1. n. The love of language

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 18)

by Louise


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky …

In language and grammar news this past fortnight: a fight over the name Duke (which doesn’t include Bo, Luke or Daisy); the grammar of police shootings; a possible typo in the Declaration of Independence; the effect of bad spelling on sales – but how it can also save you a fortune; and a treasure-trove of lists from mental_floss — which include ancient slang for sex and origins of nursery rhymes and state names.


John Wayne’s heirs are duking it out in court with Duke University (in North Carolina) to use his longstanding nickname — “Duke” — to market a line of bourbon. The BBC has the report. 

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Orange Is the New Grammar Nerd

by Louise

Spoiler Entitlement

Is Piper Chapman — the most famous of Litchfield Federal Penitentiary’s inmates — a grammatical descriptivist or prescriptionist? Well, we got to find out recently during the second season of the Netflix runaway hit, Orange Is the New Black. Who would ever have guessed that we would discover something as important as Piper’s stance on grammar and usage?

Halfway through the seventh episode, during a meeting of Piper’s newly formed newsletter committee, a heated discussion about language usage unfolds (weirdly covering some of the same ground that Weird Al did in his Word Crimes video yesterday).

Flaca starts the nit-picking, identifying Lorna’s phrase “I could care less” in her newsletter contribution as being a grammar fail. “If you could care less, that means you still care. You know what I’m saying? Cause, like, it is possible for you to care less.”

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Weird Al gets it

by Louise


It’s weird but true: “Weird Al” Yankovic actually gets grammar.

To promote his new album, Mandatory Fun, Weird Al is releasing a new video every day for each of the tracks on the CD. Today’s video is the song “Word Crimes” — a take-off of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. It’s music to the ears of us grammar nerds.

“I hate these word crimes / Like ‘I could care less’ / That means you DO care”

“I don’t want your drama / If you really wanna / Leave out that Oxford comma”

And if you can’t stop committing these word crimes, then Al suggests that “you should hire / some cunning linguist / who can help you distinguish / what’s proper English …”

Anyone who understands the difference between less and fewer and that irony is not coincidence (yes, he manages to slip both those words crimes in) is a man after my own heart.

Knock yourself out, Glossophiles, and sing along with Al …

Hat-tip to Lil …

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 11)

by Louise


TGIF. In the world of Glosso news this week: singular soccer grammar; rude Somali nicknames; a “Strunk and White for Spies”; and what makes American literature American?

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9Gag makes a gag about World Cup teams (or lack thereof) — but the comments underneath the soccer meme address a much more serious issue: football grammar. Germany have a team? Since when is a singular country a plural subject? Since when it comes to footie, it seems. (An earlier Glossophilia post also walked us through this strange anomaly found in soccer language, at least on one side of the pond …)

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The Schwalbe – a dishonest dive

by Louise

dive2   dive1


In football (and I don’t mean American football), certain tricky players try to gain an unfair advantage by deliberately diving to the ground — sometimes feigning injury during the dramatic tumble — to make it look like a foul by the opponent. A dive* is what that tactic is commonly called; or a Schwalbe, if you’re German, Dutch, or just very hip to soccer lingo. I’m not any of those, but my Dutch friend is …

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To be twee, or not to be twee

by Louise


On June 3, Marc Spitz’s new book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion and Film was published by IT Books/Harper Collins.

But hang on a minute: what does twee actually mean? An adjective with slightly onomatopoeic and diminutive implications  – originally thought to represent a childish pronunciation of sweet, its straightforward meaning according to the OED is sweet, dainty or chic; but this British colloquialism has a distinctively derogatory flavor — one that smacks of more affectedly and repellently quaint: precious or overly saccharine, rather than simply sweet.

The Telegraph in summing up Philippe Le Guay’s movie Cycling with Moliere declares that “twee groanishness abounds”. An English reader gets exactly what that means, even if we haven’t seen the film in question: we’re unlikely to pay the cost of admission and candied popcorn if we’re in for an evening of groanish twee. But have Americans taken that quaint 4-letter word and taken it too far — or gone slightly off course in their understanding of it? Read the rest of this entry »

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 4)

by Louise


TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky … In the news this fortnight: a tweety faux pas from a shadow chancellor; an English invasion (linguistically) of India; a renowned school’s embarrassing spelling error; the Irish roots of American slang; Kelsey Grammer talks grammar on Twitter; learning languages in your sleep; and just what language did Jesus speak?

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British shadow chancellor Ed Balls ballsed up recently when he tweeted a picture of himself in Edinburgh with Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and deputy leader Anas Sarwar. Sharing the image with his 125,000 Twitter followers, he captioned it: “Good pic from @AnusSarwar.” Ooops!



“Gambling slang, underworld lingo, street gang terms, street-wise cant, merchant code and political jargon in New York City is teeming with Irish Gaelic that melted into American English.” So claims Daniel Cassidy, among many others, who show how American slang has its roots in the Irish American urban experience. Irish Central has the story.


English is exploding in India — and we’re not just talking about Hinglish. The BBC‘s Craig Jeffrey reports on the fact that English words are cropping up increasingly in Hindi conversation. While some of these terms fell out of use in the UK decades ago, others are familiar, but used in bold new ways.


Students recently graduating from Northwestern Medill School of Journalism were handed a diploma with a spelling error. The Chicago Tribune reported that about 30 of the 250 diplomas had the word ‘integrated’ spelled ‘itegrated.’


The actor Kelsey Grammer has joined Twitter this week for one purpose: To harass people about the proper use of grammar. As Today warned, “Yes, Twitter users, Grammer is listening — or rather, reading — and he isn’t happy about what he’s learned. It seems your 140-characters-or-less messages are a bit too messy for him.”


A team of Swiss psychologists argue that you can learn a language in your sleep. According to a study reported in The Independent, “listening to newly-learned foreign vocabulary while sleeping can help solidify the memory of the words.”


Jesus’s language is more complicated that experts claim, writes Seth Sanders on “‘Israel’s Prime Minister was arguing with the Pope over what language Jesus spoke’ sounds like the setup to a weird joke. Which, actually, it is. Lasting just a few seconds, the dustup reflects centuries of attempts to claim Jesus through speech and to transform his native language and original words into sacred linguistic relics.”

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Faff, naff, chuffed and nous(e)

by Louise


Faff, naff, chuffed and nous (rhyming with mouse). Oh dear: I’m going to miss Blighty.

“We’ve been sat in the car park for a good 15 minutes, faffing about with the satnav and trying to make Rupert’s new phone work.” — The Telegraph reporters at Glastonbury

“We will leave to one side the subtle humour – or otherwise – of Mr Cleese’s performance in the naff Pierce Brosnan Bond film Die Another Day.” — The Telegraph about 007′s latest

“’I’m afraid I have to default on these bonds.’ ‘No you do not!’ ‘Naff off, Gringo…’” — International Financing Review wondering what power a US court should have to determine whether a foreign sovereign nation can or cannot declare its ability to pay its debts. 

Chuffed to bits – Lewes Railway Station looks blooming lovely for summer” — Sussex Express on the transformation of Lewes Railway Station’s gardens and planters

“Former England striker Gary Lineker has expressed his belief that the Three Lions lacked tactical nous on the field in their World Cup defeats.” — Sports Mole on the World Cup.

Yeah — these colloquialisms are Britishisms at their very best. You’ll hear them only on one side of the Atlantic — the more eccentric side — but by gum do they do the trick for anyone who cares to use them. Isn’t faffing around just the perfect expression for that thing we all do sometimes when we’re very busy achieving sod all?

Here’s what the words mean and where they come from. And below them are 18 more that are equally expressive and quirky — and peculiar to us limeys.

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Solstice, or sunstead

by Louise


June 21st: the summer solstice.

One of two days in the year when the sun is furthest from the celestial equator, and so the difference in length between night and day is at its greatest: 21st June is the longest day of the year, 21st December the shortest. (But because the duration of the earth’s orbit around the sun is slightly longer than the 365-day calendar, those dates can vary.)

On this winter day the sun appears at its lowest point in the sky, and its noontime elevation appears to”stop” in the sky and stay the same for several days before and after the solstice, and so the word finds its origins. Dating back to the mid-13th century, solstice is from the Latin solstitium – “the point at which the sun seems to stand still” – from sol, “sun”, stitium, “a stoppage”, and sistere, “to stand still”. In very early use, the word came into English as sunstead (or, in late Old English, sunstede).

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by Louise

Someone at Trivago likes words (or languages).

Seen on London Transport in recent weeks:

Trivago 1

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