Tag Archives: English language

Win This Contest of Words

For many years now I have subscribed to Wordsmith.org. Every weekday I am emailed a word of the day, sometimes clever, sometimes esoteric (as in, “Who knew there was a word for that?”), often having a common theme. Posts are written with humor, are often illustrated, and always show how the word is used, along with a thought for the day. It takes only a minute to read each post, and I always leave enlightened and entertained.

Here’s the special part: In celebrating 25 years of Word of the Day, the creator, Anu Garg, is running several word contests, judged by eminent wordsmiths, and promising great prizes. (Oh, how I yearn to win a trip to the UK to visit the site of the Oxford English Dictionary!)

Here is Anu’s description of the contest. See if you’re interested. At the very least, subscribe to Wordsmith.org and painlessly enlarge your vocabulary.

25 YEARS OF WORDSMITH.ORG:
Next week marks 25 years of Wordsmith.org. Founded on March 14, 1994, what began as a way to share my love of words and language has since grown into a community of people in 171 countries!

Thank you for being a part of this community. We love you. And we want to send you to tour the offices of Oxford English Dictionary in Oxford, UK and Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.

CONTESTS:
To celebrate, we are organizing contests with prizes such as those tours. Also, books, dictionaries, and more. wordsmith.org/25years

JUDGES:
Winners will be decided by an international panel that includes Will Shortz (The New York Times Puzzle Editor), Kory Stamper (Executive Director of the Dictionary Society of North America, author, Word by Word), Richard Lederer (author), Lauren Gawne (Dept. of Linguistics, La Trobe University, Australia), Jesse Sheidlower (former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary), Steve Kleinedler (former Executive Editor of the American Heritage Dictionary), Joan H. Hall (Chief Editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English), and others.

HELP US REACH NEWSPAPERS:
Are you a reporter or editor? Do you know of a local columnist, editor, or reporter in your town who’d want to cover this story? Let us know any information you need! Write to us at words@wordsmith.org (see the press release).

HELP US SPREAD THE WORD ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
We need your help in spreading the word. Do you have a blog? We’d love a write-up. Or you can share the contest on social media:
Share the contest on Facebook
Share the contest on Twitter
See it and tag a friend on Instagram

POST A MESSAGE:
David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, sent this: “For 25 years, Wordsmith.org has been refreshing the linguistic parts other sites have not reached. Congratulations!” Post your own messages here.

SHARE YOUR STORIES:
People have met here and gotten married. Send us your stories — you don’t have to go as far as to get married (-: Share any stories you have, big or small, related to words and language. Write to us at words@wordsmith.org.

CONTESTS

Take part in one or more contests, each judged by a distinguished panel of guest judges. Winners will receive exciting prizes such as word games, books, and more. Enter as many times as you want!

[Info from Judi: a pangram is a sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet.]

Here’s to the next 25 years!

Anu Garg
Founder
words@wordsmith.org

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:

Words are things; and a small drop of ink / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. -Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

 

 

 

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Conjunction Junction

 

 

What’s your function? Remember that song from “Schoolhouse Rock” back in the Dark Ages? If you can’t remember the words, I’ll tell you what a conjunction’s function is: It joins. It creates a junction when words, or sentences, or clauses, or phrases meet.

The most common conjunctions are AND and BUT. In addition, you can use OR or NOR, YET, or SO. These are all the garden variety, but some other day I’ll torture you with coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions.

I’m willing to bet that an English teacher once told you never to begin a sentence with a conjunction. I’ll also bet you were never given a reason for that “rule”— because there isn’t one. You can start a sentence with any word in the English language. And if anyone challenges you, blame me.

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Clever Definitions

Thanks to my friend Paul:

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:
1. Cashtration (n): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxicaton: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13 Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

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Does “Proper” English Matter?

I am asking you this question seriously. An article appeared in the Wall Street Journal asking the question about whether “proper English” matters. It was written by Oliver Kamm, an editor and columnist for the Times of London.

Kamm acknowledges errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation but states that if “everyone” is doing it, it’s OK. He says, “…that is what the language is.” To a certain extent, I agree. All languages change because of common usage. In Shakespeare’s day, the word “girl” could refer to a young child, either female or male. That meaning no longer applies, strictly because of common usage. And look at the evolution of the word “gay” in the last 50 years.

But Kamm has no problem with “between you and I.” I do. He would call my attitude snobbish and say I am a pedant. Yet isn’t he being pedantic when stating his views on language?

Some rules of English language are holdovers from Latin syntax. That is why ending sentences with prepositions is still considered a no-no by many. I have no problem with saying or writing, “Who was the person I saw you with?” The alternative is to say, “With whom was that person I saw you?” I doubt many will go for that stuffy option. Splitting infinitives is another so-called error, yet the world’s most famous split infinitive, “to boldly go,” poses no problem. If it sounds all right and makes sense, I am fine with splitting infinitives (the “to —” form of verbs).

We all use different forms of English for different occasions. A formal letter of complaint, a quick email to a friend, a letter to your ancient great-aunt—all will contain a different style of English. If your work involves a field that uses particular lingo, by all means use it among your colleagues. But don’t let that language spill out into the wider world; most people outside your area won’t understand what you mean. And clear communication is the purpose of language, isn’t it? Also realize that spoken English is rarely held to the same standards as is written English. Sometimes the result can be painful to the ears, but casual speech usually seems normal and often even entertaining.

Here’s a big question: do people judge us by the way we use English? I fear they do. It might not be fair, and it is only one way we are judged daily: by our speech and writing, by our clothing, by our hair and makeup, by the car we drive, by our taste in music and movies—the list is endless. Not fair, but endless.

I have two graduate degrees in English. One class required a very complicated and difficult study of transformational grammar (don’t ask), but it did give me the knowledge and confidence to devote over 20 years to teaching business writing seminars in the corporate world. If “proper” English doesn’t matter, why was I ever hired?

I think the dumbing down of language standards fits in with today’s grade inflation and trophies for everyone on the sports team. In the 1970s, an “anything goes” educational model arose to make the student feel good at all costs. A young cousin of mine learned to read in school by using phonetic books; she also learned to write by using phonetic spelling. At some point in later elementary school she had to dich fonetik speling and lurn the mor convenshunl wun. Perhaps some of you were taught the same way.

Daily we are faced with language distortion in politics and advertising. (I urge you to read George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language.” You can find it online. Well worth your time.)

Since the purpose of language is communication, being precise is of great importance. The rules we learn throughout our lives, particularly in classes, ensure the greatest clarity; we encounter fewer opportunities for misunderstanding.

My questions to you are the following: is it racist or classist to expect people to write using the standards of “proper” English? If people don’t use standard English, will they be considered less intelligent? Will use of substandard English hold people back?

I would love to get your feedback on this topic.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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Clever Words for Clever People

Another good one from my friend Nicki N. Thanks, amiga!
 
1. ARBITRAITOR
A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonald’s.
2. BERNADETTE
The act of torching a mortgage.
3. BURGLARIZE
What a crook sees through.
4. AVOIDABLE
What a bullfighter tries to do.
5. COUNTERFEITER
Workers who put together kitchen cabinets.
6. LEFT BANK
What the bank robbers did when their bag was full of money.
7. HEROES
What a man in a boat does.
8. PARASITES
What you see from the Eiffel Tower.
9. PARADOX
Two physicians.
10. PHARMACIST
A helper on a farm.
11. RELIEF
What trees do in the spring.
12. RUBBERNECK
What you do to relax your wife.
13. SELFISH
What the owner of a seafood store does.
14. SUDAFED
Brought litigation against a government official.

 

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Singular or Plural?

I often hear people talk about a phenomenon, which refers to one thing or situation, when they need the plural of phenomenon—which is phenomena, referring to more than one thing or situation.

• Global warming is a potentially disastrous phenomenon.

• The phenomena that contribute to global warming are being studied extensively in hopes of avoiding worldwide catastrophes.

Another pair often misused are criteria (plural) and criterion (singular). If you have only one standard that must be met, you want criterion.

But here’s one you can stop worrying about: datum. That’s the singular of data. Today, data is used for both singular and plural.  Why? Because common usage changes all languages. However, if you are using data as a plural, make your verb plural also:

The scientific data are unequivocal that ocean temperatures are rising rapidly.

 

 

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Abbreviations vs. Acronyms

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When people see an abbreviation, many refer to it as an acronym, thinking they mean the same thing. They don’t.

You all know what an abbreviation is.  An acronym is also an abbreviation—but one that is pronounced as a word:

NASA

Snafu ( it lost the caps when it became a common word)

Scuba (ditto)

Fubar (ditto)

MOMA in New York and LACMA in Los Angeles

You’d never say “Oosuh” or “Yoosuh,” so USA is not an acronym, just an abbreviation.

All acronyms are abbreviations, but not all abbreviations are acronyms.

(If you’re not sure what snafu and fubar stand for, look them up in your online dictionary; there you will discover the slightly off-color meanings.)

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