Words of the Month: Military & Navy

The United States and Britain are deploying large numbers of soldiers, sailors, and airmen to the Persian Gulf. The United States and its allies are gearing up for another war with Iraq, so the words of the month are Military, adj., pertaining to soldiers, from the Latin miles or soldier, 1585, and Navy, n., a fleet or force of warships, from the Latin navis or ship, c. 1330.

We will take a look at some of the words that are used by and about the military, some official, some slang. Most of the technical or official terms dealt with here relate the US military. The definitions used by foreign militaries may be somewhat different and foreign militaries may employ synonyms for the words discussed here.

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Book Review: Weird and Wonderful Words

Weird and Wonderful Words by Erin McKean is a fun, little book for those who delight in rare and odd words. If you ever wanted to know what jumentous means, this is the book for you (it means “resembling horse urine"). Or perhaps you were wondering about quangocrat? If so, McKean’s book will tell you it is a British English word for a petty bureaucrat who works at a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization, or quango.

Now, this book and the words contained therein are not useful in any sense—unless you actually live a lifestyle where you might actually use the word jumentous, in which case I really do not want to know about it. The words are too obscure even for crossword puzzles. They most definitely are not kenspeckle (easily recognizable). Weird and Wonderful Words is strictly for fun.

The book is illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. She provides many ostrobogulous (unusual, interesting) drawings to illustrate various uses of the words.
If you like odd words, you could do worse than picking this book up. Who knows, it might help you increase your scibility (power of knowing).

Hardcover; 144 pages; Oxford University Press; October 2002; ISBN: 0195159055; $16.95.

[Note: Erin McKean was my editor at OUP for Word Myths.]

Prescriptivist’s Corner: Confusing Word Pairs (Part II)

Here we have another installment of confused word pairs. These are words that, while they look similar, have distinct differences in meaning or usage and are often used improperly. Again, our favorite loan shark, Vinnie “The Squid” Calamari, takes us on a tour of how to use these words correctly.

Affect/effect. As a noun, the word that you almost always wants is effect. The noun affect is only used in psychological jargon. As a verb, affect means to influence, while effect means to bring about or accomplish. Vinnie effected the change in his collection policy, which positively affected the bottom line.

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Book Review: Predicting New Words

Allan Metcalf has written an intriguing book about why certain words are successful, catching on and becoming part of vernacular, while others fail, destined to occupy some obscure corner of the English language or to be forgotten entirely. In Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success, Metcalf presents a methodology for predicting which new coinages are likely to be with us fifty years from now and which ones will be on the linguistic scrap heap.

Metcalf, who is a professor of English at MacMurray College in Illinois and executive secretary of the American Dialect Society (ADS), has been looking at new words and the factors that lead to their success for years. Every year, the ADS takes a lighthearted look at new or newly prominent words and honors them as “Words of the Year.” Metcalf noted, however, that many of these annual selections quickly disappeared from the national vocabulary, while other words that escaped the group’s notice went on to linguistic success and placement in the very best of dictionaries.

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American Dialect: Louisiana

Last month we covered the dialect of the Southern United States. The Southern dialect is not a uniform one and one can see differences as one moves from region to region in the South. The state of Louisiana, however, is so linguistically rich that we are taking some extra time to examine the French influences on the language of the Bayou State.

Louisiana has one of the richest and most complex regional dialects in the United States. A blend of English, French, Spanish, African, and Choctaw languages contributes to this linguistic jambalaya.

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2002 ADS Word of the Year

At its annual meeting in January, the American Dialect Society (ADS) selects its Word of the Year for the previous year. This word (or phrase) is a term that for whatever reason had special resonance in that year. The words and phrases selected are not necessarily new coinages (in fact they usually are not), but they are terms that have recently come to prominence. In addition to the Word of the Year, other categories of terms are also voted upon. This was the 13th year that the ADS has been honoring such words and phrases.

So this month, instead of our usual offering of a Word of the Month, we will take a look at the ADS nominations and selections for Word of the Year.

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Prescriptivist’s Corner: Confusing Word Pairs (Part I)

English has many pairs of words that are spelled almost identically or have meanings that are almost, but not quite synonymous. These words are often confused and writers frequently use one when they mean to use the other.

So here, with the help of our favorite loan shark, Vinnie “The Squid” Calamari, we present some of these word pairs and examples of how to use them correctly.

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American Dialect: Southern Speech

Perhaps no American dialect is more famous or recognizable than the Southern dialect. It certainly covers the widest swath of territory of any of the variants on standard America speech.

First, let us dispense with the myth that Southerners speak with a purer form of English, one that is closer to Elizabethan English and the language of Shakespeare than any other dialect. Some Southerners love to tell tales of how Elizabethan English is preserved in the backwoods and hollows of the South, living relics of the original English settlers. Utter bunk. Southern speech is no closer to Elizabethan English than is Brooklynese or Australian. Sure, it shares some common features with Elizabethan English that are not found in other dialects, but it has just as much that is not in common with the language of Shakespeare.

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Book Review: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words

Bill Bryson, a writer best known for his humorous travel books but also the author of two books on the English language, has recently produced a usage guide. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words is an updating of his 1983 Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words and Phrases (now out of print).

In the book, Bryson lists a fair number of words and phrases that are commonly misused, misspelled, or confused. A very good writer in his own right, Bryson’s advice is usually sound and practical, although he does stray a bit into the realm of personal idiosyncrasies and stylistic preferences and the book contains more than its fair share of errors.

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Word Of The Month: Brand

This month, a US Federal District Court judge will rule on whether or not Microsoft has the right to trademark the term Windows. Lindows.com, a maker of Linux computer operating systems, has asked the judge to summarily dismiss a lawsuit against them in which Microsoft claims that Lindows.com is infringing on their trademark and brand. For their part, Lindows.com claims that windows was in common use as a computer term for rectangular graphic user interface displays before 1983 when Microsoft began marketing their Windows brand and that no company has a right to exclusive use of common English words.

As a result, brand is the word of the month. A brand is the name of a product or company, a trademark. By extension, the brand is also the values that customers and the public associate with a product or company. The term comes from the practice of literally branding products, or the casks and crates that contain the product, with a hot iron. The idea of brand as a marketing tool is relatively recent, only dating to 1827. Brand name dates to 1921. Brand image appears in 1958 and brand loyalty a few years later in 1961.

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