whole nine yards, the
Few phrases have as many tales attached to their origin as does the phrase, the whole nine yards, which has spawned a raft of popular etymologies, all of them wrong. The origin of the phrase has long been a mystery, but recently researchers Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Fred Shapiro have uncovered the phrase’s origin, or at least gotten as close to the origin as anyone is likely to get. And in what may be a surprise to many (but perhaps not to those with long experience researching slang terms), the phrase doesn’t refer to anything in particular. The “nine” holds no significance, nor does “yards” measure anything in particular.Read the rest of the article...
Hyphens: A Rant (So To Speak)
Although Jen Doll calls her piece a “rant,” it really isn’t one. It’s rare that a mass-market publication like The Atlantic prints a thoughtful article that effectively deals with the niceties and subtleties of punctuation, but this one on the hyphen is just that. Judging from my students’ essays, the hyphen, along with its cousin the dash, is probably the most misused punctuation mark, and Ms Doll’s article addresses the proper usage with understated wit and charm. If only more articles about pet peeves were like this one.
Plus, I learned something from this article. I had no idea that that an en dash was the proper mark to use in the adjective pre–Civil War. It seems, at least according to Chicago, that an en dash is used instead of hyphen when linking an open compound (i. e., Civil War) with another adjective or prefix.
[Tip o’ the Hat to Andrew Sullivan]
Ben Zimmer has a nice piece in today’s Boston Globe on how writer Tony Kushner came up with the authentic language used in Spielberg’s Lincoln.
OED Editing Drama
There’s nothing like the excitement generated by a good story about dictionary editing gone wild.
The Guardian ran this piece on Monday about the OED “covertly” deleting words because they came from sources outside England.
The only problem is, that it doesn’t seem to be true. Yes, the dictionary deleted words, and these were disproportionately words from non-UK varieties of English, but there was nothing covert about it. The dictionary clearly explained its editorial policy and under what circumstances words would be struck from the dictionary. The words weren’t deleted because they were foreignisms, but because the evidence for their use was not substantive enough. At the same time, the editors were adding many more foreignisms that were better researched and clearly established. When dealing with a print dictionary, there is only so much room and such editorial decisions need to be made. Furthermore, the book on which The Guardian bases its article apparently does not make the claims the newspaper says it does.
Jesse Sheidlower has a response on the New Yorker’s blog.
AP on Homophobia
The Associated Press Stylebook, which is something of the standard setter among American journalists, has come out discouraging the use of the word homophobia (and Islamophobia as well):
Read the rest of the article...
An irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. Examples: acrophobia, a fear of heights, and claustrophobia, a fear of being in small, enclosed spaces. Do not use in political or social contexts: homophobia, Islamophobia.
Best Word Ever
At least according to Ted McCragg and his blog Questionable Skills. McCragg conducted an unscientific competition between words organized into brackets like the NCAA basketball championship. The others in the final four were gherkin, kerfuffle, and hornswoggle.
You can read more about the competition in The Atlantic.
[All this transpired over two months ago, but I missed it. Hat tip to David A. Daniel on ADS-L for bringing it to my attention.]
Up Goer Five
xkcd has done it again. This time it’s a drawing of “the only flying space car that’s taken anyone to another world (explained using only the ten hundred words people use the most often).”
A vocabulary of only a thousand words is limiting, but you can get points across.
I’m a bit surprised that computer made the cut, but I guess that’s the world we live in now.
Book Review: Punctuation..?
Punctuation..? by User Design (Thomas Bohm) is a short handbook on how to use the most common punctuation marks, plus some of the not-so-common ones. Illustrated with simple, yet intriguing line drawings, the book covers British stylistic practice, not North American, and is aimed at the novice writer who is looking to improve their use of common punctuation marks.Read the rest of the article...
The Need for Cursive Writing?
This article is a few months old, but I just saw it, and it got my hackles up. I’m not sure what’s scarier, that this is even a debate or the level of argument that is being put forth by these educators.Read the rest of the article...
Odd Toppled Trees
While here in Toronto the advent of Hurricane Sandy isn’t the cause of evacuations and frenzied preparations that it is for my relatives and friends back on the Jersey Shore, but that doesn’t mean we won’t feel its effects. But one sentence from the Canadian Weather Office’s warning for the city jumped out at me:
Sporadic power outages are quite likely across the warned regions due to falling limbs and the odd toppled tree taking out hydro lines.
“The odd toppled tree” is distinctly unbureaucratic in tone; I like it. It’s not the kind of thing you expect to see in an official announcement about severe weather. “Quite likely” is also nicely informal. The “hydro,” of course, is pure Canadian, a clipping of hydroelectric. Had this been a warning in the States it would have read “power lines.”
Whenever normal, human speech works its way into official bureaucrat-speak, it’s a good thing.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton