Archive for the ‘Language change’ Category

Degrading the language?

April 12, 2014

John McWhorter, in the April 6th NYT Sunday Review, the piece ““Like, Degrading the Language? No Way”, in which John sounds a familiar theme for him, that novel usages and the change in old usages to new purposes and fresh sets of speakers is not decline, but shows an active drive towards greater expressiveness and nuance.

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Original pronunciation

March 21, 2014

Many people have written to me recommending a video by David and Ben Crystal on the “Original Pronunciation” (OP) of Shakespeare vs. the Received Standard pronunciation we’re become accustomed to in performances of the Bard of Avon.  Fascinating stuff, treated in a Language Log posting by David Beaver of 9/7/13: “Rot and Rot (a really, really rude sex joke)”.

Note that “Original Pronunciation” doesn’t mean the first there was, because that would take us back to Old English and Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European and beyond (insofar as we can imagine beyond). And the terminology is misleading because it suggests that there was only one pronunciation for the characters in the Shakespearean canon; there was unquestionably variation in the pronunciation of characters according to their place in society. But the OP label does highlight differences between current performance practices and the ones of Shakespeare’s time.

However, my point here is not to revive this discussion, but to note that one of my correspondents refers to the variety in question as ancient English, a label students of mine have often used for what is technically Early Modern English (not oven Old English). Well, it’s old, really old, so it must be ancient.

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Slang change

February 15, 2014

Yesterday Mark Liberman posted on this Doonesbury cartoon:

Rich in material. The main thing I want to note (as Mark did) is a sense development in the slang verb rock, from an older sense, around at least since 1990 (‘impact strongly’), to a newer sense, the one in the cartoon, around since at least 2007 (‘wear or display conspicuously or proudly’); this is a change from a more objective sense to a more subjective one, such as Elizabeth Traugott has repeatedly discussed.

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Almost-lost words

August 19, 2013

From Walt Slocombe in yesterday’s mail:

I saw (on another blog that I cannot now find again) a piece on word combinations that include a word originally in general usage that has come to be barely used except in a single combination.

(Walt recalled wend one’s way and cast aspersions.)

I suspect that there are several blogs of this sort, but one I found right away (using the two examples Walt remembered) was this one on “verbal vestigia” — about “words in English that seem to exist only in a single phrase”.

Walt then offered an example of his own:

One from modern politics, is the term “tantamount to election,” — “tantamount” in current  usage is almost never encountered except in the context of political systems so dominated by one party (as in the old solid south, today’s heavily gerrymandered legislative districts, and the District of Columbia) that winning the dominant party’s primary is “tantamount to election.”

But his impression that tantamount is almost entirely restricted to tantamount to election is well off the mark.

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crescendo

July 31, 2013

In the NYT on the 29th, an op-ed piece “A Crescendo of Errors” by Miles Hoffman (the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music commentator for Morning Edition on NPR), which begins with a cry of pain over a usage:

Fitzgerald did it. Can you believe that? And in “Gatsby,” no less. It sent me reeling. The historian James M. McPherson did it in “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Twice. George F. Will, William Safire and countless other prominent journalists have done it, as have Southern writers, Northern writers, writers of science and of science fiction, novices and old pros.

All these people, and so many others — oh my goodness, so very many others — have “reached,” or have described events or emotions “reaching,” crescendos.

… But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo.

… The one thing crescendo does not mean, … and never has meant, is “climax.”

Barbara Partee has responded to Hoffman’s piece on Language Log, in a piece entitled “Reaching a crescendo?”.  Here I’ll be repeating some of Barbara’s points and some of the discussion in comments on it, trying to bring out several points that tie to themes in my postings.

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The gay old days

July 16, 2013

A book cover found by Chris Ambidge and posted on Facebook:

(#1)

Let’s dance!

Clearly from a time when gay predominantly meant ‘lighthearted, carefree, cheery’ and had not yet come into widespread use meaning ‘homosexual’.

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A five-pack

May 5, 2013

From recent images sent on by Chris Ambidge, five that could have gone on AZBlogX (though they are not visually X-rated) but would also fit here.

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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.

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gypsum weed etc.

October 17, 2012

A few days ago the ADS-Lers were discussing the initially puzzling expression gypsum weed for a plant mentioned in the Gene Autry faux-cowboy song “Back in the Saddle Again” (and elsewhere). Gypsum here was quickly established to be a folk etymology, a demi-eggorn in which in an unfamiliar part of an expression — here, the jimson of jimson weed — is replaced by something familiar, without necessarily making the whole expression more comprehensible (what does the plant have to do with the mineral gypsum?). As Charlie Doyle noted, DARE gives both gypsum weed and gypsyweed as folk-etymologizing variants of jimson weed.

But that’s just the beginning of the complexities. Along with jimson ~ gypsum, there’s lowly ~ lonely. And more.

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Fascinated with the history of English

August 5, 2012

A recent Zippy, in which Griffy is fascinated:

Don’t know about carving words into animal bones in England, but sheep’s knuckle bones were used as paving stones, devices for divination, and dice-like pieces in games.

 


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