beatles.  The band swiftly became a regular fixture at the Cavern, attracting a loyal audience to over 290 performances until their final appearance on August 3, 1963.  It was, of course, at the Cavern Club that Brian Epstein first saw the Beatles.

The Beatles (with Pete Best on drums) at the Cavern Club. Best was replaced by Ringo the following year.

source

 

Written by LW

March 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer”*…

 

Ofcom, the government regulator of communications in the U.K., recently commissioned research into the relative offensiveness of 150 obscene words and gestures, as a basis for its regulations on content.

The “Quick Reference Guide” is here; the full report, here.  As the cover of each notes: “Warning: this guide contains a wide range of words which may cause offence.”

* Mark Twain

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As we titter, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that the “tuxedo” made it’s debut, at a formal ball at the then-new Tuxedo Park Club, just outside of New York City.

Earlier that year, Tuxedo Park resident James Brown Potter and his wife were vacationing in England, where they were invited to dinner by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII).  Unprepared to dress for such an occasion, Potter asked the Prince for advice, and was sent to the the Prince’s tailor, Henry Poole & Co., where he was fitted with a short black jacket and black tie– not the then-standard white tie and tails.

Potter brought the ensemble back to Tuxedo Park, where he showed it to Pierre Lorillard IV, the scion of a wealthy tobacco family, who had just opened the Tuxedo Park Club– and whose passion was designing clothes.  Lorillard revised the design to include the crepe lapels, covered buttons, and other now-standard details, and unveiled his creation at the Autumn Ball.

The prospect of liberation from tails proved irresistible– and the “tuxedo” steadily replaced traditional “evening wear” as the American formal standard.  (Edward continued to wear “black tie,” so the fashion caught on in England too– as the “dinner jacket”– but remained a less formal option…)

Lorillard (in his jacket, but with a white tie)

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Written by LW

October 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination”*…

 

“share-en-shnit-uh,” from the German, meaning “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs”

Last Wednesday,285 participants 15 years old and younger took the stage in National Harbor, Maryland to recite words they’ve probably never used in conversation; the finals were held the following evening.  For the third year in a row, the result was a tie; the title was shared by  Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., who were declared co-champions after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition.  Jairam’s final word in the competition was “Feldenkrais” (a trademark that refers to a system of aided body movements); Nihar’s, “gesellschaft,” (a type of social relationship).

 “A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” says 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine. “There’s maybe a dozen, maybe more, kids who have a realistic shot of winning,” says Close. “Who actually wins comes down to pretty much who’s asked the right word.”

Ten of the final words from previous Scripps bees, and the reason why spelling them is such a feat: “Why these winning words from US National Spelling bees are so hard to spell.”

* Mark Twain

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As we ask that it be used in a sentence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that poet and playwright (Shakespeare’s nearest rival at the time) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl.  Marlowe reputedly supplemented his income as a spy; in any case, he ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s government when, earlier in the month, his roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, was grilled by authorities.  Kyd insisted that the “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out Marlowe became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

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