WWI Vocabulary

Cooties, doughboys, and foxholes. Jonathan Lighter has a rather good article on CNN.com on the words spawned during the First World War, which began one hundred years ago next month.

If there is a complaint about the article it’s that Lighter only scratches the surface. There are many, many other terms that could have been mentioned, like tank, over the top, and storm troop. But there is only so much that can be included in an article such as this, and the ones that Lighter includes are a good representational sample.

(CNN gives the date of the war’s start as 4 August, which is the date Britain entered the war, but hostilities had started on 28 July 1914 between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. I wonder if, as the anniversary approaches, if there will be quibbling in the press as to the “true” date.)

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Business Jargon Tumblr

I’ve just discovered Use Sparingly, a tumblr that is a Devil’s Dictionary of business jargon.

Rather amusing.

[Tip o’ the hat to Lowering the Bar]

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Are You Using the Wrong Dictionary?

James Somers wrote a blog post on dictionaries a week or so ago, in which he extols older, more poetic dictionary definitions, criticizing modern dictionaries for being flat and uninspiring. He uncovers a very useful technique for punching up writing, one favored by famed, non-fiction writer John McPhee, but in the process Somers falls into a trap that many non-linguists do, ascribing to the myth that when it comes to language authority older is better. To put it bluntly, Somers is probably using the wrong dictionary.

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Why English Has Gendered Pronouns

Linguist Gretchen McCullough tells the interesting, but very convoluted story.

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Beowulf Filmfest

On 2 June, Medievalists.net, an excellent blog and website on all things medieval, posted links to eight different YouTube videos about the Old English poem Beowulf. The videos vary widely in quality, so here I re-present them, in a different order, with some commentary. Overall, this presentation shows that there is quite a bit of material about Beowulf out there, but it varies wildly in quality. The videos that make the most of the audio-visual medium tend to be low quality in terms of scholarship and accuracy, while the most insightful commentary is usually framed in achingly dull presentations of a person standing at a lectern and reading from a script.

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How Languages Evolve

TedEd has a video by Alex Gendler on how languages evolve. Nothing surprising or out of the ordinary for those with any kind of background in historical linguistics, but it’s a good overview for the neophyte.

(I’m going to take a moment to bitch about TedEd’s presentation. First, they don’t allow the embedding of the video on other sites. That’s their prerogative, but I don’t see any logic to it. It’s not like they have ads or are otherwise losing money when others embed the video. The second, and much more important complaint, is the lack of a date. When was this video made? I’ve noticed more and more websites and blogs not noting when content is posted. This is a serious deficiency for a site that provides educational materials. Instructors need to know how current the materials are.)

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Where Do English Words Come From?

A recent thread on this site’s discussion forum got me thinking about the borrowing of foreign words into English, a language with a reputation for indiscriminately appropriating words from other languages. Etymology books and websites, including this one, often highlight the diversity of languages that English draws its vocabulary from, but how much of this reputation is deserved? Does English really borrow that many words? And does English really filch a lot of words from many different languages? The answers may be a bit surprising, but when you look at the data in light of history, they make a lot of sense.

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Nate Silver Takes on Baby Names

The website fivethirtyeight.com, best known for its data-driven political and sports analysis, has a rather good post on the popularity of baby names in the United States.

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Swa meaht me bannan

As part of a rather inspired class assignment, students at Grinnell College in Iowa translated Carly Rae Jepsens’ song Call Me Maybe into Old English and produced a video:

It’s a rather faithful translation of Jepsen’s modern English lyrics, with a few alterations to accommodate anachronisms. For example, pennies and dimes becomes penning ond sceattas (pennies and wealth), jeans becomes brec (trousers), baby becomes loflice (praiseworthy one), and my number becomes min nama (my name).

The translation doesn’t use Old English prosody, using rhyme instead of alliteration. That’s a valid artistic choice and makes the Old English version of the song instantly recognizable, although creating an alliterative version would have been a cool exercise.

I also wince at the faux medieval/Harry Potter motif in the video. But then, the subject of Jepsen’s song is distinctly not Anglo-Saxon, so strict cultural adherence isn’t really possible.

Still, it’s a very clever and fun class project.

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