Thursday, July 21, 2011

-tivism and -geddon

I'm not really sure if this is worth a post of its own, but if I make it number one in a series of occasional new word lists and tag each post in the series with the new words label, by the end of the year we might have lots of new words...and it might be useful to someone.

Anyway, for today:

Clicktivism - blend of click and activism, related to online petition signing (from The Guardian).
Slacktivism - blend of slack/er and activism, related to lazy activism or not doing much but just clicking to sign a petition but but actually getting involved (from The Guardian).
Carmageddon - blend of car and Armageddon, relating to apocalyptic prediction that LA roads would grind to a halt as a bridge was demolished. Didn't come to pass, a bit like the rapture, I suppose.
Eurogeddon - blend of Euro and Armageddon, relating to apocalyptic judgement day for European currency (today, apparently)
Dollargeddon - blend of Dollar and Armageddon, relating to apocalyptic judgement day for USA's currency if braindead republicans don't back down (very soon, apparently)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back in the USA

The BBC has curated a veritable gripefest of peeves about American English in response to Matthew Engel's article and broadcast about his dislike of the spread of American English into mainstream British usage .

As picked up on here last week and discussed at much more length and in more academic detail at Language Log, Engel's piece was fairly reactionary in tone and seemed to be rallying the troops to defend the borders against foreign invasion. And it seems to have done its job, because many readers have sent in their contributions, ranging from fanny packs, medal used as a verb to 24/7 instead of the much catchier and quintessentially English all day every day. Jeez....

Edited on 21.07.11 to add: taken to bits on Language Log here!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Given that we're in the middle of what's becoming known as Hackgate with its mass of resignations and revelations, this post from John List over on the Oxford Words blog offers a helpful discussion of what hacking means to him.

According to List, being a hacker is not about secretly accessing someone's voicemail, or taking down a website (however funny that might be) and everything to do with taking pride in your geekiness, or as Oxford Dictionaries Online defines it, "an enthusiastic and skilful computer programmer or user".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


There's a good article by Matthew Engel on the BBC News magazine this week which takes a look at the UK's attitudes to American language imports.

He tells us at the beginning that "The Americans imported English wholesale, forged it to meet their own needs, then exported their own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in the way we speak over here" which is a model that is fairly well-established in existing writing about American English, but one that comes with a few problems attached.

In one sense it still presumes that English English (or British English) is the standard to which all other varieties aspire and that while the Americans have been busy forging away (possibly a loaded metaphor, suggesting that they're making an inferior copy rather than bashing it with lump hammers and making it new) our language remains unchanged, aloof and just better, dammit. And what do we mean by "our" language anyway?

The title of the article is intriguing, because it suggests - as Lynne Murphy has identified in her tweets about this piece - that Americans aren't people, or at least they're not the "people" to whom Engels was addressing his piece. It's a strange piece of audience positioning for an author who must know that the BBC site is read all across the world... even by Americans. It smacks a bit of marking out territory and dividing lines between languages...which is OK, if that's what floats your Mayflower.

Also, towards the end when he makes a point about enjoying the "vigour and vivacity" of American English (words that always get used, often along with "articulate" when describing a language, or speaker of a language, that you think is good at "keeping it real" but probably not as clever as you) Engels states "...what I hate is the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe. We encourage the diversity offered by Welsh and Gaelic - even Cornish is making a comeback. But we are letting British English wither". This strikes a fairly prescriptivist note, and suggests that as we import American words our home-grown variety dies out. Is it really like that?

I know that I cringe when I hear UK teenagers talk about the feds rather than the old bill, filth or boy dem (all good, old-fashioned British names for the police) but does that mean that the US word has taken the place of an English word, or just that its temporarily occupying its place while fashions come and go?

In one way, Engels is right that American words are creeping in through popular culture and spreading throughout British society, but in other ways he's not: regional varieties of English are apparently growing in strength, with some dialect terms making a comeback. While the bigger picture might be of a drift towards more Americanisms, it's not all one-way traffic and the drift is not uniform.

The article - despite my misgiving here - is certainly worth a read for anyone looking at global Englishes and the spread of American English around the world, as well as those looking for a good topic for a future Language Discourses question on ENGA3.

You can find a lot more about American English (and British English too!) on Lynne Murphy's excellent blog Separated by a Common Language and by following her on Twitter.

Edited and republished 13.07.11 because I've struggled to distinguish between save and publish on Blogger's new interface. D'oh! No, I mean "dash it!"

I walk, I walked, I text, I texed?

There's some interesting discussion on David Crystal's blog about the past tense of the verb to text. In his post, Crystal mentions that the word existed as a verb way back in the 16th Century, long before the appearance of mobile phones and SMS, but back then it had a regular -ed inflection.

More recently, people have begun to notice how the past tense has started to appear as texed rather than texted, and Crystal suggests that this might be down to the xt consonant cluster at the end and how we react when an -ed past tense is tacked onto it:

Indeed, there is evidence from the history of English that the 'xt' pronunciation is actually easier than some alternatives, as when we see asked change to axed in many regional dialects. But adding an -ed ending alters the pronunciation dynamic. We now have two /t/ sounds in a rapid sequence, as we had in broadcasted, and that could motivate people to drop the ending. Speakers generally prefer shorter forms.

John Wells, UCL's guru of phonetics, also addressed the issue of the phonology of texted/texed in this blog post a while back.

What strikes me as interesting about this is that - as Crystal points out - so many new words seem to follow regular patterns of inflection. You can pretty much bet your house on new verbs taking -ed in the past tense, so it's odd to see irregular inflections appearing like this and interesting that it's linked to phonology.

What would be the chances of a new noun taking an irregular plural ending like -en (as we have with older words from previous centuries -  children, oxen, brethren)?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Language investigation ideas: rap taxonomies

Following on from last week's quick post about ideas for A2 Language Investigations, here's one that might work for the AQA B spec (It's about written language, so not suitable for the A spec.) and which gives me a chance to point you towards this amazing image of rappers, names, grouped by semantic category.

So, you get rappers who have named themselves after their size (Lil Wayne, Big Pun, Big Boi, Fat Joe), money (Chamillionaire), place of origin (Cypress Hill, Sugar Hill Gang), and many many more. As well as semantic categories, the chart takes in deviant spellings, repetition and err...guys named "Rob".

Why not do your own taxonomy for a genre of your choice - Emo, Goth, Heavy Metal, or Prog Rock... or whatever you young people listen to these days. Perhaps a cross-genre comparison might be a good way to carry out an investigation.

Gurtlush lexis

Thanks to massive piles of AS and A level marking and general tiredness, I've not posted much here recently, so here's a link to Telegraph article on dialect words being collected by the wonderful British Library.

There's some good material here for anyone looking at Language Varieties in the second year of the AQA A course.

Black British English vs MLE

The latest episode of Lexis is out and it features an interview with Ife Thompson about lots of issues connected to Black British English, i...