August 4:  Top 100 Day

Today is the anniversary of the introduction of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. The first number one song on the chart was Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”

Prior to August 4, 1958, Billboard had separate charts for Most Played By Jockeys, Best Sellers in Stores, and Most Played in Juke Boxes. The new Hot 100 list combined the Best Sellers and the Most Played By Jockeys lists into a single chart. Because Jukeboxes were becoming less popular, their numbers were not included (1).

The linguistic equivalent of Billboard’s Hot 100 would have to be Word Spy’s Top 100 Words . Created by technical writer Paul McFedries, Word Spy is a website devoted to neologisms. Neologisms are new words — words that have appeared in print multiple times, but that are not in the dictionary.

Word Spy gives the armchair linguist a peek behind the lexical curtain. Visiting this web site is a little like watching a preseason football practice: you get to see all the players (words) on the field, but you’re not sure which ones will make the final cut. In the case of neologisms, the final cut is making it into the dictionary. The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary do their work behind the scenes, and most neologisms have the life span of the common house fly. In contrast, Word Spy makes lexicography democratic: you get to see all the words, it’s free, and McFedries even accepts reader submissions.

Here are a couple of examples for neologisms from Word Spy:

aireoke (air.ee.OH.kee) n. Playing air guitar and singing to prerecorded music; playing air guitar in a public performance. Also: air-eoke. [Blend of air guitar and karaoke.]

Manilow method n. The discouragement of loitering in public places by broadcasting music that is offensive to young people, particularly the songs of singer Barry Manilow.

In addition to words and definitions, Word Spy also provides pronunciations, citations, and notes on each word. WARNING: Reading this site can become addictive! (2)

Brave New Words

See if you can match up the 8 neologisms from Word Spy with the 8 definitions numbered below.

freegan

buzzword bingo

godcasting

NOPE

Google bombing

Drink the Kool-Aid

fauxhawk

male answer syndrome

  1. n. A person or attitude that opposes all real estate development or other projects that would harm the environment or reduce property values.
  1. n. A hairstyle in which a strip of hair across the top of the head is longer and higher than the hair on the remainder of the head.
  1. n. A person, usually a vegan, who consumes only food that is obtained by foraging, most often in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers.
  1. v. To become a firm believer in something; to accept an argument or philosophy wholeheartedly or blindly.
  1. n. Setting up a large number of Web pages with links that point to a specific Web site so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link text.
  1. n. The tendency for some men to answer a question even when they don’t know the answer.
  1. n. A word game played during corporate meetings. Players are issued bingo-like cards with lists of buzzwords such as paradigm and proactive. Players check off these words as they come up in the meeting, and the first to fill in a “line” of words is the winner.
  1. pp. Podcasting an audio feed with a religious message (2).

Today’s Challenge:  One Hundred on One
What is your favorite word?  What makes your word so interesting, distinctive, and special?  Brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Select the single word you would rate as your favorite, and write 100 words on why your word is so special and what specifically makes it your favorite.  Do a bit of research to get some details on the etymology or history of your word so that you can give your reader some details that go beyond just the obvious. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Answers: 1. NOPE: (Not On Planet Earth) 2. fauxhawk 3. freegan 4. Drink the Kool-Aid 5. Google bombing 6. male answer syndrome 7. buzzword bingo 8. godcasting

 

1 – Hot 100 Billboard

  1. wordspy.com

 

July 17:  Psychedelic Idioms Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1968 release of the Beatles’ animated film Yellow Submarine. To many filmgoers the psychedelic animation and upbeat music of the film were a welcome respite from the turbulent events of 1968: the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Beatles Yellow Submarine move poster.jpgIronically the Beatles themselves had very little to do with the film; in fact, all the dialogue for John, Paul, George, and Ringo was recorded by actors; thankfully, however, the songs were recorded by the actual Beatles. After seeing the finished version of the film, the Beatles agreed to make a brief non-animated appearance at the end of the film.

When the film was re-released in 1999 on DVD, reviewer Roger Ebert commented that the film had more than just visual appeal:

This is a story that appeals even to young children, but it also has a knowing, funny style that adds an undertow of sophistication . . . . [T]he overall tone is the one struck by John Lennon in his books ‘In His Own Write’ and ‘A Spaniard in the Works.’ Puns, drolleries, whimsies and asides meander through the sentences:

“There’s a cyclops! He’s got two eyes. Must be a bicyclops. It’s a whole bicloplopedia!” (1)

The 1950s was the decade of the missile gap, but the 1960s — especially the late 1960s — was the decade of the generation gap. Flower power and the flower children stood for peace and love. The word psychedelic first appeared in the 1950s to mean, according to the book 20th Century Words: “(A drug) producing an expansion of consciousness through greater awareness of the senses and emotional feelings . . . .” Its meaning later broadened to denote the “vivid colors, often in bold abstract designs or in motion” (2). With the explosion of colors in films like Yellow Submarine, psychedelic became one of the words that characterized the 1960s landscape.

Change also characterized the landscape of the 1960s, and a chronology of words that first appeared in print in that decade provides insight into some of those changes. Here is a list of other words that were children of the ’60s:

global village (1960)

DJ (1961)

lite (1962)

Beatlemania (1963)

BASIC (1964)

hypertext (1965)

body language (1966)

generation gap (1967)

reggae (1968)

orchestrate (1969) (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Colorful Titles
What are some examples of expressions or familiar phrases that refer to colors in a figurative rather than literal manner, such as “black sheep,” “red herring,” or “white elephant”?  Brainstorm a list of these idioms (an expression that doesn’t make sense when translated literally but that is nevertheless almost universally understood), attempting to cover a full spectrum of colors:  red, white, blue, green, black, yellow, purple, etc.  Here are few examples to get you thinking:

blackmail

true blue

green thumb

grey area

blue moon

yellow journalism

caught red handed

rose-colored glasses

golden oldies

red-letter day

a silver lining

Next, look at your list, and use it as a springboard for a story (fiction or non-fiction).  Using your idiom as the title, write your narrative, including characters, dialogue, conflict, and resolution.  Make sure, however, that there’s a clear connection between your story’s plot and your story’s title.

Quotation of the Day: Sky of blue and sea of green, in our yellow submarine. -The Beatles

 

1 – Ebert, Roger. Great Movies. Chicago Sun Times. 9/5/99.

2 – Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.

3 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

 

October 17:  Coin a Word Day

On this date in 2005, comedian and television personality Stephen Colbert unveiled a new word “truthiness.”  Speaking in the satiric tone familiar to fans of his show The Colbert Report, he introduced the word as follows:

And on this show, your voice will be heard… in the form of my voice. ‘Cause you’re looking at a straight-shooter, America. I tell it like it is. I calls ’em like I sees ’em. I will speak to you in plain simple English.

And that brings us to tonight’s word: truthiness.

Now I’m sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart (1).

On this night’s show the irony was especially thick, however, because as it turned out truthiness was not a new coinage after all.  As pointed out on the language website Language Log, the word dates back to 1824 according to the Oxford English Dictionary (2).

Even though Colbert cannot claim credit for coining the work, he can claim to have popularized it.  In fact, he got the last laugh on the “wordanistas” when The American Dialect Society selected truthiness as its Word of the Year in 2005.

New words, also known as neologisms, are popping up more than ever in the age of technology and the internet.  So many newly minted words are appearing, in fact that there are entire websites devoted to tracking neologisms.  One such site is Word Spy, where visitors can witness the genesis and evolution of words before their very eyes.  The words at Word Spy are not in the dictionary; instead, the are mere candidates for the big lexicographical show.  If they catch on and are used by real people, especially in written communication, they may make it from Word Spy to Webster’s.

In the book Microstyle:  The Art of Writing Little, Christopher Johnson traces the various paths that neologisms take from creation to dictionary.  To illustrate the different ways words are formed, Johnson provides the following seven methods of construction:

  1. Reuse an existing word (Apple, spam)
  2. Create a new compound word by sticking two words together (YouTube, website)
  3. Create a blend by combining part of a word with another word or word part (Technorati, Defeatocrat)
  4. Attach a prefix or a suffix to a word (Uncola, Feedster)
  5. Make something up out of arbitrary syllables (Bebo)
  6. Make an analogy or play on words (Farecast, podcast)
  7. Create an acronym (GUBA, scuba)

One of the oldest sources of new word coinages comes under Johnson’s second category.  It’s a special kind of compound word called a kenning – a figurative compound word construction.  In the Old English poem Beowulf, for example, a “ship” becomes a “sea-steed” or the “sea” becomes the “whale-road” (3).  Although kennings are a very old form they represent one of the most vibrant and playful aspects of our language, an aspect that we see alive in our language today in the following examples:

Hot potato = something no one wants

Rug rat = toddler or crawling baby

Treehugger = an environmentalist

Bookworm = someone who reads a lot

Pig-skin = a football

Gas-guzzler = a car with poor gas milage (4)

Notice that characteristic of a kenning, each example above is made up of two words to form a compound word.  Furthermore, each kenning makes no direct reference to the person or thing it is naming; instead, each relies on a figurative comparison.  Each kenning, therefore, is a beautifully package compact metaphor.

Today’s Challenge: Coin a Kenning
What new two-word figurative combination would you use to rename a noun, such as a pencil, a Post-it Note, a teacher, a bank, or cat?  Play around with words by creating some of your own kennings.  Pick a noun and brainstorm some ideas.  Remember, to qualify as a kenning your compound must by figurative, so avoid directly naming the person or thing you’re renaming.  A pencil for example might be a word-wand, a thought twig, or a sentence stick.  Once you have a few ideas, pick your best one, and begin actually using it in conversation.  This will be the true test of whether or not it resonates and packs a powerful enough punch to be picked up by real people. (Common Core Reading 4 – Interpret Words and Phrases)

Quotation of the Day:  And so people say to me, “How do I know if a word is real?” You know, anybody who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it. That makes it real. Being in the dictionary is an artificial distinction. It doesn’t make a word any more real than any other way. If you love a word, it becomes real. -Erin McKean, The Joy of Lexicography TED Talk

1 October 17  Coin a Word Day  word spy – popularize   See TED talk on lexicography  – love –http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/search/label/Word%20origins

2-http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002586.html

3-Christopher Johnson.  Microstyle:  The Art of Writing Little.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2011:  163.

4- http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-kenning.html

https://www.ted.com/talks/erin_mckean_redefines_the_dictionary

http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/ColbertMetaphors.htm

 

September 4:  “Brand” New Words Day

On this day in 1998, two Ph.D. students from Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, formally incorporated their new company Google.  Page and Brin’s search engine began as a research project in 1995.  Today, Google is the world’s most popular search engine.

Google's homepage in 1998The story of the word Google, however, long pre-dates the internet.  In 1938, while on a walk with his nephew in the New Jersey Palisades, mathematician Edward Kasner challenged the nine-year-old, Milton Sirotta, to come up with a name for a 1 followed by 100 zeroes.  Milton’s ready response was “googol.”  Kasner liked the word so much he introduced it to the world in 1940 in his book Mathematics and the Imagination (1).

The change of the word’s spelling from googol to Google happened more than fifty years later.  Page and Brin originally called their search technology “BackRub”; however, in September 1997 they had a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a new name.  The story goes that at that meeting the name googol came up, but when it was typed into a computer to search for available domain names, it was misspelled as google.  The name was available and was purchased before the misspelling was discovered, so Google stuck.

Another change happened on June 15, 2006 when the Oxford English Dictionary added the lower-case word “google” as a verb, meaning “To use any search engine.”

Today’s Challenge:  Brand Name Hall of Fame
The paradox of the trademarked names of companies, products, and services is that the most successful ones become generic, losing their distinctiveness as an exclusive brand name.  For example, the words aspirin, band-aid, cornflakes, escalator, and zipper were at one time capitalized, legally protected brand names.  What currently capitalized trademarked brand name of a company, product, or service would nominate for the Brand Name Hall of Fame?  Make your case based on the name’s distinctive sound, its clever derivation, its metaphoric meaning, and/or its memorability. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  The deeper power of the name Apple comes from our everyday experiences with actual apples.  They are, in a sense, the perfect consumer commodity:  they’re ubiquitous and inexpensive, you grasp them in your hand and literally consume them, and they’re delicious.  For almost everyone, they’re old childhood friends:  cut into little pieces and cooked into sauce for babies, put into school lunch boxes and toted around, and baked into pies.  It’s these deeply rooted sensory memories of apples that make Apple a great name.  Nothing is more familiar, more accessible, or less intimidating than an apple.  –Christopher Johnson in Microstyle (2)

 

1 – Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language. New York:  Random House, 2006:  167.

2 – Johnson, Christopher.  Microstyle:  The Art of Writing Little.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2011:  63.

 

August 24:  Meteorological Metaphors Day

Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).

Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.

Here are a few example of weather idioms, where weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:

A port in storm

Chase rainbows

Cloud nine

Cloud of suspicion

Fair-weather friend

Head in the clouds

Greased lightning

Shoot the breeze

A snow job

Steal someone’s thunder

Tempest in a teapot

Under the weather

Forecast Calls for Neologisms
The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.

geomythology

weather tourist

weather bomb

megacryometeor

gigantic jet

tornado bait

space weather

season creep

  1. Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.
  1. A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.
  1. A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.
  1. One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.
  1. A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.
  1. Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field.
  1. A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.
  1. The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.

Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow”
What are some songs that talk about weather either literally or figuratively? What would you argue is the single best weather-related song?  Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite.   Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

For example, in the Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love:

Good day sunshine, good day sunshine, good day sunshine

I need to laugh and when the sun is out

I’ve got something I can laugh about

I feel good in a special way

I’m in love and it’s a sunny day

Quotation of the Day: Weather forecast for tonight:  dark.  -George Carlin

Answers: 1. season creep 2. weather tourist 3. weather bomb 4. tornado bait 5. gigantic jet 6. space weather 7. megacryometeor 8.geomythology

 

1 – Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York:Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

3 – http://www.wordspy.com/index/Science-Weather.asp—-

 

August 24: McWords Day

On this date in 1986, sociologist Amitai Etzioni coined the term mcjob in an article published in the Washington Post.  In the article entitled The Fast-Food Factories: McJobs are Bad for Kids, Etzioni critiqued the “low-pay, low-prestige, low-benefit, no-future” jobs in the fast food industry (1).  McDonald’s franchises were the first to employ the prefix, attaching it to their own menu items (Egg McMuffin, Chicken McNuggets, etc.).  As demonstrated by Etzioni’s neologism, the prefix Mc- began to be used for things besides food, particularly for things that were seen as quick, cheap, and superficial, such as McTheater, McFashion, McPaper, and McMansion (2).

Today’s Challenge: McWord Game
Generate your own neologism by attaching the prefix Mc- to something that you view as quick, cheap, or superficial.  Then, write your definition of the word including an explanation of what makes your definition distinctive.

Quotation of the Day:  ‘Star Trek’ is the McDonald’s of science fiction; it’s fast food storytelling. Every problem is like every other problem. They all get solved in an hour. Nobody ever gets hurt, and nobody needs to care. You give up an hour of your time, and you don’t really have to get involved. It’s all plastic.David Gerrold

1 – Dickson, Paul.  Authorisms.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014.

2- Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language.  New York: Random House, 2006.