All posts by Allan Metcalf

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Hohumland

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Homeland.
Has this word really been with us for nearly 15 years?
Yes, it has. Congress voted in November 2002 to bring this rarely used word to our attention by establishing the United States Department of Homeland Security.

For naming the new department, Homeland was an excellent choice: little used in everyday speech or writing, but a transparent word which had been in the English language for some time and whose meaning was easy to discern: a land that was someone’s home.

After that, homelan…

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Got a Great Joke About Language? Enter This Contest

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A funny thing happened on the way to today’s Lingua Franca. Well, actually it didn’t, but I’m still hoping.

It’s all the fault of the Linguistic Society of America, which is sponsoring a “Friday Funny” series on Facebook (see the Linguistic Society of America website) and Twitter (@LingSocAm) this summer.

“Linguists love humor,” the LSA says, “but can we practice what we study?”

To answer that question, the society is holding a contest with a deadline very soon: this coming Monday, July 17. “En…

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Repeal and Replace — or Revise? Obamacare!

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So what exactly have those Republican senators come up with to vote on, whenever they can muster enough support?

They have proposed what they call the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, known as H.R. 1628 because it is a revision, indeed a complete replacement, of the American Health Care Act passed by the House last month. And that in turn would have replaced the Affordable Care Act, better known by its nickname, Obamacare, almost since it was proposed in 2007.

So this Republican version …

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Among the Old New Words

4.coverFor three-quarters of a century, the journal American Speech has watched for new words and reported them in a regular feature called “Among the New Words” (ATNW, hereafter). In a recent issue, in celebration of this 75th anniversary, the current authors (Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal, Charles Carson of Duke University Press, and Jane Solomon of Dictionary.com) looked back and selected one word from each of the years since that feature began. (The issue is Volume 91, No. 4, dated November…

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Lexicographers Luxuriate in Barbados

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What happens when you take 50 people who make or study dictionaries and land them on a remote Caribbean island?

The Dictionary Society of North America provided an answer to that question last week, when it held its three-day biennial meeting not within the United States or Canada, as it had all 20 times before, but in the Caribbean, on the island of Barbados.

And that made a difference. The distance from North America discouraged some North Americans from making the trip. On the other hand, th…

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A Lexicographical Bildungsroman

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I have just finished the most amazing astonishing intriguing edifying profound intense book about the making of dictionaries I have ever read encountered. I want to tell all lovers of words — no, not just that select group (likely including many readers of Lingua Franca), but all users of words — in other words, everyone in the world — about it.

Is that so difficult? In this case, yes. It’s a book of a lifetime about a life in lexicography. And instead of being casually written, as for example …

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Genuine New Words

Prospero

Prospero and Miranda

(This post is inspired by William Shakespeare, David Crystal, Lucy Ferriss, John and Adele Algeo, and Donald Trump. My appreciation to them all.)

I’ll start with Shakespeare. Who wouldn’t? With apologies to The Tempest:

Miranda. O wonder!
How many goodly creations are there here!
How beauteous Merriam-Webster is!
O brave new word, that has such meaning to it.

Prospero. ´Tis new to thee.

Thanks for that explanation, Prospero. You and your daughter are evidently discussing a n…

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Fake New Words?

noctes

Noctes Ambrosianae used “truthiness” in 1832.

How can you tell if a word or phrase is really new — or just new to thee?

Easy question. But it’s not easy to answer, especially in this digital age.

It used to be easier. Or so it seemed back in 1990, when the American Dialect Society first began choosing its Word of the Year. For the first year or two, we restricted our choices to new Words of the Year, based on a simple principle: A word was considered new if it was not to be found in the latest e…

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‘Crawdaddy,’ ‘Boomba,’ and a ‘Bounce-Around’: an Online Update of Regional Words

DARE9780674425071-lgThe eighth in what we hope will be an unending series of online updates for the Dictionary of American Regional English is now available, free, to all who wonder what else there is to say about the varieties of American English vocabulary already caught in the six massive print volumes of the dictionary.

This eighth update shows there is always plenty to be added, and always will be, as long as we continue speaking (or writing) American English in an endless variety of ways.

But first, some good…

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News, False and Fake

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The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu

“Sometimes I wish she would just shut up and let me walk in peace. But I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.”

Recognize this sentiment? It’s more than three decades old, predating Twitter (2006), Facebook (2004), Google (1996) and the internet (1990s) by a wide margin. But it shows that even in the good old days, there was concern about the validity of news reports, as well as eagerness for them. At least there was tha…