I wrote this poem to read at last night's Tuesday Funk—the 64th episode in the series, and my final night as host.


Bless the English language
for its charming, maddening
ambiguity.

Will I look back on this night
as the last time I was here
or the last time I was here?

It matters to me.
Does it matter to you?


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Here's the last of the excerpts I'll bring you from the book I've just finished reading, 1904's The Making of English by Henry Bradley. This is the passage that closes the book, and I found it particularly hopeful in light of the increased focus on written communication in this Digital Age of ours:

It is not unlikely that the future historian of the English language may find that its development in the nineteenth century has been less powerfully affected by the really great writers of the period than by authors of inferior rank, both British and American, who have had the knack of inventing new turns of expression which commended themselves to general imitation. There never was a time when a clever novelty in combination of words, or an ingenious perversion of the accepted meaning of a word, had so good a chance of becoming a permanent possession of the language, as now. In no former age was there such an abundance of writing of a designedly ephemeral character, intended merely for the amusement of an idle moment. The modern taste in style demands incessant variety of expression; the same thing must never, if it can be avoided, be denoted in consecutive sentences by the same word: and so those who are engaged in supplying the popular demand for 'reading matter' eagerly adopt from each other their new devices for escaping monotony of diction. When we consider that the literature which is for all time is read by comparatively few, while the literature which is for the passing moment is read by all, we may easily be tempted to think that the future of literary English is in the hands of writers of defective culture and little seriousness of purpose, and that the language must suffer grave injury in the loss of its laboriously won capacities for precision, and in the debasement of words of noble import by unworthy use. While these apprehensions are not wholly unfounded, there is much to be said on the other side. Even the much-decried 'newspaper English' has, in its better forms, some merits of its own. Writers whose work must be read rapidly if it is to be read at all have a strong motive for endeavouring not to be obscure; and the results of this endeavour may be seen in the recent development of many subtle contrivances of sentence-structure, serving to prevent the reader from feeling even a momentary hesitation in apprehending the intended construction. We may rest assured that wherever worthy thought and feeling exist, they will somehow fashion for themselves a worthy medium of expression; and unless the English-speaking peoples have entered on a course of intellectual decline, there is no reason to fear that their language will on the whole suffer deterioration. In the daily increasing multitude of new forms of expression, even though it may be largely due to the unwholesome appetite for novelty, there must be not a little that will be found to answer to real needs, and will survive and be developed, while what is valueless will perish as it deserves. It is therefore perhaps not an unfounded hope that the future history of the language will be a history of progress, and that our posterity will speak a better English—better in its greater fitness for the uses for which language exists—than the English of to-day.


Backhandedly hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
Last week I told you a bit about my recent bedtime reading, The Making of English by Henry Bradley. The book was published in 1904, and one of the peculiar delights of reading it more than a century later is seeing Bradley hold forth about "modern" words that now either seem archaic or have slipped out of usage altogether.

He will also occasionally express some hope about the future development of the language that we, as his future readers, can experience in a way that his contemporary readers could not. For instance, this passage:

It is worth while to remark that in some instances words have undergone changes of meaning because in their literary use they have been popularly misunderstood....

In bad modern 'newspaper English' the verb transpire is used for 'to happen or take place,' and this sense has even found its way into recent dictionaries. Literally, to transpire is 'to breathe through'; and a circumstance may correctly and expressively be said 'to have transpired,' in the sense of having become known in spite of efforts made to keep it secret. It is through ignorant misapprehension of sentences in which the word was thus correctly used that it has come to bear a perverted meaning. As this blunder, unlike some others of the kind, does not supply any need of the language, it may be hoped that the misapplication of the word will not be permanent.



Oh, the grave-spinning which must have transpired!


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
My light bedtime reading lately has been from a fascinating little book called The Making of English, by Henry Bradley. Bradley was a mostly self-taught linguist and lexicographer who would eventually become editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Making of English, published in 1904, is a compact, elegant distillation of everything he had learned about the development of the English language.

It's not a quick read, but it's often quite delightful. Here's a prime example from the chapter on how the meanings of words change over time:

A word was needed to describe the action of interpreting the meaning of written characters; and our ancestors supplied the want by using the verb read (in Old English rǣdan), which meant, like its modern German equivalent rathen, to guess a riddle. The noun riddle (in Old English rǣdels) is a derivative of this word. To the early English a piece of writing was, we see, a mystery which only the wise could solve.


The Making of English is available as a free download at Archive.org. Happy riddling.


Crossposted from Inhuman Swill
I was reading a major novel from a major genre publisher last night (okay, it was Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston, from Del Rey), when a character suddenly "knocked" an arrow into his bowstring.

Not to knock the book's copy editor, but the nock is the notch at the end of the arrow into which the bowstring fits. When you slide the arrow into place against the string, you have nocked it.

But this was also a book where "puss" leaks from one character's eyes, so maybe I shouldn't snatch at hopes that the copy-editing will improve.
Via [livejournal.com profile] affinity8:

You Scored an A

You got 10/10 questions correct.

It's pretty obvious that you don't make basic grammatical errors.
If anything, you're annoyed when people make simple mistakes on their blogs.
As far as people with bad grammar go, you know they're only human.
And it's humanity and its current condition that truly disturb you sometimes.
The website for Rise: Blood Hunter proudly proclaims:

From The Producers of The "The Grudge" Franchise
Read that out loud. I dare you.
Via [livejournal.com profile] deadscrypt:


English Genius

You scored 100% Beginner, 100% Intermediate, 100% Advanced, and 80% Expert!

You did so extremely well, even I can't find a word to describe your excellence! You have the uncommon intelligence necessary to understand things that most people don't. You have an extensive vocabulary, and you're not afraid to use it properly! Way to go!


Thank you so much for taking my test. I hope you enjoyed it!



For the complete Answer Key, visit my blog: http://shortredhead78.blogspot.com/





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You scored higher than 99% on Beginner
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Link: The Commonly Confused Words Test written by shortredhead78 on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test
In a recent Craigslist posting, a dominant male businessman requests a Secretary-like secretary who, in addition to being able to take dictation and a good paddling with equal aplomb, must be discrete.

One presumes that this distinct and differentiated individual will also be discerning and prudent enough to gently inform her new master boss that the word he's looking for is discreet.

(Via Gawker.)
Would you say the past tense of podcast—and the past participle, for that matter—is podcast or podcasted? My vote is podcast.
The word awkward is rather awkward to type.
I just received email from John Kerry which said, in part:

Monday, I shared with you my Brown University speech setting out what needs to be said and done at this critical moment for our country. Today, in that same spirit of clarity and conviction, I want to tell you how I will vote on the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice of the United States.

I will vote against this vitally important nomination.
Excuse me, Senator? It's vitally important yet you're voting against it?

Okay, yes, I know what you're trying to say, but clarity, please! You sound like a Saturday Night Live parody of yourself.
I've always been fascinated by the continuum where language, thought, and sensation intertwine, and how it's possible for them together to create in essence a subjective reality. For instance, how is it that words alone, spoken in a movie like The Aristocrats, can induce such phyiscal spasms of nausea?

This is not to criticize The Aristcrats, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed, and which had me laughing until, in pain, I couldn't catch my breath. If I didn't already love Bob Saget after his guest appearance on Entourage, his rendition of the joke would have made me a convert. It certainly made me forget Full House. And Gilbert Gottfried. I never thought I'd say this, but damn.

Not Howie Mandel, though. That guy's just not funny, even with a shaved head.
If I hear the phrase core competencies one more time, I may pound the receiver repeatedly against my desk.

Don't even get me started on the fact that our meeting has been labeled a visioning session.

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