Contemplate this, dude: that when I call you dude, there’s a whole range of things I might mean—you’ll understand me from my intonation and the overall context—but each time, I’m also reinforcing a specific kind of social relationship. No matter how I use the word, it always implies the same thing: solidarity without intimacy. It says close, but dude, not too close.
What’s up with that?
Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]
Ostmark and tattletale gray. Creese, cranch, and cramoisie. Probang and prolan. Octandrious. Complement-fixation test. What do these words have in common? They have recently been removed from dictionaries.
Every few months, the public goes wild at the news that certain words (crowdsourcing, OMG, man cave) have been added to our venerable reference books. Meanwhile, other words get taken out—though generally with less fanfare. Merriam-Webster doesn’t want its Collegiate version to grow too large or unwieldy; and so, the Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper told me, “we do have to drop entries every time we produce a new edition.”
To determine which words are most relevant today, editors comb through a variety of sources (Google Books, LexisNexis, other dictionaries, the entire Internet). A word that’s still widely read—a thee or a thou—should stay, even if it’s not used by contemporary English speakers. To survive in the Collegiate Dictionary, Stamper says, a defunct word must appear in books that the average high-school or college student is aware of. So an archaic word found in Shakespeare or Milton gets a reprieve, but one favored by Samuel Pepys or Anthony Trollope may not.
Read more. [Image: Nishant Choksi]
Lots of MUSTs.
You don’t even want to know, they should have explained.
[Image: Jeopardy/ Alexis C. Madrigal]
Ted McCagg is a creative director in advertising in Portland, Oregon. In his spare time, for the past five years or so, McCagg has been keeping a blog,”Questionable Skills" — the content of which consists almost entirely of drawings, some of them the bracket-style rankings that are a familiar feature of March Madness.
A few months ago, McCagg began using his blog and his bracket system to answer a question: What is the best word ever? Not the funniest word or the most erudite word or the most whimsical word … but The Best Word, full stop. What if, you know, the scallawag could eke out a thingamajig that would help him select the least milquetoast morsel from our linguistic smorgasbord?
Yesterday, McCagg has answered his question.
Read more. [Image: Ted McCagg]
Crutch words are those expressions we pepper throughout our language as verbal pauses, and sometimes as written ones, to give us time to think, to accentuate our meaning (even when we do so mistakenly), or just because these are the words that have somehow lodged in our brains and come out on our tongues the most, for whatever reason. Here’s our list of frequently used crutches, and what your crutch of choice has to reveal about you:
Basically. You like to cut to the chase, to synopsize, to bring things down to old bottom line of what’s really, truly important. You are always downsizing, cutting the clutter, throwing out a sweater for every new one you purchase.
Um. You are not very good at giving speeches, and listening to you can be painful, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a very nice person.
Honestly. The frequency with which you deploy this word is inversely related to the frequency with which you are actually honest.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
D. T. Max’s highly anticipated Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (public library) is out this week, and though it lacks the captivating prose of a great biography, it has a certain encyclopedic quality that is sure to galvanize DFW fanatics.
I was delighted to find among the Max’s factlets one about words invented by Wallace’s mother, an English professor, which went on to permeate DFW’s own writing:
No one else listened to David as his mother did. She was smart and funny, easy to confide in, and included him in her love of words. Even in later years, and in the midst of his struggle with the legacy of his childhood, he would always speak with affection of the passion for words and grammar she had given him. If there was no word for a thing, Sally Wallace would invent it: ‘greebles’ meant little bits of lint, especially those that feet brought into bed; ‘twanger’ was the word for something whose name you didn’t know or couldn’t remember. She loved the word ‘fantods,’ meaning a feeling of deep fear or repulsion, and talked of ‘the howling fantods,’ this fear intensified. These words, like much of his childhood, would wind up in Wallace’s work.
And, indeed, it did. From Infinite Jest:
Orin’s special conscious horror, besides heights and the early morning, is roaches. There’d been parts of metro Boston near the Bay he’d refused to go to, as a child. Roaches give him the howling fantods.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
There is a very important question being tackled again by certain smart people of the Internet, and that question is this: What, exactly, is the worst word on the entire planet? Any time this question or one like it is broached, an opened floodgate of response is ensured, likely to include words like moist, fecund, phlegm, artisanal, or if you work at TheNew Yorker, slacks. We continue to believe that coöperationis öffensive, as is the corresponding word, diaeresis, which remains ever so hard to spell no matter how many times we type it.
On Thursday Sarah Miller made a strong argument on The Awl for literally as our English-speaking community’s worst word. This is not a bad word to choose as the very worst. Flagrant misuses abound, and it’s ever so annoying when people say literally when they actually mean not literally. Literally, in fact, is rarely used when it should be used, which is almost never, and almost always when it shouldn’t. […]
Literally is a word that we should be very, very careful around. But actually I think there’s a word that’s worse.Actually, did you see what I did there? While literally and actually can be used interchangeably, actually has a bad attitude. Literallycan be mocked and laughed at, because literally almost no one uses it correctly. Actually is more sneaky, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Actually is the word that you use when you’re actually saying, “You are wrong, and I am right, and you are at least a little bit of an idiot.”
Read more. [Image: Flickr/sAeroZar]
Actually, this is true.
Dictionary nerds, unite!
There are countless words you can use to degrade a woman: bitch, slut, whore. The list goes on. But the word that does the most to set us back has nothing to do with outspokenness or sexual choices. It’s a word that’s used openly, in public, shamelessly, to our faces. In fact, it’s the word I—along with most young women I know—use to describe myself.
The worst word to call a woman is girl.
Girls are children. Girls are dependents. Girls can’t make their own decisions. And yet, when we talk about feminine achievement, we talk about girl power. Girls, according to Beyoncé, run the world. The character of Lisbeth Salander, self-sufficient though she may be, is a girl with a dragon tattoo. And, most importantly, in real life, among people I know and respect, female colleagues are “girls from work.” The women with whom we studied for advanced degrees are “girls from school.” A lot’s in a name; although we don’t mean to hurt each other, the word girl diminishes our maturity, our responsibility, our power. But what alternative do we have?
Even though my feminist heart hurts to admit it, woman is no good.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the word. It’s just that to advocate for the use of “woman” rather than “girl” is to ignore the practical truth. If all who identify as female were to go from girl to woman when they turned 18—or 21 or 13 or 16 or at menses or upon graduation or at some other arbitrary milestone—the scales of language would still be unbalanced. At least among English-speaking males, growing up is far more nuanced. A boy doesn’t just instantly become a man: he gets to be a guy.
Read more. [Source image: MGM]