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Richard Nordquist

Place Names, Peeving, and Bull: Language in the News

By August 31, 2012

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It's time for our end-of-month roundup of language-related items in the news--from the linguistically profound to the lexically ridiculous.

  • The Rise of She
    A textual analysis of 1.2 million books published since 1900 found that the proportion of male pronouns to female pronouns fell from 4.5 to 1 in the 1950s to less than 2 to 1 in 2005. Researchers say the changing ratio reflects the higher status and visibility of women in our society. . . . Read more
    (Jen Doll, "The Rise of She: What a Shift in Gendered Pronouns Means." The Atlantic Wire, August 10, 2012)

  • When and Where Did Our Language Family Begin?
    Researchers at the University of Auckland say modern Indo-European languages--which include English--originated in Turkey about 9,000 years ago. Conventional theory is that these languages originated 5,000 years ago in south-west Russia. . . . Read more
    ("English Language 'Originated in Turkey.'" Radio New Zealand, August 26, 2012)

  • The Endless Decline of the English Language
    "Every year fewer and fewer students enter college knowing the difference between 'lie' and 'lay,'" says Connie C. Eble, an English professor at the University of North Carolina. But Eble and some others who study the contemporary tongue do not think that bad grammar is necessarily destroying the English language. Instead, some posit, it may be making the way we talk and write more vibrant and relevant. . . . Read more
    (Linton Weeks, "R Grammar Gaffes Ruining The Language? Maybe Not." NPR, August 2, 2012)

  • Most Embarrassing Place Names in Britain
    They have been the butt of jokes for years. Now the residents of Shitterton in Dorset are braced for more toilet humour after it topped a poll of places with the most embarrassing names in Britain. . . . Read more
    (Euan Stretch, "And the Most Embarrassing Place to Live in Britain Is . . . Shitterton." Daily Mirror [UK], August 15, 2012)

  • Most Unfortunate Place Names in the U.S.
    A new poll has revealed some of the more curiously-titled places that dot the map of the USA. And if the idea of somewhere called Climax might raise a few eyebrows, spare a thought for the residents of Toad Suck. . . . Read more
    ("America's Most Unfortunate Place Names: From Loveladies to Climax via Toad Suck." Daily Mail [UK], August 8, 2012)

  • Euro-Guide to Hyphens
    The European Union (EU) has brought out its own English style guide for authors and translators. The writing is clear, concise and direct. . . . Read more
    (V.R. Narayanaswami, "Euro Guide to the Use of Hyphens." Livemint.com [India], August 14, 2012)

  • The Joys of Peeving
    In the 15 years I've been writing about the English language, I've learned a lot, but one question remains as baffling as ever: Why do people love their language peeves so dearly? . . . Read more
    (Jan Freeman, "The Curious Pleasure Of Peeving." Cognoscenti, August 21, 2012)

  • An American Indian Language on Life Support
    Local native languages teeter on the brink of oblivion all over the world as the big linguistic sweepstakes winners like English, Spanish or Mandarin ride a surging wave of global communications. But the forces that are helping to flatten the landscape are also creating new ways to save its hidden, cloistered corners, as in the unlikely survival of Siletz Dee-ni. . . . Read more
    (Kirk Johnson, "Tribe Revives Language on Verge of Extinction." The New York Times, August 3, 2012)

  • The English-Only Debate
    Rep. Steve King's controversial bill to make English the official language in the U.S. got a full airing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as supporters used a hearing to tout claims such a law would bring the country together and critics roundly mocked the proposal. One Democrat, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, delivered his opening remarks in strained Spanish. . . . Read more
    ("King Touts English-Only Bill at Hearing, Dem Rep Mocks by Delivering Remarks in Spanish." FoxNews.com, August 2, 2012)

  • Is It Time to Turn English Into a Fully Phonetic Language?
    English, whatever its merits as a language, is a bitch to spell. There are so many rules, and so many exceptions, and yet in the end you have to learn a lot of words on a case-by-case basis. . . . So is it time to turn English into a fully phonetic language? And is there any way to do that without destroying the English language entirely? . . . Read more
    (Esther Inglis-Arkell, "Why Can't We Spell English Words Phonetically?" io9, August 22, 2012)

  • Bull!
    Some words have origins much ruder than you might imagine, others were once clean and pure but now smeared by association. Take, for example, the phrase "a load of bull." . . . Read more
    (M.H. Forsyth, "Bull, Bullshit and T.S. Eliot." The Inky Fool, August 12, 2012)

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