Archive for the ‘Language change’ Category

The grandeur of Versailles commodes

March 23, 2018

In the print edition of yesterday’s NYT, an ad on p. A5 offers this astonishing piece of furniture:

Grandeur of Versailles

On the site of M.S. Rau Antiques – Fine Art – Jewelry, 630 Royal St., New Orleans LA, this description:

This monumental Boulle marquetry commode was crafted by Robert Blake (ca. 1820). Modeled after those made by Boulle for King Louis XIV. The entire ebony commode is covered in Boulle marquetry and doré bronze. A similar pair of commodes also marked [= signed] by Blake are part of the famed Frick Collection. Item No. 30-6334 : $398,500

My first interest here is lexicographic, having to do with the item commode (and its semantic development). Then on to marquetry, Boulle, and Blake.

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Another ship reaches port

December 2, 2017

In e-mail yesterday and today, an exchange involving Betty Birner, Larry Horn, David Denison, and me about “reversed SUBSTITUTE”, starting with Betty’s observation:

This struck me while I was watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix:

“Andrew is substituting the barmbrack’s customary raisins for milk chocolate chips.”  [voiceover]

Needless to say, he was leaving OUT the raisins and ADDING chocolate chips.  Also needless to say, this is British English.

This is reversed SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD for NEW (in this case, substitute customary raisins for milk chocolate chipscustomary lets us know that the raisins are OLD), rather than traditional SUBSTITUTE: substitute NEW for OLD (what would be, in this case, substitute milk chocolate chips for customary raisins).

The end of our discussion was David’s noting that the shift from traditional to reversed SUBSTITUTE seems to be virtually complete for many British speakers (including educated ones), and Larry’s suggesting that this was true for some younger American speakers as well. Another ship of linguistic change that has reached its port for many speakers.

Two other such ships I’ve written about: NomCoordObjs (nominative coordinate objects, as in They gave it to Kim and I, rather than to Kim and me; and +of EDM (exceptional degree marking with of, as in that big of a dog, rather than that big a dog).

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Geezer talk

August 16, 2014

Yesterday’s Zits, with Jeremy on geezer talk:

(In talking this way, Jeremy is transformed into the old man in Grant Wood’s American Gothic.)

The strip raises a well-known issue in the analysis of language change: When older speakers have different variants from younger ones, are we looking at a change in progress or what’s often called age-grading? (Both things happen.)

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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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