A recent episode of the radio show and podcast A Way With Words made mention of the slang term keener, citing it as a Canadianism for someone who is enthusiastic about something. I had noticed the word since coming to the University of Toronto three years ago, where my fellow graduate students use it to describe the enthusiastic, and usually top-performing, undergraduate students in their classes. Phrases like “I assigned extra reading, knowing that only the keeners would actually do it” are common in our discussions among ourselves. We graduate students are ambivalent about the keeners here at U of T. On the one hand, we appreciate their enthusiasm, but on the other that same enthusiasm can become tiresome, and their behavior sometimes verges on the sycophantic. (The joy of having a bright, motivated student who is destined to get an A wears off after the seventh frantic email on the night before an essay is due.)Read the rest of the article...
whole nine yards, the
Few phrases have as many tales attached to their origin as does the phrase, the whole nine yards, which has spawned a raft of popular etymologies, all of them wrong. The origin of the phrase has long been a mystery, but recently researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has uncovered the phrase’s origin, or at least gotten as close to the origin as anyone is likely to get. And in what may be a surprise to many (but perhaps not to those with long experience researching slang terms), the phrase doesn’t refer to anything in particular. The “nine” doesn’t seem to hold any significance, nor does “yards” measure anything in particular.Read the rest of the article...
When we say someone is slim, we usually mean that they are slender or thin, although the word has some other, less common, meanings. English use of the adjective dates to at least 1657,
We shall see, however, that the word may be older. Slim is borrowed from Dutch and comes from the Middle Dutch or Middle Low German slim or slem, where the word meant slanting or crooked. And oddly, English use of the word has always been “gracefully slender,” with a positive connotation. While in Dutch the word has both positive and negative connotation, and in modern German, its counterpart schlimm means bad or wicked.
Dictionary of Medieval Latin Completed
After one hundred years in the making, the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources has been completed. The sixteenth and final volume will be officially published on 11 December. The dictionary, which has over 58,000 entries, includes words used in Anglo-Latin from 540–1600 C.E.
When we say someone is shrewd, we are saying that they are clever, astute, and exhibit a practical intelligence and insight, but this was not always so. Some seven hundred years ago, a shrewd person was an evil or malicious one.Read the rest of the article...
Robots are a staple of science fiction and increasingly an important part of life in our present-day world. The word comes from the Czech robota, a word literally meaning forced labor, but which is also used figuratively to mean drudgery, hard work. Robota has cognates in several Slavic languages, and the use of robot in English to refer to the system of serfdom in Eastern Europe dates to the early nineteenth century.Read the rest of the article...
America’s First Book
The Old South Church in Boston has sold one of its two copies of the Bay Psalm Book for $14.2 million dollars, making it the most expensive printed book in history. The Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640, is the first book printed in North America. Eleven copies of the first edition are extant. While this is the highest price fetched for a printed book, it’s not the the most expensive book ever; a handwritten notebook of Leonardo da Vinci sold for $30.8 million in 1994.Read the rest of the article...
Dinosaur Comics on Overmorrow
The meaning of words change over time. But when a particular sense of a word falls out of general use, sometimes the old meaning sticks around in idiomatic and stock phrases. Such is the case with quick, which did not always mean fast, rapid.Read the rest of the article...
12 Grammar Myths
Jonathan Owen over at the Arrant Pedantry blog has a list of twelve mistakes that people tend to make when opining about “grammar.” It’s a comprehensive and sensible encapsulation. (I’ve been trying to compile a similar list for the past few years, but keep getting distracted.)
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