Navajo Code Talkers

A recent posting on the wordorigins.org discussion forum discussed the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. The subject combines two interests of mine, languages and the history of the war and it also hearkens back to my Army days when I was in charge of communications security for my battalion.

The Navajo Code Talkers were human encryption/ decryption machines that served with the US Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater. In 1942, a Philip Johnston, the son of missionaries to the Navajo Indian nation and one of a handful of non-Navajos who spoke the language, heard of the military’s search for a robust code that could be used on the battlefield and thought that the Navajo might have a solution.

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Linguistics Glossary

This week we examine some terms that used in the field of linguistics and on Wordorigins.org. Like any field, linguistics has its own jargon (see below), used to convey information precisely and concisely. Sometimes this jargon is opaque and daunting to those encountering it for the first time. So, in the interests of better communication, we present this glossary of linguistic terms:

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Corrections

I received more email comments about last week’s issues than any other. Most focused on two typos: I misspelled Velcro and who. While I am an excellent proofreader of other people’s writing, like most writers I am abysmal at proofing my own words.

One writer objected to my classification of the words as from the 20th century, stating that the 20th century ran from 1901-2000, not 1900-1999. While this hairsplitting may be technically correct, common usage has the century (and millennium) ending on 31 December 1999. But the real reason for my choice of 1900-1999 as the dates is that the OED has no words with a first citation from 2000, so rather than leaving a blank in the slot for that year I shifted the set one year back.

Word A Year: 20th Century, Part II

Last week we examined fifty words, one from each of the years 1950-99. This week we look at words from the first half of the twentieth century.

The words chosen all have their first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from the year in question. This does not mean that they were actually coined in that year, in fact most were probably not since it usually takes some time from the coining of a term and its appearance in print and there is no guarantee that the OED has even identified the earliest recorded use. But the words were reasonably new to the English language in the year in question and as such are a good guide for tripping down memory lane and recalling what things were new and important in a given year.

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Word A Year: 20th Century, Part I

Last week we examined a number of words from one year, 1906. This week and next we will look at one word for each year of the 20th century.

The words chosen all have their first citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from the year in question. This does not mean that they were actually coined in that year, in fact most were probably not since it usually takes some time from the coining of a term and its appearance in print and there is no guarantee that the OED has even identified the earliest recorded use. But the words were reasonably new to the English language in the year in question and as such are a good guide for tripping down memory lane and recalling what things were new and important in a given year.

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Journo’s Boffo Lingo: The Slang of Daily Variety, Part III

(This article originally appeared in Verbatim, Vol. XXX, No. 1, Spring 2005.)

Those who for the first time open up Daily Variety, the trade paper of Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, are often baffled and stymied by the paper’s use of language. Variety employs a number of grammatical tricks and jargon terms, which it dubs “slanguage,” to achieve its distinctive style.

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Journo’s Boffo Lingo: The Slang of Daily Variety, Part II

(This article originally appeared in Verbatim, Vol. XXX, No. 1, Spring 2005.)

Those who for the first time open up Daily Variety, the trade paper of Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, are often baffled and stymied by the paper’s use of language. Variety employs a number of grammatical tricks and jargon terms, which it dubs “slanguage,” to achieve its distinctive style.

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Journo’s Boffo Lingo: The Slang of Daily Variety, Part I

(This article originally appeared in Verbatim, Vol. XXX, No. 1, Spring 2005.)

Those who for the first time open up Daily Variety, the trade paper of Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, are often baffled and stymied by the paper’s use of language. Take, for example, this headline, “‘KING’ NIPS SHIP WITH 11 NOMS” (28 Jan 2004, p. 24). To most the headline is unintelligible, but to those familiar with Variety it is announcing that the movie ‘Return of the King’ beat out ‘Master and Commander’ with eleven Academy Award nominations. Another example is the opening line of an article that appears in the 11 February 2004 issue, “A hefty writedown at Blockbuster knocked Viacom into the red last quarter despite a strong perf at those true-blue cable nets and strides at Paramount, where prexy Mel Karmazin praised the 2004 pic slate.” Variety employs a number of grammatical tricks and jargon terms, which it dubs “slanguage,” to achieve its distinctive style.

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Kurt Cobain & His Orchestra

Kurt Cobain & His Orchestra: Shifts in Naming Conventions of Popular Music Groups, 1923-2003

This is a paper that I presented at the annual meeting of the American Name Society in Albuquerque, NM, 8 January 2006.

Abstract:

The paper examines 1,820 names of popular music groups from the years 1955-2003 plus 34 names from before 1955 and identifies several morphological and semantic changes to naming conventions during this period.

The primary change is a sudden shift from plural names (e.g. The Supremes) to singular ones (e.g. Toad The Wet Sprocket) occurring in a two-year period from 1965-66. Other less sudden changes include a steady decline in the use of collective nouns in group names (e.g., band, trio) and a decline in the use of personal names in band names (e.g., The Greg Kihn Band).

Download:

The paper, in Adobe PDF format, is here (94 KB).

The data set used for analysis, in Microsoft Excel format, is here (457 KB).

ADS 2005 Word of the Year

Each year for the last 15 years the American Dialect Society selects its Word of the Year at its annual meeting. This year the meeting is being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the word was selected today. The selection is the word or phrase that the society members feel best reflects the language and preoccupations of the year gone by. The ADS vote is the longest-running “words of the year” vote and the only one conducted by an non-commercial entity.

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