Acronyms, idioms, and spelling program(me)s

October 15, 2013

I’ve a few new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Links and excerpts follow.

An FYI on acronyms clarifies the difference between acronyms and initialisms, before showing how technological changes have affected them, as revealed in the recent update to Macmillan Dictionary:

Some new entries, such as API, BYOD, and QR code, explicitly reflect the significant role of technology in altering the lexical and cultural landscape. With the spread of wi-fi, the online–offline divide has become increasingly blurred, so it’s no surprise that some internet-born abbreviations have become more word-like as they’ve spread beyond jargon and slang. ROFL all you like, but people have begun to rofle.

Read on to witness more newcomers to the acronym scene, new definitions for old-timers, and my first (and surely last) use of YOLO.

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An idiom that has its cake and eats it looks at a puzzling old expression that “crumbles under examination”:

Part of the trouble is the order of events. The phrase makes more sense when recast as eat your cake and have it too, since this is more self-evidently impossible. Indeed, it’s how the phrase was first constructed. The later sequence of having your cake and eating it arose in the mid-18th century, and appears to have overtaken the original in the early 20th.

Alfred Cheney Johnston cakeThere are other problems with the phrase too, such as the obvious question of why anyone would want to hold onto cake in the first place: unlike the proverbial miser’s gold, it doesn’t keep. You can share the puzzlement here – and the cake, if there’s any left.

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Finally, Get with the spelling program(me) addresses something often overlooked about the familiar subject of UK/US spelling differences: why does BrE have programme but not anagramme or diagramme? History has the answer; but first, an etymological note:

The modern term programming language accidentally plays on the word’s etymology. Program comes from Late Latin programma ‘proclamation’, from a combination of pro- ‘forth’ + graphein ‘to write’ (the same root we find in telegram and anagram). Curiously, program is how the word entered English in the 17th century, and was used especially by Scottish writers.

Read the rest at Macmillan Dictionary Blog, or delve into my archives for more.

[Old cake image via Wikimedia Commons]
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Banana bread-cake

August 4, 2009

Since this blog is mostly about language, I thought about introducing this post with a remark about food being the language of love, or baking being the language of the kitchen. But that would be corny, and unnecessary: who needs an excuse to spread a good recipe?

Some years ago I tried a simple recipe for banana bread that worked well and painlessly and allowed for various adaptations. Over the years so many people called it “banana cake” that I began to wonder about its true nature. The option (usually taken) of a chocolate layer underscores its cakey credentials, but for a cake it is unusually nutritious. So I think of it as a hybrid and I call it “banana bread”, “banana cake”, or “banana bread-cake”. You may call it what you like.

The ingredient quantities are double the original quantities because I usually make two bread-cakes at a time: one for me and whoever is around, and one for some other person or household. Although this adds a few minutes to the baking time, on balance it wastes significantly less energy and allows more satisfaction to be distributed.

[Click for banana bread-cake ingredients, directions and photos]