1. The Oxford English Dictionary still doesn’t have an entry for the modern meaning of “demonize,” as in “they demonized the bankers,” and it still defines a “couple” as “a man and woman united by love or marriage.” And no dictionary I know of has an or “slur” as in “racial slur,” to refer to a word that disparages somebody on the basis of traits such as race, ethnicity, or gender. That new use of “slur” goes back half a century. But it doesn’t jump out at you the way novelties like “squadoosh” and “twerk” do.

    What we get from the Internet isn’t a Google Earth view of the entire language. It’s more like a screenshot of its Twitter feed.

    —  Geoff Nunberg, linguistics contributor for Fresh Air

  2. twerk

    fresh air

    geoff nunberg

    language

    linguistics

  1. futurejournalismproject:

Omnishambles
The Oxford English Dictionary’s 2012 word of the year is “omnishambles”.

Although omnishambles is still most commonly used in political contexts, usage has evolved rapidly in other contexts to describe any debacle or poorly managed situation. Omnishambles, derived from omni- (‘all’) and shambles (‘a state of total disorder’), has given rise to its own derivative, omnishambolic, indicating that potentially this is a word with staying power.

The OED’s US counterpart, the Oxford American Dictionary has chosen “GIF” as its word of the year.
Takeaway: The English are pessimistic while Americans are optimistically distracted by kittens.

Which do you think should be the word of the year? “Omnishambles” or “GIF”? (Extra points if you find a GIF that illustrates the definition of omnishambles.) View in High-Res

    futurejournalismproject:

    Omnishambles

    The Oxford English Dictionary’s 2012 word of the year is “omnishambles”.

    Although omnishambles is still most commonly used in political contexts, usage has evolved rapidly in other contexts to describe any debacle or poorly managed situation. Omnishambles, derived from omni- (‘all’) and shambles (‘a state of total disorder’), has given rise to its own derivative, omnishambolic, indicating that potentially this is a word with staying power.

    The OED’s US counterpart, the Oxford American Dictionary has chosen “GIF” as its word of the year.

    Takeaway: The English are pessimistic while Americans are optimistically distracted by kittens.

    Which do you think should be the word of the year? “Omnishambles” or “GIF”? (Extra points if you find a GIF that illustrates the definition of omnishambles.)

  2. language

  1. Our debates about usage still have that melodramatic tenor, but they don’t have the same cultural significance. Nobody objects now when a dictionary includes some hip-hop slang or a texting abbreviation. Oxford boasts about adding “wassup” and “BFF”; Merriam counters with “sexting” and “ear worm”; the American Heritage adds “manboob” and “vuvuzela.” Nowadays, a dictionary entry is about as hard to come by as a Facebook profile.

    Since the time of Webster’s Third, people have been framing usage issues as a pseudo-philosophical dispute between “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist” views of language, the one telling it like it is and the other telling it like it ought to be. But actually all dictionaries are in the business of describing the language as it is. What really changes is the conception of the language itself.

    Back in Macdonald’s era, it was still just possible to think of the English language as a single great stream with its sources in literary tradition, rolling majestically past the evanescent slang and jargon scattered on its banks. That was a glorious fiction even then. But it isn’t a credible picture when all the old distinctions have been effaced — between high and low, formal and casual, print and oral, public and private.

    Where do you locate the mainstream of English in the flood of words that pours in over all the different screens in our lives? It’s not a stream at all, just a limitless ocean of yammer. Even with their modern tools, you have to feel for the lexicographers who are out there trying to sift through it all.

    — Linguist Geoff Nunberg on the significance of language wars

  2. Geoff Nunberg

    David Skinner

    The Story of Ain't

    language

    Merriam-Webster

    dictionary

  1. By the time the i- prefix was fleshed out, Apple had transformed itself from a culty computer maker to a major religion.

    — Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the i-prefix began as an abbreviation for the word Internet, but ended up meaning much more than that.

  2. ipod

    ipad

    imac

    iphone

    geoff nunberg

    language

    linguistics

    internet

  1. Kids who learn two languages young are better able to learn abstract rules and to reverse rules that they’ve already learned. They’re less likely to have difficulty choosing between conflicting possibilities when there are two possible responses that both present themselves. They’re also better at figuring out what other people are thinking, which is probably because they have to figure out which language to use every time they talk to somebody in order to communicate.

    — A neuroscientist explains the benefits of bilingualism today on Fresh Air.

  2. neurology

    neuroscience

    brain

    bilingualism

    language

  1. But it’s striking that 9/11 and its after-effects have left almost no traces in the language of everyday life.

    — Linguist Geoff Nunberg asks: Where’s the Sept. 11 vocab?

  2. september 11

    geoff nunberg

    language

    vocab

  1. The word compromise faces in two directions. It looks forward to the bargains we strike but it also looks backward at what we had to sacrifice to get there.

    — Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the compromises we refuse to make say the most about our character. “Sometimes we stand on principle for the heady satisfaction of showing that we can’t be pushed around,” he says.

  2. geoff nunberg

    language

    compromise

    lingustics

  1. Linguist Geoff Nunberg reflects on the changing meaning of the proverb “a few bad apples,” which he says is “the reflexive defense whenever misconduct surfaces in the midst of some  organization, from Enron to Abu Ghraib to Haditha to the mortgage  meltdown. It’s an ancient bit of counsel, whether it’s said of bad  apples or rotten ones, or of bushels, barrels, baskets or bins. Benjamin  Franklin had it as “the rotten apple spoils his companion,” which goes  back to Shakespeare’s time.” View in High-Res

    Linguist Geoff Nunberg reflects on the changing meaning of the proverb “a few bad apples,” which he says is “the reflexive defense whenever misconduct surfaces in the midst of some organization, from Enron to Abu Ghraib to Haditha to the mortgage meltdown. It’s an ancient bit of counsel, whether it’s said of bad apples or rotten ones, or of bushels, barrels, baskets or bins. Benjamin Franklin had it as “the rotten apple spoils his companion,” which goes back to Shakespeare’s time.”

  2. language

    geoff nunberg

    one bad apple

    proverb