Archive for the ‘Words’ Category


September 16, 2016

Caught in passing on a tv show, a character talking about cop-talk:

Hinky? That’s not even a word!

Like every other cry of “That’s not a word!”, this one is bullshit.

Start with the very short story, from NOAD2:

US informal (of a person) dishonest or suspect: he knew the guy was hinky. (of an object) unreliable: my brakes are a little hinky. ORIGIN 1950s: of obscure origin


In brief: phonological words

November 19, 2015

Heard — or, rather, misheard —  in a tv commercial for Oral-B electric toothbrushes (which can be viewed here):

(1) I’m never going back to Emanuel Brush.

when what the actor was saying was:

(2) I’m never going back to a manual brush.

Now, since I have [ǝ] (rather than [ɪ]) in the first syllable of the name Emanuel and the indefinite article a [ǝ] usually forms a phonological word with the word that follows it, (1) and (2) are in fact normally homophonous for me.

Yes, I don’t know anyone named Emanuel Brush, so I don’t know how the name came to me, in a toothbrush ad, no less.

Three morning names

September 7, 2015

(Some sexual topics to come.)

They’ve been piling up while other things happen. But here’s the recent crop: Futhark, eructation, sex sling. Definitely a mixed bag.


Giving two hoots

September 1, 2015

A follow-up to my “What a hoot!” posting, which was about a set of senses of hooter that turn out almost surely to be related. One of these is mammary hooters (as in the restaurant’s name), and there’s some question about its history (though it’s clear that it predates the restaurant); there are sources that attribute the item to Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, but for reasons I’ll expand on here, I was very wary of the idea.

That’s the first hoot.

Then, as so often happens when I post about specific uses of particular lexical items, people wrote me about other uses, which are really beside the point of my posting, or about other items that are merely similar to the target item (usually phonologically). Now it can be entertaining to follow up such associations, but that’s at the risk of losing the point. Occasionally I’ve followed these associations, though I try to mark associative chaining off from the main line of the posting, as when I branched from a posting on Ficus plants to a collection of loosely fig-related other things: the fig leaf of modesty, Fig Newtons, figgy pudding, giving a fig for, the fig sign,

So: soon to loosely hoot-related things. That’s the second hoot.



May 17, 2015

In the NYT yesterday, in the piece “Matisse From Gurlitt Collection Is Returned to Jewish Art Dealer’s Heirs’ by Melissa Eddy:

Germany has invested €13 million in provenance research and restituted 12,000 objects over the past decade, many of them books. But families and even small museums have been stymied by uncertainty over where to go for information related to looted works, as well as some insensitivity as to what is at stake.

It’s the verb form restituted. A transitive verb restitute is entirely comprehensible in the context (especially given the noun restitution), but I didn’t think I’d ever experienced it before. Not in NOAD2. But a couple of on-line dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Collins) have brief entries for the word, and OED3 (March 2010) has a nice entry for it.



April 6, 2015

This morning’s One Big Happy:

Once again, Ruthie copes with vocabulary she doesn’t know — in this case, the word snit in in a snit, where she has to figure out which of the many senses of the preposition in is at play here.



January 29, 2015

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie once again understands a rare and unusual expression (the word comfit) in terms more familiar to her:


I very much doubt that I knew the word comfit when I was 6.


Stanford news: the Sunday NYT

January 22, 2015

Two Stanford linguistics stories in the Sunday (January 18th) New York Times: Tyler Schnoebelen at the American Dialect Society meetings, Will Leben on product naming.


Ruthie and the gargoyle

January 21, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy:

gargoyle / gargle

The cartoonist, Rick Detorie, goes to some lengths to put Ruthie in situations where she’s confronted with vocabulary that will be unfamiliar to her. Recall Ruthie in an art museum (#2 in this posting), where she gets to cope with odalisque.

“Has no name in Creole”

January 19, 2015

From Sim Aberson, a Miami Herald story from the 12th, “Martelly asks Haitians to ‘Give the country a chance'” by Jacqueline Charles:

Port-au-Prince. President Michel Martelly used his nation’s most solemn anniversary to issue an appeal for calm and unity, asking Haitians to remember the victims of the country’s devastating earthquake five years ago Monday by putting Haiti first.

… Martelly reminded Haitians that it wasn’t just the earthquake, which has no name in Creole and has become known as goudougoudou, that killed the victims, but the lack of development in the country that led to the poorly constructed homes, businesses and government buildings that came crashing down during the 35 seconds.

What could Martelly have meant by saying that that the earthquake has no name in Creole (but has become known as goudougoudou)? Is this the “no word for X in L” meme (no word for earthquake in Haitian Creole)? Or a claim that there is no proper name for this particular earthquake? Either way, it looks to me like Martelly has it wrong.