Nov 092008

I’ve always loved Stephen Fry. Nothing against Hugh Laurie, of course, but given the choice between the two, I’m afraid I’ve always favored Fry. Perhaps because he’s always been a bit drier, a bit smoother, a bit more, well, quintessentially British in my eyes than his former partner-in-comedy. And this opinion, I promise you, dates back to long before I even knew Laurie was capable of doing such a good imitation of an American accent.

But this is new. Stephen Fry has just elevated himself not only onto my blogroll but onto my own personal list of People Who Get It:

Words are free and all words, light and frothy, firm and sculpted as they may be, bear the history of their passage from lip to lip over thousands of years. How they feel to us now tells us whole stories of our ancestors.

And that’s just two sentences. Go, please, and read the rest. Yes, it is a rather long piece, but, Gods, is it beautiful. And true. And I’m still arguing with myself as to which of those adjectives is the more important.


 Posted by at 7:05 am  Language  1 Response »
Sep 182008

In the “learn something new every day” department, I just found out from a fellow linguaphile that the term “southpaw” (left-handed person) originated on the baseball field.

Traditionally, home plate is on the west side of a baseball field, so if a pitcher is facing home plate, his right hand is to the north and his left is to the south.


 Posted by at 7:20 am  Language  No Responses »
Jan 092008

It seems that the younger generation in Baltimore is organically creating something that a lot of people have been trying to shoehorn into the English language for a long time now: an epicene (gender-neutral) third-person singular pronoun.

Mark Liberman over at Language Log has written a fascinating post on it.

Of course, there’s the problem that “yo” and “you” might become confused, which makes me think that this probably won’t ultimately have any more staying power than “thon” or “co” or any of the others that people have tried to artificially inject into the language over the years.

But maybe I’m wrong. The “sie/hir” construction seems to be fairly popular in certain online circles (though I find “zie/zir” less likely to confuse and less evocative of the German feminine pronoun “sie”).

And, truly, in an age when you can have conversations with and about a person without ever knowing either their biological sex or their gender orientation, when we’re beginning to realize that intersexed people are far more common than many would like to admit, when the word “genderqueer” can become a useful term, you have to admit that sooner or later we’re going to have to change the language to handle our broadened perceptions and our technological advances.

Grammar Nazism

 Posted by at 5:05 am  Language  No Responses »
Jun 132007

I got a Friend request over on my MySpace page recently from a group whose whole purpose is to be pedantic about grammar. They even have a cute t-shirt that says “I judge you when you use bad grammar.”

I turned them down.

It’s not that I don’t think grammar is important. I proof-read form letters and web pages as part of my job. When I do that, yes, I am in fact the biggest “grammar nazi” on campus. That’s because the language that we put out in those publications needs to be in an educated, formal register. That’s the face the university needs to present to the public.

And, yes, there are some things that pop up in informal speech that make my hair stand on end. Like saying “I could care less” when what you really mean is exactly the opposite. And there are alternate pronunciations of certain words (such as “nuke-yu-ler”) that make me cringe. The first is an idiom, the second a feature of cetain dialects. Knowing that doesn’t make either any less of a peeve for me.

But none of that means that I disapprove of TXT abbreviations, or slang, or sentence fragments, or the use of “they” as a singular pronoun outside of formal context. Text messages are different from dissertations. Talking to your friends is not the same as talking to a potential employer. Most of us switch gears and use the register and the dialect that’s appropriate to the situation at hand.

And, really, it’s just as rude to insist that people use the academic dialect of English all the time as it is to force them to wear a tuxedo to the county fair. Unless necessity dictates it, people should be allowed to use the language they feel most comfortable with. More than that: they should be allowed to play with it. Language is not just a communication tool, after all. It’s how we express ourselves.

Name Geekery

 Posted by at 6:36 am  Amusing, Language, Writing  No Responses »
May 182007

I love weird, random resources. I love learning about obscure stuff that most people don’t care about, like the fact the the Polish girl’s name “Halina” is derived from the Russian/Bulgarian name “Galina” which is a feminine version of “Galenus.” You know, as in Galen, the famous 2nd century physician?

I got that from Behind the Name.

They also have a random name generator, which you can restrict by ethnicity or choose from such categories as “Goth” or “Fairy” or even (if you’re feeling really really silly) “Transformer.”

Sep 162006

My husband and I heard about this on the radio on Friday morning, from Isaac-Davy Aronson, who was guest-hosting for Rachel Maddow on her show’s last morning-timeslot broadcast (she’s moving to evenings starting Monday). And, quite frankly, I think Aronson was decidedly condescending to those of us who find such things exciting. But despite the messenger’s annoying attitute, I found myself thrilled by the news. It’s not often a previously unknown writing system is discovered, after all.

Here’s the story from Kambiz Kamrani at