Archive for the ‘Words’ Category

Slang or no slang?

Posted on March 10th, 2012by Michelle
In Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

We heard recently about the linguistic power of young women, but a school in Sheffield apparently hasn’t.

Sheffield Springs academy has asked students to stop using slang whilst at school, in order to enhance their employability prospects. The school is in one of the most deprived areas of the city.

The United Learning Trust (ULT), a charity that runs the school, said the policy had been introduced so that pupils could recognise what kind of language was acceptable between friends and what would be suitable in more formal situations.

The school had an ethos that “the street stops at the gate”, said Kathy August, ULT’s deputy chief executive. Pupils were told to replace hiya, cheers and ta with good morning and thank you.

“We want to make sure that our youngsters are not just leaving school with the necessary A to Cs in GCSEs, but that they also have a whole range of employability skills,” August said. “Understanding when it is and is not acceptable to use slang or colloquial language is just one part of this.” (Source: Guardian)

Another school initiative asked sixth formers to wear suits to school to promote a professional attitude towards their work.

What do you think? Is saying ‘hiya’ really damaging employment prospects?

Animated linguistics

Posted on February 29th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Today is leap day, the extra day we get every four years. Why not use it to learn a little more about linguistics?

Steven Pinker is a well-known linguist (amongst other things), with specializations in visual cognition and psycholinguistics. He’s also very good at making complex ideas seem very understandable and engaging, which is why I love this video illustrating a talk he gave to the RSA.

In it, Pinker “shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings”. Take a look and let me know what you think.

The linguistic power of young women

Posted on February 28th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Speech, Words | 1 Comment »

A great article in the New York Times reveals that young women are linguistic trendsetters.

The use of “like” and uptalk (“pronouncing statements as if they are questions?”) is often seen as a sign of stupidity or immaturity, with women being compared to “Valley Girls”, like Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless. Linguists have refuted this however, saying that girls and young women popularise vocal trends and slang, and use embellishments in more sophisticated ways than previously thought.

“If women do something like uptalk or vocal fry, it’s immediately interpreted as insecure, emotional or even stupid,” said Carmen Fought, a professor of linguistics at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. “The truth is this: Young women take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships.”

The idea that young women serve as incubators of vocal trends for the culture at large has longstanding roots in linguistics. As Paris is to fashion, the thinking goes, so are young women to linguistic innovation.

“It’s generally pretty well known that if you identify a sound change in progress, then young people will be leading old people,” said Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, “and women tend to be maybe half a generation ahead of males on average.” (Source: New York Times)

Take a look at the rest of the article – it’s fascinating. And women, never again feel ashamed of using these social cues!

Tiger or giraffe?

Posted on February 15th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

This story’s been around for a few weeks, but it’s worth posting because it’s so darn cute!

A three year old girl called Lily Robinson wrote to Sainsbury’s last year to ask why tiger bread is called tiger bread, and suggested it be renamed giraffe bread. Lily is right – the bread does look more giraffe-like than tiger-esque!

Sainsbury’s wrote back and have decided to rename the bread:

“In response to overwhelming customer feedback that our tiger bread has more resemblance to a giraffe, from today we will be changing our tiger bread to giraffe bread and seeing how that goes,” the supermarket said.

Tiger bread is typically a bloomer loaf with a pattern baked into the top. Rice paste is brushed on to the surface before baking, forming the pattern as it dries and cracks while it bakes. (Source: BBC News)

I wonder what else we could get supermarkets to rename?

Not awesome?

Posted on January 22nd, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, English, Words | Leave a Comment »

Like many others, I’m probably guilty of overusing the word “awesome”. It’s a good thing I don’t live in LA (although I would love the sunshine), because one man is on a mission to ban the word.

British-born but LA based poet and journalist John Tottenham has launched CPSOA – the Campaign to Stamp Out Awesome. His headquarters is a bookstore which he is trying to turn into an “awesome-free zone”. Tottenham argues that the word has been so overused it has been rendered meaningless.

Tottenham already is looking toward other cliches to conquer.

“Other words will be addressed once we get rid of awesome,” Tottenham promises. “‘It’s all good.’ That’s definitely crying out to be done.” (Source: LA Times)

Do you see the problem with awesome? Or is Tottenham just a grouch?

Ooh, mademoiselle!

Posted on January 14th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, French, Words | Leave a Comment »

Wait – that should be madame.

A town in France has banned the word “mademoiselle” (the French word for “miss”), instead saying that all women should be addressed as “madame”.

In Cesson-Sevigne, official documents no longer say “mademoiselle” as it is argued that women should not be defined by their marital status. But when women face bigger issues, why does this matter?

Professor of applied linguistics Dr Penelope Gardner-Chloros, of Birkbeck University, says that a society’s language – and how it chooses its terms of address – can reflect deeply ingrained attitudes.

“[Language] it is a sensitive indicator of the distinctions that a society makes – so if it is important to know if a woman is married or not, then it will be indicated in language,” she explains.

“‘Mademoiselle’ was a courteous title and there was even a male equivalent – ‘Mondamoiseau’, though it was very rarely used,” and later fell out of use completely. (The word “damoiseau” can be translated as “squire”.) (Source: BBC News)

Banished words

Posted on January 8th, 2012by Michelle
In Culture, Words | Leave a Comment »

Happy New Year everyone!

Hope your holidays were great and you’ve made some achievable new year resolutions (language learning-related of course!).

Let’s kick off with some English words you definitely shouldn’t be using this year, with Lake Superior State University’s List of Banished Words:

1. Amazing
2. Baby bump
3. Shared sacrifice
4. Occupy
5. Blowback
6. Man cave
7. The new normal
8. Pet parent
9. Win the future
10. Trickeration
11. Ginormous
12. Thank you in advance

These are pretty America-centric, particularly “trickeration” (it’s a term used by American football analysts apparently). I definitely have to agree with “baby bump” though – it’s so cutesy I can’t stand it!

Which words would you banish?

Science of sarcasm

Posted on December 20th, 2011by Michelle
In Research, Speech, Words | Leave a Comment »

Scientists have found that the ability to detect sarcasm is a really useful skill.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have found that exposure to sarcasm increases creative problem solving; brains have to work harder to understand sarcasm, possibly increasing our mental abilities; and children understand and use sarcasm by the time they start attending playschool.

There’s also a geographic divide between those who find sarcasm funny and those who don’t.

A study that compared college students from upstate New York with students from near Memphis, Tennessee, found that the Northerners were more likely to suggest sarcastic jibes when asked to fill in the dialogue in a hypothetical conversation.

Northerners also were more likely to think sarcasm was funny: 56 percent of Northerners found sarcasm humorous while only 35 percent of Southerners did. The New Yorkers and male students from either location were more likely to describe themselves as sarcastic. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

For more fascinating insights into sarcasm, take a look at the full article from Smithsonian Magazine.

What’s trendy on Twitter?

Posted on December 13th, 2011by Michelle
In English, Technology, Words | Leave a Comment »

Still think Twitter’s just people saying what they have for breakfast?

Not any more – the microblogging site’s users tweet about a diverse range of topics, as shown by the top hashtags of the year. Hashtags (#) are used to identify the topic of tweets and can be used to see all the tweets about that particular topic.

Top of this year’s list was #egypt, referring to the unrest in the country in the spring of 2011. This was followed by #tigerblood, referring to the actor Charlie Sheen.

Other top hashtags were:

I wonder what tags will trend next year?

Slang to be included in new Scots dictionary

Posted on November 30th, 2011by Michelle
In Scots, Slang, Words | Leave a Comment »

Slang is to be included in the updated Scots dictionary.

The Scottish Language Dictionary charity is compiling the update of the Concise Scots Dictionary, which was first published in 1985. But according to one researcher, it’s not going to be easy:

“It’s difficult enough to decide if Scots is a dialect or a language. The fleeting nature of a word can determine if it’s slang or not.

“If it’s a word you can use with three different generations of your family, it’s more likely become part of the language.

“Slang is never going away. It shows the vibrancy of Scots and that it’s a living language, not just quaint terminology.” (Source: Scotsman)

Some examples of Scots slang:
Spraff: to talk at length
Dingie: to deliberately ignore someone
Cooncil curtains: boarded-up windows