Archive for the ‘language’ Category

My friend Alan just sent me a link to a New York Times article on Twitter and recipes.  I’m not interested in Twitter, but I think what this woman is doing with it is amazing and wonderful. Read it, it’s great.  It fits in six of my blog categories!

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Here are a couple of things I’m wondering about throwing away:

  1. The “holiday gift pack” I received containing body splash and lotion, heavily perfumed.  Scented stuff drives me nuts, but I hate to throw it away.  I don’t know anyone I’d be willing to give it to.  The bottles are not recyclable, by the way.
    Linguistic note: I only use the word ‘gift’ when it’s from someone I don’t really know.  If it’s a friend or a family member, I use the word ‘present.’
  2. Ohhh, a wonderful yoga book, B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health.  I bought it a couple of years ago, and recommend it highly to anyone with a serious yoga practice.  Here’s the deal.  The book came out without sufficient editing and proofreading, and the Iyengar family was very unhappy.  The new edition is all fixed, but they want people to throw away the original version.  I just hate throwing away any book, especially a hardcover book.  I am afraid it would be irresponsible to give it to someone else, even Goodwill, because who knows what’s wrong in it.  (I’m not nuts about spending another $35, but I might anyway, because the book is so great.)

I guess I’m very lucky to have these dilemmas. We have food on the table and a roof over our heads.

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Business jargon

I know a guy who is a fountain of business jargon. He’s always checking on being on the same page with other people, of course, but that’s old jargon. Somehow he always has the newest expressions, so that at first you have to stop and think – what does that mean? Then you hear it 20 more times in the course of the day and it’s cemented in your brain. “We’re not trying to boil the ocean” is one that springs to mind that I heard over and over from him. Another day I heard him making a lot of phone calls. At the end of each one, he said, “Well, I gotta hop.” That expression is interesting, because it implies great busyness. I think another recent expression is “the whole pan of brownies.”

But what I’m really interested in is how he acquires it. It’s not just this person, it’s lots of business people, of course. Where do these expressions come from? How do people get them so quickly? Maybe just some people are early adopters, use the terms like crazy, and then move on. Stay tuned. I’m going to keep thinking about this and am interested in other opinions.

And I also wonder if people who use so much jargon do it in the rest of their lives too, outside the office. “Bottom line, Tyler, you’ve used up your bandwidth. Time for bed, now!”

Last week I was at a meeting of the water board for Rural Water District 6 in Lecompton, Kansas. The next town over is getting a new water treatment plant. Someone in the audience asked the water board chairman, who seems like a regular country guy and almost certainly not a middle manager, “When does the new treatment plant go online?” The chairman looked puzzled and asked the questioner to repeat himself. He still didn’t get it. Someone else translated: “When will the plant start operating?” Ahh. Then he got it.

Only partly related: I worked with someone who never committed himself if you asked a direct question. He always used “the thinking is”.
“Jeff, what’s the deadline for the draft storyboards to be back from the subject matter experts?”
“Well, the thinking is, the end of May.”

I love this stuff.

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Man up

Something about this expression makes me laugh. What is it? I’ve only recently been hearing it. Someone on the Homesteading Today list was talking about leaving her husband, who didn’t want to look for work. She said he wouldn’t man up. It clearly means something like step up and take your responsibilities like a man.

Is there a corresponding expression ‘woman up’? If ‘man up’ means taking on the traditional male role of being tough, taking care of the family, maybe being brave, then would ‘woman up’ mean – what? Have some babies, stay home barefoot, giggle and flirt, do the laundry, be helpless, bake good pie? What?

‘Man up’ does remind me of the kind of corporate meeting where all the men in the room have to prove how much more powerful they are than anyone else. It’s hard to be a woman in those meetings. The men are all unzipping their pants and waving around what my Aunt Lidy once referred to as their ‘gentlemen’s apparatus’, and the women are just trying to stay with the agenda and get the project finished. We don’t care who has the most power, or the biggest apparatus. Those meetings can take an hour to cover ten minutes worth of work. I guess that’s not how most people use the expression, though.

This reminds me of another post I want to write on the acquisition of jargon.

Addendum: I just looked up ‘woman up’ in Urban Dictionary. It says “be a woman, don’t act like a punk ass man by running away whenever things get tough.” I like that.

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As a linguist, I always try to remain descriptive about language rather than prescriptive. Some things still bug me.

I can’t stand the word ‘utilize’ instead of ‘use’. But I did just look it up, and it turns out that ‘utilize’ means ‘to use in a way other than intended’ as in “He often utilized a broom handle against the plaster to decide if a ceiling could be vaulted.” Thus, a very handy word.

Today I heard the word ‘effectuate’ used over and over in a radio interview: “He’s a politician with a remarkable ability to effectuate change.” Does this word come from ‘(in)effectual’? I’d never heard it before, and it appears to mean ‘to effect.’

These things annoy me, so I just have to remember to be a linguist. Who uses the word or phrase in question? In what contexts? Do both variants occur in one person’s idiolect? If so, what’s the distribution?

Thinking this way makes me happier. It helped a lot when I was irked with the widespread use of ‘like’ about 20 years ago. I think its use has changed now, but when I started to observe it and to write down examples and their contexts, it was immediately clear that it functioned very often as a quotative in at least three ways:

  • What I said (“and I was like, can I have some more pizza?”)
  • What I wish I’d said’ (“The teacher asked me to leave, and I was like, you are a f—ing idiot!”)
  • A sound or gesture I made or wished I’d made (“I was like, [gagging sound]” or “I was like, [finger down throat]”)

Isn’t that more interesting than being grumpy about how often people use the word ‘like’? I’d better start paying attention to ‘effectuate.’

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Best. Post. Ever.

I’m really interested in the proliferation of this grammatical structure + intonation pattern. Where did it come from? Forms I’ve seen:

  • Best. [noun]. Ever.
  • Worst. [noun]. Ever.
  • [Any superlative]. [noun]. Ever. (e.g., Stupidest. Excuse. Ever.)

It’s been turning up in writing lately in addition to speech. The source that springs to mind is the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, but as a participating member of the popular culture he might just be reflecting what the writers have heard.

You can’t look it up on Urban Dictionary, because it’s not a lexical item, and we do know what it means.  No, wait, you CAN!

Not very illuminating, though.

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