Author Archives: Louise

Below is not an adjective, folks

(See below update/footnote. It made me gag to write that.)

I know I might be sent below — to one of those circles of linguistic hell (see McSweeney’s post a few days ago) — for pointing this out, but I feel it’s time that this lovely word, below, needs to be explained and understood. In a nutshell, it’s not an adjective, even though it seems to be increasingly misused as such, especially in formal/corporate/written communications (but strangely not in speech). “See below information” is simply incorrect. I apologize to readers of Glossophilia who know me to be generally non-prescriptive; I don’t usually brand any particular usage as wrong, especially if it’s pervasive and evolving. But in this case I’m willing to state my case and stand my ground, because I think it sounds so ugly. Continue reading

The British used to fag, and now they can’t be fagged

Lazy clouded leopard by Charles Barilleaux / Wikimedia Commons

Offensive as the title of this post probably sounds to most American ears, the word fag, in at least some of its meanings and variations, is alive and well — and for the most part benign — in the mouths of Brits. This is one of those Yanks vs. Brits subjects that I’ve been reluctant to discuss on Glossophilia because of the word’s shameful meaning on one side of the Atlantic; however, it seems a pity not to take a look at this quirky piece of vocabulary that is so versatile, evocative and mostly innocent on British shores, where its only real shame is in its reference to a long and very un-PC tradition — now thankfully obsolete — in British public schools. Continue reading

A selfie precursor blossoming at the fair …

1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois) / Wikimedia Commons

I’m reading Erik Larson’s fascinating book Devil in the White City, which is about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. A lot of things came out of that fair or were inspired by it, including the ubiquitous ‘Snake Charmer Song’, the Ferris wheel, a notorious serial killer (sic), and several other brand names that have effectively become generic through their popularity — such as Juicy Fruit, Shredded Wheat, and Crackerjack — among other inventions and ideas. And then there was a word that had already been born a century earlier, but which had recently changed its meaning and then began to blossom in the very photogenic landscapes, buildings and attractions of the Columbian Exposition … Continue reading

In the news: the fate of German’s longest word

A cow, by Roland Darré / Wikimedia Commons

“The German language has lost its longest word thanks to a change in the law to conform with EU regulations. Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz – meaning “law delegating beef label monitoring” – was introduced in 1999 in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. It was repealed following changes to EU regulations on the testing of cattle.” The BBC has the full story (including the name of these very long words that are so common in German …).

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Novemberish

November in New York

Novemberish: adj. “Belonging to or characteristic of November; dismal, gloomy.” Earliest use found in Robert Burns (1759–1796), poet. (OED)

“Round, and round, and round they go — Mundell’s ox that drives his cotton-mill is their exact prototype — without an idea or wish beyond their circle; fat, sleek, stupid, patient, quiet, and contented; while here I sit, altogether Novemberish, a d-mnd melange of fretfulness and melancholy; not enough of the one to rise me to passion, nor of the other to repose me in torpor; my soul flouncing and fluttering round her tenement, like a wild finch, caught amid the horrors of winterand newly thrust into a cage.”

– – From a letter written by Robert Burns to Mrs Riddell, Woodley Park, November 1793

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