Strong Language

There’s a new blog in town, one aimed at “language geeks to talk about things they can’t talk about in more polite contexts.” Specifically, the blog Strong Language is all about vulgarities.

Strong Language is the brainchild of linguist James Harbeck and editor Stan Carey, who each have their own excellent language blogs. The blog also features contributions from other writers about language.

Posts in the first week of the blog’s existence have included a discussion of some of Francis Grose’s more salacious notes that never made it into any of the print editions of his eighteenth-century slang dictionary, a piece by Ben Zimmer on the shit-ins of the 1960s, and a post on dog excrement in medieval Ireland.

So if you like words and aren’t easily offended, check it out.

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English 3.0

Joe Gilbert has created English 3.0, a twenty-minute documentary on the state of the English language, featuring the likes of Tom Chatfield, David Crystal, Robert McCrum, Fiona McPherson and Simon Horobin.

English 3.0 from Joe Gilbert on Vimeo.

It’s quite good. One comment mentioned by several of those interviewed that I have my doubts about concerns the “revolution” in language due to the internet. The claim is that the language is changing faster than ever. I’m not so sure that is true. Rather, we may simply be noticing the change more. People are coining (and abandoning) new words at the same rate they always have. But now with the internet, we see them, where before the new coinage was confined to a small coterie of the coiner’s friends and acquaintances. The impact on lexicography is the danger that these words will be ephemeral and the dictionary will become filled with obsolescent coinages that had a brief flash of existence—words that never would have risen to the attention of lexicographer fifty years ago because they died too quickly.

(Tip o’ the Hat to Stan Carey over at the Sentence First blog.

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Best Animal Name Ever

Meet Osedax mucofloris, the bone-eating snot-flower worm.

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Women in The Guardian

Maddie York, an editor at The Guardian, has penned an article for that paper’s “Mind Your Language Blog” in which she objects to the use of woman as an adjective, as in woman doctor or woman writer. The subheading for the blog post—which York may not have written, as headlines are often not written by the reporter—reads:

‘Woman’ is not an acceptable adjective, any more than ‘lady’ once was. Let’s eradicate this misuse and give language a nudge in the right direction.

But this general proscription is just wrong. There is nothing, and never has been anything, wrong with using woman as an adjective.

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Footnotes in the Digital Age

Last week Tim Parks posted in the New York Review of Books Blog on the need, or rather lack thereof, for formal reference citations in scholarly literature. Parks contends that with the advent of the internet and databases like Project Gutenberg, there is no longer a need for footnotes that give the source of information. Everything is simply a few key or mouse clicks away, and it’s easier for all concerned just to Google something rather than follow a footnoted reference.

Parks couldn’t be more wrong, and his argument betrays the biases in his work. His scholarly work is focused on contemporary literature and on translation. While it may, in many cases, be easier for him to Google something than look for a footnote, that is not necessarily the case in other fields.

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