April 24, 2014
The Origins of Office Speak

"Here’s your ‘buzzword bingo’ card for the meeting,” Wally says to Dilbert, handing him a piece of paper. “If the boss uses a buzzword on your card, you check it off. The objective is to fill a row.”
They go to the meeting, where their pointy-haired boss presides. “You’re all very attentive today,” he observes. “My proactive leadership must be working!”
“Bingo, sir,” says Wally.
This 1994 comic strip by Scott Adams is a perfect caricature of office speak: An oblivious, slightly evil-seeming manager spews conceptual, meaningless words while employees roll their eyes. Yet, even the most cynical cubicle farmers are fluent in buzzwords. An email might be full of calisthenics, with offers to “reach out,” “run it up the flagpole,” and “circle back.” There are nature metaphors like “boil the ocean” and “streamline,” and food-inspired phrases like “soup to nuts” and “low-hanging fruit.” For the fiercest of office workers, there’s always the violent imagery of “pain points,” “drilling down,” and “bleeding edge.”
Over time, different industries have developed their own tribal vocabularies. Some of today’s most popular buzzwords were created by academics who believed that work should satisfy one’s soul; others were coined by consultants who sold the idea that happy workers are effective workers. The Wall Street lingo of the 1980s all comes back to “the bottom line,” while the techie terms of today suggest that humans are creative computers, whose work is measured in “capacity” and “bandwidth.” Corporate jargon may seem meaningless to the extent that it can only be called “bullshit,”  but it actually reveals a lot about how workers think about their lives.
Read more. [Image: Jackie Lay]

The Origins of Office Speak

"Here’s your ‘buzzword bingo’ card for the meeting,” Wally says to Dilbert, handing him a piece of paper. “If the boss uses a buzzword on your card, you check it off. The objective is to fill a row.”

They go to the meeting, where their pointy-haired boss presides. “You’re all very attentive today,” he observes. “My proactive leadership must be working!”

“Bingo, sir,” says Wally.

This 1994 comic strip by Scott Adams is a perfect caricature of office speak: An oblivious, slightly evil-seeming manager spews conceptual, meaningless words while employees roll their eyes. Yet, even the most cynical cubicle farmers are fluent in buzzwords. An email might be full of calisthenics, with offers to “reach out,” “run it up the flagpole,” and “circle back.” There are nature metaphors like “boil the ocean” and “streamline,” and food-inspired phrases like “soup to nuts” and “low-hanging fruit.” For the fiercest of office workers, there’s always the violent imagery of “pain points,” “drilling down,” and “bleeding edge.”

Over time, different industries have developed their own tribal vocabularies. Some of today’s most popular buzzwords were created by academics who believed that work should satisfy one’s soul; others were coined by consultants who sold the idea that happy workers are effective workers. The Wall Street lingo of the 1980s all comes back to “the bottom line,” while the techie terms of today suggest that humans are creative computers, whose work is measured in “capacity” and “bandwidth.” Corporate jargon may seem meaningless to the extent that it can only be called “bullshit,”  but it actually reveals a lot about how workers think about their lives.

Read more. [Image: Jackie Lay]

March 26, 2014
When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies?’

The answer has more to do with language than photography.
Read more. [Image: @theellenshow]

When Did Group Pictures Become ‘Selfies?’

The answer has more to do with language than photography.

Read more. [Image: @theellenshow]

March 25, 2014

The Geography of Small Talk: How Do You Say Hello?

December 24, 2013
You’re Saying It Wrong

In August, the outcry began. “Have we literally broken the English language?” asked The Guardian. The Web site io9 announced “literally the greatest lexicographical travesty of our time,” while The Week bemoaned “the most unforgivable thing dictionaries have ever done.” The offense? Google’s second definition of the word literally, which had been posted on Reddit: “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”
What the linguistic doomsayers failed to realize is that this definition is far from new. People have used literally to mean figuratively for centuries, and definitions to this effect have appeared in The Oxford English Dictionary and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary since the early 1900s, accompanied by a note that such usage might be “considered irregular” or “criticized as a misuse.” But literally is one of those words that, regardless of what’s in the dictionary—and sometimes because of it—continues to attract an especially snooty breed of linguistic scrutiny. It is a classic peeve.
Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]

You’re Saying It Wrong

In August, the outcry began. “Have we literally broken the English language?” asked The Guardian. The Web site io9 announced “literally the greatest lexicographical travesty of our time,” while The Week bemoaned “the most unforgivable thing dictionaries have ever done.” The offense? Google’s second definition of the word literally, which had been posted on Reddit: “Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”

What the linguistic doomsayers failed to realize is that this definition is far from new. People have used literally to mean figuratively for centuries, and definitions to this effect have appeared in The Oxford English Dictionary and The Merriam-Webster Dictionary since the early 1900s, accompanied by a note that such usage might be “considered irregular” or “criticized as a misuse.” But literally is one of those words that, regardless of what’s in the dictionary—and sometimes because of it—continues to attract an especially snooty breed of linguistic scrutiny. It is a classic peeve.

Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]

December 17, 2013
"Some day I am going to do a piece for the magazine on how language is taught—especially to kids who go to the kind of schools I went to as a child. You can’t just conjugate all day and get quizzed on your colors. Some of this rote learning. Some of this is osmosis. To really get the language you have to not just learn the rules, but hear someone employ them constantly, break them constantly, and then you have to try to imitate. That is what immersion is supposed to be. But we hear that word so much in foreign language education that it’s basically more marketing than anything else."

Ta-Nehisi Coates, on language and reading Camus like a boss.

December 3, 2013
"

Perhaps we are now entering a new age wherein we will do violence to our language and Osama Bin Laden will no longer be a terrorist, but “a person who enjoyed a career killing innocent people.” Rush Limbaugh will not be a racist, but “a man who has made a career saying racist things.” Nathan Bedford Forrest will not have been a white supremacist but “someone who seemed to believe that things would be better if white people held most of the power in our society.” Louis Farrakhan will not be an anti-Semite but “someone who exhibits a pattern of making comments against people who identify themselves as Jewish.”

I am doubtful that such an age is dawning.

"

Ta-Nehisi Coates, on bigotry and the human language.

November 25, 2013

Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke: Mapping How Americans Talk

What’s your general term for a sweetened carbonated beverage? What word or words do you use to address a group of two or more people? What do you call it when the rain falls while the sun is shining?

Former Harvard professor Bert Vaux asked tens of thousands of people across the U.S. these questions and released the results as the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey. The data are fascinating; they reveal patterns of migration, unexpected linguistic kinships between regions, and the awesome variety of words we say and how we say them.

Read more.

November 22, 2013
Because Language

futurejournalismproject:

Via The Atlantic:

The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.

I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the language writer Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.” 

FJP: And now we know.

10:40am
  
Filed under: Language Because 
November 19, 2013
English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

Let’s start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism. 
The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.
I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.”
You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the linguist Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.” 
Read more. [Image: Skreened.com]

English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet

Let’s start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism.

The word “because,” in standard English usage, is a subordinating conjunction, which means that it connects two parts of a sentence in which one (the subordinate) explains the other. In that capacity, “because” has two distinct forms. It can be followed either by a finite clause (I’m reading this because [I saw it on the web]) or by a prepositional phrase (I’m reading this because [of the web]). These two forms are, traditionally, the only ones to which “because” lends itself.

I mention all that … because language. Because evolution. Because there is another way to use “because.” Linguists are calling it the “prepositional-because.” Or the “because-noun.

You probably know it better, however, as explanation by way of Internet—explanation that maximizes efficiency and irony in equal measure. I’m late because YouTube. You’re reading this because procrastination. As the linguist Stan Carey delightfully sums it up: “‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar.”

Read more. [Image: Skreened.com]

September 10, 2013
Can Your Language Influence Your Spending, Eating, and Smoking Habits?

Yes, I know. That headline. It looks like the most egregious form of causal inference. Americans don’t save money because of … our grammar? How utterly absurd. But bear with me.
In the 1930s, linguists proposed that the way we read, write, and talk helped to determine the way we see the world. Speakers of languages that had the same word for orange and yellow had a harder time actually distinguishing the colors. Speakers of the Kook Thaayorre language, which has no words for left and right, must orient themselves by north, south, east, and west at all time, which enhances their awareness of geographical and astronomical markers.
Last year, economist Keith Chen released a working paper (now published) suggesting speakers of languages without strong future tenses tended to be more responsible about planning for the future. Quick example. In English, we say “I will go to the play tomorrow.” That’s strong future tense. In Mandarin or Finnish, which have weaker future tenses, it might be more appropriate to say, “I go to the play tomorrow.” 
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

Can Your Language Influence Your Spending, Eating, and Smoking Habits?

Yes, I know. That headline. It looks like the most egregious form of causal inference. Americans don’t save money because of … our grammar? How utterly absurd. But bear with me.

In the 1930s, linguists proposed that the way we read, write, and talk helped to determine the way we see the world. Speakers of languages that had the same word for orange and yellow had a harder time actually distinguishing the colors. Speakers of the Kook Thaayorre language, which has no words for left and right, must orient themselves by north, south, east, and west at all time, which enhances their awareness of geographical and astronomical markers.

Last year, economist Keith Chen released a working paper (now published) suggesting speakers of languages without strong future tenses tended to be more responsible about planning for the future. Quick example. In English, we say “I will go to the play tomorrow.” That’s strong future tense. In Mandarin or Finnish, which have weaker future tenses, it might be more appropriate to say, “I go to the play tomorrow.”

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

12:55pm
  
Filed under: Money Spending Language Behavior 
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