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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