Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Language column roundup (books edition)

* William Safire devotes his column to recent books on language. Covered are:
* Jan Freeman explains what linguists do, through the experiences of Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum. The two created Language Log, a blog that brings linguists to the everyman. They have a book out, too, a compilation of blog posts: "Far from the Madding Gerund." Best quote from Pullum:
Pullum, for instance, is annoyed that even now, 15 years after he dismantled the "400-words-for-snow" legend in "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax," the media are still retailing nonsense about cultures and lexicons. When a "60 Minutes" report claims that the Moken islanders off Thailand have "no word for when," and hence "no notion of time," he responds, "I wish English had a word meaning 'lazy journalist eagerly repeating hogwash about natural languages.'"
Also discussed is Ben Zimmer's debunking of the Churchill quote "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put."

* Nathan Bierma's column in the Chicago Tribune shares some of the untranslatable words included in "The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World." I, too, wish the German word bettschwere was easily translated. It means "lacking the energy to get out of bed." Or kummerspeck, German for "grief bacon," or the weight you gain from overeating out of sadness. Somewhat related, there's waham, Arabic for "the specific food craving of a pregnant woman."

* The editor of the Sun-Sentinel discusses when it's OK to use slang in the paper. The official policy: Don't do it. Ken Olsen, head of the style committee shared a story from the field:
'Giving props' is an interesting example. It came up a few months ago in the news section when one of our copy editors used it in a headline. A quick survey showed that about half of the editors on duty -- most of the younger ones -- understood it immediately. Some older editors did not. In this case, we decided not to use it because there wasn't enough context to make the meaning clear to everyone.


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