Wednesday, December 29, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
A roundup of the words of the year.
temp link/perm.preview

More on "chav" here, on "Google-aire" here, and on the New OAD's additions here. More from Grant Barrett on the life cycle of slang.

• Christmas leftovers: "Twas the Night Before Christmas" in jargon:

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter "the House") a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse. A variety of foot apparel, e.g., stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter "Claus") would arrive at sometime thereafter. continued...

• My wife hadn't heard the word "smart" as a verb until my dad said it this weekend. Turns out the injury connotation preceded the intelligence connotation!

late O.E. smeart "sharp, severe, stinging," related to smeortan (see smart (v.)). Meaning "quick, active, clever" is attested from c.1303, probably from the notion of "cutting" wit, words, etc.; meaning "trim in attire" first attested 1718, "ascending from the kitchen to the drawing-room c.1880." [Weekley] In ref. to devices, "behaving as though guided by intelligence" (e.g. smart bomb) first attested 1972. Smarts "good sense, intelligence," is first recorded 1968. Smart aleck is from 1865, perhaps in allusion to Aleck Hoag, notorious pimp, thief, and confidence man in New York City in early 1840s. Smart cookie is from 1948; smarty-pants first attested 1941. link

and for what it's worth:

1536, "a spark," Scottish, from Gaelic spong "tinder, pith, sponge," from L. spongia (see sponge ). The sense of "courage, pluck, mettle" is first attested 1773. A similar sense evolution took place in cognate Ir. sponnc "sponge, tinder, spark, courage, spunk." Vulgar slang sense of "seminal fluid" is recorded from c.1888. Spunky "courageous, spirited" is recorded from 1786. link

• Geoff Nunberg on gingerly as an adjective (here and here).

• "SportsCenter" on Tuesday morning referred to the blue field of Boise State as the smurf turf, and referred to the new jersey of Vince Carter, who was recently traded to the New Jersey Nets.

• When I heard this Sunday morning, I thought it was some of the lamest political rhetoric I'd heard since the end of the Kerry campaign.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Daschle, 26 years in Washington--what's the most important lesson you learned?

SEN. DASCHLE: I think the most important lesson you learn is that this really is the greatest country in the world, and democracy works. Democracy has all of its flaws but it beats the noise of violence. I think there's just so much we can be proud of, especially this time of the year. We have a lot of challenges out there, Tim, but the most important lesson is that I think this legacy, this democracy, this incredible republic's going to go on for centuries to come.

(And what was Dr. Phil doing on the "Meet the Press"??)

• My review of Bill Walsh's The Elephants of Style will run in the next Verbatim. I discuss the split infinitive; turns out there's a whole Wikipedia entry on that. And I inevitably discuss The Elements of Style; here's Geoff Pullum's rant about that treatise:

Regular readers will be able to name my least favorite book in the
world: it is Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, a horrid little
compendium of unmotivated prejudices (don't use ongoing), arbitrary
stipulations (don't begin a sentence with however), and fatuous advice
("Be clear"), ridiculously out of date in its positions on appropriate
choices among grammatical variants, deeply suspect in its style advice
and grotesquely wrong in most of the grammatical advice it gives.
(Don't make me go on; if you want an hour-long lecture on the demerits
of this beastly little book, that can be arranged.)

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