Butterick’s Practical Typography

This website is a wonderful resource for all things typographical, that is fonts, font sizes, spacing, and all those subjects relating to how a document looks.

https://practicaltypography.com/

April fool

No one knows the origin of April Fool’s Day or the expression April fool. The expression appears in the seventeenth century, and the association of the month April with fools, especially those foolish because of love or lust, appears to have arisen on the European continent and was imported to Britain in the seventeenth century. 

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Swearing In Tarantino Movies

Who says linguistics is dull?

Stephen Black is a British data scientist who has done yeoman’s work creating a tool for analyzing profanity in Tarantino’s movies.

He’s also done an online concordance and tools for the King James Bible.

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The Oxford Comma and the Law

The legal dispute between the Oakhurst Dairy and its drivers has been settled. As widely reported in the media, the dispute hinged on the use, or omission, of the Oxford comma. But the media, or at least the New York Times, is still getting it wrong. The ambiguity in the law was never just about the Oxford comma. The court ruled that the law as a whole was badly worded and ambiguous and made its ruling based on the legislative intent of the law, not the punctuation.

The latest New York Times article says that because of the settlement we’ll never get a legal ruling on the Oxford comma, but again, that’s wrong. The court had resolved the ambiguity in the law in favor of the drivers, and the ongoing proceedings were to determine the facts of the case and what damages, if any, were to be awarded the drivers. The settlement puts an end to that process.

The story, in all its grammatical detail, as I wrote it on 17 March 2017:

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ADS Word of the Year: fake news

On 5 January, the American Dialect Society chose fake news as its 2017 Word of the Year. The ADS defined fake news as either “disinformation or falsehoods presented as real news” or “actual news that is claimed to be untrue.” The phrase was considered during the organization’s deliberations for the 2016 Word of the Year (WOTY), but in that year it was being used only in the first of these two senses. Donald Trump began using it in the second sense in 2017, and it is this sense that catapulted it into the top spot. As far as I know, this is the first time a word has been considered in multiple years. (The ADS uses an expansive definition of word, that of “vocabulary item,” which includes phrases, hashtags, and the like.)

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food desert, food swamp

A food desert is an area, often an urban one, with poor access to food, especially nutritious food and fresh fruits and vegetables. The Oxford English Dictionary has a citation from a 1988 Australian newspaper:

New Caledonia, surely more of a food desert than anything outside five kilometres from the centre of Melbourne.

This citation may be something of an outlier. It refers to the Pacific island of New Caledonia, not an urban area in a developed nation, and it appears some eight years before food desert began to be used in earnest. Plus its use of “more of a” and the lack of quotation marks around the term hint that it is a straightforward metaphor rather than a term of art.

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2017 Words of the Year (WOTY)

As I did last year, and on occasion before that, I’ve come up with a list of words of the year. I do things a bit differently than other such lists in that I select twelve terms, one for each month. Since similar lists often exhibit a bias toward words that were in vogue at the end of the year when the list was compiled, my hope is that a monthly list will highlight words that were significant earlier in the year. The list is skewed by an American perspective, but since I’m American (and a Texan to boot), them’s the breaks.

I’m interpreting word loosely, including phrases, abbreviations, hashtags, and the like. The selected words are not necessarily new, but they are (mostly) associated with their respective month, either coming to widespread attention during it or associated with some event that happened then.

So, here are the 2017 Wordorigins.org Words of the Year:

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cyclone

Cyclone, a noun meaning a wind storm that revolves around a center of low pressure, has a somewhat interesting etymology in that it is a modern coinage using ancient roots. It is also one of those rare words that we can pinpoint its precise origin, a situation somewhat more common with scientific and technical terms.

Cyclone was coined in 1848 by Henry Piddington, an English ship captain turned scientist who had settled in India. Piddington is best known for his study of meteorology. In his Sailor’s Horn-book of that year, Piddington wrote:

We might, for all this last class of circular or highly curved winds, adopt the term “Cyclone” from the Greek κυκλως (which signifies amongst other things the coil of a snake) as neither affirming the circle to be a true one, though the circuit may be complete, yet expressing sufficiently the tendency to circular motion in these meteors.

Κύκλος is Greek for circle. Piddington’s coinage was rapidly adopted.

While the term is used in a general sense for all circular storms, regardless of wind strength or size, it can also be used more specifically to refer to smaller circular storms, such as tornados. And, in fact, in the United States cyclone has often been used to mean tornado.


Source

Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 1989.

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hurricane

As of this writing, hurricane Harvey has devastated much of the Texas Gulf Coast. (Here in College Station, Texas, we’ve avoided the worst of it, although it would be an understatement to say there has been a lot of rain.) But where does the word hurricane come from? It turns out it’s a rather straightforward borrowing.

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5 Ways to a Faster PhD

This article has absolutely nothing to do with etymology or language (except in the tangential way that it is about professional studies in the humanities), but it’s something I wrote about the problem of how long it takes to complete a PhD in the humanities.

It’s probably not of much interest to those outside academia.

And sorry about the click-baity headline; that was the editor’s idea, not mine.

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