Six more videos about language

January 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!

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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.

Table showing frequencies of various words in the expression 'swear like a [X]' and equivalents with 'swears', 'cursing', etc., in four language corpora: NOW, iWeb, COCA, and COHA. The figures for four words are as follows. Sailor: 288. 181, 62, 12. Trooper: 87, 74, 4, 14. Trucker: 24, 18, 4, 3. Pirate: 5, 6, 1, 7.

Sample of data on ‘[swear] like a [X]’ in various language corpora

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Six short videos about language

August 18, 2022

How slang catches on, survives, and fades:

 

The schwa is never stressed? Ridiculous, says Geoff Lindsey:

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Link love: language (77)

July 26, 2022

Links, links, dozens of links! About language, linguistics, literature, and wordy stuff. Most are for reading, some (🎙) for listening.

Literature clock.

How we read emoji.

The language of the hand.

Linguistic relativity: a primer.

‘Saying the quiet part out loud’.

Is AI really mastering language?

Toward a theory of the New Weird.

The many 👉 functions of pointing 👈.

People still prefer to read physical books.

The changing politics of the Russian language.

Bat singing, babbling, and other vocalizations (🎙).

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How to accept language change, with David Cronenberg

June 24, 2022

Language change is something I watch closely, both as a copy-editor and as someone broadly interested in how we communicate. I read usage dictionaries for fun; I also read a lot of fiction, and sometimes, as a treat, it throws up explicit commentary on shifts or variation in usage.*

This happened most recently in Consumed (Scribner, 2014) by David Cronenberg (whose thoughts on language invention I covered earlier this year). Nathan, a young photojournalist, is visiting Roiphe, an elderly doctor, who calls Nathan ‘son’ just before the passage below, emphasizing the generational gap. They’re sitting in Roiphe’s kitchen:

“Want some ice water? Maybe coffee? Anything?”

“No, thanks. I’m good.”

“ ‘I’m good’ is funny. Sounds funny to me. We never used to say that. We’d say ‘I’m fine. I’m all right.’ But they do say ‘I’m good’ these days. So what are we looking at here?”

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We ourself can use this pronoun

March 25, 2022

On a recent rewatch of the 1979 film The Warriors, I noticed an unusual pronoun spoken by Cleon, played by Dorsey Wright:*

Still image from The Warriors. Cleon, played by Dorsey Wright, is shown in close-up wearing a head-dress, saying, 'I think we'd better go have a look for ourself.' It's night time, and the background shows pale blurry lights.

Ourself, once in regular use, is now scarce outside of certain dialects, and many (maybe most) people would question its validity. I’ve seen it followed by a cautious editorial [sic] even in linguistic contexts. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002), describing it as the reflexive form of singular we – ‘an honorific pronoun used by monarchs, popes, and the like’ – says it is ‘hardly current’ in present-day English.

But that’s not the whole story, and it belies the word’s surprising versatility and stubborn survival outside of mainstream Englishes, which this post will outline. There are graphs and data further down, but let’s start with usage.

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Emoji reaction cards

November 24, 2021

Early in the pandemic, I used Zoom and other video-chat platforms like never before. For me it was mostly social, not work-related: a way to see and stay in touch with family and friends when I wasn’t meeting them in person. I soon noticed ways the technology compromised communication.

Take back-channelling. This is when we say things like mm, yeah, and whoa to convey, minimally, that we’re listening, that we agree, that the speaker should continue their conversational turn, and so on. Back-channelling didn’t work well in some apps, because the timing was slightly out of sync or because the sounds briefly dominated the audio, interfering with the speaker instead of supporting them.

Such problems are not new, but they are newly prevalent. How to tackle them depends on the context: the technology, the conversation type, the people involved, and so on. One thing I did was reduce my back-channelling noises; in their place I nodded more often and more visibly and used more facial expressions.

I also made visual reaction cards based on popular emoji:

9 squarish pieces of cardboard, arranged 3x3 on a wooden floor. On each card I've drawn and coloured an emoji. From top left: Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes, Hundred Points, Grinning Squinting Face, Upside-Down Face, Thinking Face, Eyes, Grimacing Face, Pile of Poo, Partying Face.

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