September 18, 2012

Who, New? (Chicago Demotic Dictionary)

Here’s somethng to ponder.  Forty years on, Egyptologists at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, have completed, at least for now, a dictionary of Demotic Egyptian. Demotic paralleled hieroglyphics, being of the people, as the latter was the script used by royals.

Here’s the New York Times article New Demotic Dictionary Translates Lives of Ancient Egyptians and here’s the online dictionary.

The dictionary, like the OED, gives many examples of the use of words, together with potted cites, in case you want to follow up.

December 19, 2011

Words of the Years Revisited

Not all “educated opinion” ages well.

See what you think.

An excerpt from a list of the ADS [American Dialect Society] Words of the Year, along with Time’s Person of the Year:

1995 ADS: (tie) World Wide Web and newt. Time: Newt Gingrich.

1996 ADS: mom, as in soccer mom. Time: David Ho, AIDS researcher.

1997 ADS: millennium bug. Time: Andy Grove, Intel CEO.

1998 ADS: e-. Time: Bill Clinton, Ken Starr.

1999 ADS: Y2K. Time: Jeff Bezos, founder of

2000 ADS: chad, scrap of paper punched from a voting card. Time: George W. Bush.

2001 ADS: 9/11. Time: Rudolph Giuliani.

2002 ADS: weapons of mass destruction, WMD. Time: The Whistleblowers (three women).

2003 ADS: metrosexual. Time: The American.

2004 ADS: red state, blue state, purple state. Time: George W. Bush.

2005 ADS: truthiness, popularized by Stephen Colbert. Time: Bono and Melinda and Bill Gates, the good Samaritans.

2006 ADS: plutoed, diminished or demoted, like the planet Pluto. Time: You, user of the Internet.

More here.

December 17, 2011

Not Nearly So Tasty…

as a Fish Fry. But nowadays more ubiquitous, so they say.

‘Vocal Fry’ Creeping Into U.S. Speech (Hit the mp3 linkl!)


I played this 78 (“Saturday Night Fish Fry”, parts 1 and 2) as a teenager (yes it was old even then!)

 Now, the women was screamin’ and jumpin’ and yellin’,
The bottles was flyin’ and the fish was smellin’;
And way up above all the noise they made,
Somebody hollered, “Better get out of here; this is a raid!”
Now, I didn’t know we was breakin’ the law,
But somebody reached up and hit me on the jaw,
They had us blocked off from the front and the back,
And they was puttin’ ’em in the wagon like potatoes in a sack.
Saturday Night Fish Fry, (1949), lyrics


December 16, 2011

I can has language play: Construction of Language and Identity in LOLspeak

Pretty darn interesting (counterintuitively).

I can has language play: Construction of Language and Identity in LOLspeak

November 2, 2011

Tongue Twisters (LOTE)



Short video here.




Longer video – “Lips of Babel“. With a list of all the tongue-twisters.


October 28, 2011

Twitter Languages (Weekend Wobble)

These weekend posts are the ones where we don’t necessarily stick exactly to the script.  (Sometimes we’re just overcome by the strange weirdness of the world we live in.)

(Clears throat!)

Presenting the Language communities of Twitter (European detail):

Language communities of Twitter (European detail)

Clicking on the image leads to the photo at Flickr.  You can then click on the image to enlarge it.

For even greater detail, at the Flickr page choose Actions (above the image), then View all sizes, then Original.


via FlowingData

October 25, 2011

“1 million get shot…”

It’s a terrible tragedy.

Headline, USA Today, October 25, 2011

But some folks’ll do anything to save a buck!

Oh wait… maybe it’s preventative.  Did you know there’s a shot that helps you save on loans?

Our language is so confusing!

October 25, 2011

“Important Words”

The premise here is that words are important.

And what words are more important than “I love you”?

Those young punks The Stray Cats do a nice job with it too.

October 24, 2011

Can you handle this stuff?

It hardly needs saying — but bear with me here — that the common workaday (working-class, as it were) words of our language are used more frequently and in far more ways than the more specialized and showboat words like brachycephalic and leucistic and defenestrate.

We speak now of words like junk and stuff and handle and thing, box and bag and door and shelf and cloth and so on. I’m suggesting that we consider here the ordinary words of everyday conversation, spoken by folks who are just trying to get through the day, get through the week, get their kid to school, and so on.

These ordinary words, words of few syllables, tend to have multiple and shifting meanings. They seem both to be ancient and yet elastic and evolving.

Let’s look at two examples:  handle and stuff.


From Merriam-Webster: a part that is designed especially to be grasped by the hand; something that resembles a handle; name; also nickname;  hand;  the total amount of money bet on a race, game, or event;  a means of understanding or controlling <can’t quite get a handle on things>.

Then there’s the Urban Dictionary (eliminating near-duplicate definitions): a 1.75 liter (half-gallon) bottle of liquor or other alcohol. Often has a handle or grip on the side for easy access; one’s online alias or nickname; to take care of something; to get something done: take care of finish complete get done accomplish


We hesitate to use the Urban Dictionary here!  Take a look yourself — if you’re brave. The OED has 11 or so definitions for the noun form, 15 or so for the verb. The old Century Dictionaryonline here — has 8 or so meanings for stuff as a noun, 10 or so as a verb. We say “or so”because there are variants and sub-definitions and it’s easy to get lost in the lexical jungle.

Here’s M-W:

: materials, supplies, or equipment used in various activities: as a obsolete : military baggage b : personal property

: material to be manufactured, wrought, or used in construction <clear half-inch pine stuff — Emily Holt>

: a finished textile suitable for clothing; especially : wool or worsted material

a : literary or artistic production b : writing, discourse, talk, or ideas of little value : trash

a : an unspecified material substance or aggregate of matter <volcanic rock is curious stuff> b : something (as a drug or food) consumed or introduced into the body by humans c : a matter to be considered <the truth was heady stuff> <long-term policy stuff> d : a group or scattering of miscellaneous objects or articles <pick that stuff up off the floor>; also : nonphysical unspecified material <conservation and … all kinds of good stuff — Eric Korn>

fundamental material : substance <the stuff of greatness> b : subject matter <a teacher who knows her stuff>

: special knowledge or capability <showing their stuff>
spin imparted to a thrown or hit ball to make it curve or change course b : the movement of a baseball pitch out of its apparent line of flight : the liveliness of a pitch <greatest pitcher of my time … had tremendous stuff — Ted Williams>

For additional meanings and innendo, we turn to the musical sphere.

“Stuff” is used in a variety of ways.  There’s  Blind Willie McTell’s “You Can’t Get Stuff No More” (sample here) where “stuff” is liquor. For Bobby, “stuff” is sometimes knowledge or expertise:  “Some of you women you really know your stuff”. “Handle” is used in a variety of ways.

Then of course there’s the jazz violinist/vocalist Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith, better known as “Stuff” Smith.  Listen closely to his most famous song, “You’se a Viper” and you might figure out where he got that handle!

October 21, 2011

Silent Weekend…Not!

As per custom here, the weekends are far from silent. We use these times to revel in webbiness — some good stuff and some a little edgy. This weekend’s offerings follow that pattern.

Here’s something interesting: Yoda Language Study: New Research Shows Human Ancestors Spoke Like Star Wars Character. This probably has some truth to it — it’s a least a plausible hypothesis — but the journalists perhaps stretch too far in trying for cuteness. If say so you do!

How we speak and write, and the words we use, and the language choices we make, are revelatory. This self-evident is. So we’re not shocked, are we, to hear that Psychopaths Reveal Selves With Words?

But why would language — or the words used to describe a violent crime — be very telling? Because many “are skilled conversationalists and use language to lie to, charm, and ultimately use others for material gain, drugs, sex, or power,” the study says.

So the researchers ended up with words, more than 120,000 of them, from the interviews, which they pumped into their computers. The psychopaths used about “twice as many words related to basic physiological needs, including eating, drinking and monetary resources when describing their murder” than the 38 killers who were not considered psychopaths.

Based on “Hungry like the wolf: A word-pattern analysis of the language of psychopaths“, published in a forthcoming Legal and Criminological Psychology.

Finally, because there’s no invective like old invective, you’ll probably want to try out the Shakespeare Insult Kit. One each from columns 1, 2, and 3.

You paunchy, pox-marked maggot-pie!

Silent weekend,
Oh Lord, I wish Monday would come.
Silent weekend,
Oh Lord, I sure wish Monday would come.
She’s [open] and she’s leavin’,
but I hate to sit here grievin’
but I just can’t sit here playin’ dumb.
Silent Weekend, Bob Dylan (and the Band), Basement Tapes sessions, 1967