Posts Tagged ‘language’

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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Double negative? Not exactly

I unsuscribed from the Audi mailing list, because, after all, I haven’t had an Audi in four years and I’m not going to get one now that I have the beloved Prius. The resulting page said this:

We received your unsubscription.
Thank you. Your newsletter unsubscription has been successful.

Very nice.  I’m glad it was a success.

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Flat, mortified

I’m just mulling over a use of the word ‘flat,’ and wondering where it comes from. Somewhere, possibly in a short story by Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty, a character says, more than once, “He flat do not care.”

I thought it could have something to do with ‘flat out,’ as in “I told him flat out that he could not let the dog up on the bed,” i.e., in no uncertain terms. But then how did that expression arise? I’m not sure this sort of speculation leads anywhere. It’s probably too opaque to do more than make guesses. People tend to think linguistics is all about word meaning, or meanings of expressions, and they ask you (if you are a linguist, which I can hardly call myself anymore) etymological questions. Word meaning shifts so easily that it’s not really valuable to try to trace it.

But I really love that quote- “He flat do not care.” It’s so definite.

I’ve been meaning to write about the shift in meaning of the word ‘mortified.’ I’ve heard my 20-year-old son use it to mean horrified rather than embarrassed. I think I’ve heard his friends use it that way too, and recently my walking buddy, who is in her 50s, did the same thing. Let me see. I need to make up an example, as I can’t remember a real one. “I was eating my lobster on the dock when a seagull flew down and stole it from me. I was mortified!”

So if you’re reading this, let me know if you use it this way or have heard it used this way. Just curious.

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