What Are You Looking Up?

Merriam Webster reports that the word most often looked up in its online dictionary during the month of September was refugee. Two other Katrina-related words made the top twenty, levee, coming in at number four and hurricane at eleven.

Other words in the top twenty indicate that school is back in session, with students looking up words for assignments. Numbers two and three were effect and affect. Metaphor and irony come in at five and six. Paradigm and rhetoric also make the list.

Scalito & Scooter

Two nicknames have been in the news as of late. The first is Scalito, a name given to Samuel Alito, President Bush’s latest nominee to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. The nickname is a play on two names, Alito’s and that of Justice Antonin Scalia. Both judges are very conservative and the blending of their names emphasizes the similarities in their respective judicial philosophies.

Alito’s nickname is just about a year old, or at least that’s as far back as the blog search engine Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) can trace it. On 4 November 2004, the blog Serendipity contained this fragment, "With old Rehnquist’s health in decline, rumor has it that Samuel A. Alito Jr… been nicknamed Scalito because is just like Antonin Scalia." Unfortunately, that blog no longer exists and all that is left is this fragment returned by Technorati. But even without the entire context, it is clear that the blog’s author did not coin the term.

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Trafalgar & The Language of the Age of Sail, Part II

Two hundred years ago last week, on 21 October 1805, the Battle of Trafalgar was fought off the coast of Spain. A fleet of 27 Royal Navy ships under the command of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a fleet of 33 French and Spanish ships under the command of Vice Admiral Pierre Charles Silvestre de Villeneuve. In the battle, 22 French and Spanish ships were captured or sunk. No British ships were lost. Villeneuve was captured and eventually paroled back to France. Upon his return he was found dead in his room at an inn, stabbed in the chest six times. The death was ruled a suicide.

Because of the decisive victory at Trafalgar, even though the Napoleonic wars continued for another ten years, the threat of Napoleon’s invading England was ended that October. But more than this, Trafalgar cemented British control of seas for a hundred years and bestowed on the Royal Navy an aura of invincibility.

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Department of Political Correctness

Reuters today reports that a woman in Oldham, England has complained that she was upbraided by a policeman because she used the F-word--fat.

Mary Magilton, 54, suffered minor injuries when she was hit by a car in a hit-and-run incident. She had been standing on the pavement (sidewalk to us Americans) when a car driven by an unidentified woman jumped the curb and struck her. In describing the driver to the police, she used the word fat. At which point the police officer told her she should not use that word.

"I was given a frosty look and told I couldn’t say that. I could have said lardy, porky or podgy. But I wouldn’t dare use those words," said Magilton.

The Greater Manchester Police department confirmed that the incident report included the word fat. They also said if the officer did criticize Magilton, they were sure he was polite when he did it.

Railroad Jargon

Most professions have their own jargon, a specialized vocabulary that applies to that field. Railroading is no different in this respect. Many railroading terms are familiar to us. Terms like whistle stop and cowcatcher are distinctly old-fashioned.

But not all railroad jargon terms are archaic or obsolete. Here is a selection of modern terms in use by those who run the railroads.

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Review: The Complete New Yorker

The New Yorker may very well be the greatest magazine ever published. Since it began to be published in 1925, the New Yorker has featured some of the greatest writers in the English language. Dorothy Parker, E.B. White, James Thurber, Martin Amis, W.H. Auden, Stephen Vincent Benet, Ernest Hemingway, and F.Scott Fitzgerald have all contributed to the magazine. Every week for over eighty years the New Yorker has provided an eclectic mix of fiction, poetry, non-fiction, photographs, and of course cartoons.

After eighty years of publication, the entire archive of the New Yorker, from 21 February 1925 to 14 February 2005, is now available on DVD-ROM. Coming on eight DVDs, the entirety of every issues is available, all the articles, all the stories, all the cartoons, and even the ads.

The collection has a list price of $100, but is available on Amazon and elsewhere for a little over $60. At this price it is an utter steal.

The collection is not without flaws. Biggest among them is that the archive is not full-text searchable. You can search titles, article abstracts and key words, as well as by author, department, and issue, but you can’t search within the articles themselves. Also, you cannot install the issues on your hard drive.

But given the price, these are minor complaints. The archive is well worth it. If you can resist running out and buying it right away, be sure to put it on your holiday gift lists.

Words On The Web: Language Blogs

Most of us know that blog, a clipped form of weblog, is an online journal, usually updated daily and often including the ability for others to comment on the journal entries. The term weblog dates to 1997 and blog to 1999.

Blog can also be used as verb, meaning to maintain such a journal, and it has given rise to blogger, one who maintains a blog, and blogosphere, the universe of blogs.

But this is not the extent of linguistic interest in blogs. There are several excellent blogs on language that are worth checking out at least every few days. Some of these are listed below:

Double-Tongued Word Wrester is more like an online dictionary than a journal, but you can post comments to the entries. It’s maintained by Grant Barrett, an occasional contributor to the Wordorigins discussion forum.

Every Way But One is a blog maintained by a graduate student in linguistics.

Journal Extime is another blog maintained by a graduate student in linguistics.

Language Guy provides commentary on language by a retired professor of linguistics.

Language Hat will be familiar with those who read the Wordorigins discussion forum. It’s maintained by one of our regular and most valued contributors.

Language Log is maintained by a number of linguists and people interested in language.

Tenser, said the Tensor is yet another blog maintained by a graduate student in linguistics. It covers a wide variety of topics (language, science fiction, computers and technology, comics, anime, and other geekery) and is more personal than most on this list.

Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey addresses linguistics, philosophy, and politics.

And if you find this blogs interesting, you will have to check out Technorati.com, a up-to-the-minute search engine of the entire blogosphere.

Diner Slang

Waiters and cooks in diners and other short-order restaurants have traditionally used a colorful jargon to describe the various orders that customers place. What follows is a number of terms in this jargon. Now, this jargon is not universal; not all diners use it and often there are many different variants and options for a particular order, as witnessed by the numerous names for common food items on this list.

Some of these jargon terms, like eighty-six and java, are more general slang. Most of the others are obscure.

The jargon probably arose as a means of entertainment, both for the staff who would quickly tire of the same orders again and again and for the amusement of customers. And of course this diner slang served the traditional purpose of a jargon of identifying those who were experienced in the short-order business.

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Department of Humorous Names

According to the Associated Press, the Cornwall Record Office in Britain has compiled a list of 1,000 odd or unusual names found in census, birth, death, and marriage records dating back to the 16th century. The list contains such gems as Abraham Thunderwolff and Freke Dorothy Fluck Lane.

The list was inspired by the discovery of a real-life Horatio Hornblower in county records, a name more famous as being that of C.S. Forester’s fictional naval hero. The real Horatio had six siblings, named Azubia, Constantia, Jecoliah, Jedidah, Jerusha and Erastus.

The records tell us that a man named Levi Jeans lived in Cornwall in the late-18th century.

Other names on the list include Boadicea Basher, Philadelphia Bunnyface, Faithful Cock, Susan Booze, Elizabeth Disco, Edward Evil, Fozzitt Bonds, Truth Bullock, Charity Chilly, Gentle Fudge, Obedience Ginger and Offspring Gurney.

Marriage records tell us that Nicholas Bone and Priscilla Skin were joined in wedlock in 1636. Charles Swine and Jane Ham were married in 1711 and John Mutton and Ann Veale tied the knot in 1791. Finally, Richard Dinner and Mary Cook were joined in 1802.

Stormy Weather

Katrina devastated New Orleans and Mississippi. Now Rita is slamming into the Texas coast. Where do these names come from? Who picks them?

Traditionally, hurricanes were named for the saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. This practice was prevalent in the Spanish West Indies. The same storm could have different names in different locales, depending on the day it struck each location as it moved across the Caribbean. On 13 September 1876, Hurricane San Felipe hit Puerto Rico. 52 years later, on 13 September 1928, Hurricane San Felipe the Second hit the island. This practice was even Anglicized on occasion; the September 1935 storm that devastated New England is known as the Labor Day storm.

With the advent of modern meteorology and storm tracking, the use of names that changed daily was untenable. The use of women’s names for storms began in the 1940s, following the use of a woman’s name for a storm in the 1941 novel Storm by George Stewart. Women’s names were used exclusively until 1978, except for 1951-52 when storms were named after the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.). In 1978, male names were added to the list of names for Pacific storms and a year later, Atlantic storm name list followed suit.

For each year the World Meteorological Organization creates a list of 21 male and female names for Atlantic storms, one for each letter of the alphabet (letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used due to the relatively few names that begin with those letters). The list includes French, Spanish, Dutch, and English names to reflect the languages spoken throughout the Caribbean. The names are periodically reused, although names of storms that cause significant destruction are retired from the list. So, it is unlikely that we will ever have a Katrina the Second.

The Tropical Prediction Center in Miami, Florida tracks Atlantic storms. As soon as one is identified with wind speeds in excess of 38 miles per hour (34 knots), the next name on the list is assigned to the storm. Not all of these tropical storms grow into hurricanes and not all make significant landfall. (Which explains why we can go from Katrina to Rita in only a few weeks.)

If the list of names is exhausted and more storms continue to arise, the plan is to start naming them with letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, etc.). This has never happened before, but is a near certainty this year as hurricane season runs through November and we’re already on Rita. The most storms on record in a single season is twenty one, recorded in 1933, but this was before the modern system of nomenclature was introduced. 1995 is second, with nineteen named storms that year.

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