Big Bang

The Big Bang theory is the idea that our universe began in a giant “explosion,” where a primeval singularity suddenly and rapidly began expanding, creating space, time, and matter/energy with it. This happened approximately 13 billion years ago. Throughout the history of the theory, there as been a playful streak exhibited by its proponents, silly names and puns associated with the Big Bang abound.

The name Big Bang was originally a derisive one, coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle who was one of the chief opponents of the theory. But the name caught on and was adopted by proponents, losing its derisive edge.

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Site Improvements

I’ve made some improvements to the navigation within the site. I’ve added alphabetical navigation to the Big List, so it should be easier to surf and find the terms you want. I also changed the format for how the archives of old articles are displayed on the pages; instead of a long list of links that necessitates a lot of vertical scrolling, it’s now a drop-down menu.


Viral Language

4 Sep: Mark Liberman over at Language Log has an excellent discussion of the term viral language.

Prescriptivist’s Corner: Taking Johnson To Task

LEXICO’GRAPHER. n.s. A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and signification of words.
—Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

I included this quote in the last newsletter as part of the announcement of the change of the blog/newsletter name from A Way With Words to The Harmless Drudge. The new name is, of course, taken from Johnson’s famed dictionary definition.

But a reader wrote back complaining about the use of that in the definition, and Samuel Johnson or not, this was just plain incorrect. It should be, she said, who busies himself.

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exception that proves the rule

The exception that proves the rule: this may very well be the most misused and misconstrued aphorism in existence. It is seemingly false on its face; an exception disproves rather than proves a rule. Where does the phrase come from and why do we say it?

The origins are in Latin legal maxim, exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted). In other words, the fact that an exception exists means that a general rule also exists, e.g., if you see a sign that says “No Parking on Sundays,” you have legal protection in assuming that parking is permitted the other six days. English use of the Latin proverb dates to at least 1640 when Gilbert Watts penned the following in his Bacon’s Advancement and Proficience of Learning:

As exception strengthens the force of a Law in Cases not excepted, so enumeration weakens it in Cases not enumerated.

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