Archive for the ‘Language change’ Category


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.


The gay old days

July 16, 2013

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


Let’s dance!

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Calvin and Hobbes

August 2, 2012

Three Calvin and Hobbes strips (by Bill Watterson), from Melissa Carvell, all on language-related topics (this from the man who gave us “Verbing weirds language”):


coincident, the noun

May 19, 2012

In the account of the band Here We Go’s encounter with John Waters, here, we find:

But the truth is we actually picked him up hitchhiking. It was a complete and utter coincident.

with coincident for coincidence. This is far from an isolated example, so we have to conclude that this is a reanalysis, perhaps an eggcornish one based on the existing word coincident and encouraged by the possibility of final cluster simplification in English (in this case, the simplification of final [ts] to [t]).


English the borrower

May 16, 2012

Via Paul Armstrong, this wry observation on the way English takes things from other languages:

Where does this come from?, you ask. It’s a variant of a longer version that Mark Liberman discussed on Language Log in 2005 (and quoted again in 2007), a version that dates to 1990.



February 28, 2012

In today’s print NYT Science Times, a piece by Douglas Quenqua entitled “They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve”, about young women as trendsetters in linguistic change. Featuring a sizable cast of experts, starting with Stanford’s Penny Eckert.

The two main points:

Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, [linguists] say, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize.

And, at the end, two points. One, that a bit of linguistic stuff — vocal fry, uptalk, and the discourse particle like are the three examples the article focuses on — is just a resource, which can be used in many different ways by different groups of speakers (that is, there’s no intrinsic meaning to a resource — as I’ve taken to saying, it’s “just stuff” — but only meanings as expressed by particular groups of speakers and meanings as interpreted by others). And two, that the meanings for speakers and hearers can be seriously at variance:

“language changes very fast,” said Dr. Eckert of Stanford, and most people — particularly adults — who try to divine the meaning of new forms used by young women are “almost sure to get it wrong.”

“What may sound excessively ‘girly’ to me may sound smart, authoritative and strong to my students,” she said.