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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star-spangled, spangle

We all know that Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner in 1814 after watching the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor:

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But most of us don’t know what a spangle is, or that Key wasn’t the first to refer to the U. S. flag as star-spangled.

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spangle

See star-spangled.

laneway

Sometimes you don’t notice dialectal terms until you move away from the region. After having lived in Toronto for six years and then having moved on to Texas, I have just noticed the term laneway. In current use it refers to a back alley running behind urban homes and is found chiefly in Ireland, Canada, and Australia.

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Emojis and the Law

Currently, my favorite podcast is Opening Arguments, in which interlocutors Andrew Torrez, a real-life lawyer, and Thomas Smith, not a lawyer, discuss topical legal questions.

While they typically stick to the law, in a recent episode they delved into the intersection of linguistics and the law. In the episode, the two hosts are joined by another lawyer, Denise Howell, to discuss how US law is treating the phenomenon of emojis. The discussion is quite good and free of the usual misconceptions about language that erupt when non-linguists take on the topic of language.

You can listen to it here.

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armadillo

The armadillo is an American mammal of the order Cingulata. There are a number of species of armadillo, of which the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) is perhaps the most familiar to English speakers. That species is found in South and Central America and in the southeastern United States, as far west as Texas and as far north as Nebraska, and is the only species of armadillo common to the United States.

Armadillo has a straightforward etymology. Its name comes from its keratinous skin that forms a leathery, armored carapace about its head, upper body, and tail.  The word is a borrowing from Spanish, armado (“armored,” past participle of armar) + -illo (diminutive suffix). So an armadillo is literally a “little armored one.”

The word first appears in Spanish in Nicolas Monardes 1574 Historia Medicinal de las Cosas Que se Traen de Nuestras Indias Occidentales (Medical study of the products imported from our West Indian possessions). That work was translated into English three years later by John Frampton, which is the first known use of the word in English:

He is called the Armadillo, that is to saie a beaste armed.


Source:

Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, March 2016, s. v. armadillo, n.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, 2011.

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