Watching a short documentary on the making of The Truman Show, I heard a phrase that made me turn on the subtitles and take a snapshot:
Spoken by visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister, “body English” struck me as a strange variant of body language. (He uses the more usual phrase a few seconds earlier.) At first I thought it might be a Hollywoodism, but the new American Heritage Dictionary lists body language as the secondary sense of “body English”. Its main sense is:
Bodily movement in a usually unconscious attempt to influence the trajectory of a moving object, such as a ball.
The Straight Dope has a short discussion of this English. It’s a new one on me.
Body English meaning body language is an interesting usage but not one I’ll be adopting. Body language uses language loosely to denote nonverbal communication, conscious and unconscious, in the form of gestures, postures and facial expressions. English is verbal, deliberate, and particular: too specific for the phrase, to my mind.
[Edit: I liked this example in Jonathan Valin’s story ‘Malibu Tag Team’, which appears in Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, edited by Byron Preiss: “The kid stared desperately through the windshield as we tore through Pedro and Bay City, rocking back and forth on the seat, as if he were trying to urge the car on with body English like a jockey.”]
Anyway, I kept the subtitles on (and my ears open) for other unusual items, and soon encountered an unexpected spelling of a word spoken by producer Edward Feldman:
This is a noun derived (I think) from the teenage slang exclamation Psych!, meaning “Fooled you!” or “Just kidding!” I’ve also seen it spelled psyche, sike, syke and sych, but never cyc before now. If I were reading Feldman’s line without context, I don’t know if I’d guess what he meant; I wouldn’t even be sure how it’s pronounced.
[EDIT: I was way off with this one. Feldman is abbreviating cyclorama, a term “adopted from theatrical staging technology and terminology”, as Mark puts it below. “Cyc” makes more sense now, as filmmaking jargon. See comments for descriptions and definitions.]
Finally, and perhaps most unusually: the relative pronoun whom is used to refer to an inanimate object (houses). Feldman again:
You can see the full context for the line in this animated GIF.
Some sticklers dislike that being used to refer to people, though there’s nothing wrong with this and there never has been. And some dislike whose used with inanimate antecedents (“the house whose windows were open”), though this is also common and standard – and useful, since English has no genitive form for which and that.
But whom is normally restricted to people, groups of people, and sometimes animals. I don’t recall ever hearing it paired with anything like houses before, so “four hundred houses, all of whom were built to three-quarter scale” took me by surprise.
Update: Arnold Zwicky has sent me a link to his Language Log post (2007) on a curious usage of whom, from Slavoj Žižek in the New York Times: “his stance was, ‘Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?’” See Zwicky’s post for an analysis.