Category Archives: Words, phrases & expressions

“Lit”: drunk, high, happy — or something else?

(Warning: explicit lyrics)

This is ASAP Rocky singing his “Get Lit”. As Jakob Scott pointed out in the comments below the video: “[H]e said lit before it was cool”. But was ASAP really that hip when he recorded the song in 2011? I think the Oxford English Dictionary might disagree with Mr. Scott. And just what does lit as an adjective mean nowadays, when we’re not talking about something that has been either illuminated or set on fire? Does it mean drunk? High? Or something else entirely? I think you’ll be surprised to see how versatile lit‘s become, even since ASAP “got it”, and especially when it’s flying high on the blue bird … Continue reading

“Bob’s your uncle” — and other family members in lingo

Emperor Maximilian I with his son Philip the Fair, his wife Mary of Burgundy, his grandsons Ferdinand I and Charles V, and Louis II of Hungary (husband of his granddaughter Mary of Austria) / Wikimedia Commons

“Using a fluffy brush, blend the highlight into the fuller parts of your breasts — that being the high points that naturally catch the light, and Bob’s your uncle.” So advised Cosmopolitan recently in an article titled “How to make your boobs look way bigger …” That has to be one of the saucier examples of the very British expression “Bob’s your uncle,” which curiously still hasn’t made its way across the Atlantic. But there are plenty of expressions and colloquialisms used by both Brits and Americans that incorporate the names of family members, as well as slang meanings of those names. Here are some of them below; can you think of any others? Continue reading

“Alternative” or “alternate” facts?

From my inbox …

“Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump’s team has ‘alternative facts.’ Which pretty much says it all’,” reported the Washington Post recently. Well, these ‘alternative facts’ issuing from our new President’s administration might be wrong, but at least the adjective Conway uses to describe their facts is correct on both sides of the Atlantic. She could easily have used the alternative adjective and called them ‘alternate facts’.

“Alternative facts” are the new lies. And at least in America, they can also technically be known as “alternate facts,” which will grate on many an Englishman’s ear. Take the following examples:

The day before the inauguration, the New York Times reported that “around the country, an unusual number of alternate activities are planned to coincide with weekend events surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump and the Women’s March on Washington.” And in the same article, discussing her own event that she hosted up in Washington Heights, the actress Ellen Burstyn explained: “It’s not a protest,” “It’s an alternate reality.”

Yes, in America we don’t just have alternative facts, but we also have alternative words for alternative. On this side of the pond, alternate is a synonym of alternative (as well as being an adjective describing things that are alternated). This is presumably a case of linguistic evolution, in which a word frequently confused with and substituted for its similar-sounding colleague has been absorbed into the vernacular with the ‘wrong’ meaning becoming standard and legit.

As Oxford Dictionaries explains succinctly: “In both British and American English the adjective alternate means ‘every other or every second’, as in they meet on alternate Sundays, or ‘(of two things) each following and succeeded by the other in a regular pattern’, as in alternate layers of potato and sauce. Alternative means ‘available as another possibility or choice’ (an alternative route; some European countries follow an alternative approach). In American usage, however, alternate can also be used to mean ‘available as another choice’: an alternate plan called for construction to begin immediately rather than waiting for spring. This American use of alternate is still regarded as incorrect by many people in Britain.”


Chad, Brad and other tools

A hanging Chad (h/t Jacob B)

As my friend Clyde recently, idly, commented on Facebook: “4am thought. It’s pretty random that the paper fragment created when you three-hole punch paper is called a “Chad” and the brass fastener you put through that hole is called a “Brad”. Why do these stationery terms have the most bro-y names (ironically, possibly names of people most likely to generally punch holes in things)?” Jacob B had some more bro-y names to add to the toolbox:  Continue reading

The language of loos and johns

"Deluxe Portable Restroom" / photo courtesy Don's John's

“Deluxe Portable Restroom” / photo courtesy Don’s Johns

“Inauguration planners rushed to wipe away a potential controversy Friday after porta-potties on the National Mall happened to be adorned with the President-elect’s first name. Workers were spotted Friday morning covering the “Don’s Johns” logo with blue masking tape. … Trump, whose middle name is John, will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States at the US Capitol next Friday, an event expected to draw thousands of onlookers onto the National Mall who will use the facilities, of which there are about 2,000. The company [Don’s Johns] is the number-one provider of sanitation services in the Washington area.” So reported CNN a couple of weeks ago, before the country started going down the lav (or the toilet, or the WC …). Oh, where to start …

Perhaps surprisingly, the language of loos is something Glosso hasn’t yet addressed. It’s such a mess of expressions that stream from our mouths and tongues when we refer to that little room of excretion, and yet it’s a topic that no-one can really avoid, even if only when you have to ask how to get to the lav — or the john. With their various whiffs and odors of place, class and manners — from the perfumery of hair powder in the 17th-century French toilet to the stench of Don’s Johns in dirty D.C. — the words for our potties plastic and porcelain and where we house them are teaming and flowing with linguistic innuendo. Let’s dive in … Continue reading

With a hey nonny nonny and a diddle dildo …

Morleydog

Reposted today. Just because.

A dildo, you might think, is a modern contraption and a word of our times — something that sprang to life with the advent of battery-operated toys and women’s lib and all that. But you would be wrong to believe that. It was alive and healthy and serving its perky purposes way back in heady Elizabethan times, and it found its way not only into the bawdy boudoirs of the 16th century, but also into the rhyme and verse of the period’s literary and musical fare. Continue reading

It’s Friday 13th: a day for paraskevidekatriaphobia, friggatriskaidekaphobia or triskaidekaphobia

 

frigga

It’s Friday 13th, and for some people that’s a day when their triskaidekaphobia kicks in big time. Triskaidekaphobia? It means “fear of the number 13”. Also sometimes spelled triskaidecaphobia, it’s a slightly strange word deriving from two different languages: it combines the Greek treiskaideka (“thirteen”) with the Latin word for “fear of”, phobia. The first known written citation is in a book by Isador Coriat, Religion and Medicine: the Moral Control of Nervous Disorders, published in 1908, so this superstition linked to the number 13 is probably quite a recent phenomenon. But is there also a word for the fear of the date itself? Continue reading

Kompromat, and polezni durak

The Kremlin / Wikimedia Commons

The Kremlin / Wikimedia Commons

Kompromat (Russian: компромат; short for компрометирующий материал, literally “compromising material”) is the Russian term for compromising materials about a politician or other public figure. Such materials can be used to create negative publicity, for blackmail, or for ensuring loyalty.

Will kompromat be 2017’s word of the year?

And while we’re on the subject of Russian turns-of-phrase: a “polezni durak” is how Michael Hayden, a former head of both the CIA and NSA, has described President-elect Donald Trump. Translation: a “useful fool.” This term (полезный дурак, tr. polezni durak) has been attributed to Lenin by some Russian writers (e.g. Vladimir Bukovsky in 1984) and Western commentators. However, in 1987 American journalist William Safire noted that a Library of Congress librarian hadn’t been able to find the phrase in Lenin’s works. The book They Never Said It also suggests the attribution is false.

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