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
At first I was adverse to posting this fulsome list of 58 commonly misused words and phrases, due to its sheer enormity, but I decided to proscribe it anyway because it is pretty bemusing. They are from Harvard linguist Steven Pinker's book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.
Adverse means detrimental and does not mean averse or disinclined.
Fulsome means unctuous or excessively or insincerely complimentary and does not mean full or copious.
Enormity means extreme evil and does not mean enormousness. [Note: It is acceptable to use it to mean a deplorable enormousness.]
Proscribe means to condemn, to forbid and does not mean to prescribe, to recommend, to direct.
Bemused means bewildered and does not mean amused.
Harvard linguist points out the 58 most commonly misused words and phrases
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Also: Photobomb, crowdfund, totes, sext, and nearly 500 more. Read the rest
When I was younger, I had a friend who frequently expressed her hatred for the word "moist." It wasn't until the Internet that I understood this to be a commonly-despised word. Read the rest
"Cheeky, sexy, English-language phrases sought for friendship bracelets at Thai market. Inevitable horror ensues," writes @sliderulesyou
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Good news! The most overused word of 2013 is clearly in decline. Epic became synonymous with dudebro culture thanks to web phenomena like Epic Meal Time and epic fail, leading marketers to pounce on the word in hopes of reaching the demographic. That explains why CNN has it twice on their front page this morning, like a dad trying to connect with his son. Read the rest
The rooms are neither as dusty, nor as bald of sound, as one might imagine the cloisters of the Oxford English Dictionary. There are no books piled in the cracked tile hallways, no atmospheric beams of light angling into the tranquil gloom. No old clunking timepiece marks the infinitude of time. Read the rest
In his book, The Science Delusion, Curtis White criticizes scientists for throwing around the term "beautiful" without really asking what, exactly, makes science beautiful ... or what beauty even means in the context of science. I got to interview White last night, and will be posting the audio from that interview soon. But this is one of the points in the book that I thought was rather unfair. How did White know that this isn't something scientists have thought about? He never really said.
So, I turned to Twitter, asking scientists, science writers, and science fans about what made science beautiful to them. I got a really nice variety of answers and wanted to share some of my favorites — you can read them in this Storify.
Image: VISTA's infrared view of the Orion Nebula, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from esoastronomy's photostream Read the rest
Do you understand the difference between a "hypothesis" and a "theory"? Physics professor Rhett Alain thinks you probably don't. But he says that's not your fault. The words just aren't terribly precise, at least in the public parlance, and they only serve to make discussions about science confusing. He has a modest proposal: Let's replace them both with something that makes sense to the general public. Read the rest
"GIF has been named the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year," reports the NY Daily News, in an article that Rich Kyanka points out is illustrated by JPGs of popular GIFs.
Here I present you with a splendid actual GIF from DVDP; put on the "apocalyptic rave" music that the BBC plays in the background of news broadcasts to make you anxious, then stare at it until 2013.
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