A Tawdry Comic

Dinosaur Comics is one of my favorites, often riffing on linguistic issues. Today we get a double bonus: etymology and Anglo-Saxon history.

Here is the Big List entry on tawdry.

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Review: Curzan’s The Secret Life of Words

I’ve been a bit leery of The Great Courses , a line of products that offers downloadable lectures by university professors. The idea combines two things that I have problems with: the whole massive open online course (MOOC) idea and paying for internet content.

MOOCs, or at least the way they’ve been touted as the savior of higher education, are problematic for a lot of reasons, but none of them apply to The Great Courses. One thing that MOOCs are good for is offering course content to those who simply want to learn—an open university. As to the second, I listen to a lot of audio podcasts—when I’m walking the dog or riding the subway into work. And there’s a lot of great audio content that is free (that is offered at no charge by the creator; I’m not talking about pirated stuff), so paying for content seems wasteful. And to one living on a grad student’s stipend, free is important. But it’s not just a personal problem; The Great Courses offerings are expensive, often running $200 or more for a course. 

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OxfordWords Blog: Jazz & Baseball

I’ve done a piece on the OxfordWords Blog on the origins of jazz and the word’s connection to baseball. There is no new breakthrough or original contribution here—I’m standing on the shoulders of giants—but if you’re not familiar with how jazz got its name, it should be of interest.

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Fæhða Gemyndig: Hostile Acts vs. Enmity

This article of mine was published in the journal Neophilologus in March 2015 (online; print publication date is TBA). It’s behind a paywall, but the copyright conditions allow me to make an earlier draft available, which can be downloaded here.

The topic is pretty esoteric and will probably not be of interest to most of you, but if you’re so inclined to read it, knock yourselves out.


This article systematically examines all sixty-seven instances of the word fǣhþ in the Old English corpus and proposes that instead of the traditional definition of “feud, hostility, enmity,” the word more usually means (1) a specific hostile act or offense, especially homicide, (2) the punishment inflicted for such an offense, or (3) general violence or mayhem. It also examines the lexicographic history of the word and why the traditional definition has lingered despite being problematic. The analysis begins with the word’s use in Anglo-Saxon law codes, where it has a more concrete and precise definition than in poetry and because in poetic works fǣhþ is often used with verbs commonly found in legal usage, such as stǣlan (to accuse, charge with a crime). From the legal codes the analysis moves on to other prose and poetic works, where the word is often used more figuratively, encompassing concepts such as sin—offenses against God—and other unsavory acts. This re-examination of fǣhþ’s meaning usefully checks the impulse to translate it as “feud” in contexts that do not support the idea of perpetual or ongoing hostility, while still allowing translators to deliberately choose to use “feud” or “enmity” where the context justifies it. Recognition that fǣhþ usually means “hostile act” also opens new interpretations of its poetic uses, such as how a connotation of crime affects the view of characters who commit it, the emphasis on injury it introduces, and the legal associations the word brings into the poems.

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An End for DARE?

It seems that the Dictionary of American Regional English is once again on the chopping block. The project narrowly escaped that fate two years ago, but is once again on the brink of ending.

That in a country as wealthy as the United States, that a scholarly project so important, and so relatively inexpensive, as DARE could go without funding is a crime.

The print dictionary has been published, but that ‘s not the end of the project. The web site needs to be maintained and the data, originally collected on paper, needs to be digitized. And then there is the updating for new editions as American English changes.

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