Anything worth talking about, is worth blogging about

Posts tagged ‘Language’

Word of the year 2014

The American Dialect Society has chosen its Words of the Year 2014:

  • Most Useful was “even” in the sense of handling a tough situation.
  • Most Creative was “columbusing” a kind of cultural appropriation, especially when a majority group “discovers” something already known by a minority.
  • Most Unnecessary was “baeless” meaning without a romantic partner.
  • Most Outrageous was “second-amendment” meaning to kill someone.
  • Most Euphemistic was “EIT”,  for enhanced interrogation techniques.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “salty” meaning exceptionally upset.
  • Least Likely to Succeed was “platisher” meaning a webmedia that is an output for creative works.
  • Most Notable Hashtag was “#blacklivesmatter” protests over Black people killed by police.

“#blacklivesmatter” was also Word of the Year.

The ADS’s sibling organization, the American Name Society, chose “Ferguson” as its name of the year.


Word of the year 2013 are chosen because reasons!

The American Dialect Society has chosen its words of the year for 2013. First the other categories:

  • Most Useful was “because” when used to introduce another word, like in the title of this post.
  • Most Creative was “catfish”, when you misrepresent yourself online in the pursuit of romance.
  • Most Unnecessary was “sharknado”, a tornado full of sharks that came out of a movie.
  • Most Outrageous was “underbutt”, the underside of people’s buttocks, made visible by certain clothings.
  • Most Euphemistic was “least untruthful”, the smallest amount of lying.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “binge–watch”, which is to television shows what binge–eating is to food.
  • Least Likely to Succeed was “Thanksgivukkah”, having Hanukkah start on (US) Thanksgiving.
  • Most Productive was “–shaming”, a form of public humiliation.

As an aside, I am surprised there were no “economy words” like shutdown, sequester, debt ceiling, etc. If this is due to them being common than I really don’t like the implications of that.

And the Word of the Year? Because… because reasons! Because useful! Because everywhere!

In a companion vote, the ADS sibling organization, the American Name Society, chose Francis (after the pope) as its Name of the Year.

Russian to ban words

This is a bit rich coming from someone whose own endonym is a loanword:

“We’re tormented with Americanisms,” the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, complained last week. “We need to liberate our language from foreign words.” He is drawing up a list of 100 words which he would like it to be illegal for broadcasters, writers and academics to use in public. Fines and unemployment could face anyone caught saying café, bar, restaurant, sale, mouton, performance or trader. Some of the words have come into use since the fall of the Soviet Union; others have been around for decades, if not centuries. “There are perfectly good Russian words you can use,” Zhirinovsky says. “Why say boutique when we have lavka?”….

The reality is that the Russian language is in no way threatened by loanwords from other languages; indeed, it is actually Russian that is threatening other languages, as the indigenous peoples of Siberia and elsewhere in Russia are increasingly shifting to Russian and abandoning their own (mostly) Altaic or Uralic languages. And even if those peoples are not shifting, they are still heavily borrowing words and sometimes syntax and idioms from Russian.

And a handful of loanwords does not threaten a language. Consider English. It has many layers of loanwords, in particular from French. Some of these date back to time contemporary with the Norman Conquest. And yet, English was in no way threatened by the French language and is in no way Romance in character. For example, it retains many typical features of Germanic languages, such as genitives using a sibilant suffix;* verb classes contrasting weak (dental suffix), strong (vowel change) and a few smaller classes;† (remnants of) a system of three genders, and so on. Now, the Russian loanwords are far fewer in number than English loanwords. Since loanwords did not substantially change or threaten the character of English, there is no way a smaller relative number could possibly threaten Russian.

And if Zhirinovsky is going to be consistent, he’d have to abandon all loanwords. There are a number of them from the Proto–Slavic period. Some of these have descendants in modern Russian and therefore fully qualify as loanwords. He cannot explain these away as being “old” as that is simply saying the desirability of a loanword depends on when it was borrowed, which is absurd and incoherent. Indeed, as I mentioned before, his own language’s endonym (and name for itself) are themselves loanwords. (Specifically, and skipping over the specifics, it ultimately comes from a Norse word meaning “the men who row”, which was something like *rods–). This must be why Zhirinovsky wants to change the name of his country, because it’s one of those “tormenting loanwords”. Right?

Hence, I conclude that the Russian language is not under threat from loanwords, that those who complain about them are incoherent, and that any consistent attempt to exorcise loan words from the Russian language would require excessive changes that would be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Indeed, banning certain loanwords is about as necessary as declaring onion domes the official architecture of that country.


* The ‘s is not actually a suffix, but its etymology is as a genitive suffix. Cognate forms appear in many other Germanic languages.

Word of the Year 2012

The American Dialect Society has chosen its word of the year. This year, the winner was “hashtag”, “a word or phrase preceded by a hash symbol (#), used on Twitter to mark a topic or make a commentary”. In other categories:

  • Most Useful was “-(po)calypse, -(ma)geddon”, suffixes used to describe various (nearly) catastrophic events.
  • Most Creative was “gate lice”, a crowd of airline travellers congregating near a gate so they can board the plane.
  • Most Unnecessary was “legitimate rape”, that term used by a misogynist who I’m fucking glad isn’t a US Senator.
  • Most Outrageous was “legitimate rape” (looks like we have a double winner).
  • Most Euphemistic was “self–deportation”, the act of encouraging undocumented immigrants to return home.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “marriage equality”, namely same–sex marriage. As I and others have been using this term for years, I’d say that it’s already well on its way to success.
  • Least Like to Succeed was “phablet”, an electronic device midway between a phone and tablet in size.
  • Election Words was “binders (full of women)”, as used by Mitt Romney to describe the resumes of women he considered hiring when he ran Massachusetts.

In a companion vote, the American Name Society (the ADS’s sibling organization) chose “Sandy” (after the hurricane) as its Name of the Year.


While leaving a comment at another blog, which is written only in the English language, I was required to enter a CAPTCHA. This was part of the CAPTCHA I was required to enter:


What does this say?


The first word was “ipWein” (see update), but what is the second? Now, since I only speak English, I chose a new CAPTCHA (which was fine). But this got me wondering; what exactly is the second word? (Since this is a CAPTCHA, it’s possible that this is no word in particular and instead is just a string of abugida characters.) It’s obviously written in some Indian script. To me, it looks like it’s probably Telugu, but it might possibly be Malayalam. Distorted Sinhala or Burmese are much less likely possibilities. So, if any of my readers happen to know what the second word is, please let know. Thank you.

Update: This post originally displayed the whole CAPTCHA, but I cropped the image to remove any possibly trademarked parts of the screenshot. A picture of text alone has no interface/form, and therefore displays nothing trademarkable.

Worst punctuation complaint ever

I just found this ridiculous rant concerning punctuation. The guts of that post is that English punctuation is illogical because we don’t use Spanish–style inverted question marks to begin questions (and, mutatis mutandis, inverted exclamation points). By reading his rant you’ll notice that the writer seems not to know the difference between a tag question and a tag itself. The reason for his belief is that it is confusing to rely on context to determine when a question begins. The fact that he makes such a claim shows why he has no clue what he’s talking about.

Heres why.

What happens when you ask a question in the English language? In almost all cases, either you invert the subject and an auxiliary verb (if there’s no auxiliary, add one), or you do the preceding and also begin with one of the wh–words. The main difference between the two question forms is that the former is a yes–no (or polar) question, while the latter is a wh (or non–polar) question. The other form is a tag question. Tag questions are a semantically a subtype of yes–no questions. Let’s look at examples:

  • (Declarative): You went to the store.
  • (Polar) Did you go to the store?
  • (Wh) Where did you go?
  • (Tag) You went to the store, didn’t you?

What do wh– and yes–no questions have in common? The first word(s) (or implicitly, the word order) in either of them indicate that the following sentence is a question. In other words, the beginning of these sentences indicates that what follows is a question. Hence, there is no need for a beginning of sentence question–marking punctuation mark because the words and word order already do that. Tag questions are rare enough that they won’t need special punctuation rules. Indeed, in speech, tag questions have no “marker” at the beginning that tells us a question is coming, but this in no way hinders our ability to make ourselves understood. The same applies to writing.

This post has been edited for clarity.

Words of the year and decade

The American Dialect Society has chosen its words of the year and word of the decade.

  • The word of the decade was “google”, meaning to search the internet.
  • The word of the year was “tweet”, meaning a short message sent through Twitter, or the act of so doing.
  • Most Useful was “fail”, as in “FAIL”.
  • Most Creative was “Dracula sneeze”, the act of sneezing into your elbow.
  • Most Unnecessary was “sea kittens”, PETA’s euphemism for fish.
  • Most Outrageous was “death panel”, those non–existent committees of doctors that will euthanize your grandma (thank you Sarah).
  • Most Euphemistic was “hike the Appalachian Trail”, to have sex with a secret lover.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “twenty–ten”, the name of the year 2010.
  • Least Likely to Succeed was any term used to refer to the last decade.

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: