Gretchen McCulloch is the internet's favorite linguist, whose outstanding 2019 book Because Internet explores how statistical methods can, for the first time, be applied to large amounts of informal communications, because for the first time, a huge volume of those communications are a) written and b) digital. Read the rest
The Merriam-Webster dictionary's word of the year is... "They." According to Merriam-Webster, online dictionary look-ups for the word "they" increased by 313% this year. Others top look-ups include "quid pro quo," "impeach," and "egregious. Makes sense. And it's great that more people are learning that the word "they" is sometimes "used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. From Merriam-Webster:
English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.
More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers.
Language learning brand Busuu took to the streets of London to see if native English speakers could translate the Japanese words thrown at them. They did better than I would have!
Just like the English language has borrowed words from Japanese, like karaoke or sushi, modern Japanese uses a fair amount of vocabulary borrowed from English. These words are called gairaigo.
Vernon Unsworth is one of the rescue divers who helped free the children who'd been stuck in a cave in Thailand; Unsworth made some pointed remarks about the disutility of Elon Musk's proposal to bring the children out in a miniature sub, to which Musk replied by publicly calling Unsworth "pedo guy" and "child rapist" and then daring Unworth to sue him. Read the rest
I had no idea that the word "glitch" comes from Yiddish, the language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews that gave us words like "klutz," "nosh," and "shlep." From Air & Space:
Glitch is derived from glitsh, Yiddish for slippery place, and from glitshn, meaning to slide, or glide. Glitch was in use in the 1940s by radio announcers to indicate an on-air mistake. By the 1950s, the term had migrated to television, where engineers used glitch to refer to technical problems...
In Into Orbit, a 1962 book by the Mercury Seven, John Glenn mused about the word, which he evidently hadn’t used before joining the space program. “Another term we adopted to describe some of our problems was ‘glitch.’ Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit….”
Visit Merriam-Webster's "Time Traveler" and select a year from the drop-down menu. Instantly you'll see the English words that were first used in print that year! More specifically, "the date is for the earliest written or printed use that the (dictionary) editors have been able to discover."
Above are the words first used in print in 1989, the year of the very first bOING bOING print 'zine! Cybernaut! Nanobot! Cyberporn! Those sure were the good ol' daze...
Evolutionary psychologist Katja Liebal literally wrote the book on Primate Communication. A professor of developmental psychology at the Freie Universität Berlin, Liebal's research focuses "on the cognitive and communicative skills that might be uniquely human and those shared with other primate species." According to BBC Earth, Liebal observes chimps in "hopes to compile the world's first chimpanzee dictionary."
I think learning chimpanzee should be an educational requirement beginning in elementary school to prepare our children for when, y'know, they take over.
English is a glorious syncretic mess of a language, what you get when you blend together a bunch of mispronounced German, French and Latin words and then salt with the vernacular of a hundred other languages, without having to heed stern pronouncements from an official language academy. Read the rest
A: This clip is an example of a certain genre of Internet video.
Q: What is a supercut?
Bonus video below, the time Boing Boing was part of a clue on Jeopardy!
A group of MIT Media Lab researchers have published Radiotalk, a massive corpus of talk radio audio with machine-generated transcriptions, with a total of 240,000 hours' worth of speech, marked up with machine-readable metadata. Read the rest
The Scite project has a corpus of millions of scientific articles that it has analyzed with deep learning tools to determine whether any given paper has been supported or contradicted by subsequent publications; you can check Scite via the website, or install a browser plugin version (Firefox, Chrome). (Thanks, Josh!) Read the rest
Conversational language is not the same as formal language: chatter over the dinner table does not follow the same rules as a speech from a podium. Informal language follows its own fluid, fast-moving rules, and most of what we know about historic informal language has been gleaned from written fragments, like old letters and diaries -- but now, the internet has produced a wealth of linguistic data on informal language, which is explored in Canadian linguist Gretchen McCulloch's new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Read the rest
There is a booming market for app-based English-language tutors, many in the USA, who serve Chinese families where the parents are eager to have their children acquire English proficiency; these tutors are often also moonlighting teachers, or former teachers, who have been trained to spot and report signs of abuse. Read the rest
From an excerpt from last year's The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, the rules of "Freddish" -- as Mr Rogers' crewmembers jokingly referred to the rigorous rules that Rogers used to revise his scripts to make them appropriate and useful for the preschoolers in his audience. Read the rest