Ozwords, Lexico Loco, and A World of Englishes

Today I’d like to introduce you, in no particular order, to three new language blogs.

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Ozwords is a blog from the Australian National Dictionary Centre; the focus, accordingly, is on Australian words and lexicography. Entries are short and entertaining and cover usage and history, often concluding with a draft dictionary entry and inviting readers to contribute. As they put it: “a definition is only as good as the available evidence”.

The first post, published two weeks ago, was about women dictionary-makers, and since then there have been entries on: ranga (from orang-utan), an offensive word for a red-haired person; stormstick, meaning umbrella (I might adopt this one); budgie smugglers, a colloquial term for men’s swimming briefs; and Johnniedom, a rare word used to refer to fashionable young men or their social world.

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Lexico Loco is a new blog written by Diane Nicholls, a freelance lexicographer, editor, and natural language processing enthusiast. She has written many articles for MED Magazine (MED = Macmillan English Dictionaries), which is where I initially encountered her writing.

Diane’s first post, “You lost me at knickers!”, takes its title from the line “a corner shop that sold everything from paraffin to knickers”, which may well make you wonder what exactly the shop sold. This is known as a false range — another example is “everything from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Sue Townsend” — and Lexico Loco offers a funny and thoughtful assessment of this popular but incongruous formula.

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A World of Englishes comes from Jane Setter, a senior lecturer in phonetics at the University of Reading, UK, and co-editor of the Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary.

A World of Englishes, as its names suggests, is about the varieties of English around the world, for example Hong Kong English, Singapore English and Jamaican English. Its author investigates such topics as teaching, research, attitudes and intelligibility; she describes it as

a fascinating area, not just because of the richness of different varieties around the world — including the UK — but also because of the socio-political and economic issues involved.

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All three blogs are likely to be of interest to anyone who enjoys reading about words, language, and linguistics.

Update:

The redoubtable John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun has followed up with his own thoughts on false ranges. He has written about them more than once before, and says this is our last chance to swear off “wrapping some meaningless gimcrackery in alliteration and pop references”.

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12 Responses to Ozwords, Lexico Loco, and A World of Englishes

  1. Re Australian National Dictionary Centre, a while back I bought a copy of the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, but soon after I threw it out. I am not a fan.

    One thing I don’t like is its hybridness. It’s evident after a quick browse that the English Oxford component and the Australian component have very different selection criteria, in that some of the Australian words and acronyms are so obscure that no pocket edition would ordinarily touch them. The inconsistency bugs me.

    It was in the same publication that I first noticed how Australian dictionary definitions of the word “moot” do not accord with usage. At the time I assumed this was another byproduct of its being an Australian-British hybrid, but later I discovered that other Australian dictionaries have the same fault. Every pocket edition Australian dictionary I’ve seen defines “moot” as “arguable”, a meaning I’d never heard of before reading Lynne Murphy’s post on the subject. No such dictionary defines “moot” as “academic, without practical consequence”, even though that meaning is far more common (orders of magnitude so, I would say) and ought to be listed first.

    Maybe I should tweet @ozworders a link to this comment, and see if they have anything to say. (Not now, though. Bedtime overdue.)

    Other than that, I wish to point out that lately I’ve been cutting down the number of blogs I read in an attempt to recover some free time, and that in this respect your blog post is not helpful. :-) Nevertheless I’ll be sure to give each blog a little more than tonight’s cursory glance, at least once each.

  2. Stan says:

    Adrian: If the “arguable/debatable” sense of moot really is orders of magnitude less common in Australian usage, it would certainly be worth bringing this up with the ANDC. On Ozwords they seem very open to contributions from the public.

    Macmillan’s British dictionary lists the “arguable” sense first and its American dictionary reverses the order. In AHD5, though, adjectival sense 1a is “Subject to debate; arguable or unsettled”; 1b is “Of no practical importance; irrelevant”; a legal sense follows at 2. The usage note is largely the same as AHD4‘s, but based on its 2008 survey of the Usage Panel it updates the 59% figure to 83%, which is a significant increase.

    I know what you mean about cutting down on blogs. Even after a recent cull, I found that I was (i.e., am) subscribing to more than 100 language blogs, not to mention science, arts, etc.! I can’t, and don’t, keep up with them all, but I read some regularly and I like to keep an eye on the others.

  3. Marc Leavitt says:

    Stan:
    I think the idea of cutting down on blogs is moot (in the not worth discussing sense), but although I agree with you about keeping up, I’ve noticed a severe drop in the number of books I can read, as well as other activities. I’m afraid that the Internet has become the latest drug of choice for millions, and now that I’ve officially retired from my day job, I, too, am guilty of overindulgence.

  4. Stan says:

    The internet can be a severe timesink, Marc. It has reduced some of my offline activities, but I’ve tried not to let it cramp my book-reading much.

  5. [...] speech acts, and Stan Carey posted about nonsense terms (balderdash!), and on his own site, had some great suggestions for new language sites, including Oz Words. Check out their posts on budgie smugglers, “a [...]

  6. Iola says:

    I’m from New Zealand, and would say that Ozwords is correct based on the context in which I usually hear the word ‘moot.

    The common phrase is “it’s a moot point”, which is taken to mean as a point we could argue about all day (so let’s forget about it and have another beer). I’m perfectly happy to accept Adrian’s definition of moot, but it is used in quite a different context Down Under.

    On that basis, the definition of moot is obviously a moot point.

  7. Iola says:

    You might also like to know that budgie smugglers is pretty much exclusively meant to refer to Speedos that look like Y-fronts, as opposed to surf shorts. And the Australians call them bathers, while we in New Zealand call them togs.

  8. Stan says:

    Thanks for your insights, Iola. I imagine there’s mixed usage of moot in Australia and New Zealand, just as elsewhere, but which sense dominates (and takes precedence in dictionary entries) may change and will be established by examining data from corpora and so on.

    In Ireland I call them swimming togs too, or sometimes swimming gear, though the latter can also include goggles and other paraphernalia. I don’t know if we have any slang terms for them, but I can’t see budgie smugglers catching on here!

  9. Obviously Iola and I are both extrapolating from personal experience, but to this day I’ve never encountered “moot” meaning “arguable” in the wild; I’ve only seen it in Internet discussions etc that are specifically about the meaning of “moot”. So I’m inclined to think it is extremely rare.

    It’s worth pointing out that both meanings are associated with exactly the same stock phrases: “moot point” and “moot question” (which makes corpora analysis nontrivial). But to say something is debatable implies there may be some profit in debating it, whereas to say something is moot implies that advocacy of either position is pointless because to all intents and purposes the world would be exactly the same either way.

    So if Iola says, “We should drink this brand of beer because I’ve heard it repels crocodiles”, then a friend might reply, “Maybe, but it’s a moot point because there are no crocodiles in New Zealand.”

    Here’s a particularly nice example in “From Here To Infinity” by Ian Stewart (British author), which I was re-reading recently: “The stability of a Newtonian Solar System is beside the point when the currently interesting one obeys Einstein’s laws, not Newton’s. And anyway, atomic theory says that the sun will eventually blow up, making the long-term future of heliocentric planetary motion, either Newtonian or Einsteinian, moot.

    Re swimming gear, it is indeed “bathers” here (though some parts of the country have their own terms). I’ve never heard of budgie smugglers, but another local word inspired by a bird is “cocky” or “cockie”, referring to a tuft of hair that won’t sit flat and thus resembles the display feathers of a cockatoo.

  10. johnwcowan says:

    My guess is that the American sense of moot (also used in Australia and New Zealand) comes from a misunderstanding of moot court. In a moot court, students argue cases before off-duty judges. Naturally, the case has to be worth discussing, so a moot court would discuss moot (in the British sense) cases. But of course the decisions don’t have any real-world effect, so moot court was reinterpreted as ‘court where trivial matters are discussed’.

    Etymonline seems to agree.

  11. Stan says:

    That sounds like a plausible factor, John.

  12. [...] Writers love words, so Stan Carey bring us information about three language blogs: Ozwords, Lexico Loco, and A World of Englishes. [...]

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