A selective list of literacy charities & programs

In Port Morsby, Papua New Guinea, children are seen at Buk bilong Pikinini (Books for Children), an independent not-for-profit organisation that aims to establish children’s libraries and foster a love of reading and learning.

Literacy and access to information have been shown to reduce poverty, providing opportunities for work, increasing household income, even improving the health of children. A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five.

At a time when literacy and education are under threat from the new U.S. administration, and people are looking to donate to causes that matter to them, Glossophilia offers a selective list of charities devoted to improving literacy and promoting a love of reading. Please feel free to add links to other notable organizations supporting literacy, and please donate what you can to this important global cause. Continue reading

The spelling (& Jerkish) of the President: update

IMG_3905We are humbeled, Mr President.

UPDATE:

As the great American novelist Philip Roth has recently commented to the New Yorker: “Whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither [Richard Nixon nor George W. Bush] was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

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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

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.

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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Hygge

Closeup of family warming feet at fireplace, by kedusource / Flickr

Closeup of family warming feet at fireplace, by kedusource / Flickr

Have you enjoyed some hygge this holiday season?

“Hygge — pronounced to sound somewhere between “booger” and “hooker” — is an apparently untranslatable concept which embodies the Nordic art of cosiness.” So explained the Financial Times in a recent article about this trendy and enviable state of well-being that apparently eludes most of us non-Nordics. “This year hygge has become a global publishing pandemic. The Danish art of cosiness has been co-opted as the latest lifestyle trend to make us feel our disorganised, overworked, over-digital and under-curated lives are utterly inadequate. It is now, after bacon and wind turbines, Denmark’s biggest export.”

The word hygge hasn’t quite yet broken the Danish-English language barrier and taken its official place in any of our official dictionaries. Perhaps that’s because, as the Financial Times argues, it’s simply untranslatable — both culturally and linguistically. Last year Justin Parkinson in the BBC’s news magazine observed: “The Danish word, pronounced “hoo-ga”, is usually translated into English as “cosiness”. But it’s much more than that, say its aficionados – an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world’s happiest country.”

Although the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t yet have an entry for hygge (but do keep an eye on those new official word lists coming up in the New Year), the online Oxford Living Dictionaries does offer a relatively succinct and evocative definition for the Danish word and concept, which has definitely made its way into our lexicon: “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).” But do note that there are two quite different pronunciations offered up here — scroll down to the bottom of OD’s hygge page to hear them articulated. So if you are able to achieve this particular state of twee chill that seems to elude most Americans and Brits, it seems you can choose to call it either “hooker” or “hewger” — whichever kind of hygge sounds like your kind of bliss.

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The Queen’s Speech

The Queen pictured at the microphone during her inaugural Christmas message in 1952; Daily Mail

The Queen pictured at the microphone during her inaugural Christmas message in 1952; Daily Mail

As many of us tune in on Christmas Day to hear The Queen delivering her Christmas message to her subjects around the world, some of us might be focusing less on the words she speaks and more on the way she says them. Every year my ears delight in the music of her voice itself: her plummy accent — the quintessential example of received pronunciation, or what we used to refer to as “BBC English” — harks back to an earlier age when Englishmen and women, especially those in the upper echelons of society, spoke very differently. (Scroll to the end of this post to watch the Queen’s first televised Christmas message, broadcast in 1957, and a speech given by her second oldest grandson earlier this year.) Continue reading