The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary are calling upon the public to help them find antedatings and early uses of a number of terms. Those terms, and the dates the OED currently has citations for in its files, are:
- Bellini (1965)
- FAQ (1989)
- disco (1964)
- cootie (1967) (in the sense of the imaginary children’s “germ")
- to come in from the cold (1963)
- blue-arsed fly (1970)
- in your dreams! (1986)
- Kwanzaa (1971)
Such appeals are nothing new, going back to the earliest days of the dictionary, but what’s neat about this appeal is that all the submissions are posted on the web. So you can see what work has been done to date.
Of course, the OED editors are always happy to receive emails containing antedatings and early citations for any word.
The Writing Revolution
A very interesting article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic about how teaching writing seems to vastly improve the academic potential of students who have a history of poor academic performance.
From a personal perspective, I would agree with this experience. I credit most of my academic success to my eleventh-grade English teacher who focused the entire class on writing solid essays. I can’t think of a better skill to teach students. A focus on good writing leads to clear and critical thinking in virtually any field, not just English classes.
I have two cautions though. First, the premise seems based on anecdotal evidence. I’d really like to see this tested under controlled conditions.
Second, I’d hate to see this turned into a call to “teach grammar.” That’s an approach that has been proven not to work. From the description of the program, they are not teaching grammar; they are teaching writing. The students have known English grammar since they were five years old; they just don’t know how to apply it to the written page. The focus is on teaching how to write coherent complex sentences, not to teach the difference between a gerund and participle. If you have to do some quick remedial instruction on grammar to get a point about good writing across, so be it, but the grammar instruction is an ad hoc, instrumental step, not the objective of the instruction.
Esquires and Attorneys
Lately I’ve taken to reading Kevin Underhill’s blog, Lowering the Bar. Underhill, a lawyer, comments on the various humorous news stories about legal cases and the profession of law that arise. The blog rarely fails to give me a chuckle with my morning coffee.
His posting from yesterday is not one of the funnier ones (although it has its moments), but Underhill does raise the issue of how courts use the meanings of words in their deliberations. In the case in question, John Heurlin, a lawyer who had been suspended by the California Bar Association, continued to use the titles attorney and esquire and to represent clients. The case is the disciplinary proceeding against Huerlin.Read the rest of the article...
Ben Trawick-Smith’s Dialect Blog has post about diversity in Canadian Anglophone accents. The conclusion, yes there are distinctions, but they are subtle. There are no major divides, like between the Southern States and the rest of the United States or strong urban dialects, like Cockney or Scouse.
Theater and Storytelling
Holger Syme discusses the difference between theater and storytelling. Storytelling is a buzzword in theater and film nowadays, but Syme makes a persuasive case that drama is not storytelling.
I had thought storytelling, as used in the dramatic arts, was, in essence, something quite distinct from the storytelling techniques of narrative literature. But Syme makes the point that a good deal of modern drama is just writing read out loud, that good drama is distinctly different from literature.
Video Friday: Dan Castellaneta on D’oh
Homer Simpson’s classic “annoyed grunt” was enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2001. The Big List entry on d’oh is here. But you can hear the origin of the exclamation from the horse’s mouth in this video:
Visualizing Word Origins
I seldom link to older blog posts, but this one is right up our alley, and I’ve only just come across it. Back in April, mkinde of the blog Ideas Illustrated created some multicolor visualizations of the origins of words in various types of writing, such as a passage from Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Dickens’s Great Expectations, medical writing, sports writing, and legal writing. He used Douglas Harper’s Online Etymology Dictionary as his source for the etymologies.
The result is striking and drives home the point of how many of our most-used words come from Old English, but it also drives home the degree to which reliance on words from Old English can vary significantly with genre; it’s much lower in legal and medical writing. We often think of writing as generic, but it isn’t. Different genres and audiences require different registers and vocabularies.
I was going to voice a quibble over possible confusion between Latin, Old Norse, and Old English, but there’s no need. Old English contains many words from Old Norse and a few, but oft-used, words from Latin (mainly ecclesiastical and religious terms), so there can be some definitional disputes over language of origin. But it appears that all the words marked as Old Norse or Latin are post-Conquest additions to the language (or at least aren’t in recorded use until after William crossed the Channel). If the word’s root was in English use before 1066, it’s marked as Old English. So kudos for getting a subtle point correct.
[Tip o’ the hat to Languagehat.]
In the years 2006 to the present, North Korea tests a nuclear weapon; Apple releases the iPhone; the U. S. housing market collapses, taking the world economy with it; Bill Gates steps down from the chairmanship of Microsoft; Barack Obama is elected the first African-American president of the United States; Somali pirates terrorize the Indian Ocean shipping lanes; the Large Hadron Collider begins operations at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland; protests spring up throughout the Arab world, toppling governments from Tunisia to Egypt; the U. S. military kills Osama bin Laden; and Queen Elizabeth marks her sixtieth year on the throne.Read the rest of the article...
In 2005, North Korea announces that it possesses nuclear weapons; Iraq holds its first free parliamentary elections in nearly fifty years; Lance Armstrong wins his record seventh consecutive Tour de France; astronomer Michael Brown discovers the dwarf planet Eris, which is larger than Pluto; YouTube is founded; the film Brokeback Mountain premieres; and hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans and the U. S. Gulf Coast.Read the rest of the article...
The Oxford English Dictionary has 8 words with first citations from 2004. In that year, a 9.3 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggers a tsunami that kills some quarter million people; cases of prisoner abuse at the U. S. military prison at Abu Ghraib, Iraq are revealed; terrorists bomb rush-hour trains in Madrid, killing 191; Chechen militants take over eleven-hundred people hostage in a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, with 334 killed when Russian security forces storm the building three days later; the Boston Red Sox break the Bambino’s Curse and win their first World Series since 1918; the NBC-TV series Friends ends its run; NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers land on Mars, and their missions, planned for only ninety days, were so successful that Spirit continued to operate for 2,269 days and Opportunity continues to work as of this writing; Chinese PC maker Lenovo announces that it will purchase IBM’s personal computer business, ending the reign of the IBM PC; and San Francisco issues marriage licenses to gay couples in defiance of California law.Read the rest of the article...
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton