English is littered with diminutives — commonly abbreviated words — in standard usage. Phone, bike, fridge, gym, typo, photo: they’re all diminutives* in that sense. Sometimes we add a suffix after butchering a word to give it an even more informal feel: think comfy (comfortable), cardie (cardigan), telly (television), and even brolly (umbrella). OK, admittedly those are all British colloquialisms: we Brits [see?] are more prone than our neighbors across the pond to add weeny appendages back in once we’ve sliced off the fatty syllables. (And see Glosso’s earlier post: “I’ll take that with a side of small words.“) But wait: there’s a country that’s even more inclined to hypocorism (yes, that’s what it’s called) than English-speakers on either side of the Atlantic. G’day Aussies! Continue reading →
That’s a line out of Manhunt: Unabomber, the gripping new(ish) TV series about how a notorious serial killer was tracked down and apprehended, largely thanks to the relatively young science known as “forensic linguistics.” If you want to know what forensic linguistics is all about, watch this series. (And read Glossophilia’s earlier post about another famous crime in which this particular form of detective work played an important role.) For a quick taster of the series, and to see how linguistics came into the crime in question, watch the video clip below to discover how a common proverb was the key to cracking the case of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. Which proverb was it, and how did its history help the FBI to solve the case? Continue reading →
During a bipartisan meeting on immigration reform, President Trump reportedly asked lawmakers why “all these people from sh*thole countries” should be allowed to move to the United States. (He was referring, apparently, to Haiti and African countries.) Many news media outlets yesterday took to their keyboards and airwaves quoting him verbatim: the word “shithole” was suddenly seen and heard all over the world, even without the censoring asterisks in many cases. The New York Times reports on how the media is tackling this new peculiar challenge: the regular use of vulgarity and profanity by our nation’s leader in his public outbursts statements.
Here’s what the Associated Press’s style guide says about profanity: “AP Style holds that you should not use obscenities in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.”
‘The feast of Reason, & the flow of Soul’ – i.e. – The Wits of the Age, setting the Table in a roar, by James Gillray / Wikimedia Commons
“The British are proud of the idiomatic humour of their language. But an academic has argued that they are actually falling behind because they insist on using phrases that the rest of the world does not understand.” The Telegraph has the full story.
“Not only did the British keep to themselves but they also said that they [a group of Hungarian, German and Italian students] get along very well, they understand each other, and the only trouble comes when a really British person comes and joins the conversation.”
A-TISH-oo! Yes, when we sneeze, we sneeze in our own language, as you can see in James Chapman’s illustration above. It’s funny how some cultures end their sneezes with an “oo” sound and some with an “ee” (and a few even have consonants; like the Portuguese “atCHIM,” the French offer “atCHOUM”; the Filipinos add a little music, with their “hatSING”).
And then, in most countries (but not all), we respond to those who have just sneezed with words and phrases that offer simple blessings and wishes for good health or a long life. But not always … Continue reading →
“The Kazakh language has long been unsure which alphabet to find a comfortable home in and it’s now in for another transition – but this is not without controversy. Last Friday Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev finally decreed that the language would shed its heavy Cyrillic coat and don what he hopes to be a more fashionable attire: the Latin alphabet.” The BBC has the story.
Magnifying glass on an old handwritten letter / 123RF
What exactly is — or are — “forensic linguistics”? It’s the application of linguistic knowledge, methods and insights to the forensic context of law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure. Here’s an example of it.
Retired FBI agent James Fitzgerald is one of the U.S.’s most prominent forensic linguists: as well as advising on some of TV’s popular fictional crime and forensics shows, he was on the investigative teams of two high-profile criminal cases of the last couple of decades: the Unabomber, and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1996. The Ramsey case was recently back in the news, with a new TV documentary detailing a new, independent investigation of that 20-year-old crime. As part of the new investigative team, Fitzgerald returned to the scene of the crime to analyze in detail the notorious ransom note that became such a mysterious and vital part of the unsolved homicide. He talked to Yahoo TV about the significance of that 370-word document, and the various things it revealed about the person who wrote it. Here are a couple of excerpts from that interview: Continue reading →