December 25, 2012

WOTY season

And it's Words of the Year season again.

Grant Barrett offers, among others,

DOGA Yoga with a dog. DOX To find and release all available information about a person or organization, usually for the purpose of exposing their identities or secrets. “Dox” is a longstanding shortening of “documents” or “to document,” especially in technology industries. In 2012, the high-profile Reddit user Violentacrez was doxed by Adrian Chen at Gawker to expose questionable behavior.EASTWOODING Talking to an empty chair as if President Obama were sitting in it, as Clint Eastwood did at the 2012 Republican National Convention.FISCAL CLIFF The tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect Jan. 1 if Congress does not pass legislation to block them. One worry is that a plunge would stall or reverse the nation’s climb out of the recession.

A mix of zeigeist (doga), politics (dox), economics (fiscal cliff), and references to the presidential campaigns (eastwooding, see als "binders full of women" and "legitimate rape"). Of these, I find "dox" most useful (not least because it's a verb), but it makes me think of dachshunds ("doxies"). Perhaps I'm underestimating the demand for doga classes, but I can't see that word succeed. "Eastwooding" is just ridiculous as a word, it's really only a reminder of a singular event. "Fiscal cliff," on the other hand, is an expression that we will hear used often and it does characterize the year in some way, plus it's a metaphor, but it would be an uninspired choice.

"Wrapped with a Bo"

Merry Christmas. And may the next year bring better puns (not like this one).

December 04, 2012

Seamus lives on

Gail Collins on the outcome of the election. This might be the last time she refers Seamusgate:

We have been through a lot, people. But now the presidential race is settled. Barack Obama won. People on both sides worked heroically, and, on Tuesday, their candidates behaved well. This should be a happy time. ...If all else fails, strap John Boehner to the roof of a car.

November 08, 2012

And no new dog for the Romney household either

How did Mitt Romney spend the day of the election?

Like this, according to the NY Times:

All day, Mr. Romney was his essential self, careful and disciplined, unemotional and measured, nearly as uneasy in the limelight as when he began his campaign on June 2, 2011. After much pleading, he agreed to talk to his traveling press corps — the 50th news conference of the campaign. Postcampaign, he said, he was thinking of getting a puppy. “Assuming I win, one of the benefits would be to get another Weimaraner.”
I guess that means that we won't see a Weimaraner puppy strapped to the roof of Romney's car any time soon. Which is a good thing.

November 07, 2012

No second dog for the White House

4 years ago, in his victory speech, President Obama promised his daughters that they would get a dog once the family moved to the White House. Tonight, he again thanks them for their support, but he also said that one dog was probably enough. Sorry, Bo!

November 06, 2012

Team Seamus is having a ball

Dogs against Romney: Mission Accomplished.

Taking this moment into your hands

The dogs on main street, their howl was rather subdued at President Obama's day-before-the election rally in Madison, WI (from "The Promised Land")

Capitalizing on the election

This ("Get out the tote") is NOT how you do it, Lands' End. Why don't you just send me a 30% off coupon, like everyone else is doing?

November 05, 2012

Let's think of Seamus one more time

In her last pre-election column, Gail Collins brings up the Seamus-the-dog one more time, only to tell us that we should "forget about the fact that Mitt Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car." Why? "If he [Romney] loses, nobody will care. If he wins, we'll have so many other things to worry about."

Of course, one of the best ways to make someone picture a situation is to tell that person not to picture it. So let's all think of Seamus one more time -- and of my 2007 prediction that a person who doesn't show compassion towards the family dog will not be elected President of the United States.

October 25, 2012

Vote for me

Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama, but with a case problem:

"You know, I voted for him in 2008 and I plan to stick with him in 2012, and I'll be voting for he and Vice President Joe Biden next month," he said on CBS' "This Morning."
This error (the use of nominative case after a preposition) is usually observed in coordination structures, as in "Jimmy bought the book for Harry and I." I think it's a case of hypercorrection, the use of a non-standard form resulting from a (misdirected) effort to use a correct form. In a subject position in a finite clause, strictly speaking, a pronoun should take its nominative form ("I go," not "Me go"), but in a coordination structure, many speakers find the accusative acceptable, at least in non-formal contexts ("Harry and me went to the party"). However, in formal contexts, nominative case is required ("Harry and I went to the party"). Speakers may generalize that "Harry and I" is better than "Harry and me"), but this is only true in the subject position of a tensed clause, it does not hold for the position of an object ("Sandy invited Harry and me", not "Sandy invited Harry and I"). The same holds for the use of nominative case after a preposition ("between you and I"), as reported hereThe effort to use the "better" form (the one with higher prestige) may in this case result in the use of an ungrammatical form -- hypercorrection. 

Rule of thumb: After "and," use the pronoun you'd use if there were no "and" and no coordination.

  • I left. --> Harry and I left.
  • She left me. --> She left Harry and me.
  • I'll vote for him. --> I'll vote for Harry and him.
An extra note on "for:" Unlike "between," for can also act as a subordinating conjunction (or "complementizer"). In this function, it introduces a clause, i.e. it must be followed by a noun phrase and a verb phrase. In this scenario, the noun phrase can be in nominative case. That's why we sing "For he is a jolly good fellow" rather than "For him...". 

October 16, 2012

Binders full of women

Tonight's presidential debate -- supposed to be "a free-flowing question-and-answer session between the candidates and a studio audience at Hoftra University" -- as been called feisty, rancous, aggressive and tense. Any phrase from the debate that stands out? Well, there are Mitt Romney's "binders full of women." A touch ... objectifying, no?

From CNN
Did Mitt Romney really request that as governor of Massachusetts, he be brought "whole binders full of women?" It was his response to a question – on gender pay inequality - which turned heads and started fingers tapping on keyboards. Before the debate was over, there was a Twitter hashtag, a blog, a series of memes, and a Facebook page with over 100,000 fans. The phrase was the third-fastest rising search on Google during the debate.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the debate:
And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we -- can’t we find some -- some women that are also qualified?” ROMNEY: And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

October 11, 2012

A bunch of malarkey

If you followed tonight's debate of the two nominees for Vice President, John Biden and Paul Ryan, you agree that the word of the evening was "marlarkey," as in "With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey." shows that Joe Biden seems rather fond of this word. He thinks it reflects his Irish identity: "We Irish call it malarkey.”

Alas, the word is considered an Americanism and was first recorded in the 1920s. Its supposed Irish origin? Pure malarkey, at least according to the OED:
Etymology:  Origin unknown. A surname Mullarkey , of Irish origin, exists, but no connection is known between any person of that name and this word. 

August 11, 2012

Of fish and men

What's this about the GOP candidates and their bragging about handling animals? First, there's Mitt Romney, whose "dog incident," in which he documented "emotion-free crisis management," is document all across the Internet, including this blog. Now, there's Paul Ryan, the catfish noodler.*
“They come up on your hand, and you just squeeze wherever you are in that fish and pull it out,” he [= Paul Ryan] said with a shrug, bragging about the 40-pounder he landed two seasons ago. “I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s really exhilarating.”
With so much manliness in front of oneself, one might take solace in the fact that at one point it was part of Ryan's employment responsibilities at Oscar Mayer to drive the Wienermobile (even if he, according to the NYT, denies it). I doubt that anyone ever strapped a dog crate to its roof.

*Wikipedia notes that noodling ("fishing for catfish with bare hands") is illegal in a number of states, including Wisconsin, Ryan's home state.

July 28, 2012

Olympic Games Declared Open! Woof!

The most surprising part of the Olympic Games opening ceremony was probably a video clip (directed by Daniel Boyle) that showed Queen Elizabeth's sense of humor. Actor Daniel Craig alias James Bond arrives at Buckingham Palace, marches to the Queen's room (royal corgis at his feet), is welcomed with the words "Good Evening, Mr. Bond," and gallantly escorts Her Majesty to the opening ceremony (the video suggests that they both arrive in and jump out of a helicopter). Stealing the show: The Queen's corgis, happily romping down the palace stairs (and, may I say it, not exactly looking super trim).

After such an unexpected beginning, the Queen's actual opening of the ceremony was a bit of a letdown: "I declare open the games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era," she read from a sheet. No corgis were present.

July 16, 2012

No puppy for Suri Cruise

I am not following the Cruise/Holmes drama closely and I don't really know why Holmes marches their young daughter through Manhattan in front of as many cameras as possible, but this is just a classic picture of a child -- any child -- that got to hold a puppy but isn't allowed to take it home. We've all seen that face. (All the more reason not to take your child to a store that sells puppies.)

July 14, 2012

Sew kool!

Clever blending of two concepts (linguistically and as a business idea) or pseudo-witty and annoying creative spelling? Your call. (Personally, I find the written form of the word dangerously close to "sewer" -- not a concept I would like to have my business associated with).

(And in case you are wondering: The two words are not etymologically related. The verb is very old and of Germanic origin, the noun is of Romance origin and is spelled "sure" in Shakespeare's words, according to the OED.)

May 21, 2012

Pink-collar jobs

The American Dialect Society chooses its "Word of the Year" at the society's annual convention in January. Words are nominated in several categories. If it catches on, would like to nominate the expression "pink collar job" as WOTY in the category "most outrageous word." (Nominations can be sent to any time.)

I came across the expression in an article in the NY Times today, about more and more men working in jobs that are normally dominated by women, such as dental assistants or kindergarten teachers.
Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to 1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.
(When I did a Google search, I realized that "pink collar" workers have been around for quite some time, see, for example, this 2003 article in USA Today. Duh.)

May 18, 2012

Misidentification of the passive is not prudent

I've complained more than once about the bad rap the passive voice is getting in style manuals. What's most annoying is that the people who would like to see the passive banned often have no clue what they are talking about. The result can be seen in this excerpt, from an advice column in Slate magazine (highlighting by me):
Dear Prudence,I've come to understand that some misbehavior is common among men who travel for business, but I don't really know where I stand. I love my wife dearly, and we have a happy marriage. We both travel a lot for work. As soon as I arrive at a new destination, I find myself sitting in strip bars, going to porn theaters, and cruising through red light districts. I don't know why I do it, and often I don't even want to be there, but something keeps pulling me to these places. I've never cheated on my wife, but I'm afraid that I'm going to make a terrible mistake. Once I found myself in a (legal) brothel being solicited by women who I'm sure were wondering why I was there if I didn't want sex. I left, felt nauseated for the rest of the trip, and could barely look my wife in the eye when I got home. Would it be OK to go to only strip clubs, but not other sexual establishments? Or do I need to cut it off entirely, something that I'm not sure is possible? I've debated finding new work, but that would only solve half of the problem as my wife travels as much as I do, and similar problems appear when I'm home alone.
—Feeling Bad

Prudence writes:

I'm sure there are many diagnoses that can be slapped on your illicit conduct, but how about if you start practicing being as responsible about your sexual behavior as you are about your work behavior. Toward that end, stop with the passive voice. You don't "find" yourself at brothels and strip clubs. You get to town, look up their addresses, then get a ride there.  

To which I say: Stop throwing around terms like "passive voice," when clearly you have no clue what they mean. If you consider yourself an authority on interpersonal behavior, stick to that domain in your advice column. 

May 17, 2012

Talkin' 'bout an evolution

President Obama has changed his mind on same-sex marriage. No, wait, his position on the subject has "evolved". What an interesting choice of verb. In Modern English, it can be used as a non-agentive intransitive verb (or a so-called "unaccusative" or "ergative" verb), meaning, "To be transformed from one form into another by a process of gradual modification."

This use of "evolve" is fairly recent (19th century). According to the OED, originally, the verb was used transitively and agentively, meaning "to bring to light," "to release." But that is precisely not what President Obama had in mind when he made the famous (and often-ridiculed) statement listed below:

President Obama, December 2010: "My feelings about this are constantly evolving" (note the use of progressive aspect "is evolving")

..... evolving..... 

.....more evolving .....

....lots of evolving ..... 

... Vice President Biden going on record with saying he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage...

President Obama, May 2012: "I've been going through an evolution of this issue... " (note the use of perfective aspect: "have been")

And the result?
I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married." (ABC News Interview)
Note that the verbs used here (conclude, go ahead, affirm, think) all express deliberate involvement of the subject. Note also the use of the first person. The subject is now the President himself, not some part of him, like "his feelings." It makes you think of the etymology of "to evolve": In Latin, "evolvere" means "to eject with a rolling motion, to roll out our away".

See video snippets of the President's linguistic evolution here.

April 01, 2012

What a coincidence! Timbuk2 introduces the "Clifford Canine Carrier" ("pack sized to carry up to 200 of pounds of dog...When loaded to capacity, may be difficult to operate on bikes and skateboards") on the same day that Warby & Parker introduce their canine designer eyewear.

The day is April 1, 2012. (More fun than any of this year's Google hoaxes, if you ask me.)

March 27, 2012

Attractive, fussy, loud, and constantly in everyone's business"

Can't get enough of Downton Abbey? Like dogs? If you answered 'yes' to both questions, you might enjoy the pictures at this link.

March 14, 2012

"Though languages are at their base social connectors, their study, for the most acquisitive, can be isolating."

Read about 16-year old Timothy Doner, who taught himself a dozen languages and has now discovered the power of connecting with like-minded people through YouTube. There's a whole genre of polyglot videos.

So how does one learn a dozen languages? Is it an innate ability? Is it a skill one learns through practice, like playing an instrument?
The answer, neurolinguists are now discovering, is a bit of both, said Loraine Obler, a linguist and a professor at the City University of New York who has studied bilingualism’s effect on the brain. “There are people whose brains are set up to do language learning,” she said, “the same way some people are more talented at drawing.” Also, she added, “The brain’s ability to absorb increases as we know more languages. Having a second language at a young age helps you learn a third, even if they’re unrelated.”
One more reason to start learning a second language early in life.

March 08, 2012

Gail Collins confirms "I’ve made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney"

This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get.
Everything you always wanted to know about Seamus-the-Setter, Mitt-the -Candidate, and Gail-the-Commentor: Dogging Mitt Romney.

February 23, 2012

She's done it again

Another op-ed by Gail Collins. Another mentioning of Romeny's trip with the dog strapped to the roof of his car:
Take your pick, Republicans. On one hand, the guy who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. On the other, the guy who won his first Congressional race by criticizing his opponent for moving his family to Washington. And then later moved his own family to Washington, but said it didn’t count because the Senate was different from the House.
As Fox News contributor Lanny Davis wrote in January:
There are more than 78 million Americans who own one or more dogs — about two out of every five households. A search of "Romney Dog on Car Roof" brought me 1,080,000 results. I don’t know how many of these 78 million dog owners (and thus, dog lovers) have yet heard or read about Romney doing this horrible thing, much less making his disingenuous claim that Seamus loved the experience on top of a speeding car for 12 hours, while his bowels turned to water. But I’m thinking if this story gets out and stays out, there will be tens of millions of Google hits by next October. And I am also thinking that Romney is going to lose a lot of dog-lover votes on this issue alone, regardless of party or ideology.Here’s one dog lover’s opinion — mine: I think anyone who puts his dog in a cage on top of a car for a 12-hour drive and then deludes himself or tries to delude others that the dog really enjoyed it — to me, with all due respect, I feel such a man shouldn’t be president of the United States.
Stay tuned.

Edited to add: And again (scroll down to bottom).
Edited on March 1 to add: And again! (again, scroll down to bottom)

February 22, 2012

In vain have I struggled...

It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.
Sounds like a good start to a marriage proposal, no? Many will recognize these lines as belonging to a much loved, yet unsuccessful marriage proposal, that of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. The proposal is so well known, in fact, that it has inspired a line of products, such as this mug, sold on

Alas, the creator of the mug doesn't seem to approve of Austen's use of negative inversion ("In vain HAVE I struggled...").  Negative expressions, such as "in vain" or "hardly" or "never in my life," when proposed, trigger what some call subject-auxiliary inversion (even though it is really just the auxiliary, here "have," that moves) in English. On no account should one mess with a quote by Mr. Darcy!

Edited to add: It seems that the shop owner agrees. The description of the mug includes the following PS: The photo depicts it written as 'I have' rather than the correct way, of 'have I'. The mug you will receive will say 'have I'. 

February 21, 2012

Watch out, corgis!

The world has been waiting for this announcement: The Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge are adding to their family! It's a .....cocker spaniel.

ETA: And we now know his name: Lupo

I wonder if the Windsors are familiar with Lupo from the German comic series Fix und Foxi"a bit of a slacker who lives in a tower, and a gluttonous ne’er-do-well ....who is a true master at the art of enjoying life."

February 16, 2012

Downton Abbey Fever

The hats! The dresses! The drama! How can one not love Downton Abbey? The answer may depend on one's tolerance of anachronisms. The show has been accused of "costume errors" and also of linguistic anachronisms. If you are interested in the latter, read Ben Zimmer's column here and watch his video compilation of questionable lines.

If you're less scholarly inclined, you might just want to watch a great compilation of Lady Grantham's one-liners, as produced by the incomparable Dame Maggie Smith (linked via the blog "Desperate for Downton"). What is a 'week-end?' (Note the stress on the second syllable.)

February 15, 2012

A flat-faced champion

The dog world has a new champion. His name is Malachy and he is a 4-year old Pekingese. He came out first competing against a German shepherd, a Dalmatian, a Kerry blue terrier, a Doberman pinscher, a wire-haired dachshund and an Irish setter.

I'm sure Malachy is a terrific dog, but I'm sad to see that a breed that is prone to severe health problems comes out on top of the competition. After all, it was not for nothing that in the UK, the breed standard for the Pekingese has been revised to exclude the clause that his profile should be "flat." (No such changes have been made in the US -- yet.)

In other news: The group associated with the blog "Dogs against Romney" used the Westminster show to draw attention to Mitt Romney's infamous family trip with dog Seamus strapped to the roof of the car. We have given the story quite a bit of attention on this blog, see here and here.

Seamus is long dead, but "Romney's shaggy dog story won't die."

Who disparaged those feminists?

It's good to see that some people know what the passive voice is. Frank Bruni takes up the recent revelation by presidential hopeful Rick Santorum that part of his book "It Takes a Family" was written by his wife, which, at least in Santorum's mind, explains why he, Santorum, can claim that he is not familiar with the following quote ("I don't know -- that's a new quote for me").
“Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root,” Mr. Santorum, or his wife, wrote in the book. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
Setting the issue of authorship aside, Bruni writes that radical feminists "are disparaged" in the book, noting that  by using the passive voice he is "cutting him [Santorum] a break. I could have said 'he disparaged'* those feminists, because he's the only author listed on the book's cover," but he chose to focus on what cannot be contested: Feminists are disparaged in the book for makingwomen think that they only deserve respect if they work outside the home. The passive voice is not agentless -- it just allows us to leave the agent unspecified.

Note that other opinions are less generous: The L.A. Times, for example, writes that " Elsewhere in the book he assailed feminists for 'their misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect,'" in line with the assumption that it is quite natural to assume that a book published by a single author was written by said author.

February 02, 2012

Is "constitution" a verb?

A student sent me a link to this clip from The Colbert Report on 1/30. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe talks about the function of the Constitution today. At 2:30, Stephen Colbert brings up a recent article by Tribe, in which he wrote that "constitution" was not a noun, but a verb.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Laurence Tribe
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Of course, he does not really mean that "constitution" is a verb. If it were, we'd say things like "What did they constitution?" No, what Tribe means, is that the meaning of the noun "constitution" is a process, not a thing, and that is true for many nouns ending on -ion. An exam is a thing, an examination is an event.

The situation reminds me of a slogan I keep reading on flyers about our campus craft studio: "Craftshop - Where ART is a verb!" What they mean is that they make art and that "art" is not just a finished product. They don't actually mean that the word "art" is a verb. If it were, they'd say something like "Craftshop -- where we art all the time."

You can't make something a a verb without using it as a verb.

Riding in the car with Bo

I just love how the story of driving with his family to Canada with his dog strapped to the roof of the car keeps haunting Mitt Romney. Those who want to keep track of the story should visit the blog "Dogs Against Romney." Of course, Gail Collins' column in the NY Times is always a reliable source:

But there's more: A NYT blog mentions how David Axelrod tweeted about the first dog, Bo, riding in a limousine with the president. "How loving owners transport their dogs."

Like this:

As far as I know, no pictures of Seamus strapped to the roof of the Romneys' car exist.

Oh, wait:

January 16, 2012

"No strollers!"

What is your first reaction to this sign?

Your answer may depend on your family status -- and also on the dialect that you speak. From the Metropolitan Diary section in the NY Times:

Sometimes New York City signs are less than helpful. At a bus stop on Second Avenue, I saw two ladies perusing a sign. They looked confused, and they were speaking a language that sounded like Swedish. Wanting to help foreign visitors, I explained: “I know it’s a crazy sign — it really is O.K. to stand here! ‘No standing’ really means ‘No parking.' The following week, at the same bus stop, I passed the time by relating the anecdote to a woman waiting beside me. In her British accent, she told me her own sign story: “When I saw a sign that said ‘No strollers,’ I thought it meant ‘Walk in a brisk manner.’
(In British English, a stroller is referred to as a 'push chair' or a 'buggy'.)

January 15, 2012

"He’s a Quarterback, He’s a Winner, He’s a TV Draw, He's a Verb"

 One of the words in the running for "word of the year," was the verb "to tebow" (posing praying on one knee, after Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.) It did collect a number of votes in one of the WOTY categories of the American Dialect Society vote, but, alas, it was the category "least likely to succeed." Should the linguists have gotten it wrong? 
Around the world, people are “tebowing” — kneeling in prayer, with head resting on one hand, oblivious to surroundings, just as Tebow does after victories. Still, when a wedding party tebows in Las Vegas, or a couple tebows on Abbey Road in London, or two scuba divers tebow underwater in Belize, it can be hard to tell whether they are celebrating or mocking him for his virtuous ways. What, exactly, is it about Tim Tebow that so fascinates and provokes us? Why do some people project onto him the best of this country (humility, tenacity, plain old decency) — and the worst (sanctimoniousness, overexposure, political intolerance)?
Being profiled on ESPN and spoofed in SNL is one thing, but, as I said before: You've really made it when you've become a verb. (It certainly does not do any harm if your name sounds like a prefixed verb to begin with.)

January 10, 2012

"Reading body language, dogs are like infants"

The NYT reports:
They presented dogs with two videos. In the first, a woman says, “Hi, dog,” while looking straight at the camera. The woman then turns her head toward a container. The dog follows her gaze.However, when the woman is looking down, rather than at the camera, as she says, “Hi, dog,” the dog does not follow her subsequent gaze.
Really, how can anyone be surprised by that? Dogs don't speak English, they don't care about the language that we use with them. They care about tone and stance and body language. Gary Larson captured this beautifully in his Ginger cartoon:

January 08, 2012

WOTY 2011: Occupy, followed by FOMO

No big surprises. The American Dialect Society's choice for Word of the Year (WOTY) is "occupy." (It received 82 out of 174 votes.) More interesting, in my opinion, is the runner-up, the acronym "FOMO" (fear of missing out), "describing anxiety over being inundated by information on social media," and another word among the runner-ups, "humblebrag," the "expression of false humility, especially by celebrities on Twitter," which also won in the category "most useful" new word (it can be used as a noun or a verb). Looking at the processes used to create these words, there's a nice mix of semantic extension ('occupy'), an acronym ('FOMO'), and compounding ('humblebrag').

Winner in the category "most creative" was "Mellencamp," "a woman who has aged out of being a 'cougar,'" after the singer John Cougar Mellencamp. Let's just say the word won't win any political correctness prizes any time soon. An honorable mention goes to "bunga bunga," the word for sex parties that allegedly involved Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. This adds an eponym and reduplication to our mix of processes involved to create new words.

Access all previous winners here.

January 03, 2012

Thou shalt not condemn passives (especially if you don't even know what they are)

Exercising more? Eating less? Those are popular, but very boring New Year's resolutions. Here's a better one, at least for linguists or really for anyone who cares about the structure of language: Join George Pullum in his campaign to get journalists (and, may I add, style manual writers) to stop using them grammatical term "passive" when they have no idea what it means.
Many have begged me to give up on my campaign to get journalists to stop using the term "passive" in its grammatical sense when they have no idea what it means. Some warn me that the quest is hopeless and no one will ever listen; some say I have failed to see that some sort of metaphorical passivity is being alluded to and I should get with the lexicographical program; and some just find the experience of me pointing these cases out is like being repeatedly hit over the head with The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. But I will not give up. I will never surrender. [...] Today we have a good example of Matt Taibbi making the usual blunder:
Obama is simply not telling the truth about the supposedly insufficient penalties available to regulators. Employing the famous "mistakes were made" use of the passive tense, Obama copped out in his December 6 speech by saying that "penalties are too weak."
Penalties are too weakis an active simple intransitive clause, with the copular verb>Why should this be thought important? Because there are technical terms in this world, and serious journalism should be using them in roughly the standard way. In economics, inflation has a technical sense that it doesn't have in ballooning. Inflation of a balloon means pumping gas into it, but inflation of a currency means a general rise in the average cost of goods and services (hence a concomitant decrease in the purchasing power of the currency). You don't have to use economic technical terms if you don't want to, but you really shouldn't write newspaper columns on politics and business using the word inflation to mean something else, like "growth of the economy", or "hot air pumped into the political climate by spin doctors".The difference is that any newspaper editor would know enough economics to stop you if you used the word inflation in such a totally ignorant way, whereas, it seems, no newspaper editor knows enough elementary grammar to stop you using the word passive in a totally ignorant way.
You want to use the term "passive" correctly? Read this.