Douglas Adams and John Lloyd's 1983 The Meaning of Liff (expanded in 1993 as The Deeper Meaning of Liff) is one of my favorite books and a seminal part of my education. So I was delighted and surprised to see I'd completely missed the 2013 publication of Afterliff, a sequel by Lloyd and Jon Canter. Read the rest
Mashable explains why so many people can’t stand the word “moist.” It turns out it has to do with both word association and the bandwagon effect. Read the rest
Merriam-Webster added "sheeple" to their dictionary. It's defined as "people who are docile, compliant, or easily influenced : people likened to sheep." Here's one of the two usage examples they include:
Apple's debuted a battery case for the juice-sucking iPhone—an ungainly lumpy case the sheeple will happily shell out $99 for.
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Data scientist David Robinson tracked the proximity of verbs to gender across 100,000 stories. She screams, cries and rejects. He kidnaps, rescues and beats.
I think this paints a somewhat dark picture of gender roles within typical story plots. Women are more likely to be in the role of victims- “she screams”, “she cries”, or “she pleads.” Men tend to be the aggressor: “he kidnaps” or “he beats”. Not all male-oriented terms are negative- many, like “he saves”/”he rescues” are distinctly positive- but almost all are active rather than receptive.
The chart on which types of violence are associated with men and women is predictable stuff: poison from the ladies, beatings from the gentlemen.
It follows on from Julia Silge's look at gender roles and text mining. See also an attempt to do likewise with plot arcs. Read the rest
Kory Stamper, author of the new book Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries describes three criteria Merriam-Webster uses for inclusion of words like truther, binge-watch, photobomb and the 1,000 other words that make the cut in a typical year. Read the rest
It's easy to generate random words, or even ones that seem patterned on a particular language. But there's something just right about the words that emerge from Soybomb.com's Nonsense Word Generator: each is marvelously silly, yet seems to have meaning and history.
This page generates nonsense words based on a frequency list of phonemes as they occur in legitimate English words. Occasionally an actual word may show up but it should mostly generate pronounceable gibberish.
It reminds me a lot of Adams, Lloyd and Cantor's Meaning of Liff: if ever they ever run out of odd place names to assign to experiences and things for which we have no words, this will surely come in handy. Every time I reload it it gives me a word I want to assign a definition to:
The results of attempting to communicate in a foreign language one has not learned.
A fluffy garment that looks cosy when ordered from the internet or a catalog, but turns out to be made of nylon insulation.
A subatomic particle found in branding consultants.
Remember them old IRC games where a bot would pose a challenge, everyone would have to answer it in a minute, and then vote on the best response? That, but for this! Read the rest
Also in the running was "coulrophobia," the fear of clowns, and "hygge," a Danish concept meaning "a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being." From The Guardian:
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Defined by the dictionary as an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”, editors said that use of the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year. The spike in usage, it said, is “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States”...
Contenders for the title had included the noun “alt-right”, shortened from the fuller form “alternative right” and defined as “an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content”. First used in 2008, its use “surged” this spring and summer, said the dictionary, with 30% of usage in August alone. Brexiteer was also in the running for the crown, along with non-political terms including coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, and hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness.
But the increase in usage of post-truth saw the term eventually emerge ahead of the pack. “We first saw the frequency really spike this year in June with buzz over the Brexit vote and Donald Trump securing the Republican presidential nomination. Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time,” predicted Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl.
Reading recent coverage of Donald Trump's friends on the far right, it struck me that even when people pander to the idea Western culture's wellbeing is inseparable from European ethnicity, they somehow avoid being called white nationalists or supremacists by journalists. Read the rest
This helpful video from Como Pronunciar tackles this surprisingly difficult word. You might think you're saying it right—prepare to be surprised! Read the rest
In celebration of the centenary of Roald Dahl's birth this month, the Oxford English Dictionary has added words and updated entries related to Dahl's iconic children's books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. From OED.com:
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This update also includes brand new entries and senses for a range of vocabulary best described as Dahlesque—an adjective which makes its first appearance in OED today with a first quotation from 1983 in which a collection of stories is praised for its ‘Dahlesque delight in the bizarre’. These new additions provide Dahl fans with a golden ticket to the first uses and historical development of words like scrumdiddlyumptious, for those occasions when scrumptious simply won’t do (or at all times if you happen to be The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders), and the human bean, which is not a vegetable, although—according to the Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant—it comes in ‘dillions of different flavours’. A new sub-entry for golden ticket itself reveals that (long before Charlie Bucket found his own in the wrapper of a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudge Mallow Delight) the first such ticket was granted to the painter and engraver William Hogarth. Hogarth’s ticket granted the bearer and five companions perpetual free admission to the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall, in return for paintings carried out for the gardens by the artist....
The witching hour, the ‘special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up [is] in a deep deep sleep’, and when the BFG and his bloodthirsty cousins wander abroad, was first mentioned in 1762, in a poem by Elizabeth Carter Keene (now all-but forgotten, and dismissed by one twentieth-century critic as ‘a vapid bungler’), where it is a clear reference to—or misremembering of—Hamlet’s ‘the very witching time of night, When Churchyards yawne, and hell it selfe breakes out Contagion to this world’.
New psychology research explores "word aversion," or why "as many as 20% of the population equates hearing the word 'moist' to the sound fingernails scratching a chalkboard." In a scientific paper about their study, psychologists from Oberlin College and Trinity University report that for some people the word "moist" is associated with bodily functions that trigger a visceral feeling of disgust. No surprise there. But interestingly, those "semantic features" of the word may not be the only issue at play. From their paper:
A separate possible explanation not tested in the current studies, but which the author acknowledges, is rooted in the facial feedback hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that facial movement can influence emotional experience. In other words, if facial muscles are forced to configure in ways that match particular emotional expressions, then that may be enough to actually elicit the experience of the emotion. On this explanation, saying the word “moist” might require the activation of facial muscles involved in the prototypical disgust expression, and therefore trigger the experience of the emotion. This could explain the visceral response of “yuck” people get when they think of the word. Separate research has identified the particular facial muscles involved in the experience and expression of disgust, but no research as of yet has tested whether the same muscles are required when saying “moist.”
"An Exploratory Investigation of Word Aversion" (via Scientific American)
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Language Evolution Simulation is exactly that, showing words changing little by little as time passes in a tiny world with three islands. It's agent-based, which is to say that it models little computer folk interacting with one another to simulate the little mutations that add up over time.
If an agent intersects with another, selects a word from the own vocabulary and tells that. The neighborhood receives and adds that word into its vocabulary as
- Mutation of a vowel sound with 0.1 probability
- Mutation of a const sound with 0.1 probability
- Compounding with another word with 0.1 probability
- Without any mutation
There's nothing to do but watch words change, but it feels like the underpinning of a very strange computer game about culture.
I love agent-based models; check out this simulation of political cliques I made. It randomly generates several personalities, who then go around and bicker or flatter one another. It's very bland and primitive, made in Flash, and the "next turn" text is rather fiddly to click. But I've always had plans on expanding it into a more fully featured game.
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Merriam-Webster is to add "genderqueer" to its unabridged English dictionary; also "cisgender".
Cisgender: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth.
Genderqueer: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.
Which pronoun? TIP: Whichever they want. Read the rest
Studies have found writer's block to be a simpler problem—unhappiness—than the legends around it suggest. But there are different kinds of unhappiness, and it's the blockee's job to be honest about which one they're suffering from.
The first, more anxious group felt unmotivated because of excessive self-criticism—nothing they produced was good enough—even though their imaginative capacity remained relatively unimpaired. (That’s not to say that their imaginations were unaffected: although they could still generate images, they tended to ruminate, replaying scenes over and over, unable to move on to something new.) The second, more socially hostile group was unmotivated because they didn’t want their work compared to the work of others. (Not everyone was afraid of criticism; some writers said that they didn’t want to be “object[s] of envy.”) Although their daydreaming capacity was largely intact, they tended to use it to imagine future interactions with others. The third, apathetic group seemed the most creatively blocked. They couldn’t daydream; they lacked originality; and they felt that the “rules” they were subjected to were too constrictive. Their motivation was also all but nonexistent. Finally, the fourth, angry and disappointed group tended to look for external motivation; they were driven by the need for attention and extrinsic reward. They were, Barrios and Singer found, more narcissistic—and that narcissism shaped their work as writers. They didn’t want to share their mental imagery, preferring that it stay private.
I bet group 1 (self-critics) account for most, though. Turn off your inner editor—and if necessary, move to a medium (longhand, typewriter) that deprives you of editorial tools
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In 1988, Leonso Canales of Kingsville, Texas, began his righteous, decades-long campaign to replace the greeting "hello" with "heaven-o."
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200 years of speeches made in the U.K.'s Houses of Parliament have been made available to download
by Glasgow University. If you're interested in the mocking, backstabbing, occasionally-exulted language of British statesmen and women, you'll be there a while, as it amounts to 7.6 million speeches and 1.6 billion words. Read the rest