Archive for the ‘Innovations’ Category

Who Made That?

January 20, 2014

In the NYT Magazine (on Sunday the 19th), a “Who Made That?” piece by Daniel Engber on the captcha. Some weeks ago, another one of these pieces on laugh tracks on television.


Sunday Book Review language and sex

October 9, 2013

Two items from the NYT Sunday Book Review (the sex issue): the etymology of buddy and the grammaticality of zipless.



June 14, 2013

The June 9th NYT Magazine was an “Innovations Issue”, with pieces on the histories of devices (the Brannock Device, for measuring shoe size, the Cuisinart, the digital camera, keys, the salad spinner), products (the Band-Aid, diet soda, Liquid Paper), and sociocultural practices (brunch, the dog park, gay marriage, the nose job, prom, timeouts for children, 12-step programs) — plus a few linguistic items, notably the metaphorical idiom glass ceiling and the tv formula previously on …

In most cases of innovations (of devices, products, or sociocultural practices), there’s a substantive innovation, plus a linguistic innovation, the choice of a name or label for it: the device for washing and drying salad greens plus the synthetic compound label salad spinner; the product that covers up typing errors plus the metaphorical brand name Liquid Paper; the practice of offering and eating a late-morning meal that combines characteristics of breakfast and lunch plus the portmanteau name brunch.

On occasion, however, the referent has been around for some time but then achieves prominence when someone provides a label for it, as was apparently the case for glass ceiling.

And in still other cases, the innovation is itself linguistic, as for formulaic expressions like previously on … ‘in earlier episodes of …’

Explorations in derivational morphology

June 6, 2013

Two finds in the 6/5 article “Mad Professors: The adjuncts are at the barricades” by Rebecca Burns in In These Times (about unions for adjunct faculty), with the crucial words boldfaced:

(1) That so many advanced degree-holders are toiling in poverty conditions flies in the face of the assumption that higher education is a path to prosperity. But low wages and precarity represent the new norm for what some adjuncts have termed “academia’s version of apartheid.”

(2) Reeling from state budget cuts, universities have turned increasingly to the cheap teaching labor provided by non-tenure track faculty. But the adjunctification of higher education also coincides with its bureaucratization.

In (1), we have the Latinate derivative precarity rather than the native English precariousness; in (2), a noun adjunctification, incorporating the verb-forming suffix -ify (on the base adjunct). Both are innovations, not in the OED or other dictionaries I’ve consulted.



May 28, 2013

From the Falcon Studios description of the gay porn flick The Guys Next Door:

The grunts and groans [of sex] louden, calling Marcus [Mojo] and Johnny [Torque] back to the scene [an orgy in progress].

That’s inchoative louden ‘become loud, become louder’. It struck me as unidiomatic; despite the parallel with soften, I would have written got loud(er). But it turns out that virtually every dictionary I looked at has it. The OED has the intransitive — inchoative — use from the mid-19th century on, but only one cite (from 1898) for the transitive — causative — use, which it marks as rare.

The inchoative or causative suffix -en is in fact extremely restricted in English — not productive, and limited to only a few sorts of base words: monosyllables ending in obstruents, from the Anglo-Saxon (rather than Latinate) stratum of the vocabulary. Even then, not all eligible bases allow derivatives in this -en; hotten is not attested (heat (up) serves this purpose), and colden is attested but marked by the OED as rare (cool and chill serve this purpose, or better, get cold(er)), and modern speakers reject it. For me, louden is like colden.



May 27, 2013

Caught in the NYT Science Times of 4/30/13 (p. 2), in a note by Jennifer A. Kingston on “Animals Aloft”:

One alluring detail: NASA scientists will be studying sperm motiity in the spacefaring mice to try to figure out if humans could successfully procreate on a long space voyage.

It’s the adjective spacefaring: instantly understandable (based on seafaring — another case of terminology from sea travel extended metaphorically to air or space travel), but not a usage I recall having seen before. However, there’s a Wikipedia article on it, and the OED tells me that it’s been around about as long as I have.


Three penultimate comments

May 20, 2013

Comments on my posting on penultimate (in penultimate Frisbee) took three directions: a comic association with antepenultimate; complaints about a relatively recent non-standard use of penultimate (to mean ‘absolutely final, absolutely the best’); and complaints about using ultimate and unique and other so-called “non-gradable” adjectives as gradables (modifiable by degree adverbials).


Syntax on the move

April 28, 2013

Jon Lighter on ADS-L comments on my usage:

Arnold’s unremarkable syntax from the “Chicano” thread: “the first OED2 cite, from 1947 Arizona, is somewhat disparaging in tone.”

In case some young folks don’t realize it, this journalistic use of a year-date as an adjective [well, prenominal modifier] is pretty “new” …

The usage is so natural to me that I thought nothing of it, nor did I recognize it as a relatively recent innovation or associate it with journalists.


The new word slash

April 25, 2013

From Anne Curzan’s column on the Lingua Franca blog yesterday:

Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore

Lots of us use the slash (/) in writing to capture two or more descriptions of the same thing, with a meaning something like “or,” “and,” or “and/or” — e.g., “my sister/best friend” or “request/require.” The slash typically separates two things that are the same part of speech or parallel grammatically; and we can say that slash out loud if needed: “my sister slash best friend.”

Now I wouldn’t write that phrase down that way, with the slash spelled out, but students tell me they now often do.


On the sex / gender watch

April 24, 2013

On the heels of my little note on “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words” (a comment from John Baker notes that this is “the motto of the Calvert family “Fatti maschii parole femine” loosely translated [from Italian] as “Manly deeds, womanly words” ”) came two more items on male/female differences: a piece in the NYT Sunday Review on the 21st (“The Tangle of the Sexes” by Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis); and an Alex cartoon in the London Telegraph on men as rational, women as emotional.



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