May 24, 2013
An impressively silly debate resumed this week over the “correct” pronunciation of GIF. Steve Wilhite, who invented the format, prefers “jif”, and at the recent Webby Awards he shared this opinion (tongue presumably in cheek) through a projected GIF set to Richard Strauss.*
Mr Wilhite knows the OED accepts both common pronunciations, hard-g /gɪf/ as in gift and soft-g /dʒɪf/ as in gist. (As do other dictionaries and all right-thinking people.) But the lexicographers, he told the New York Times, “are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”
End of story? Well, no. This is English: it’s messy. It misbehaves.
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May 23, 2013
Language portal bab.la is holding its annual competition of top language lovers, and Sentence first is honoured to appear in the Language Professionals category.
Click the image below to see the 100 shortlisted (if that’s not an oxymoron) and vote for Sentence first or another blog of your choice:
My Twitter page (@StanCarey) was also selected, so if you’re feeling generous you can vote for me here:
Though I placed respectably last year (see the badges in the sidebar), my expectations in these contests are modest; tireless self-promotion is not my strong point. But they’re a good way to find new language writers, and they’re also an opportunity to welcome new visitors.
Finally, if you’re in a voting or browsing kind of mood, there are also polls for Facebook pages and language-learning blogs. The latter includes Macmillan Dictionary Blog, to which I contribute regular posts.
May 22, 2013
Edna O’Brien’s book Girl With Green Eyes has a romantic line involving bicycles in Dublin:
Ah, the bloom of you, I love your North-Circular-Road-Bicycle-Riding-Cheeks.
It’s a sweet declaration ending in an impressive hyphenated string (though if I were editing it I would separate cheeks from the compound and reduce the capitalisation: North-Circular-Road-bicycle-riding cheeks).
In a modest correspondence between books decades apart, Declan Hughes’s Irish detective novel The Dying Breed has another elaborate compound phrase constructed with the help of bicycle imagery:
I made a face at that, my d’you-think-I-cycled-up-the-Liffey-on-a-bicycle face.
When I tweeted that sentence I was treated to a few variations on the theme: Belfast’s D’you think I floated down the Lagan in a bubble? (@charlieconnelly), and Glasgow’s D’ye think ah came up the Clyde on a water biscuit/banana boat? (@ozalba; @Yanbustone).
There are many versions of this idiom, often beginning Do you think…, You must think…, or I didn’t… More (or less) familiar lines include: Do you think I came down in the last shower?, You must think I was born yesterday, and I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.
I love the water biscuit one, but for some reason I relate most strongly to cycling on the Liffey – so long as I steer clear of Gogarty’s swans.
May 20, 2013
Alison Dye’s novel The Sense of Things (1994) has a conversation between the narrator, Joanie, and her friend-to-be, Jesus, in which Jesus nervously corrects himself twice in an effort to speak more properly.
Joanie has gone to Jesus to order new flooring for the shop she works in, and Jesus is explaining the sheet approach to her:
‘Installation is slightly easier with the sheeting and therefore cuts down on your labour costs. We would unroll it and cut as we go, from the wall out. However, with a sheet you are stuck with the one colour or print except for the borders which you can be a little creative with, if you like. I mean, with which.’ He coughed.
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May 16, 2013
Mick Jagger has appeared on Sentence first before, in my post about “bad” grammar in song lyrics. But I was surprised to learn that the Rolling Stones singer and occasional actor is something of an amateur linguist. Here, from Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, is a note written in Camisea, Peru, in February 1981:
We shot some footage with Mick [Jagger] and the little Indian boy who is called McNamara in the film, and both of them did such a good job that the team broke into applause. During the scene Mick was bitten on the shoulder by one of the monkeys and laughed so uproariously about it afterward that it sounded like a donkey braying. Whenever we take a break he distracts me with clever little lectures on English dialects and the development of the language since the late Middle Ages.
Herzog’s book is a darkly poetic account of the director’s protracted attempts to film Fitzcarraldo, the centrepiece of which involves hauling a ship over a mountain in Peru. At one point Herzog, faced with the “obscene, explicit malice of the jungle”, describes feeling “like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel.” There are no such sentences in the book, which I highly recommend.
And in case you were wondering: Jagger’s role was later cut from the script, through no fault of his own.
May 14, 2013
It’s a couple of months since I made a bookmash, so here’s a new one.
Click to enlarge:
Cat and Mouse Semantics
Cat and mouse semantics,
Walkabout to school
Through the fields
In the land
Of invented languages.
Thanks to the authors: Octavia Butler, Jane Austen, Günter Grass, F. H. George, Erik Davis, James Vance Marshall, Alice Taylor, Arika Okrent.
More in the bookmash archive. From an idea by Nina Katchadourian.
May 10, 2013
Caxton is a new blog about language from Barrie England, an Oxford graduate who has studied English literature, foreign languages, and older varieties of English. It is named after printing pioneer William Caxton, who, as Barrie writes, “by using technology to reach a wider public . . . can be seen as the progenitor of the digital age”.
Barrie wrote Real Grammar before its host pulled the plug; I’ve linked to it here in the past, most recently to his post on the rise of Swiss German dialect. Some of you may also know him from his insightful comments at Sentence first.
Since setting up Caxton and importing his old posts, Barrie has been blogging regularly, offering astute and balanced observations on such subjects as the value of linguistics, the early shapers of English, education, reflexive pronouns, dialects, grammar, and Jacques Brel. Rummage around and you’ll find all sorts of good material.
If you’re interested in the usage, history, politics, and beauty of English – or language generally – I recommend visiting and bookmarking Caxton. I’ve also added it to the links in the sidebar of this blog.
Updates: More thoughts on Caxton: Language Hat wishes it a “long and prosperous career”, while You Don’t Say celebrates “a new voice of sense and informed judgment”.