Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Brain gaps

Posted on August 5th, 2012by Michelle
In Research, Words | Leave a Comment »

New research has found that our brains often miss key words – including ones that can change the meaning of a sentence.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that our brains don’t process every word – so a sentence like “After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?” will leave people wondering what an appropriate burial place would be. (If you’re confused, read the sentence again – I had to try it three times!).

“What makes researchers particularly interested in people’s failure to notice words that actually don’t make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.

Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.” (Science Daily)

The researchers recommend that important information is put at the start of a sentence, and also to avoid multi-tasking when listening to an important message.

Americans learn Cockney

Posted on July 23rd, 2012by Michelle
In Language acquisition, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

With less than a week to go until the Olympics opening ceremony, there are plenty of foreign athletes arriving on our shores.

But what do the athletes know about London, and more importantly, can they decipher Cockney Rhyming Slang? Team USA have challenged their athletes to learn – and speak – the slang, with hilarious results! See some American athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, gymnast Nastia Liukin and diver David Boudia take up the challenge in the video below.

The Oxford English Fictionary

Posted on July 21st, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Invented languages, Words | Leave a Comment »

This could well be my new favourite Tumblr: The Oxford English Fictionary.

The Fictionary is dedicated to “Defining words that aren’t real. Yet.” It accepts user submissions as follows:

The OEF exists to define words that do not exist. If you have a word that needs a definition, submit it. If you have a word that already has a definition, that’s very nice, but go contact Merriam Webster instead.

A couple of my favourite recent words are:

Anachronister (noun): a time-traveling spider. (word submitted by anonymous)

Shquibble (verb): to verbally argue with someone, with both sides in full anger, in complete silence after having been shushed by a librarian. (word submitted by Chris)

Why do words get cut from the dictionary?

Posted on July 18th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Did you know that when new words get added to a dictionary, old ones get cut?

Neither did I, although I suppose it makes sense. An editor from the Merriam-Webster dictionary explains more in this helpful video:

English words borrowed from India

Posted on July 13th, 2012by Michelle
In English, Etymology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Have you ever heard of the Hobson-Jobson dictionary?

Colonel Henry Yule and AC Burnell began work on it in 1872. The dictionary started as a lexicon of words of Asian origin used by the British in India, and hasn’t been out of print since it was first published. It’s much more than a dictionary though:

“It’s a madly unruly and idiosyncratic work,” says poet Daljit Nagra.

“Not so much an orderly dictionary as a passionate memoir of colonial India. Rather like an eccentric Englishman in glossary form.”

Take the entry for the Indian word dam. The dictionary defines it as: “Originally an actual copper coin. Damri is a common enough expression for the infinitesimal in coin, and one has often heard a Briton in India say: ‘No, I won’t give a dumree!’ with but a vague notion what a damri meant.”

That is the etymology of dam. But Yule and Burnell have more to say.

“And this leads to the suggestion that a like expression, often heard from coarse talkers in England as well as in India, originated in the latter country, and that whatever profanity there may be in the animus, there is none in the etymology, when such an one blurts out ‘I don’t care a dam!’ in other words, ‘I don’t care a brass farthing!’” (Source: BBC News)

Some words we use that have Indian origins:

Avatar, cashmere, guru, loot

The need for speed

Posted on June 12th, 2012by Michelle
In English, Words, Writing | Leave a Comment »

How fast can you go? Reading, I mean – how quickly can you scan those words?

I think I’m a pretty fast reader – I finished the final Harry Potter in about 10 hours – but according to this test, I’m ranked just above an “average college student”! At 512 words per minute, that apparently makes me 105% faster than the American national average. Which I suppose isn’t too shabby!

It’s not all about how fast you are though – comprehension matters. So in Spanish I’d probably be well below the national average. What about you?

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

Lovely English words

Posted on May 31st, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Over at the Guardian’s Mind Your Language blog, they’re asking: What is the loveliest word in the English language?

Some suggestions include:

Closer to a classical sense of phonetic beauty, it’s as smooth and chubby as a cherub. And finally (those Bs and Ls again) …

A word as sensuous as a single malt. I never did get to kiss the boy in the corduroys but, if I had, I’m sure it would have been as lovely as “balalaika”. (Source: Guardian)

Commenters have suggested various other words, including lugubrious, butterfly, mellifluous, and kerfuffle. What’s do you think?

Loose or lose?

Posted on April 14th, 2012by Michelle
In English, Words | Leave a Comment »

In English there are many words that look similar but have different meanings. Brought and bought for example, or lose and loose.

A single letter marks the difference in meaning in each of these four words. Let’s look at lose and loose, as I’ve recently seen a lot of examples of misuse of these words. In particular people seem to write loose when they really mean lose.

Loose is an adjective, and means not tight or constricted; free. Examples include “my shoes feel really loose today” and “the dog got loose”. When someone tells you to “loosen up”, they mean for you to relax, chill out.

Lose, however, means to be without something through theft, accident, etc. Examples include “I lost my wallet” and “I lost my job”. When someone tells you to “get lost”, they mean for you to go away!

There’s an easy way to remember the difference – just think that “lose has lost the extra o”!


Posted on March 30th, 2012by Michelle
In Invented languages, Words | Leave a Comment »

It’s one of the longest and probably one of the most famous words in the English language, but where did supercalifragilisticexpialidocious come from?

A nonsense word, it was popularised when it appeared in a song in the musical Mary Poppins. Songwriter Robert B. Sherman explained its origins:

“We used to make up the big double-talk words, we could make a big obnoxious word up for the kids and that’s where it started. ‘Obnoxious’ is an ugly word so we said ‘atrocious’, that’s very British,” he explained. “We started with ‘atrocious’ and then you can sound smart and be precocious. We had ‘precocious’ and ‘atrocious’ and we wanted something super-colossal and that’s corny, so we took ‘super’ and did double-talk to get ‘califragilistic’ which means nothing, it just came out that way,” and that “in a nutshell what we did over two weeks.” Simple. (Source: Contact Music)

Simple indeed!

What’s in a name?

Posted on March 27th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

You may have heard of a little movie that opened last Friday, a movie that’s based on some bestselling books. Yep, I’m talking about The Hunger Games.

The books definitely aren’t just for kids, and if you haven’t read them I highly recommend doing so. One thing I didn’t really like though, were the names of the characters. Katniss? Peeta? Coriolanus Snow? I found them distracting.

Having read this article from Slate though, I am more appreciative of the names. Although author Suzanne Collins has never revealed how she came up with the names, I think Slate’s writer gives pretty good explanations. If you haven’t read the books though, don’t look at the article as it contains spoilers!

Also, if you want to find out your own Hunger Games name, try this site. Mine’s Elleless B. Divelily, what’s yours?