Happy Words, Hated Words, and Shifty Words in English (Summer 2016)

A Quarterly Roundup of Language in the News

language in the news
(Ben Richardson/Getty Images)

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

  • The Shiftiness of English Words
    Many of our most common words have come to serve more than a single grammatical role, so a word serving one part of speech will often have a homonym—a grammatical doppelganger—that serves as a different part of speech. Often this arises from what is called functional shift, when we take a noun and make it into a verb as in "to adult" or "to gym." This shiftiness makes it hard, and perhaps impossible, to think of a word as having just one categorization. . . . Read more
    (Edwin Battistella, "'All Grammars Leak': How Modern Use and Misuse Are Changing the English Language." OUP Blog, July 10, 2016)

  • Anti-Rhetoric From Mark Antony to Donald Trump
    [T]he 'I just want to tell it like it is' maneuver is a familiar one in the annals of rhetoric. It’s what Mark Antony is up to when he says to the Roman crowd in Julius Caesar, 'I am no orator, as Brutus is; / But, as you know me all, a plain, blunt man,” in the midst of his “Friends, Romans and countrymen” speech, one of the most cunning displays of technical rhetoric, not only in Shakespeare, but in the English language. . . . Read more
    (Mark Thompson, "Trump and the Dark History of Straight Talk." The New York Times, August 27, 2016)

  • Grammatical Idiosyncrasies of Non-Native Speakers

    At the end of July, researchers from the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at MIT released a major new resource for the study of an often overlooked variety of language: English spoken by non-native speakers. It comes in the form of a database called the Treebank of Learner English that catalogues all the grammatical idiosyncrasies found in 5,000 English-language sentences written by people who don’t speak English as their first language. . . . Read more
    (Kevin Hatnett, "Teaching Computers to Understand Non-Native English."  The Boston Globe, August 23, 2016)


  • Slang Expressions From Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK
    Even in this ever-more-connected world, there are still plenty of slang phrases and words unique to the areas where they're spoken. Here are a few memorable examples. . . . Read more
    (Starre Vartan, "20 English Slang Words Everyone Should Know." Mother Nature Network, August 2, 2016)   

  • The English Dialects App
    Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK, along with academics at the Universities of Bern and Zurich, have mapped the spread, evolution and decline of certain words and phrases by analyzing data from a free mobile app. The English Dialects App launched in January, with over 30,000 people around the UK providing results on the pronunciation of words and colloquialisms. . . . Read more
    (Emma Hutchings, "Researchers Crowdsource The Evolution Of The English Language." PFSK, June 16, 2016)

  • Sound Similarities Across Languages
    Humans across the globe may be actually speaking the same language after scientists found that the sounds used to make the words of common objects and ideas are strikingly similar. The discovery challenges the fundamental principles of linguistics, which state that languages grow up independently of each other, with no intrinsic meaning in the noises which form words. . . . Read more
    (Sarah Knapton, "Humans May Speak a Universal Language, Say Scientists." The Telegraph [UK], September 12, 2016)


  • The 200 Happiest Words in English
    "To prepare a machine to carry out a sentiment analysis . . . computer scientists had to assign a happiness index to 10,222 individual words. That way, as the machine scanned passages from books, it could assess the emotional arc of the narrative. But how do you decide how happy a word is? . . . Read more
    (Adrienne LaFrance, "The 200 Happiest Words in Literature." The Atlantic, July 12, 2016)

  • Emojis Send a Message
    Emojis have become a staple of millennial identity, whether helping you to show off your linguistic dexterity on social media, soften the blow of criticism, or—if you’re Kim Kardashian—extend your own brand in visual form. . . . Yet emojis are more powerful than they may first appear, and their real power lies in their ability to emulate a real face. . . . Read more
    (Ruby Lott-Lavigna,  "Emojis Make Our Messages Feel More Like Us." The Guardian [UK], June 14, 2016)

  • The Rising Number of Dual-Language Programs in the US
    A joint U.S. Department of Education-American Institutes for Research report shows 39 states and Washington, D.C., offered dual-language education during the 2012-13 school year, with Spanish and Chinese programs cited as the most common. . . . Such programs are growing in popularity all across the country. . . . Read more
    (Natalie Gross, "The New Bilingualism." The Atlantic, August 4, 2016)

  • The Benefits of Multilingualism
    Multilingualism has been shown to have many social, psychological and lifestyle advantages. Moreover, researchers are finding a swath of health benefits from speaking more than one language, including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia. . . . Read more
    (Gaia Vince, "Why Being Bilingual Works Wonders for Your Brain." The Guardian [UK], August 7, 2015)

  • Why the English Language Won't Be Exiting the European Union
    After Brexit, there are various things that some in the EU hope to see and hear less in the future. One is Nigel Farage. Another is the English language. . . . Much about the EU may be about to change, but right now an anti-English language policy so dramatically out of step with practice would simply make the post-Brexit hangover more painful. . . . Read more 
    ("Britain May Be Leaving the EU, but English Is Going Nowhere." The Conversation, July 4, 2016)

  • Textspeak Enters the OED

    FWIW, the Oxford English Dictionary recently added hundreds of new words to its vaunted pages, and some of them—like "budgie smugglers," "butt ugly" and "Scooby Snack"—will deffo have you ROFL. The newly added words, phrases and abbreviations reflect the growing influence of texting and cyberspeak on the English language, with many entries that come from the Internet. . . . Read more
    (Michael Schaub, "ICYMI, the Oxford English Dictionary Added New Words, and TBH, It's Getting Wacky." Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2016)


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