New Words

As I often explain to my students, language adapts and evolves all the time. People invent new words, or blend old ones, to create new meanings or to explain something in a new way. 

I’m always fascinated by the process, and take interest in which words are being “added to the dictionary”. Even that phrase makes me laugh, because we all know there’s more than one dictionary, and they don’t all add new words at the same time. 

The article titled Five New Words To Watch comes from the Macquarie Dictionary Blog.

The Macquarie Dictionary is my favourite for a number of reasons. Macquarie University is my alma mater, and back when the first Macquarie Dictionary was being written and compiled, I had the privilege of having two of the contributors as my lecturers and tutors in English and Linguistics. More importantly, the definitions are clear and easily understandable, Australian colloquialisms are included, and the pronunciation guide is provided in the international phonetic alphabet, which I love. 

Yeah. Nerdy, I know. 
But if you’ve been following my blog for three minutes, you’ll know I’m unapologetic about that. 

I hope you enjoy this article.
If you’d like to tell me your favourite newish words, or words you’ve invented, I’d be super happy for you to leave a comment!  

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‘Then’ and ‘Than’ Are Not The Same Word.

Some word confusions are understandable, especially if they sound the same when spoken. We call those homophones, and they sound the same even if they are spelt differently.  Examples are peak/pique/peak or there/their/they’re.

The confusion between ’then’ and ’than’, however, is a completely different matter.

Sadly, this is happening more and more, especially on social media. I don’t even spend that much time on Facebook, but it feels like I see someone saying something like “Nothing is better then this!”  or “I love you more then anything!” at least twice a day. 

Yes, they are similar. 
However, they are clearly not the same.
They don’t look the same.
They don’t sound the same. 
If one doesn’t mix up ’then’ or ’than’ with ’thin’, there is no excuse for mistaking them for one another. 

I swear, it makes my eyes want to bleed.

The two words’ meanings are so vastly different that getting them wrong just makes the person writing look  either poorly educated or plain stupid, even if they are neither. 

This is one of the best and most self-evident arguments in existence for proofreading what one is writing, anywhere and every time. 

‘Then’ rhymes with ‘when”— which is an easy way to remember that it relates to time or sequence. 
Examples: 
He put on his shirt, then his jeans, and then his boots. 
She ran up the hill, then back down again. 
When you have tidied your room, then you can go to the movies. 

‘Than’ rhymes with ‘man’ and is used for making a comparison. 
Examples:
His piece of pizza is bigger than mine. 
A triangle has fewer angles than a square. 
I would rather stay home and read a book than go to work. 

Knowing which is which, and taking care to use the right words all the time, is a simple way to protect your credibility.

And for the love of Merlin’s beard, if you call yourself an author or a teacher, get it right. It’s not that hard. 

Don’t Waver Over Your Waivers!

A mistake frequently made in writing is to say that someone “did not waiver” in their faith, or from a decision they had made.  What they really mean is that the person in question did not waver

Once again, it is a failure to choose between differently spelled homophones that is the problem here. 

Waiver: the renunciation or surrendering of  ownership, a right  or a claim
Example: The council decided to waive the annual fee for dog registration. The waiver resulted in more households registering  their pets. 

Waver: to hesitate or falter, or to flicker, quiver or tremble.
Examples: Her feelings for him wavered between passionate love and indifference. 
He did not waver in his support for the mayor, who was a woman of integrity. 
The flame of the candle wavered in the gentle breeze.

At least when one waves at the waves, the spelling is the same so you can’t get it wrong!

Podcast Review: ‘Fry’s English Delight’

As soon as I discovered the existence of this podcast I knew it was going to be good. 

Steven Fry, actor, comedian, TV host, really needs no introduction. He has a nice voice, charming style and ease of delivery that really suit these enjoyable and varied excursions into different aspects of the English language.

The fact that the title is a play on Fry’s Turkish Delight is an indication of the defining qualities of the show: clever, witty, rather English, and most enjoyable. 

The podcast is very easy listening, presented in language anyone can understand. Each episode runs for just under half an hour, so it fits well into the time people might spend commuting, exercising or having lunch. It’s obviously a show designed to be interesting and entertaining for everyone, not just for academics or linguists, although as an English teacher of more years that I care to admit, I certainly don’t feel as though it over-simplifies or talks down to people, either. 

Apart from being great entertainment, the value of a podcast like this is that it not only teaches or reminds us about elements of the English language that we use every day without thinking, it also helps us to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of language and the ways it can be used to create and shape meaning so that our communications are more thoughtful and effective. 

The podcast is available via Audible, and is free of charge for members. 

A Fit of Pique.

I get really annoyed when I see people writing about peaking someone’s interest. 

A mountain is peaked. A cap can be peaked. 
People can even look peaked: in this sense, it means they are pale. 
A career can peak. 
In fact, someone’s interest in something can peak, right before it declines again. 

While they sound the same, the correct term for having caused intense interest or curiosity, is piqued

To pique someone’s interest is to heighten or arouse it. In other words, it is to stimulate their curiosity or attention. 

A fit of pique is an episode of annoyance or irritation – such as might happen, for example, if someone’s negative emotions are piqued. 

A related word is piquant, which means provocative, tantalising, spicy or tangy. Food that excites the taste buds or a story that excites the imagination can both be described as piquant. 

The other homophone is peeked. This is the past tense of peek: to take a quick look, or a sneaky one. 

So… now that I’ve piqued your interest with my fit of pique, and you’ve peeked at my post… I’m sure your interest has long since peaked. 

See? Homophones can be fun!

On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

Top Four English Language Podcasts

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you. 

Promo Top Five English Podcasts Plain

Pleasantly surprised by how popular last week’s post on my top five history podcasts proved to be, I decided to share a little more of my podcast-loving joy with you this week.

It’s common knowledge that I’m pretty nerdy about words.

I love them. I love the way they work. I love knowing where different words and phrases came from. I love using them to write and communicate ideas in interesting ways. I love knowing which words are related to each other, even when they don’t actually sound much like each other anymore, like long-lost cousins who bump into each other when they leave home to go to university, and discover their common history that the family has been hiding in the dust and cobwebs behind the skeleton in the closet.

So, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to podcasts about the English language, its roots and evolution, and how it works.

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you.

So, without further ado, here are my four favourite word-nerdy podcasts.

#1. The History of English.  This podcast gets into the down and dirty of where the English language and many of the words and phrases we use came from. If you suspect that Mr Webster didn’t just go out into a cabbage patch and find a newborn lexicon crying for its mother, give this podcast a try.
twitter: @englishhistpod
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

#2. Lingthusiasm. This podcast explores different aspects of the English language in just over 30 minutes for each episode. It’s interesting, word-nerdy, and fun.
twitter: @lingthusiasm
http://lingthusiasm.com/

#3. The Allusionist. This podcast focuses more on lexicon and how we use words to craft and deliver meaning in particular ways. The episodes are a bit shorter than the first two placegetters, staying under 20 minutes a shot.
twitter: @AllusionistShow
www.theallusionist.org

#4. The English We Speak. This podcast from the BBC World Service explores those words and phrases we use every day in episodes that last about three minutes each. This might be a good place “to cut your teeth” if you don’t want to “go the whole hog”.  You’re catching on. Cool.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/the-english-we-speak

 

I’d really appreciate it if you would leave a comment.
And click “like”.
And if you shared my post, that would be almost like Christmas.

Almost.

Why Pronunciation Matters #43

While teaching senior high school can be challenging, I have often found it to be highly entertaining. 

This morning in my  Year 12 English class, I was in the process of assigning roles for my students to read as part of our study of Bertolt Brecht’s play “Life of Galileo”.  

Student 1: “Can I be Galileo?”

Me: “Sure! Any other requests?”

Student 2: “I’ll be the Doge.”

Student 3: “That’s pronounced ‘douche’!”

General laughter ensued. 
What a great way to start a Friday.

Man, I love those guys! 

Fabulous poetry.

I’ve just discovered and followed a wonderful blog where a contemporary pop song is reworked as a Shakespearean-style sonnet. By “just discovered” I mean that I followed a link that a friend posted, and ended up spending an hour there reading the sonnets.

One might expect that the spirit or intent of the songs might be lost, but these sonnets remain true to the tone and message of the songs they are based on.
I don’t know who the author is, but this poetry is absolutely brilliant.

Find Pop Sonnets at http://popsonnet.tumblr.com/

Not only is it clever poetry, it’s something that can break down the barriers between Elizabethan and 21st century English. 
I’m definitely going to use some of these with my classes.