Link love: language (45)

It’s link hour again. In fact, I’m late – so without further ado, here’s a score and more of language-related items that caught my eye over the last month:

Everything is fiction.

An ABC of translating poetry.

Why language isn’t computer code.

5th-century coin may be the first example of written English.

Blümerant: Berlin’s walk-in crossword puzzle.

Vum! An interjection of surprise.

Lost “lost ‘lost sign’ sign” sign.

Taboo initials in the NYT.

Singular or plural? The data is in.

The tricky matter of defining colours.

Linking biological and linguistic extinction.

Language X is essentially language Y under conditions Z.

ERMAHGERD: a phonological analysis.

Misleading language maps on the internet.

Teens and texting and grammar.

Slang in Rudyard Kipling.

Shark words for shark week.

Is there anything wrong with off of?

Must every Irish language speaker be an ‘enthusiast’?

Modulo: superhero sound engineer, or obscure preposition?

Analysing the last words of Texas’ death-row prisoners.

Baskerville, the typeface of truth.

Prescriptivist, heal thyself.

Why misquotations catch on.

How do we pick out a voice from a crowd?

Conversation between a writer and a copy-editor: Part I; Part II.

[language links archive]

10 Responses to Link love: language (45)

  1. The Arnold Zwicky “taboo initials” article reminds me of my earliest encounters with abbreviations such as WTF — back in the late nineties when I was new to the Internet.

    I remember reflecting on how clearly they demonstrate the point that initialisms are not equivalent to the words that make them up. For example, “WTF” is not at all equivalent to “what the fuck”, and substituting one for the other almost invariably creates an inaccurate paraphrase. There is very little correlation between the people who use each form and the circumstances in which they are used. This is in contrast to a naiive view of language in which abbreviations are understood simply as space-saving tools.

    The same underlying principle — non-equivalence of initialisms and their expanded components — is of course also behind the endless griping over ATM machines and so forth.

    I am bookmarking “the typeface of truth” and “”why misquotations catch on” to read more thoroughly and thoughtfully when I get around to it.

  2. Stan says:

    That’s very true, Adrian. I made a brief point about the semantic/pragmatic drift of acronyms in a post about texting style; ROFL is particular appears to have diverged widely from its original meaning, which I presume was hyperbolic to begin with. I’d prefer if people didn’t say Please RSVP, but I accept that many will use the initialism as a formal version of reply.

    Arnold Zwicky has another post up about the NYT’s excessive modesty, this time on its avoidance of farting.

  3. Speaking of RSVP, I always thought it meant the date by which a response is required . . . so that when an invitation says “RSVP June 10th”, that’s the same as saying June 10th is the RSVP for that invitation — the deadline after which, if you haven’t confirmed you’re coming, you’re assumed not to be.

    Apparently I was wrong.

  4. Stan says:

    Maybe some people use it with that meaning, Adrian – I haven’t looked into it closely enough to say – but I would interpret “RSVP June 10th” as “Please reply by June 10th”.

  5. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Thanks for that motley mix of cool language links. I actually read several of them. The one chronicling the last words of Texas death-row prison inmates, just prior to their executions, was both disturbing and thought-provoking for me.

    The piece on the history the Baskerville font was quite informative, as well. I have a deep fascination w/ these amazingly gifted folk who come up w/ novel type faces.

    Englishman Eric Gill, who had numerous creative proclivities and talents beyond designing those elegant fonts that are used to this day, for me, was a fascinating and complicated character—- a devout Christian, and yet a real libertine in his private life. But I digress.

    Being a visual artist, I especially enjoyed Kory Stamper’s article, “Seeing Cerise: Defining Colors in Webster’s Third”, on her “harm-less drudg-ery” blog.

    As Ms. Stamper points out in her engaging piece, we tend to define, or describe most colors largely by equating their visual ‘essence’, if you will, w/ direct reference to familiar objects, or elements in our lived-in environments; say the blueness of the sky, the bright yellow of a lemon, or the orangeyness of a fresh carrot.

    In light of her observations, I’ve always been mystified as to how a person who has been totally blind since birth, w/ clearly no visual reference points, or cues (being solely aware of total darkness–the absence of light, or color*), could have any real mental concept of color.

    Since a blind-from-birth person may still have all their other senses**— other than being sighted, they are obliged to experience their world w/ all their remaining senses, sadly without the benefit of color.

    Moving along.

    When we hear, or see the word “cerise”, if one has a modicum of Fr. vocabulary , we immediately conjure up our English (from the Fr.) word “cherry”—perhaps the popular purplish-red Bing varietal comes to mind. Hence the color “cerise”.

    But not ALL cherries are red. Case in point, those scrumptious, sweet, fleshy Rainier cherries first developed in Washington State, that exhibit a light yellowish hue, w/ reddish highlights…. or is it the other way around? (I’m quibbling here.)

    I particularly liked Ms. Stamper’s example of her grandmum’s favorite Xmas suit, which was clearly a seasonal-appropriate brilliant “cerise”.

    As Stamper put it, “That suit is, I’m telling you, exactly cerise, but that doesn’t do you much good, does it?” (Translated: One person’s concept of “cerise”, may be another’s fire-engine red, or marichino/ pinkish red; unless one sees the genuine article, i.e., grandmum’s suit…. and judges for themselves.)

    Nor, I dare say, does it do much good for a born-blind individual, who could touch, or smell (?) said garment, but alas, could never appreciate its brilliant, festive red color, cerise, or otherwise.

    *OK…. “Black, technically, IS a color, but doesn’t exist in the normal color spectrum range, which is created by the prismatic refraction of white light.

    **Of course, the amazing Helen Keller had no conception of color, but made her incredible, indelible mark in this world, lacking both sight and hearing. She was truly a gift, inspiration, and exemplar of abiding courage and determination to all humanity.

  6. Stan says:

    Thanks for reporting back, Alex; I’m glad you enjoyed a few of the links. I associate cerise with cherries too – and more through the French word than the fruit, which I don’t eat very often. Your comments on how we refer to familiar objects for our concepts of colour reminded me of what William Gladstone wrote regarding Homer’s treatment of colour (as in such phrases as “the wine-dark sea”). This is examined in some detail in Guy Deutscher’s book Through the Language Glass, which quotes Gladstone as follows:

    Colours were for Homer not facts but images: his words describing them are figurative words, borrowed from natural objects. There was no fixed terminology of colour; and it lay with the genius of each true poet to choose a vocabulary for himself.

  7. alexmccrae1546 says:


    Thanks for that apt William Gladstone quote. It kind of reenforces the notion that one’s interpretation, or precise definition of particular colors often lies in the eyes of the beholder (or the poet), if you will.

    Ironically, the very evening of the day I posted my ‘cerise’ commentary, I was fortunate to see the multi-award-winning play, “RED”, at the Mark Taper Forum, here in L.A., starring Alfred Molina as the egocentric, controversial, major color-field American painter, Mark Rothko, w/ actor Jonathan Groff as his fictional, young, harried studio assistant/ gofer, Ken.

    The play unfolds on a stage deftly mocked-up to accurately simulate the gritty ambiance of Rothko’s late 1950’s Manhattan studio, complete w/ a giant easel-like contraption, center-stage, on wheels, w/ attached ropes and pulleys, that could essentially mount and support the artist’s large-scale canvases, for direct painting, or mere contemplation of his large-scale works.

    As the play opens, we are confronted by a typical large-format Rothko painting mounted on the aforementioned giant ‘easel’, w/ a dark purplish-black ‘ground’, and large vertically-oriented, dead-center-situated, almost glowing rectangle of flat, luminous cadmium red, verging on bright orange. (The edges of the ‘red’ rectangle had that characteristic undefined, fuzziness typical of Rothko’s ethereal shape design.)

    Early on, Rothko (actor Molina), and his assistant , Ken (actor Groff), get into a rabid tit-for-tat shouting match over the true definition of the color “red”. (Hence the play’s title….Doh.)

    This spirited verbal sparring match over defining the myriad shades-of-red is one of the more emotionally wrought, audience-gripping passages in the entire production.

    Rothko basically challenges assistant, Ken, w/ words to the effect, ‘You don’t even know what RED is!’, after Ken has just suggested that, in his view, the painting suspended before them really needed MORE “red”.

    A miffed Ken starts the bombastic back-and-forth w/ “Sunrise is red and red is sunrise!”…. Red is heart!… Red is passion!….Red is wine! Red roses! Red lipstick!… Beets! Tulips! Peppers!”

    A fuming Rothko counters, his voice ever-rising in pitch, w/ “Arterial blood! … Ruby red slippers!… “Pomegranates!”

    Ken quickly retorts, “Nazi flag!”…. “Slash your wrists. Blood in the sink!”…. “Santa!”, followed by Rothko’s “Satan!….. so red.”

    That evening the audience appeared left slightly stunned, emotionally moved by this hostile exchange of on-stage one-upman-ship. Yet as the dust (or more aptly, powdered pigment) settles, we kind of have a greater appreciation for the color “red’, in all its many guises.

    This play is visually demanding and majorly hands-on (for the two actors). It really presents the viewer w/ a fairly accurate window into the mid-20th century NYC painters’ studio world—- the kind of creative order amidst apparent disorder, the sheer physicality of the vocation—the sweat, and toil of it all.

    We actually witness Rothko and Ken priming a roughly 10’X6′ vertically-skewed, pure white canvas, w/ a dark, rich maroon colored ground. With 12” wide jumbo-sized brushes-in-hand, and two large twin buckets of studio-prepped maroon paint at their sides, gofer and master painter, each positioned at extreme opposite ends of the pristine suspended canvas, proceed to frantically attack the surface w/ loaded brushes, paint flying in every direction, yet most of it, thankfully, landing on the canvas.

    The dramatic strains of a Gluck symphonic piece roars-and-rumbles in the background, coming from Rothko’s chintzy little portable studio turntable, located front-stage. This additional audio element just gives even more emotional gravitas to the moment, as painter, and assistant feverishly complete their pas de deux performance run amok. (It really came off as a kind of choreographed dance, w/ the two actors in complete sync, rarely missing a beat.)

    Completely exhausted, the actors are left speechless, while contemplating their labor, spattered from head-to-toe w/ speckles, and little rivulets of maroon (red?) paint.

    Anyone familiar w/ Rothko’s sad demise in 1970, can not escape the profound symbolism of this pivotal moment in the play’s narrative, reflecting, IMHO, both a kind of metaphoric penitential self-flagellation ritual performance, as well as a strong portent of Rothko’s ultimate suicide—slashing his wrists, and bleeding out in his studio. From blood RED to fatal, final BLACK, as it were.

    I highly recommend seeing this play. Both veteran actor Alfred Molina and promising up-and-comer, Jonathon Groff gave sterling, awesome performances.

    Kudos all around!

  8. Stan says:

    Sounds like a fine play, Alex, and the colourful exchange on the nature of colour chimes well with the cerise discussion at Kory Stamper’s blog.

  9. Nurn says:

    Hi Stan, I really love your blog. I don’t think I’ve ever commented before, but I’m a fellow Galwegian (a ‘blow-in’, of course – I’ve only lived here for 33 years, my dad went to secondary school and college here in the 50s, and I am told I spent my first birthday here, many, many years ago – but I have no relatives in buried in Forthill!).

    Your link love posts always make me waste so much time, but as so many people have said, time you enjoy wasting isn’t really wasted time.

  10. Stan says:

    Hi Nurn, thanks very much. I’m always glad to help people waste time enjoyably! Link love posts tend to appear once every month or two months these days, but there’s usually quite a lot of reading in them.

    Before college, I lived a bit north of the city, near the Mayo-Galway border, so you’ve been a Galwegian longer than I have. It’s a good place.

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