Archive for the ‘Terminology’ Category

On the who/whom front, and AZ terminology

November 4, 2015

Caught in  the NYT Book Review feature “By the Book” on Sunday (November 1st), in an interview with Gloria Steinem, three questions from the interviewer, questions with Acc whom beginning a WH, or constituent, question:

(1) Whom do you consider to be the best contemporary feminist writers?

(2) Whom do you consider the most underrated or unappreciated writers, past and present?

(3) Whom would you want to write your life story?

The WH element in all three questions is “extracted” from a position that requires an Acc —

(1′) You consider  him / *he  to be the best contemporary feminist writers.

(2′) You consider  him / *he  the most underrated or unappreciated writers, past and present.

(3′) You want  him / *he  to write your life story.

and so Acc whom is prescriptively correct. My own usage has who in all three of these examples; I found the interviewer’s whoms to be stiff, over-formal (even prissy), and old-fashioned — but that’s a matter of taste.


Terminology: snowclonelet

October 24, 2015

I advance very slowly on the project of looking at terminology that I might lay some personal claim to. Now: snowclonelet, which I note on the occasion of my having assembled a “Snowclonelets” Page (under the “Linguistics notes” heading), listing postings on the topic from Language Log and this blog.

More to come.

Zombie X

September 16, 2015

For some time, Mike Pope has been (gently) after me on Facebook to assemble a list of linguistic terms that are my innovations. This turns out to be a devilishly difficult enterprise, for several reasons, a prime one being something that afflicts any attempt to discover the “inventor” of an expression: as I’ve noted several times on this blog, most innovations exploit potentials in the language that are in principle available to everyone (various figures of speech, semantic extensions and specializations, patterns of word formation, and so on), so that it’s quite likely that an innovation has been made by many people on many different occasions, without anyone taking special notice or recording these events.

But sometimes one of these events is noticed, at least within a particular sociocultural community, and that’s taken to be a founding event (with an identifiable source), from which the innovation can spread within the community; the innovator is then given credit within the community.

And so to the story of metaphorical zombie.



June 8, 2015

In my “Mishearings” posting yesteday, I quoted Oliver Sacks:

I carefully record these in a little red notebook labeled “PARACUSES” — aberrations in hearing, especially mishearings.

Readers on Facebook were unable to find a reference on the term paracuses and entertained the possibility that Sacks had just made it up. As it turns out, no, or at least not entirely. The beginning of understanding is that the term is plural; it’s Sacks’s learnèd plural of the Greek-derived technical term paracusis. And that we can find in dictionaries.


A little more on dog whistles etc.

April 7, 2014

In the previous installment (4/4/14, here), Geoff Nunberg was looking for a good term to use for a particular class of racially coded vocabularly, for a discussion on public radio: dog whistle, euphemism, whatever. He makes the point that the purpose of this vocabulary is crucial.

On the next day, on ADS-L, from Geoff:

the figure is designed to avoid unambiguously suggesting certain social attitudes to listeners who disapprove of them (as distinct from euphemisns, which enable the speaker to avoid uttering a coextensive term that some listeners find unsavory).  “Obliquity” conveys one part of this, and “conivinutation” nicely conveys the other, though neither is a word they would let you use on public radio.

Obliquity, though rare, is not unattested. But conivinutation?


We don’t need no steenkin’ land lines

November 7, 2012

Today’s Zits returns to a familiar topic on this strip and on Zippy: changes in how we communicate across a distance:

Once we wrote letters by hand; then we had the telegraph for important messages; then for quick everyday communication we had phones with dials and (later) phones with buttons; then came cellphones (making us mobile) and e-mail (combining the speed of phones with the asynchronous advantages of letters); and then texting, social media, and tweeting. Who uses which modes of communication for which purposes changes, and very different styles of using the technologies emerge.

Jeremy is so over land lines.


March 20, 2012

In the mail today, an ad for the game Morphology:

Morphology, the hilarious guessing game where CREATIVITY WINS!

Morphology is a fun, creative and challenging party board game combining simple shapes, your imagination and creativity. Using wooden sticks, glass beads and colored cubes how would you create a “butterfly”? …or “airplane”? Now try doing it with your eyes closed or using only the string! Morphology takes unique twists and turns, and has everyone laughing out loud. For ages 13 and up.

The name of the game turns on the Greek root morph- ‘form’. Morphology is a much-used term, though the different senses are very unlikely to interfere with one another in actual practice.


Evolutionary epistemologist

September 15, 2011

Another thing that came past me first thing in the morning on NPR’s Morning Edition on September 12: a KQED opinion segment by Jeremy Sherman, who was identified by the KQED announcer as “a Berkeley-based evolutionary epistemologist”. I wasn’t familiary with evolutionary epistemologist as a job title, so I checked it out.


“autistic toddler” offensive?

November 5, 2010

A letter to Scientific American Mind (in the November/December 2010 issue) from Greg O’Brien of Gray, Maine:

In Erica Westly’s article “Too Much, Too Young” [Head Lines]. she uses the phrase “autistic toddlers.” I feel it is important that the editors recognize the disrespect inherent in that construction. The reverent phrasing would have been “toddlers with autism,” because people with autism (or any disability) are people first! This sentiment is exactly why we have the Americans with Disabilities Act and not the Disabled Americans Act. I would recommend, or at least request, editing articles of this ilk with an eye out for lapses in judgment.

There’s a shorter expression, autistic toddler, and a longer one, toddler with autism, both have toddler as the head noun, and they’re truth-functionally equivalent. In addition to the length difference, though, they differ as to which of the characteristics, autism or toddlerhood, is mentioned first. Perhaps that’s why O’Brien sees the shorter expression as disrespectful; perhaps he judges that mentioning the autism first highights it. (Though you could also argue that the highlighted characteristic comes with the word that gets the heavier phrasal accent: toddler in the shorter expression, autism in the longer.)



February 28, 2010

From Michael Quinion in his World Wide Words #679 (February 27):

BOTTLED  I’d previously heard of the TOTTLE, a combination tube and bottle, a term of the packaging industry that’s been around since the early 1990s. But this week I learned of the NOTTLE. It appeared in a packaging supplement in my daily paper. Details are sparse and an online search is befuddled by all the references to Gussie Fink-Nottle, but it appears to be a bottle that has been turned upside down so it sits on its flat lid, to make squirting the last of its contents easier. My tomato ketchup has been sold me in a bottle like that for some years, but I never knew there was a name for it. Nor do I know where the term comes from. “Not a bottle”? “Negative bottle”?

I have now added HOTTLE (hot + bottle), defined in’s 21st Century Lexicon as:

a thermal or glass carafe (often with black-banded neck and a lid) for holding a hot beverage, as coffee, with which one can refill one’s cup

There’s an illustration of a “Glass Hottle with Cover” here.

In e-mail today, Quinion writes about HOTTLE:

Another new word for me. So far as I can discover, this is a product that came on the market around 1950. The oldest I can find is a snippet (but with a pic) in Popular Mechanics for April 1950.

All three -ottle portmanteaus seem to be  “terms of trade”, used by people who manufacture or sell the items in question, or buy them for commercial use. They are, in effect, technical terms used by a relatively confined community, which has a real need for such terms: people who manufacture, sell, or buy such things need terminology — “in-house terminology”, if you will — that discriminates among the many sorts of thing that they deal in, and people outside this community rarely have such a need.

Going up one level: the usual technical term for such terminology is jargon, defined by NOAD2 as:

special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and and are difficult for others to understand

Unfortunately, probably because of the difficulty jargon presents to outsiders, the word has picked up strong negative connotations. As NOAD2 puts it in a secondary definition:

a form of language regarded as barbarous, debased, or hybrid

The word has now been so poisoned by this sense development that I find it hard to use except in professional contexts having to do with language varieties.