Smashwords Interviews

The indie ebook publisher, Smashwords, is offering a new feature to its authors — an interview template.  An author writes answers to questions about their life and their writing, and can publish these to their Smashwords profile page.  A nifty free marketing tool, indeed.  Check out my interview related to my novel, Blind Tasting, if you’re curious.

Smashwords has also announced a new distribution channel for their ebooks — FlipMart in India. A big market apparently, as FlipMart is described as the Amazon of India. Okay, writers, everyone get to work on your next project!    🙂

Posted in Announcement, ebooks, self-publishing | 2 Comments

Seman-tech Changes?

 We know that languages change over time. Some of these changes are shifts in word usage and word senses. The world of technology changes rapidly, and it’s no surprise that word senses might reflect that. Three English nouns have caught my eye recently with respect to this topic: space, culture and brand. Go to any English dictionary and you will observe a multitude of senses for each of these words. They have what linguists call high polysemy, or many meanings. In the current tech world there are meanings for these words which I haven’t found in dictionaries, maybe because they are so newly emergent, maybe even within just the past four or five years.

For example, it’s common in tech circles now to hear or read about current funding levels in social space, or vendors who are leaders in a certain technology space. Space in these contexts is a sphere of activity, but, something more fluidly defined than an industry and less specific than a product or product line. An area of innovation might be a good paraphrase.

New word senses are often metaphoric extensions of earlier senses. So, which prior meaning of space is this new sense related to? I don’t think its connection is to a physical expanse (he liked the wide open space of the desert) nor to the freedom of opportunity (the company gave its employees space to explore new ideas). More likely it’s related to the mathematical, algorithmic sense used in, e.g., search space, which refers to a set of possible points, or solutions, answers, from which one or some will be selected. A space in the new sense implies problem solving, building and/or discovering solutions to a problem in the context of other solutions that may exist or are being invented/discovered by competitors. For now, this sense of space seems to exist within the tech community, but, will it expand to other domains of enterprise, e.g., government, entertainment, law?

Consider culture. We speak of ancient cultures, of youth culture, pop culture and corporate culture. The latter three senses specify traits for group membership, being young, artful, or business savvy. In the world of techies, culture has taken on a narrower sense, referring to the attitudes and behaviors specific to individual organizations — not the business world at large. (Okay, there is startup culture, which is broader than one company but not inclusive of all business.)

Job postings seek candidates who will be a good fit with the firm’s culture. It’s a good choice for what’s being described; the boundaries between work life and personal life are blurred in most startups (and also in fast-paced larger tech firms),

Some big companies used to refer to themselves as a family, employees would be joining a family. The term family suggests a roster of specific individuals with respective roles. It implies long term, stable commitments and relationships. The current use of culture doesn’t imply the long term or specific people, but it implies a set of attitudes and behaviors that are to be embraced by the participants.

Brand is no longer just a marker or id for a manufactured product, it has become a shorthand reference to the skills, actions, services, personality and other publicly perceived traits of individuals. The rise of social media and the ability to self-publish and self-advertise undoubtedly led to the emergence of this new sense of brand. This new sense of brand can also refer to whole groups or companies, but it’s not referring to specific products, but rather characterizing the reputation, the public face, of the group.

Interestingly, culture’s new sense — unlike brand’s new sense — cannot be singularized. There is no culture of one, there must be a group, probably more than two individuals? But, you can speak of his or her brand, as well as their brand. When you refer to his or her culture, you are jumping back to the broader reference to a whole country or society. It’s a different sense of the word.

As new situations and new activities arise, people will find a way to think about them, talk about them, name them. This is a big driver of how word senses change. Car referred to railway carriages in the early nineteenth century in the United States, but later came to refer to automobiles. Today, the railway sense is more restricted and usually occurs with additional modifiers (box car, dining car, sleeping car, quiet car). The dominant sense of car today is automobile, not surprising given the number of autos in the world and the huge role they play in everyday life.

Finally, the noun phrases full stack and full stacker offer interesting examples of word sense evolution. I read a job posting for a tech startup that was looking for a full stacker. Another posting had a job for a full stack programmer. (Note: tech startup job boards are a treasure trove of molten semantics – language change in motion!) When I first read these phrases, I wondered whether they referred to the call stack of a computer program (a data structure that manages the subroutines of an executing program). The details of the call stack are usually automatically handled in high-level programming languages, so application developers don’t manually work with them. So, I assumed a full stacker was a programmer with the chops to tweak the call stack, someone comfortable and experienced writing internal operating system code as well as user-oriented code modules. Screw up your operating system code and you will have a really bad day.

The phrases turn out to be richer and more malleable than my initial guess. The stack metaphor has been extended to mean whole product solutions or implementations. Instead of being composed of runtime subroutines, the new stack is composed of software modules which could include different libraries, classes, databases, APIs, operating system, etc., which taken together deliver a software solution. A lot of this is web-centric obviously; for example, the term stack is used contrastively with glue in comparing programming frameworks for the scripting language PHP. A stack framework is one-stop shopping, with all packages included, a glue framework requires/enables a programmer to mix and match their libraries to build an application.

On Quora someone asked for the meaning of full stack programmer and got two answers; the first defined it as a techie generalist who could switch hit among technical tasks, and the second defined it more specifically (and more accurately) as a programmer who can code both server side and web side components.

Yet another sense of full stack refers to electric guitar amplification – an amplifier with two speaker cabinets is called a full stack; in contrast, an amplifier with just one speaker cabinet is called a half stack. It seems doubtful this usage is the origin for the newly-emergent programming sense, and I bet no one wants to be called a half-stack programmer!

My favorite definition for full stack web developer — someone able to turn a loose pile of electrons into a fully operating and styled website.  It goes with a nerd merit badge. And what’s the graphic on the badge? A stack of pancakes. ; )

Will these new senses spread to new contexts? For example, might skilled, multi-tasking assistants to government officials or executive managers start being called full stackers? It probably depends on the metaphoric alignments, which features of a given sense become more salient, or less so. The world keeps changing and language responds to this, words need breathing room. Newly emerging senses may not be wholly consistent at their outset, people may read or hear them (or use them) without being certain of their meaning, making guesses. But, we have to agree on basic senses in order to communicate. Really pretty amazing how it all works.

Posted in Internet, language and social media, language change, Meaning Change, Word Usage | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Word Jumbles #11


Solutions can be found on the Answers page.

Posted in Word Usage | 2 Comments

The Hidden Past of Words: English final -y

Consider the following list of everyday English words:  memory, happy, baby, crazy, victory, city, silly, puppy, army

For starters, they all end in -y and they can be grouped further as nouns (memory, baby, victory, city, puppy, army) or adjectives (happy, crazy, silly).  For the nouns, English speakers know that we form the plural by replacing the final -y with -ies. Is it the same -y that gets replaced in memories and babies? Probably yes according to the intuitions of most modern English speakers. However, memory’s -y and baby’s y have different origins.

The final -y of memory, victory, city and army is a nominal suffix whose origins come from Latin forms which Middle English acquired through Old French forms:  memory, victory (English) <- memorie, victorie (Anglo/Old-French) <- memoria, victoria (Latin),  city, army (English) <- cite, armée (Old French) <- civitas, armata (Latin).  Modern -y here corresponds to the -e suffix of Old French and to the -atus/-atum suffix of past participle forms of certain Latin verbs and to final -ia for certain Latin nouns.

The final -y of puppy and baby is a diminutive ‘pet name’ suffix which applies to not only these common nouns, but to personal names, e.g., Billy, Benny, Johnny.  The Online Etymological Dictionary mentions that the popularity of Robert (Bobby) Burns’ poetry led to widespread usage of this diminutive suffix with the common noun lad -> laddie, but this dictionary also points out the much earlier (14th century) occurrences of baby as a diminutive of babe, and puppy for pup.  Modern speakers may still discern the diminutive sense in modern dolly (a child’s toy doll) or mommy (mom/mother), but baby and puppy are now the unmarked cases, at least in American English.

The final -y of adjectives is a suffix which originally meant ‘characterized as’.  But, modern English speakers don’t analyze happy as ‘characterized by hap’ — happy is now a single unit of meaning. The history of this word is interesting. Hap, in fact, is the original root of happy and in Middle English it meant ‘chance, fate, fortune’.  Hap has become archaic in Modern English, still related to happenstance and haphazard. The formation of happy (hap + -y) took on the sense of luck, good fortune, but later replaced other terms (including gesaelig -> silly) to mean pleased, joyful. The original Old English word meaning happy survives as modern blithe. Note, though, how blithe’s usage has largely shifted from joy to a somewhat pejorative sense of nonchalance (his driving shows a blithe indifference to posted speed limits).

Silly has come a long way semantically from its origins.  Its core meaning apparently changed from ‘blessed’ to ‘pious’ to ‘innocent’ to ‘harmless’ to ‘pitiable’ to ‘weak’ to ‘feeble-minded’ in the course of a few hundred years.  What a semantic downgrade for the hapless lexeme! 🙂 Today it seems less harsh, mostly conveying the sense of non-seriousness, sometimes in a fun and whimsical way.  (Note: Old English gesaelig referenced above meant happy in the same sense of German selig, which translates as ‘blessed’, ‘blissful’.)

Where is modern-day final -y going? Some English dictionaries maintain a meaning distinction between the spellings hippy and hippie; hippy is an adjective that means ‘having wide hips’, hippie is a person with a certain (hip) outlook or lifestyle.  But other dictionaries now treat hippy and hippie as mere spelling alternates for a single noun. Ditto for yuppy and yuppie. (No one will confuse hippie/hippy with hipster, however!)

I’ll end this post with a few more examples of final adjectival -y.  The adjectives breezy, mighty, hasty,  tasty, angry, toasty convey a straightforward sense of ‘characterized by’ or ‘full of’.  They mean, respectively,  ‘characterized by’  a breeze, might, haste, taste, anger or toast (the verbal sense of ‘warming something’).

What about these y-ending adjectives:  haughty, sorry, feisty, merry, naughty, steady, busy?

For most English speakers the interpretation  ‘full of, characterized by’ is less clear here than for the preceding adjectives. Yet, haughty, feisty, naughty, steady also arose in the language by combining nouns with -y:  haught (‘high self-esteem’) + y, feist (‘small dog’) + y,  naught (‘nothing’) + y, stead (‘unwavering’) + y.  The earlier meanings of the nouns have changed and the ‘characterized by’ relationship is now more obscure. Haughtfeist and stead don’t appear in modern English in these original senses. Naught still means ‘nothing’, but the form combined with -y in Middle English to mean ‘needy’ and only later took on the sense of ‘wicked or morally bad’.  Feist’s originally meaning was ‘bad odor, fart’ and became associated later with lap dogs in the phrase feisting cur (‘stinking dog’) then shortened to feist to refer to a small dog — which has little to do with the modern meaning of  ‘aggressive, tough, plucky’.  Okay, maybe you know a tough little lapdog, or two.

For sorry, merry and busy, the etymologies are sarig (Old English ‘distressed’), myrge (Old English ‘agreeable, pleasing’), bisig (Old English ‘anxious, careful’). These adjectives are not the result of a base noun combining with a -y suffix, so perhaps it’s not surprising that these have indivisible meaning similar to modern happy. (Note: sorry is etymologically related to sore and not sorrow, although modern English speakers might feel a natural connection between sorry and sorrow.)

As babies entering the world, we don’t get to choose our parents or our first language. But we do learn the histories of our families, our parents and grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, through the stories they tell to us, through our interactions with them. Words aren’t able to tell us their stories directly, we just use them in the context we learn them in, taking their current meanings for granted. It’s how communication is possible. Yet traces of their often long and complex histories can be discerned in their present-day form and meaning if we, like beachcombers, pause to pick them up, turn them over, and study the clues.  Enjoy words!

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Trailers for Blind Tasting (audiobook edition) now on YouTube

Check out trailers for the audiobook version of Blind Tasting:

Trailer 1:  Immerse yourself in the tale of three geeks and a dog as they explore what is definitely not your ordinary wine trail. Set in Silicon Valley, Napa and Sonoma.

Trailer 2: Will sexual rivalries and romantic fallout derail the deviously clever wine antics of Cory and his friends?

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Glass, Bamboo, Curry

I was intrigued by a recent question posted at Quora about whether there is a bamboo ceiling in American corporate culture, parallel to the idea of a glass ceiling, but with reference to the experience of Asians’ efforts to become promoted to upper management levels in firms. The question is certainly an interesting and legitimate one to ask, but the language nerd in me is wondering whether here is a case of a newly productive phrase pattern in English. Thus, the metaphoric expression itself is the focus of this post.

I don’t know when glass ceiling first entered English, but I’m guessing it has been around for only about twenty years and has mostly been used to reference perceived obstacles to upper management promotions as these relate to females. The Quora discussion cites the writer Jane Hyun as the coiner of the expression bamboo ceiling. If so, this usage came into being around 2005. I’ve not read her book, Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians, but the title seems inclusive of all Asians, not just women.

Consider the semantics of these two expressions. It would appear that ceiling has a constant meaning; it’s a metaphorical stand-in for a perceived set of complex social behaviors, some intentional, some unconscious, which create a barrier to promotion in the workplace for members of specific social groups. The metaphoric choice of ceiling supports the idea that there is hierarchy in the workplace and directionality is also used metaphorically in value judgements — moving up is a measure of success. Ceilings are then negative structures which impede further movement upwards. The modifier glass elaborates the metaphor; the barrier is invisible (not described by explicit rules) and clear (the barrier doesn’t hide the desirable level above to those seeking it, they can observe it without ever reaching it).

A bamboo ceiling appears to have altered the semantics of the original metaphor. Bamboo itself does not possess qualities of invisibility and clearness similar to glass, bamboo is a solid material.  Bamboo is being used to reference a social group, namely Asians. Is bamboo ceiling shorthand for bamboo glass ceiling? And why bamboo as the chosen attribute for this newly coined metaphor? Silk and tea also have associations to Asian cultures. Yet speakers of English immediately understand the metaphoric meaning.  Tea or silk ceilings would not be as effective. Perhaps one reason that bamboo is a good choice semantically is that the goal is to break such ceilings. Glass can be broken and so can bamboo, but it’s not apparent how you break silk or tea, for example. (Also, in another metaphoric extension of a physical barrier, curtain, there is bamboo curtain, presumably on the model of iron curtain.)

There was yet a third ceiling mentioned in the Quora commentary, the curry ceiling. Interestingly, the writer giving an answer on Quora pointed out that this expression is not quite appropriate for what it refers to. It refers to a situation in which Asian middle managers have upper management bosses who are Indian. So in this situation, curry is not identified with those seeking to break through some barrier, but is identified with members of a group who are already at the higher level within the organization. The metaphoric ceiling refers to a level in the hierarchy itself and not to a barrier to that level. That is also more consistent with a metaphoric use of curry, which is not a breakable substance, but rather a compositional substance. My impression is that curry ceiling is quite new to English and still in flux with its meaning. For instance, Quora discussants wondered about the nomenclature for social groups, stating that Indians are Asians.

The interesting point is that these examples — forming curry ceiling on the model of bamboo ceiling on the model of glass ceiling — illustrate metaphoric productivity in action in the language.  How productive can such a metaphor become?  Would certain usages align naturally with the barrier sense and others with the compositional sense? And, we haven’t even discussed a third metaphoric sense of ceiling which means limit, as in debt ceiling.  Here are some examples I came up. What would they refer to?

gray ceiling

green ceiling

wealth ceiling

style ceiling

svelte ceiling

blind ceiling

gene ceiling

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Plural Logic

Forming the plural of a noun in English is pretty easy — mostly you add final -s to the singular form (with occasional spelling modifications:  story -> stories).  Linguists refer to nouns that form their plurals with final -s as count nouns.  Another group of nouns referred to as mass nouns generally don’t take final -s because what they refer to in the world is viewed not as countable items, but as an undifferentiated whole, e.g., starlight, fog, dirt, rice.  It’s easy to count three stories, four boxes, five dogs, but starlight, fog and dirt are not so easily countable. Of course specific contexts can override the ordinary mass noun interpretation; a chef might speak of different qualities of Asian rices, for example, or an ichthyologist might refer to fishes of the Indian Ocean. In such contexts, plural -s signals a comparison among kinds of an aggregate or substance.

There are also some curious English nouns which refer to countable items, but such nouns in the singular nevertheless take final plural -s.

  • pants
  • trousers
  • shorts
  • breeches
  • culottes
  • tights
  • drawers, boxers (clothing sense only)

Breeches is a double plural, having added plural -s to what was already the plural brec for the Old English noun broc (a garment covering the thighs and loin).  Trousers comes from Gaelic triubhas (close-fitting shorts) and may have gained its r on the pattern of drawers.

The human body is symmetrical and it’s not surprising that body garments come in pairs. We have pairs of gloves, sleeves, stockings and shoes. But it’s also natural to speak of tearing or losing a single glove, sleeve, stocking or shoe. Yet no one refers to tearing a short, tight, or pant — the garment’s ‘pair plurality’ remains intact.

  • he tore his pants/*?he tore his right pant
  • a rip in her tights/*?a rip in her left tight

Evidently single garments which include covering for paired portions of our anatomy maintain a precarious semantic balance between being a single unit and a paired (plural) unit. This contrasts with gloves and socks, where a pair of gloves always means two separate items.

But it’s not so straightforward. Single coverings for the upper portion of the human body that include covering pairs of appendages (arms, hands) seem to be simple count nouns.

  • shirt
  • blouse
  • coat

A pair of blouses means two separate garments whereas a pair of pants means a single garment. But then we have tails — an informal reference to the single upper garment tailcoat.  The phrase the tails he wore for the wedding were taken to the dry cleaners refers to a single garment, not two garments. Hmm. Could it be because tails is a part of the coat which covers lower anatomy, not upper anatomy?

The noun clothes is an interesting case; it has final plural -s, but refers to an aggregation, not a countable set of items. The expression he took his clothes off  implies that more than one piece was removed, but the word clothes resists numerical precision. (This is similar to the situation with mass nouns such as fog and rice.) Whereas you can easily say he removed three hats or he put on two gloves, it’s really odd to say he removed three clothes. Quantifiers which don’t enumerate the quantity are more natural: he removed some/all/few of his clothes.  Cloth was the singular form in Old English for clothes, but the meaning of cloth has shifted over time and no longer serves as the singular form of a garment. Did clothes become more of a mass noun as a consequence?

Other semantic domains exhibit ‘pair plurality’ to some extent, including tools with two matched appendages.

  • scissors
  • pliers
  • shears

The above terms occur naturally with pair, as in pair of scissors, and they follow the lower-anatomy body garments in those cases by referring to a single item, not two items. SImilarly, it’s odd to speak of  a shear, a plier or a scissor.  These are more natural in the context of being a modifier, as in a scissor blade (similarly, a trouser seam).

Finally there is trou. The word was unknown to me, but a rower tells me that it refers to streamlined shorts worn by scullers. Given that, it certainly looks like a shortening of trousers. Is it a recent innovation? Does trou take final plural -s?  Can it occur with pair as in a new pair of trou?  Perhaps it’s more of an aggregate along the lines of clothes, where only context or quantifiers indicate how many items are referenced.  I would love examples if you have them!

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More Linguistic Asymmetries

The English prefix un- comes directly from Old English (and shares a common Indo-European root with Latin in- and Greek a-) Prefixed to an adjective A, the resulting new word means ‘not A’ and can convey either positive or negative sentiment, depending on the meaning of the adjective.

  • selfish/unselfish, pretentious/unpretentious  (un- has positive sentiment)
  • happy/unhappy, flattering/unflattering (un- has negative sentiment)
  • usual/unusual, aware/unaware (un- context-dependent sentiment)

Prefixed to a verb, un- conveys the reversal of a process:

  • load/unload
  • tangle/untangle
  • wind/unwind
  • do/undo

However, not all verbs form their opposite by adding un- as a prefix. For example

  • break/*unbreak

You can’t unbreak a teapot, you can only repair it. (Perhaps the special context of watching a film in reverse would lend itself to such a usage ‘watch the teapot unbreak in frame 254.’ ??)   Notice that there is symmetry for the associated adjectives — an object is either in a state of being broken or intact, or has the potential to be in one of these states.

  • broken/unbroken
  • breakable/unbreakable

Other examples of verbs that are not symmetrical with respect to un- include

  • clean/*unclean
  • develop/*undevelop
  • squander/*unsquander
  • release/*unrelease

You must dirty, retard, save, or retain. Similarly, verbs that denote speech acts are not symmetrical with respect to un-.

  • promise/*unpromise
  • announce/*unannounce
  • insult/*uninsult
  • marry/*unmarry

You can only renege, retract, apologize or divorce. Verbs that describe mental processes also don’t have corresponding opposites formed with un-.

  • remember/*unremember
  • dream/*undream
  • see/*unsee

The natural opposite of remember is forget, and there is the related misremember which implies recall of something not factual. (More on mis- in a moment.) Dream is more difficult; perhaps the opposite of dreaming is realizing? There seems to be no natural concept corresponding to a reversal or opposite of the event of seeing.  In summary, it appears that English uses un- only with verbs that describe events which are simple, reversible physical processes, seemingly ignoring the arrow of time (even though each act of covering/uncovering, folding/unfolding, winding/unwinding is indeed moving in one direction through time).

But what about the prefix dis-?  Its occurrence with verbs doesn’t appear to conform to the above patterns. The following symmetrical pairs include both speech act verbs and mental process verbs.

  • allow/disallow
  • like/dislike
  • please/displease
  • regard/disregard
  • invite/disinvite

Allow, please, regard and invite entered English from Old French, along with the Latin-derived prefix dis- which meant ‘not’. Dislike, however, is a hybrid form that replaced the native English mislike, which was at one time the opposite of like. The native English prefix mis- meant ‘wrongly, in error’ and we see it today in the verbs misjudge, misremember and probably mistake.

  • I took him for an honest man
  • I mistook him for an honest man
Notice the somewhat inconsistent modern-day distribution of dis- and un- with please and pleasure. 

  • please/displease/*unplease
  • pleased/displeased/?unpleased
  • pleasant/*displeasant/unpleasant
  • pleasure/displeasure/*unpleasure
Finally, the verb dislove was in use during the 16th century and meant ‘to hate’ or ‘cease to love’.  The new symmetrical verb pair friend and unfriend have now entered Internet English. Why not use the existing verb befriend? Perhaps because it seems archaic, along with its be- relatives befoul, besmirch and betroth. Curiously, belittle is still a verb with a presence. But notice that the negative member of the new verb pair is unfriend and not disfriend. The language is showing its Germanic pedigree.  While we’re on the topic of linguistic asymmetries I’d like to alter one — the current annoyance of having only a like option on so many web postings, reviews, tweets, pins and such. It would be nice to express an opposite view on occasion. Dislove anyone? 🙂
Posted in Word Formation, word meaning, Word Usage | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Teenage, Middle-age, New Age

English can form adjectives from the past participles of verbs. Consider:

  • break:broken  the vase was broken -> the broken vase
  • fall:fallen   his popularity has fallen recently -> his fallen popularity
  • bake:baked  the bread was baked in a brick oven -> baked bread
  • age:aged  the wine is aged in oak barrels -> aged wine

Concerning age, the combination adjective teenage almost never appears in current usage with the past participle final -d.  You almost always read or hear

her teenage daughter


her teenaged daughter

English dictionaries do include the word teenaged as an adjective, along with teenage, although teenaged (1952) appears several decades later than teenage (1921) according to the Online Etymological Dictionary. Teenage is more in line with new age (new age music) and ice age (ice age relics) with age as a noun, not a verb, i.e., a period of time.  Similarly, there is mid-life crisis, not mid-lived crisis, again related to a period of time.

What about the adjective middle-aged? First, it almost always appears with a hyphen in written English (unlike teenage/teenaged). And the situation is nearly the opposite of the case for teenage/teenaged.  You almost always see the forms middle-aged men, middle-aged women, or simply the middle-aged.  Kind of  interesting, too, that we have teenagers but not middle-agers.  So, my linguistic intuitions were a bit jarred to read in print “middle-age men in shorts” recently — without the final participial -d.   Is that because middle-aged is more verbal, referencing a weathering process, rather than a time period?   But then why middle-age spread (abdominal fat accumulated in mid-life) and not middle-aged spread?

What about other cases of modifiers that usually take the final -d? Are the d-less alternates as acceptable?

  • three-fingered glove/three-finger glove
  • left-handed presidents/left-hand presidents
  • right-angled turn/right-angle turn
  • bare-fisted fight/bare-fist fight
  • three-toed sloth/three-toe sloth
  • three-cornered hat/three-corner hat
  • heavy-handed methods/heavy-hand methods
  • strong-armed tactics/strong-arm tactics
  • underhand pitch/underhanded pitch  — these mean something quite different 🙂
My intuitions don’t like either middle-age men (no d) or new-aged men (with d), but teenage boys and teenaged boys are both fine. What do you think?
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Word Purge

There is an online post at the British newspaper Guardian reporting on words to be excluded from new editions of dictionaries. The post invites readers to list their own choices for words they’d like removed from the English language.

My immediate reaction as a linguist to this proposal was “Delete a word from the English language? Never!  Words, words, beautiful words — obscure words, rare words, archaic words, and obsolete words! Keep them all.”  Then I began to rummage through my mental lexicon.  Here’s my list:  🙂

  • edutainment   – surely a choice for the ugliest word to pronounce in all of English?
  • infomercial – a cheesy, rather manipulative concept
  • beige – I just don’t like it. Boring beige. Alternates: fawn, sand, dun, tan, wheat
  • awesomeness – don’t purge it, just place it in cryonic suspension for a generation (along with its cousin awesome). Let it regain the semantic power of its original root awe.  Awesomeness mostly signals a brain on autopilot nowadays.

So let’s hear your candidates.

Hat tip: BBear

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