Archive for the ‘Innovations’ Category

natural person

September 13, 2014

In the NYT on 9/11, an editorial “An Amendment to Cut Political Cash”, with the now-familiar retronym natural person:

There are 48 Democratic senators sponsoring a constitutional amendment to restore congressional control to campaign spending that is expected to come up for a vote later this week. They are not under the illusion that it will become the 28th Amendment soon, if ever. But their willingness to undertake a long and difficult effort shows the importance they attach to restoring fairness to American politics by reducing the influence of big money.

… Addressing the Citizens United decision, [the amendment] says that governments can “distinguish between natural persons and corporations” in setting those regulations, thus allowing restrictions on corporate or union spending that would not necessarily apply to individuals.

Ordinary people would simply make a distinction between persons and corporations, but once corporations are treated as persons for certain legal purposes, the ‘human being’ sense of person needs to be distinguished from these legal entities — and so we get the retronym natural person ‘human being’.

(more…)

Three from New Scientist

September 4, 2014

From the 8/30/14 New Scientist, three stories: one with a piece of technical terminology I hadn’t heard before, and two perfectly straightforward stories (on the mapping of Antarctic Ocean life and on the mating customs of the giraffe weevil) with some language play that’s characteristic of much science writing.

(more…)

Austenian humblebragging?

August 20, 2014

Another quotation from Jane Austen (once again via Chris Ambidge), this time from a letter of 11 December 1815 to James Stanier Clarke, about Austen’s novel Emma.

Surely this is false modesty — and couched as a boast, so that it looks like what we’d now call humblebragging.

(more…)

goldilocksian

June 10, 2014

Several correspondents have written to compliment me on the content and organization of the “About (academic)” page on my website (here). One went so far as to refer to the goldilocksian mean — not too small, not too big, and (though this isn’t in the Goldilocks fairy tale) “everything easily discoverable”.

These nice comments inspired me to spend yesterday adding to the “Handouts for conference papers” section of the page, adding links to handouts from four Stanford Semantics Festivals.

And then there’s the nice derivational formation goldilocksian ‘just right’, a useful (and, given that you know the fairy tale, easily comprehensible) innovative adjective, moderately frequent (on the order of 6k ghits, dupes removed) but not in the OED.

(more…)

Party of five

May 10, 2014

Five cartoons from recent days. Not one of them seems to have anything to do with (US) Mothers Day (but maybe tomorrow, on the day itself, Mom will surface). A daydreaming Jeremy in Zits; a Calvin and Hobbes on following rules; a Rhymes With Orange with a groan-inducing (but learnèd) pun; and a Bizarro and a Zippy on different aspects of modern communication.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Innovations

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.

(more…)

louden

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.

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 243 other followers