Category Archives: Language

You guys, y’all and youse. Or yintz.

Is “you guys” no longer appropriate to use in our more enlightened gender-neutral speech? It has an undeniably male “twang” to it, that’s for sure. But how do modern English-speakers – especially female and non-binary folks – respond to that catch-all term used to conveniently and informally address a group of people in the absence of a genderless second person plural in standard English (which German-, Turkish- and Gaelic-speakers, among others, are lucky enough to have in their linguistic toolkits)?

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The OED: the birth of a dictionary, Part 2. The editor and the mad surgeon.

Dr. William Chester Minor: an American army surgeon, lunatic asylum inmate, and one of the most prolific contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary. / Wikimedia Commons

Continuing Glosso’s telling of the OED birth story…

Five years into the New Dictionary project, in 1884, James Murray and his family moved to a large house in north Oxford, where he built a second – larger – Scriptorium in his back garden, to store the growing mountain of paper slips that were flooding in for him and his team following his Appeal (see yesterday’s Glosso post). The Scriptorium, crafted from corrugated iron, was lined with wooden planks, book shelves and 1,029 pigeon-holes for the quotation slips. Anything addressed to ‘Mr Murray, Oxford’ would find its way to him, and the volume of mail sent by Murray and his team was so vast that the Post Office erected a special mailbox (or what the British call “postbox”) outside his house, which he had named ‘Sunnyside’. Among those slips of paper were some penned by a notorious murderer detained at the even more notorious Broadmoor.

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The OED: the birth of a dictionary, Part 1. Wikipedia, 19th-century style

Murray in the Scriptorium at Banbury Road, before 1910 / Wikimedia Commons

If you haven’t already heard the story (which Glosso is about to tell you) of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be, about the word-nerd man behind it, the role of the American public (who basically failed in their task – with one notable exception), and the even more extraordinary story of one of the dictionary’s most notorious and prolific contributors, you’ll probably think: “Oh wow, this should be made into a movie!” Well, sadly Mel Gibson beat you to it; like you, he’s good at spotting a juicy movie plot, but unlike you he’s got friends in the biz. Oh well: can’t win ’em all. Let’s hear the story of how one of the world’s oldest and most authoritative dictionaries came into being, using a kind of handwritten precursor to Wikipedia and depending on the good intentions of English-speaking readers around the world – including a schizophrenic murderous American surgeon who read a lot and knew a lot of words …

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Celebrating International Mother Language Day on 21 February

Procession march held on 21 February 1952 in Dhaka / Wikimedia Commons

“A language is far more than a means of communication; it is the very condition of our humanity. Our values, our beliefs and our identity are embedded within it. It is through language that we transmit our experiences, our traditions and our knowledge. The diversity of languages reflects the incontestable wealth of our imaginations and ways of life.” So explained UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay three years ago on February 21: International Mother Language Day.

What follows is a brief history of the UNESCO international day that was inaugurated in 1952 to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism.

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It’s Talk Like Shakespeare Day!

It’s National Talk Like Shakespeare Day!* Please teachest me to speaketh like Shakespeare, I heareth thee cry. You probably do already: if you say things like “send him packing”, “as good luck would have it”, “more fool you”, “neither here nor there”,  “mum’s the word”, or “the be-all and end-all”, then you’re doing pretty well in the Shakespearean language department: he was responsible for either coining or popularizing all those phrases.  Anyway, has’t no fear: Glossophilia cometh to the rescue, and we’re about to guide you through your online toolkit of Shakespearean-speak gadgets. Among Glossophilia’s favorites is Shmoop’s own Shakespearean Translator, which is just like Google Translate: Type anything into the box and “see it translated into super-authentic Shakespearean English”. Then there’s the Shakespeare Insult Kit, whose author Jerry Maguire (sic) was or is an English teacher at Center Grove High School in Greenwood Indiana. You’ll sound like a true Shakespearean villain when you hurl those concoctions out there. Another Glosso favorite is Shakespeare’s Words Thesaurus: “This is the opposite of the Glossary. When consulting the Glossary, you know the word and you want to find out what it means. When consulting the Thesaurus, you know the meaning and you want to find out which Shakespearean words express it. How would he say ‘arrogant’ or ‘companion’?'” Did you know that there’s a William Shakespeare Glossary on CliffNotes? And one on SparkNotes too? There’s a plethora of Shakespeare glossaries and dictionaries out there — and I mean plethora in its truest sense – to help you on your talk-like-Shakespeare quest. Here are just some of them … Continue reading

The editor: linguist, diplomat, empath, and more

This is an unusually personal and serious post for Glossophilia, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it takes to be a good editor. Over the past year or so I’ve been editing my late father’s diaries, as well as discussing with my family the words that will mark his gravestone. Both experiences — especially in such an emotionally-laden context — have made me reflect more on what a delicate and important process the editor’s job is. As a professional editor of nearly 35 years, in a world that’s driving this particular role/profession towards sure and imminent extinction, I’m aware of and keen to expound the value an editor brings to our world of communication. It’s a complex job that goes far beyond just the nuts and bolts of linguistic proficiency. Here’s my take on it.

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The Pope is allergic to adjectives (sic)

“I am allergic to those words. We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns.” So proclaimed Pope Francis in a rant against descriptive words during a speech on Monday. (Sic)

 

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“Wax and gold” in goldsmithery and Amharigna

“The Baqdadi Goldsmith” by Kamal-ol-molk / Wikimedia Commons

I’m reading a guidebook about Ethiopia (preparing for a trip there later in the year), and I’ve just stumbled on this really interesting piece by John Grinling called “Wax and gold in goldsmithery and Amharigna.” It’s a good read for anyone interested in words and language, and perhaps helps explain why I love Ethiopian culture. Continue reading