Author Archives: Louise

TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (Feb 5)

Sarah Palin gets in a 'squirmish' with coherence/HuffPostUK Politics

Sarah Palin gets in a ‘squirmish’ with coherence/HuffPostUK Politics

That Gerund Is Funky — Feb issue. Recently in grammar and language news: a Palin portmanteau that NPR’s Ari Shapiro can’t let go of; Oxford Dictionaries faces an accusation of sexism; a grammar quiz from The Independent; how to pronounce the name of a Dutch musician with a Swedish-sounding surname; the new legitimacy of the singular ‘they’; and the end of the road for a punctuation mark? Continue reading

To caucus, and caucusing


The first United Farmers of Alberta legislative caucus; from Wikimedia Commons

The first United Farmers of Alberta legislative caucus; from Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’re an American or a New Zealander, you might wonder what on earth caucus means. BBC News recently went out onto the streets of London and the Big Apple and asked Brits what they thought caucus meant, and then New Yorkers to explain its meaning to their friends across the pond. The results, shown in the video here, were less than impressive …

Is it a plant or an animal? A poll or a vote? And even if you are American and you know what the noun means, you might find yourself wondering what “to caucus” means and whether it’s legit — since we’re hearing it a lot these days. The verb seems to be a new thing: is it actually a 21st-century phenomenon? Continue reading

To “play-direct”

Leif Ove Andsnes play-directing; photo from PragueCulture blog

Leif Ove Andsnes play-directing; photo from PragueCulture blog

Over here in the world of classical music terminology, we need a new verb. Or at least a verbal expression: something to describe that very common practice of conducting an orchestra or ensemble while playing one’s own instrument. Many pianists do it, violinists too: it’s not at all unusual to see a soloist either nodding his head or gesticulating with her body to direct the accompanying ensemble while their fingers are busy making music on a keyboard or fingerboard. These flexi-omni-musicians will snatch opportunities during a performance to go into full-blown conductor mode whenever they know they have a lot of rests coming up on their sheet music, as Leif Ove Andsnes is doing in the photo above. But there’s no good single verb to capture this very skillful practice (at least not in English.) “Conducting from the keyboard” is one way of describing it, but as well as being a mouthful, it’s only appropriate for pianists — and technically it suggests that they’re simply conducting while sitting or standing next to a piano: there’s nothing in that phrase to suggest that the musician is actually playing at the same time (although we understand that’s what is meant.) Continue reading

Geddon and pocalypse: anatomy of a verbal disaster

Snow in Pittsburgh 2010; from Wikimedia Commons

Snow in Pittsburgh 2010; from Wikimedia Commons

The poor folks of Washington DC — and many of us East Coast-dwellers — are preparing for Snowmageddon again. We’re buying bread, milk and D batteries (even though we’re all now gluten-free, lactose-free and we’re not quite sure what those batteries are for, but we think we know we need them): the Snowpocalypse is upon us …

Just when did we start adding –geddon and –pocalypse to identify and anticipate our most epic disasters? Whether real or imagined, extreme or banal, terrifying or funny (or all of the above — which many of them turn out to be), they’re invariably something to be feared and laughed about in equal measure, so mega and unreal and threatening are their proportions. Continue reading

The lost speech and other words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King_Jr_Martin_Luther_093.jpg

On September 12, 1962, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech at the Park-Sheraton Hotel in New York City to commemorate the centennial of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It was thought that the only record of the speech was a typewritten script annotated by an audio engineer, but 41 years later — in November 2013 — an intern at the New York State Museum in Albany uncovered the only known recording, which can be heard here.

Some other words of the great civil rights leader whose birth we commemorate today follow below.

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It’s as cold as …

cold

First posted on Jan 12, 2015: As the mercury strains to inch above its frozen winter threshold, and we breathe steam from behind our mittened hands guarding scarf-garlanded faces, we reach for words, similes and metaphors to describe the frigid temperatures that govern our daily minds and deeds — as centuries of cold humans have done before us. Here are some of those gelid turns of phrase, both enduring and outmoded, that have issued from numb lips and frosty quills — some vulgar, many artful — in all their icy eloquence.

Update on Jan 17, 2016: On Friday morning, during an outside broadcast on a hill in the North York Moors, a popular BBC weather presenter used a “cold as” phrase that we wouldn’t normally expect to hear on the Beeb.   Continue reading

Revenant

revenant

Mild spoilers ahead: proceed with caution if you haven’t seen the movie and you’ve been living under a rock (or a bear) over the last few weeks …

Most of us know by now that Leonardo DiCaprio does a very good job of being one (he’s already won a Golden Globe and might well take home an Oscar for it), but how many people still aren’t quite sure — or haven’t yet got around to Googling it — what exactly revenant means? Even Microsoft Word puts a squiggly red line under it, not quite recognizing the noun as part of our standard English usage. Let’s do a quick pop quiz: do you think it means a) someone waking up from a dream? b) someone coming back after a long absence? c) someone returning from the dead?, or d) someone seeking revenge?

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Kawaii: simply cute, or something more?

"Girls in Harajuku --- Kawaii?" by Jun, via Wiki Commons

“Girls in Harajuku — Kawaii?” by Jun, via Wiki Commons

“Not to be confused with Hawaii” — Wikipedia

There’s one category of posts that I especially enjoy researching for Glossophilia — and that’s the identification of words in other languages that can’t really be translated literally or directly into English because they embody such rich and complex clusters of nuance and meaning specific to their native lands. The Japanese word kawaii is one such example. “Cute,” you might say, is what it means. But that’s to over-simplify a word that sums up an entire and all-embracing national aesthetic, which has become something of a prescription for all areas of Japanese life and culture while reflecting many of its complexities and ambiguities. It might not be quite as straightforward and “cute” as it might first appear. Continue reading

There’s a starman waiting in the sky

Starman
by David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was layin’ down some rock ‘n’ roll ‘lotta soul, he said
Then the loud sound did seem to fade
Came back like a slow voice on a wave of phase
That weren’t no D.J. that was hazy cosmic jive

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

I had to phone someone so I picked on you
Hey, that’s far out so you heard him too!
Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight
Don’t tell your poppa or he’ll get us locked up in fright

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
‘Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie

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