Grammatic innovation, dramatic pronunciation

At Macmillan Dictionary Blog I have a couple of new posts to report. First up, LOL slash grammar, knowmsayin? looks at recent innovations in how people use LOL and slash, among other terms:

Sometimes . . . existing words get repurposed, switching grammatical classes or incorporating new ones: verbs and adjectives are converted into nouns, and vice versa. This attracts predictable criticism, but it’s a thoroughly ordinary process; nounings and verbings are a large part of the everyday formation of new usages.

Other switches are more unusual.

Linguist John McWhorter has noted that the phrase (Do) you know what I’m saying? is not usually the question it might superficially seem to be,

but rather is “a piece of grammar, soliciting the same sense of empathy and group membership that LOL does”. Given its frequent informal use, the phrase is often compressed into a syllable or two for efficiency. If you search Twitter for nomsayin or knowmsayin, you’ll see how common this is.

I offer a brief synopsis of the broader implications for language (hint: harmless; positive), then the comments extend the discussion: OMG is cited as showing similar semantic drift to LOL, while dot dot dot and full stop are further examples of verbalised punctuation.

You can read the rest here.


I now pronounce you … Wait, how do I pronounce you? steps back from the recent pavlova palaver over the pronunciation of GIF, to look at other examples of phonological confusion and controversy – and do we place the stress on that word’s first or second syllable?

Macmillan Dictionary includes both pronunciations, and indeed the two forms are legitimate. This point is sometimes missed: people assume there can be just one right way, when in fact there is often more than one. Geography and register may be factors in whether a particular pronunciation of a word is perceived to be correct or appropriate.

A recent humorous article in the Irish Times commented on the social and religious aspects of pronouncing aitch in Northern Ireland. It prompted a flurry of letters on the subject, several of them condemning the proliferation of h-sounds in places the writers considered wrong – including the name of the letter itself.

Since I began with an anecdote from my school days, readers have joined in by sharing stories of pronunciation-related embarrassment and epiphanies (and, included in the post, one of violence). Feel free to add your own.

4 Responses to Grammatic innovation, dramatic pronunciation

  1. John Cowan says:

    The Zrbangdraldnk has just arrived,
    And it’s up to me to announce him…
    Uh … how do you pronounce him…?
       —Shel Silverstein, Don’t Bump The Glump

  2. I read recently in the New Yorker of a fellow who railed that the word epiphany was used too often in a way that wasn’t [a revelatory manifestation of a divine being.] Instead, the word revelation should be used.

  3. languagehat says:

    Well, “knowmsayin?” is just an extended version of “you know?” which is a standard bit of filler in every language I’m familiar with (“An bhuil fhios agat?” /(ə)wilisad/ is one of those bits of Irish that remain burned into my brain after almost forty years).

  4. Stan says:

    John: I gave it my best shot.

    Fuzzarelly: That peeve is new to me, but unsurprising. The looser sense of epiphany dates to the mid-19thC, apparently. What a blow-in.

    Hat: Good point. A related expression, used by some people I know (and by me, occasionally) is “Do you know that sort of a way?” It isn’t exactly filler, and it doesn’t fit as many contexts as “You know?”, but it gets enough airings to be similarly packaged.

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