The link below is to an article that takes a look at how words are added to the dictionary.
Many people think they know their main language intimately. But there are many words and phrases in English that people often use wrongly. Whether these erroneous uses truly count as “wrong” is up for debate – after all, a mistake that has become widely adopted should really be considered acceptable. But whichever side of this argument you err towards, here are five examples of ones that we are all making.
1. Stark naked
Someone who has no clothes on is widely described as being stark naked. Originally, however, the phrase began as start naked – from the Old English steort, meaning “tail”. The phrase literally meant “naked to the tail”, probably referring to the buttocks.
Although the word steort is not recorded in this sense, tail has often been used in this way – as it still is in the American phrase work your tail off. The word steort fell out of general use around 1300, surviving only in the names of birds like redstart and wagstart (better known today as the wagtail).
The switch from start to stark naked was triggered by start becoming obsolete, combined with an association with stark, meaning “completely”, in phrases such as stark dead, stark blind and stark naught – first recorded in the early 16th century in the savage put-down: “Ye count your selfe wele lettred [educated], your lernyng is starke nought.”
The verb to sneeze is imitative in origin – the sound of the word mimics the sound of the thing it names, as with words like drip, fizz, beep and the noise created by a sneeze: atishoo.
But the original form of the word was fnese, along with fneosung (“sneezing”), and fnora (“a sneeze”). The change from fnese to sneeze arose through confusion caused by the way the word appeared in medieval manuscripts.
Medieval handwriting employed several different forms of the letter “s”, including an 8-shaped form, another resembling a kidney bean, the Greek letter sigma and a long form – still found in printed books of the 18th century. This last letter closely resembled the letter “f” and it was confusion between the long “s” and “f” that resulted in fnese being adapted into modern English sneeze.
While gravy may seem a quintessentially English sauce, the word is actually French in origin. Gravy was originally grané, meaning “spiced”, from Latin granum “grain”.
The letters “u” and “n” were often indistinguishable in medieval handwriting – both were formed using two single vertical strokes called minims – so that it would be easy for a scribe to misread the word as graue.
While the letters “u” and “v” are distinguished by the sounds they represent today, in medieval English they varied according to position: “v” appeared at the beginnings of words (vntil, “until”) and “u” in the middle (loue, “love”), irrespective of the sound. As a result, the word grané came to be misread as gravy, and this form has been used ever since.
Adder (the snake) goes back to the Old English word nædre; it is one of a small number of English words where the initial “n” has been lost due to confusion over where the boundary falls when following the indefinite article a/an.
As a result of this process, known as metanalysis, a nædre became an adder. The same misapprehension lies behind words like apron (from napron, related to nappe, “tablecloth”) and umpire (originally nonpeer, “no equal”).
The word orange was also formed this way, although in this case – since it is a borrowing into English from French – the mistake had occurred before it was adopted into English. The French orange is itself a borrowing of the Arabic word naranj (the initial “n” is still found in modern Spanish naranja); it was confusion following the indefinite article un that produced the modern form.
The word cherry originates in the northern French dialect word cherise (a variant of the standard modern French cerise), which was adopted into English after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Because it ended in an “s”, English speakers mistakenly understood it to be a plural form and so the false singular cherry was born. The same process lies behind the word pea, erroneously derived from the singular form pease (ultimately from Greek pison) – preserved in the nursery rhyme “pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold”.
Although these changes took place hundreds of years ago, the process can be observed today in the emergence of bicep: a singular form of biceps. This may seem logical, but biceps is an adoption of a singular Latin noun, from bi- “two” and -ceps “headed”, referring to a muscle with two points of attachment.
The tendency for speakers to associate the “s” ending with plurals has also given rise to erroneous plural forms. Despite phenomena being the plural of Greek phenomenon, the false plural phenomenas is sometimes used. But the error of this type that is most likely to make pedants reach for their red pens is paninis – the supposed plural of Italian panini (singular panino) – a reminder that what is acceptable for some remains anathema for others.
The link below is to an article that considers how long a book should be – or how many words it should contain.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the misuse of some common words.
For more visit:
Words and expressions come and go. Sometimes you can understand why they don’t linger. It’s hard to imagine there was ever much call for peristeronic, “suggestive of pigeons” – and there’s no evidence that gymnologize, “to argue whilst naked”, or decacuminated, “having the tops cut off”, have even been used.
Words of such spectacular pomp and pointlessness only ever had lives inside dictionaries (early lexicographers were notorious for making them up).
But sometimes we seem to let extremely useful expressions drop by the wayside. Humans suffer from a kind of congenital leximania, an irresistible passion for creating new words (such as leximania). In our lust for neologisms we lose sight of those expressions already doing a very fine job.
Here is a handful of such words – they have political applications and are today as apt and as ept as they ever were.
Political smutting and besmearing
Now is not the time to let roorback go – a neatly packaged expression that covers any false report, or slander, propagated for political purposes.
It derives from the name of a fictitious author Baron von Roorback. Published in 1844, his account of a gang of slaves destined for the Louisiana sugar mills was intended to disgrace James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate for president of the United States. The humbug was exposed, but usually the timing of roorbacks is such that they can’t be detected before voters go to the polls.
Clearly, spreading disparaging furphies for political gain is not new. The word was popular throughout the 19th century, even used a little into the 20th century, before it quietly shuffled off the lexical coil.
But today’s digital world is providing the perfect ecosystem for the roorback to flourish. A word for “political dirty tricks” – how could we let that one go?
Monumental talknophical assumnacy
Snollygoster is another wonderful creation to come out of the USA (around the same time as roorback). It could refer generally to smart people without principles, but its reference narrowed rather quickly to the crafty and unprincipled politician. The definition provided by the Columbus Dispatch (October 28, 1895) is worth repeating in full:
A snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy.
Whenever I ponder the phrase “monumental talknophical assumnancy”, I’m reminded of Alice’s words on hearing the poem Jabberwocky: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are.” Talknophical assumnancy – there’s a lot of it about.
The delightful name snollygoster conceals its nasty origins. The word is probably connected to snallygaster, a reshaping of Pennsylvania German schnelle Geister (“quick spirits”) – dragon-like creatures which, as folklore describes, made a practice of stealing children and chickens from unsuspecting farm folk.
The shift from “grotesque gargantua” to “political shyster” is telling. But it’ll take more than a hex sign on a building or rabbit’s-foot talisman to keep these modern-day snollygosters at bay.
A flourishing of ocracies
The Oxford English Dictionary overflows with words that have been created (most during the 1800s) to tilt at governments of various sorts. One stands out and that is kakistocracy, the creation of English writer Thomas Love Peacock for “government by its most unprincipled citizens” (from Greek kakistos “the worst”). In fact little needs to be done to rehabilitate his word.
Its comeback of late has been spectacular, with headlines heralding a new era of kakistocratical rule.
So will we be seeing a reappearance of other “ocracies”? Foolocracy and kleptocracy spring to mind.
Trumpery and puffery
Though strictly not a political term, the old word trumpery has always had close links with political shenanigans, even before it acquired its extra significance today.
The word appeared in English in the 1400s, meaning “deception; fraud”. It derives from the verb trump “to deceive; cheat” – not to be confused with the other trump verb around at that time meaning “to blow a trumpet” or “break wind audibly” (though it seems to me these trumps have always been tightly linked).
Trumpery then shifted to mean “something of less value than it seems” before extending to “something of no value at all” (applied to abstract things, objects and people).
Of course, trumpery has deception at its root, but the -ery ending adds that extra layer of unscrupulousness (bringing to mind trickery, humbuggery, jiggery-pokery and a pile of other seedy “ery” words).
And while there is the other positive trump (that appears in expressions like turn up trumps), it’s worth highlighting that this trump is nothing more than a corrupted form of triumph (an alternative pronunciation that appeared in the 1500s).
The two trumps are currently on a collision course, and we know from experience that rarely do positive meanings prevail when senses coincide in this way. Besides, there’s always been a dishonest whiff around even the trump card in its extended uses — and, as the behaviour of words over time shows, dishonest whiffs will just get whiffier.
Trumpery, kakistocracy, snollygoster and roorback are words worthy of a phoenix-like re-application — let’s pick them up, dust them off and put them to work.
A new edition of the Australian National Dictionary has just been published. It contains 16,000 words and while the first edition (published in 1988) included about 250 words from 60 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, the latest has more than 500 words from 100 languages.
Conventional wisdom has it that borrowings of this kind usually occur in the initial “contact” period. In 1770, for instance, James Cook and Joseph Banks collected the word kangaroo from the Guugu Yimithirr language in the area now known as Cooktown in Queensland, and it immediately came into use in English.
Soon after the initial batches of convicts arrived in Sydney from 1788 onwards, words from local languages were taken up, especially for new flora and flora and for things associated with the Indigenous people: koala, wallaby, kurrajong, waratah, woomera, corroboree. Later, the language of the Perth area provided jarrah, kylie (a word for “boomerang”), numbat, and quokka. The language of the Geelong area provided the mythical monster the bunyip.
Some Aboriginal words, although noted in the early period, were not used widely in Australian English until much later. Perhaps the most startling example of this is the word quoll, which comes from the Guugu Yimithirr language, and was also collected by Cook and Banks in 1770.
When the Europeans arrived in 1788, they did not use quoll or other Indigenous names for these marsupials. Instead, they used the term native cat, preferring to construct terms based on superficial resemblances to things of their “known” world. It wasn’t until the 1960s that quoll was reintroduced, and eventually replaced native cat, largely due to the efforts of the naturalist David Fleay, who highlighted the absurdity of some of the vernacular names for Australian animals.
Many of the new Aboriginal words in this edition refer to flora and fauna, and many of these result from an interest in using Indigenous names rather than imposed English descriptive ones.
Thus, the southern and northern forms of the marsupial mole are now referred to by their Western Desert language names itjaritjari and kakarratul. The rodent once called the heath mouse is now known by its indigenous name dayang, from the Woiwurrung language of the Melbourne area. The amphibious rodent formerly known as water rat, is now more commonly referred to in southern Australia as the rakali, from the Ngarrindjeri language.
Other additions to the dictionary include (from the Noongar language of the Perth area) balga for the grass tree, coojong for the golden wreath wattle, moitch for the flooded gum and moort for Eucalyptus platypus.
The increasing interest in bush tucker has meant the inclusion of akudjura for the bush tomato, from the Alyawarr language of the southern region of the Northern Territory, and gubinge, from Nyul Nyul and Yawuru of northern Western Australia, for an edible plum-like fruit.
Other new terms reflect a renewed interest in aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and various kinds of activism on the part of Indigenous peoples.
They include bunji, “a mate, a close friend a kinsman” (from Warlpiri and other languages of the Northern Territory and northern Queensland), boorie, “a boy, a child” (from Wiradjuri), jarjum, “a child” (from Bundjalung), kumanjayi, “a substitute name for a dead person” (from Western Desert language), pukamani “a funeral rite” (from Tiwi), rarrk “a cross-hatching design in art” (from Yolngu languages), tjukurpa, “the Dreaming; traditional law” (from Western Desert language) and yidaki, “a didgeridoo” (from Yolngu languages).
The word migaloo – “a white person” – comes from Biri and other northern Queensland languages, where it originally meant “a ghost, a spirit”; many Australians are familiar with this word as a name for the albino humpback whale that migrates along the east coast of Australia.
Many of these terms begin their transition to mainstream Australian English in forms of Aboriginal English, and some of them are primarily used in Aboriginal English.
In addition to the words from Indigenous languages, there are numerous terms new to the dictionary that render Indigenous concepts and aspects of traditional culture, formed from the resources of English.
These include such terms as: carved tree, dreamtime being, freshwater people, keeping place, law woman, paint up, saltwater people, secret women’s business, smoking ceremony, songline, sorry business, welcome to country.
Others derive from more specific political contexts and political activism: Day of Mourning, great Australian silence, Invasion Day, Mabo, tent embassy, traditional ownership and white blindfold (“a view of Australian history that emphasises the achievements of white society and ignores Aboriginal society”).
This is a dictionary based on historical principles. This means that each entry maps the full history of a word, establishing its origin, and documenting its use over time with illustrative quotations from books, newspapers, and the like. Words and meanings are included if they are exclusively Australian, or used in Australia in special or significant ways.
The dictionary, edited at the Australian National Dictionary Centre at the Australian National University, and published by Oxford University Press, will be launched today at Parliament House in Canberra.