Book Review: Slayer Slang
Michael Adams, English professor at Albright College, has produced what will probably be the definitive study of the language associated with a rather unique television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy, or BtVS, made its debut on the WB network in the spring of 1997 and continued until the series concluded this past spring (making a shift to the UPN network along the way). BtVS was one of the most innovative shows in television history. It cannot be pigeonholed into a genre, being simultaneously a horror show, a comedy, a teen drama, a feminist saga, and a martial arts show.
But perhaps the most innovative aspect of the show was its use of language. Buffy and her friends continually engaged in creative banter. Vampires might give someone the wiggins, hearing the events of a hot date to a friend is to engage in vicarious smootchies, and a bad cream rinse is neither creamy nor rinsey. The writers used a combination of real teen slang, created words, and pop culture references to produce a show filled with linguistic delights.
Slayer Slang is the ultimate compendium of the language used on the show. Adams has written four essays on the show’s use of language. These essays constitute the first half of the book. The second half is a lexicon of the various words and phrases used on the show, used in the BtVS novels that have been written, and used by fans of the show in Internet chat rooms.
One caution for those thinking of buying this book, this is a serious study of language. While the research subject may be light-hearted, this book is not. The words and usages described in it are a lot of fun, but the core of the book is serious academic study. Fans of the show looking for a light-hearted look at fun Buffy words may be daunted by the serious nature of the Slayer Slang.
Those who may want a brief look at the slang used on BtVS may wish to take a look at the two articles on the subject that appeared in the October and November 2002 (Vol. 1, Nos. 3 &4) issues of A Way With Words.
Hardcover, 308 pp, Oxford University Press, June 2003, ISBN: 0195160339, $19.95
Word of the Month: File Sharing
This past month has seen the issue of duplicating and distributing copyrighted music files over the Internet become front-page news. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed lawsuits against several hundred people who have “shared” music files over the Internet. So our word of the month is file sharing, n., the distribution of data files, such as music, in a peer-to-peer network.
While on the surface this issue is about music, there is a deeper issue regarding intellectual property in electronic media. The new stories about file sharing have focused on the music industry, with a secondary focus on Hollywood and the movies, but at its core the issue affects all types of copyrighted material. Music is not the only thing that can be shared over networks like Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa. Any type of files can be distributed, text, photos, movies (actually, the bulk of material distributed over these networks is not music, but pornography).
American Dialect: Alaska & Hawaii
In this final installment of our series on American dialect we take a look at the dialects spoken in the two newest states, Alaska and Hawaii. Both were American possessions since the 19th century and both were admitted to the Union in 1959. Other than that, they have very little in common. Alaska is the only arctic state and Hawaii is the only tropical one. Alaska is the largest state in terms of area (over twice the size of Texas the next competitor) and Hawaii is one of the smallest (47th of the 50). Hawaii, on the other hand, has nearly twice the population of Alaska.
Linguistically, both have a strong native influence, but the similarity stops there. Alaskan terms are strongly influenced by Tlingit and Inuit (with a faint hint of Russian dating back to the days before the Tsar sold Alaska to the US), while Hawaiian is a Polynesian language. Outside of a specialized vocabulary relating to the arctic environment, Alaskans speak a very standard form of American English. Most Alaskans are not natives, having moved there from the Lower-48. There are, however, distinct Hawaiian pronunciations and grammatical rules to the English spoken there.
Word Of The Month: DNA
From the decoding of the human genome to the fiftieth anniversary of Watson and Crick’s discovery of its structure to the recent claim by Chinese scientists that they have created rabbit-human hybrid cells using cloning technology, DNA has been much in the news lately. Given that Watson and Crick’s discovery is ushering in a brave new world of biological revolution, it is only fitting that our word of the month should be:
Deoxyribonucleic acid, n., also DNA, a self-replicating chemical that carries the genetic information in the cell. DNA consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted into a double helix and linked by hydrogen bonds between the complementary base pairs, adenine and thymine or cytosine and guanine. Thus the sequence of one strand can be replicated from its partner. The sequence of base pairs determines individual hereditary characteristics. The existence of nucleic acids has been known since the 19th century and DNA was differentiated from RNA in 1931. But DNA’s function in genetics was not fully understood until Watson, Crick, and Wilkins deciphered its structure and its process of self-replication in 1953.
Humor: Military Linguistics
In the US military, confusion sometimes reigns because members of the four armed services do not always understand one another. Not only do the four services have their own uniforms, equipment, and traditions, they also have their own jargon. This is illustrated by fairly old joke about military jargon.
Take a simple command such as secure the building. One would think that this command would be rather unambiguous, but this is not necessarily so. Each of the four services interprets this command in its own, unique way.
If one tells an Army soldier to secure a building, he will occupy and prepare to defend it.
A Marine, on the other hand, when told to secure a building will attack and destroy it.
Tell a Navy man to secure the building and the sailor will turn out the lights and lock the door.
Finally, if you tell an Air Force airman to secure the building, he will take out a five-year lease with an option to buy.
Book Review: Dubious Doublets
Dubious Doublets, by Stewart Edelstein, is another in the long line of popular press etymology books. Two things, however, make this book stand out from the crowd. The first is the quality of the research and the second is Edelstein’s approach to the subject, examining pairs of seemingly unrelated words that share a common origin.
Edelstein is an amateur etymologist. A lawyer by trade, he brings over thirty years of private study to the subject and it shows. Although the book lacks source notes or a bibliography (Edelstein does provide a rather long list of books that are “recommended reading"), the etymologies he gives stand up to detailed scrutiny. Edelstein does not plump for questionable etymologies, nor does he attempt to pass off false etymologies with words like “some people believe.”
Myths of Language Change, Part 3: It’s Never Been That Way Before & But It Makes Sense
The changing face of our language has created an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, people recognize and delight in the language change of the past. But on the other hand, people routinely resist current changes in the language. The language they learn as children is, for many, the only acceptable manner of speaking. Change is vehemently eschewed.
How people can revel in the changes of the past yet fiercely resist the changes of the present is just bizarre. And it is futile. The language will change whether we like it or not, and no amount of resistance will stop a change whose time has come.
American Dialect: The West
The American West, as a rule, does not have distinctive pronunciation or grammatical forms. Large numbers of those living in the West came from somewhere else and arrived relatively recently. As a result of this late immigration and mixing of dialects, those in the West speak a very standard brand of American English. The English of the West is very much like that of the Midwest and Northeast.
English-speakers did not settle the West until quite late. Large scale settlement of California did not begin until 1849, following the discovery of gold there the previous year, only about 150 years ago. Similarly, the Mormons did not settle in Utah until 1848. The other Western states were settled even later. Arizona did not attain statehood until 1912. The population of the West boomed after World War II, when the combination of massive water projects and air-conditioning made the Southwest and Southern California habitable for large populations.
Word Of The Month: Triple Crown
In June, Funny Cide, a three-year-old gelding, almost won the Belmont Stakes and the American Triple Crown. Instead he placed, or finished third. Had Funny Cide won the Belmont, he would have been the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978. Like Funny Cide, twelve other horses have won the first two jewels in the Triple Crown only to falter at Belmont. Only eleven horses in history have won all three races.
In honor of Funny Cide our word of the month is Triple Crown. The original Triple Crown is the English one, the winning of the three races known as the Two Thousand Guineas, the Derby, and the St. Leger. Only fifteen horses have captured the English Triple Crown.
Book Review: A History of Reading
Few people think to distinguish reading from writing. Most generally assume that these two skills are one and the same. Stephen Roger Fischer’s A History of Reading disabuses us of that notion. Fischer’s book is the third in a trilogy, the first two volumes addressing language and writing. This third volume focuses on reading, the various types of reading, how we do it, and the social significance of it.
First, the mental process of reading is quite different from speech or writing. We do not normally read individual phonemes or letters and accomplished readers may not even read individual words. Instead we take in entire phrases with a glance and use pattern recognition to render it comprehensible. Children learning to read do sound out individual phonemes, as do adults when they encounter unfamiliar and complex words, but once reading has been ingrained as a skill, most of us do not.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton