Dear Emily, Steve, and Emily:
I hope this email finds you well. It took a great deal of effort to get it to you, but hopefully that effort will not have been in vain.
I’m writing to you from what you would consider the future. Technology, in all its glory, hasn’t yet cracked the nut of time travel, but has perfected a means of communicating with the past. This wormhole email technique is not entirely legal, but then, I’ve never been much for the rules.
One of you is actually a great-great-great-great grandparent of mine, but in the interest of preserving the time stream as much as possible, that person will remain anonymous. Just know that at least one of you has a genetic line that carries on for generations.
As much as it pains me to say it -- and I’m sure pains you to hear it -- the written word in my world is gone. I often muse on the idea that human communication ended up as a bell curve -- Neanderthals grunted at cave paintings at the beginning; millions of people wrote billions of words across the Internet at its peak; and now at the end, we are little more than grunting cavemen once again. The only difference is that our pictures move.
When the written word went underground, it was handed down from father and mother to daughter and son in small enclaves to keep it alive. Now I’m all that’s left. I’m the only person that I know of in the entire universe who still uses the written word. That’s why it’s so important for me to reach you and ask for your help.
It began with the shortening of the language for the text message generation. Words got shorter and shorter until they virtually disappeared. People found it was easier to communicate with pictures and video.
Then a neurotechnologist developed an interface device that allowed the thoughts of a comatose patient to be transmitted to a video screen. It was hailed as an extraordinary medical breakthrough, but soon the technology was commoditized and sold to anyone who wanted one, and allowed people to communicate with their thoughts, which contained images and feelings, but no words or language whatsoever.
I’m sure you can divine what happened next. As soon as words were superfluous, they were gone. No one uses them any more. No one needs them any more. And there’s nothing I can do about it in my time.
So please, for me and for the good of humanity, keep reminding anyone who will listen how important words are. How nothing can replace a good book, a well-crafted letter, a compelling blog, or even a clever tagline. I know you’ll pass this on to your children -- I’m living proof -- but do whatever you can to pass it on to everyone.
Thanks for hearing me out. And I hope my spelling and grammar are correct. I don’t get to practice much.
English, as we’ve expounded upon in various blogs, is a funny language. It’s a pastiche of European languages, Slavic languages, innumerable dialects, slang, regionalisms, and words created simply for the sake of creating them.
Some words start off as two specific, preexisting words that are combined in such a way that they create a completely new, standalone word. These are called portmanteaus. Which is French. From an Italian word. See what a rich tapestry it is?
Possibly the most famous portmanteau is smog. Everyone knows what smog is, but not everyone knows that the term was created by combining “smoke” and “fog.” Another is motel, which came from “motor” and “hotel.” And lest we forget electrocution, which blends “electro” and “execution.”
Below are some other popular portmanteaus, and some that haven’t quite caught on yet. My new favorite? “Tatooth.” (From tatoo and tooth; a reference to those who have implanted gold initials or diamonds, etc., on their teeth.)
- “galumph” (gallop and triumph)
- “chortle” (chuckle and snort)
- “maffluent” (mass affluent; groups of people who have become relatively affluent because of the value of their stock investments)
- “momentaneous” (instantaneous and momentary)
- “splisters” (splinters and blisters)
- “swifting” (shifting and switching)
- “editated” (edited and annotated)
- “splatter” (splash and spatter)
- “squish” (squirt and swish)
- “blurt” (blow and spurt)
- “splutter” (splash and sputter)
- “grumble” (growling and rumbling)
- “flaunt” (flout and vaunt)
- “flare” (flame and glare)
- “squawk” (squall and squeak)
- “slanguage ” (slang and language)
- “escalator” (escalade and elevator; where escalade comes from Italian through French, meaning “the act of scaling or climbing the walls of a fortified place by ladders”)
- “stagflation” (stagnate and inflation)
- “cinemactress” (cinema and actress)
- “sexperts” (sex and expert)
- “Saniflush” (sanitary and flush)
- “Bisquick” (biscuit and quick)
- “netizen” (net and citizen)
- “netiquette” (net and etiquette)
- “modem” (modulator and demodulator)
- “pixel” (pix and element; picture element, basic unit of an on-screen image)
- “shareware” (share and software; free trial software often requiring later payment)
- “emoticon” (emotion and icon)
- “brunch” (breakfast and lunch)
By Steve Boudreault
Welcome to 2014! Or is it 2014? See what I did there? I typed the same number, but in the first instance I sounded out "two thousand fourteen" in my head, and in the second, "twenty fourteen." But you weren't in my head at that moment -- and be thankful for small favors -- so you wouldn't know that's what I was doing.So what's the story with 2014? I'm mostly hearing "two thousand fourteen," but that's so strange. It's actually been strange for 13 years, but I'm just now getting around to discussing it. Hey, I've been busy.What's strange is that the precedent is well-established for pronouncing years. You wouldn't say that the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in "one thousand eight hundred seventy-six" or that the Apollo 14 landed on the moon in "one thousand nine hundred seventy-one." You'd say "eighteen seventy-six" and "nineteen seventy-one," just as surely as you'd say "twenty fourteen."But people don't. Why?Honestly, I blame 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I'd assign specific blame to the film or the novel, but since they were developed concurrently, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke are equally to blame.) They conditioned us from the late '60s to refer to it as "two thousand one" (or "two thousand and one," which makes me queasy) so that when we reached 2001, there was really nothing else to call it, and the naming convention stuck.I suppose it'll stay this way until we reach the 2100s, but I plan to be long dead by then, so it won't bother me. Much.
By Steve Boudreault
When describing to a friend of mine/business acquaintance what we do here at Solidus, I gave our party line: “We provide a multimedia approach to brand enhancement through language.” Then I said, jokingly: “We’re like language whores!” She laughed. Then I started to think about it. “Actually,” I said, “I guess we are more like language hoers.” Of course, the two phrases sound the same (whore and hoer), but the two ideas are very different.
If we talk about massaging language, which is very popular in marketing circles (and we do do this), it sounds like we are more like whores. However, I much prefer the idea that we are like farmers, nurturing language, enhancing it, cultivating it.
We can start our own garden from scratch, tending the soil, providing food for thought. Or, we can enhance the seedlings of others, tilling the soil (suitable venue/foundation), moving the crops (words and sentences) around as necessary, providing nutrients and water (proper grammar, spelling, and style), ultimately helping the seedlings or ideas to blossom and thrive. At the end of the season (writing or editing process), you have a beautiful, healthy harvest (perfectly crafted language and message).
Maybe this should be our new tagline -- Solidus: we are language hoers, helping to feed the world one sentence at a time.
By Emily Trask
Do you know who the Igs are?
I didn’t. I do now. But there’s no reason for me to call them the Igs. Because I’m not from Philadelphia.
I had no idea that there was so much colorful slang just a little to the south and west of Boston. I knew that they call a long bread sandwich filled with meat, cheese, and vegetables a “hoagie” (and if it’s toasted, a “grinder”) while we call it a sub, toasted or untoasted.
But a new one on me was “yiz.” It’s apparently Philly’s answer to the collective plural pronoun “you.” So “You want anything at the store?” becomes “Yiz want anything at the store?” (In Pittsburgh, it’s “yinz.”)
Then there’s “worsh” (wash), and “jawn,” the etymology of which is unclear, but it certainly is useful. It can be used to describe a thing (“Hand me that jawn”), a female person (“That girl’s my young jawn”), or a place (“I was over at my boy’s jawn last night”) and is used in many situations to describe almost anything.
By far the most baffling idiom to me is the use of “anymore.” It doesn’t have a unique pronunciation, but it’s used as a positive, and means “nowadays” or “from now on.” I still can’t wrap my head around this. “Anymore we watch videos rather than go to the movies.” As Emily would say, “Crazyville!”
So if you’re with a bunch of football fans and you’re in Pixburgh, yinz can go watch the Stillers play. But if you’re in Philly, yiz can go and watch the Igs. Den you can eat n’at.
By Steve Boudreault
Scientists at the University of Reading completed a study that identified which are the oldest words in the English language and which modern words are likely to go the way of the hypodiastole. That’s a little editing joke. No one uses the hypodiastole punctuation mark anymore. Get it? No? Moving on, then.
Using an IBM supercomputer, scientists who study the evolution of language were able to track words back 30,000 years. They discovered that the oldest words in use today are numbers and pronouns, and that the words “bad,” “dirty,”’ and several others will soon disappear.
But before you begin to fret about what this evolution will do to your personal life, take heart! There is something you can do. The more often a word is used, the less likely it is that the future will leave it behind. So if you have a few favorites, use them often and encourage others to do the same. I’ll do my part by reminding all of you of Michael Jackson’s Bad with the hope that the song will get stuck in your head and you’ll absent-mindedly sing it in public and help protect one of my favorite words.
By Emily Olson
A study undertaken by the Spelling Society claims that Americans are worse spellers than the British. Apparently, more than half of the surveyed Americans were unable to spell the words “embarrassed,” “liaison,” and “millennium,” among others.
In response to this, some American experts are blaming the problem on high school dropout rates; others argue that the problem is our dependence on technology, including such tools as spell check functions and Google. The Spelling Society blames the issue on irregular spellings in both American and British English, and they proposed setting up a cross-continental committee to promote spelling reforms.
I agree that indeed we have become dependent on these technological tools, and that this reliance likely has made us lax in regard to spelling and grammar. I admit to using these tools frequently; and I admit, they often catch my mistakes (gasp). However, I don’t trust that spell check will correctly edit my work. I use it as a first opinion. I trust that I or one of my colleagues will do a much more thorough spell check in addition to grammar checking and editing a document.
I often find myself arguing (sometimes out loud) with the spell and grammar check functions in word processors. They still are primitive and don’t account for the nuances of the English language. If you happen to spell search terms wrong in the search field, Google generally provides an alternative spelling (usually correct) of the search terms; however, it always amazes me how many results actually come up with the misspelled search terms, demonstrating how unreliable technology and the Internet can be. For me, this reinforces the fact that we should not be totally dependent on them!
Although Americans fared worse than their British counterparts, the Spelling Society stated that the results were rather appalling on both sides of the pond, which makes it all somewhat less embarrassing. So as we forge ahead in this millennium, we all need to brush up on our spelling and become less dependent on our liaisons with technological tools.
P.S. When I looked up information on the study in Google, I found this comment on a British website: “No word on whether Yankees got dinged for spelling ‘color’ without a ‘u’ in the middle.” So cheeky …
By Emily Trask