Sometimes what I read tells me what to write about. Other times the hints come from what I watch. This time it’s both. First I read a line in Richard Pryor’s autobiography Pryor Convictions with this mighty stack of intensifying negatives:
Don’t never tell nobody not to use no double negativesFebruary 27, 2023
Six more videos about languageJanuary 25, 2023
The latest in an erratic series. In this set we have punctuation, phonetics, raciolinguistics, gesture, lexicography, and writing advice. Viewing length ranges from 4 minutes to 1 hour 18 minutes.
A brief history of the exclamation mark!
10 more words from Irish English dialectDecember 19, 2022
One of my pet linguistic topics is Irish English dialect, which I explored at length in an essay a while back. Here are 10 words, usages, and grammatical features characteristic of English as it’s used in Ireland.
Links point to previous blog posts with more discussion on usage, origins, and so on.
1. Grand is a popular adjective/interjection in Ireland to express modest satisfaction, approval, wellbeing, or simply acknowledgement. It’s handy for understatement and not overdoing one’s enthusiasm, but in certain situations it can be a biteen (see below) ambiguous.
Swearing like a trooper, a trucker, a sailor and . . . a starling?December 13, 2022
At Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing, I have a new post up about the idiom swear like a [X]. After seeing the phrase swear like a trooper (maybe in Beryl Bainbridge’s A Quiet Life), I got to wondering how it arose; a few hours later I had found more [X]s than I’d ever imagined existed.
Some are common, others less so but familiar, and there are many, many obscure variants, plays on the clichés, and predictable/peculiar one-offs. And that’s before we even look at equivalent expressions in other languages, which is where the starling in the post title comes in (Czech, as it happens).
After looking at why trooper and sailor are the usual objects, I dug into the corpus data, which produced some graphs and lists of fun phrases: swearing like a sailor’s parrot, a drunken bushwhacker, a surly barmaid, and a foul-mouthed trooper stubbing their toe on a slang dictionary, for example.
Asperging wordsOctober 3, 2022
Here’s a verb I don’t remember encountering before. It crops up near the end of this passage in Seamus Deane’s novel Reading in the Dark (1996), where the author describes a dramatic childhood winter in Northern Ireland:
The Germans came only once, made a bombing run on the docks where the American ships were lined up in threes and fours, missed, and never came again. The sirens had given several false alarms before, but this time the throb of the approaching planes seemed to make them more frenetic. We woke to their wild moanings, were carried to safety under the stairs and cradled sleepily between our parents, lightly asperged by the bright drops of cold Lourdes water that my mother would every so often sprinkle on us. I remember the silence when the droning stopped and then the long lamentation of each plane’s dive.
Continual vs continuous – what’s the difference?September 15, 2022
Introduction and origins
What’s the difference between continual and continuous? There’s a short answer, but it’s misleading, so – surprise! – I’m going with the long and complicated one.
Some people make a firm distinction between the two adjectives, but others don’t or only sometimes do. The distinction has merit, but it’s not categorical, more the codification of a general but lopsided pattern.
Because the words are so close in sense and use, they’re often used interchangeably (the adverbs continually and continuously even more so). This seldom leads to confusion or difficulty, but it’s also true that each word has domains it specializes in and others it’s less suited to.
Both words come from Latin continuus ‘hanging together, uninterrupted’, continual arriving via Old French continuel. Their endings, –al and –ous, are common adjective-forming suffixes. The words’ more recent history sheds light on their use, but first let’s look at how they’re defined, since this reflects how they’re used and gets to the centre of the problem.
Game of mondegreensSeptember 5, 2022
A mondegreen is a misheard song lyric, like ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy’ (instead of ‘. . . kiss the sky’). The word is itself a mondegreen, stemming from a mishearing of ‘laid him on the green’ as ‘Lady Mondegreen’ in an old ballad. I wrote about mondegreens for Macmillan Dictionary back in 2014.
Recently I discovered an elaborate one of my own. In my early teens I had a rave-music phase, playing a tape compilation continually for months (and baffling my parents, who were paying for classical piano lessons). This was years before I started clubbing, but something in the music’s rebellious energy and fun samples connected with me.
One of the highlights on that tape was a cartoon rave track named ‘Trip to Trumpton’ by Urban Hype. If you don’t know the song or the source of its samples – a children’s TV series from Britain – then I invite you to play a game: Before reading further, write down what you think the line at 0.42 is. It’s repeated four times:
Don’t overthink it or create a spectrogram or anything – just go with your first hunch. It doesn’t have to make sense. My interpretation certainly didn’t. Then let me know in a comment what you heard.