Friday, December 08, 2006

What goes up ...

An open call. First: what exactly does the up in phrasal verbs like look up mean? Some examples:
  • work up [a solution]
  • rustle up [some chow]

and also:

  • toughen up [those raw recruits]
  • bulk up
  • eat it up[, yum]

... and plenty more that I can't think of at the moment. It seems clear that there's a difference in what up means in these two sets of examples.

Anyway, I found a couple of examples recently that suggest that the up particle is still going strong in producing new phrasal verbs.

The first case was at work, where we were having a little discussion about programmer jargon. (If you're not a programmer, just bear with me here a minute.) In one of our programming languages (C#), you create a new ... uh ... thing using the new keyword. (t = new Timer, for example). In another of our languages (VB), a similar function is accomlished with the keyword dim (which originally meant dimension).

Blah, blah. This is background for noting that it's pretty common programmer talk to say something like "Well, you new up an instance of the timer ..." or "You dim up a timer" or the like. My sharp-eared colleague David was recently at a lecture where the speaker was talking about some clever stuff that was going on behind the scenes when you program. The speaker's exact words were: "We essentially magic this class up for you."

Nice, eh? To magic as a transitive verb, and a new phrasal verb to boot. How flexible she is, the English! The up particle in these cases -- new up, dim up, magic up -- seems to be in the spirit of the first examples (work up, rustle up), adding a connotation (or even denotation) of creation. Interestingly, sometimes the up particle is optional (new, dim), other times not (work, rustle, magic).

Ok, so that's one. Onward. I was reading a column in the Seattle Times where the author was writing about a local pastor who is known for preaching that men's masculinity is threatened. This was the line that interested me:

The gist: Many men have become female appeasers who need to, well, man up.

To man up = to become more masculine. This use of up is related to the second examples (toughen up, bulk up, ?eat up). These verbs are intransitive (or can be). I'm not convinced that eat up belongs in the same category, unless the common thread is one of, dunno, completeness. To eat up means to finish eating something. Up is optional in toughen up; is it in to bulk up? Do they both suggest a kind of completeness, or perhaps a degree?

I confuse myself easily with these speculations. I could, of course, go look it up; I'm sure these are well-understood usages. My point, really, was just to note that I'd stumbled onto these novel usages of up, which I've now ... wait for it ... written up.

Update 14 Aug 2007: Here's one courtesy of our friends at the Language Log: "[y]ou can google up many other variants."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is that a word? It is now.

The perennial if wrongheaded question "Is that even a word?" implies that there is some sort of club with highly selective entrance criteria that certainly does not admit the lexical hoi polloi that like to pretend they have wordical membership. Erin McKean, who's an editor at the New American Oxford Dictionary, has, I think, the last word (haha) on that:

Lots of people (and by "lots" I mean roughly 99% of everyone I've ever spoken to) believe that the dictionary is a Who's Who of words. That it's like Ivy League college admissions. That only the really good words, the ones that have eaten all their spinach and who play the oboe and who get high scores on the SAT, make it into the dictionary. That the words that make it into the dictionary are somehow "realler" than the words that don't.
Some people have the idea that if a word isn't in the dictionary, they can't use it. This is not a rule any lexicographer ever came up with (think about it — if this were true, we'd all be out of jobs right quick) and luckily not a rule that most people follow. If a word you want to use isn't in the dictionary (and you're sure you haven't just misspelled it — hey, don't worry, it happens to everyone), go ahead and use it! That's the best way to get it in the next edition, and then everyone's happy.(1)
So. This thought forced onto you as a prelude to noting that the Oxford Univeristy Press people have recently announced their "Word of the Year," which this time goes to the term (as opposed to word) carbon neutral. Perhaps this term got a boost from its political timeliness, whatever. I found some of the runners-up more interesting:

funner as a comparative for fun. Now there's a term that earn endless opprobrium.

Islamofascism, another terribly timely term, which is partly interesting because it reflects the continuing widespread use of the term fascism among people who, I suspect, could not define it to save their lives.

pregaming, another lovely use of the flexible pre- suffix.

There you have it folks -- words in the dictionary, all legal-like. What could be funner?

PS Among the comments, one person suggests the term pre-mortem, used (possibly in a new metaphorical way -- see Webster's) by Glenn Reynolds for his gloomy predictions about the recent "thumping" the GOP got, to quote our president. (Which reminds me also the pre-buttal tactic that emerged a few years back, and which has made it to Webster's.)

(1) For those who've , ahem, seen this before, apologies for the double posting.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Noah's Mark

The New Yorker has an article this week on Noah Webster's quest to create a dictionary of American English. A noteworthy aspect of the article is the description of the vitriol that Webster and other, similar champions of American English encountered in the teeth of snobbishness and conservatism. Small example:
"A disgusting collection" of idiotic words coined by "presumptuous ignorance," one critic wrote, referring to Americanisms like "wigwam," "rateability," "caucus," and "lengthy" (lengthy? what's next, "strenghty?"). "The Columbian Dictionary," as he saw it, was nothing more than "a record of our imbecility."
I wrote up some excerpts from the article on my other blog, and rather than repeat them here, I'll just link to that. But you can comment here if you want!

Monday, October 30, 2006

A niche of millions

Clay Shirky, Web and computer industry pundit, flexes some neologistical chops:

I define a meganiche as a thin slice of the Web that nonetheless represents roughly a million users. The meganiche is something new, and it will have a lasting impact on online business and culture.

This would appear to be an oxymoronic concept, but I predict this one will stay, if perhaps not with as much currency as terms like the long tail. Shirky's example is a forum devoted to cell phones that gets 250 million page views a year for topics as obscure as modding the firmware in a cell phone, etc.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Irony and evolvery

On polyglot conspiracy, Lauren observes:

I think the shift to talking about internets rather than The Internet might actually be happening. A couple years after Bush called it the internets, we all laughed, and it became a kind of joke to pluralize: the internets, internets, interwebs. But then just this week [...]


I’d be interested in hearing whether people notice usage of internets in a not-tongue-in-cheek way, or if this still seems to call attention to itself as an ironic formulation.

What do we think?

Elsewhere in the Ist-a-verse

Here'a blog post (note their clever title, which I lift wholesale) that I can practically just to link to and say "Look, English on the march." The city blog Seattlest, which comments wryly on the goings-on-about-town[1] (town here being Seattle, I prolly should not need to add), does a nice roundup of similarly themed blogs from other metropolises, linking to the following:

Austinist, Torontoist, DCist, Parisist, Phillyist, Londonist, Chicagoist, LAist, Gothamist, Bostonist, SFist, and Sampaist.

Although I don't think it's really needed, I'll provide some thin value-add for y'all, to wit:

  • What's the exact semantic of -ist? Perusing the menu of meanings offered by AHD, we might select:
    2. A specialist in a specified art, science, or skill: biologist.
    The art, science, or skill here being "place where I reside," I guess. Or maybe:
    4. One that is characterized by a specified trait or quality: romanticist.
    Wherein the respective authors are characterized by their place of residence. Hmm.
  • Of the blogs in the ist-a-verse, only Seattle's ends in -est; the others all in -ist. What's the rule here? Is it phonological? (Doesn't seem like it.) An orthographical thing? (Maybe Seattlist looks too much like a site you could browse for used tools, jobs, and alternative mating options.)
  • Pronunciation would not appear to be the primary focus of at least one of these. How would you say SFist, anyway?
  • And hey, how about that ist-a-verse term, anyway? A bonus neologism that exercises the -verse morpheme for us.

Should I have named this blog EvolvingEnglishist?

[Update 7 Nov 2006 I emailed the folks at to ask them whence their name. Turns out that the names and were already taken. Dan Gonsiorowski told me of Seattlest "Whatever, we love it. We're the est of the ists." There you go: mostly a commercial issue, only incidentally a linguistic one. Probably not the first time that's happened, eh?

[1] Or as your mother-in-laws and those attorney-generals might say, the going-on-about-towns, haha.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

developing -ability

Surely a very productive suffix we can slap willy-nilly onto things is -ability. In one of our older topics from work, we talked about (and I quote) availability, manageability, reliability, scalability, and secureability.[1] In its days as a draft, the topic was referred to as the "-abilities topic," as in "Hey, who's writing the -abilities topic?"

Our company style guide (elsewhere mentioned in this post) makes a point of saying that words with the -able suffix (hence the -ability suffix) "take their meaning from the passive sense of the stem verb from which they are formed." Their example is forgettable (forgettability), which they define as "susceptible to, capable of, or worthy of being forgotten," to which they carefully add "... not of forgetting."

Their counterexample is bootable (bootability), which is proscribed because it does not carry this passive sense. Thus a bootable disk is not a disk that's "suspectible to or capable of being booted"; nah, it's a disk that is "capable of booting." So, like, verboten. Welp, Google gets 196,000 hits for bootable disk, including (paging Alanis Morissette!) articles on the Microsoft Web site.

Nonetheless, the definition of -able/-ability is, I think, generally true (the -abilities topic confirms). At least, in my nearly minute of trolling for examples, I find none that obviously do not conform, except the damnable bootability of that disk. (Although: would you say that a particular brand of paint has great paintability or that the surface to which it is applied has that paintability? Hmmm, probably both, depending on what you mean.)

I am thinking about all of this today because I ran across a blog post discussing ... well, I'll just quote and you can see:

When you're designing for Users, you do a usability study. When you're designing for Developers, you need do a a developability study.

This conforms to the definition just fine. I was pretty sure this was a singleton, a one-off coined by the blog author, but nope, you can find several thousand uses already. Moreover, although Random House does not give the word its own entry, it lists it without comment at the bottom of the definition for develop. The OED has no cite for developability, but does have several for developable, starting in 1816.

I don't have the tools for this, but it would be interesting to see whether use of -ability has increased over time; my instincts say yes, but without the numbers, that remains a hunch. But I do opine with some confidence that -ability is a productive suffix that, as I noted at the beginning, we can probably add to many (transitive-ish?) verbs (a song with excellent singability, a program with promising podcastability). Which is to say, you are free to develop your own -abilities.

[1] A source of common discussion is whether to include or drop the -e- in words like manageability. Our company style guide says that you keep the -e- after -ce or -ge (manageability), drop it after -e (scalability). Obviously, this is purely orthography and has nothing to do with the ability to whack the suffix onto a word. Which would be the suffixability of the, um, suffix.

I created this entry with Windows Live Writer!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Didst troubleshoot

One of our folks here sent around a query asking "What's the past of troubleshoot?" That's one of those "No, wait ..." questions. Whichever past you initially come up with -- troubleshot, troubleshooted -- you do a mental double take, because neither of them sounds right. AHD declares troubleshot, not surprisingly, but when's the last time you ever heard someone say that? Confusion seems to be common; a Googlefight reports about a 3:8 ration for troubleshooted:troubleshot. At least 37% of speakers are willing to actually write the former.

There's undoubtedly a name for this phenomenon, and if there isn't, the Language Log folks can come up with one in a jiffy. What's happening is that a word with an uncontroversial past tense (verbs) or plural (nouns) is used in a new context. The new context can be a new definition (e.g. a computer mouse) or with some sort of morphological twist (trouble+shoot). The new context is just sufficiently different to cause speakers to think of the word as new, or at least, to not intuitively connect it to its related form.

Some examples that I've noted here before (I think):

  • Plural of (computer) mouse: mice or mouses? Contemplated at leisure, it's easy to be confident that you know. But there is that "No, wait ..." factor, and Google lists nearly 2 million hits for mouses.
  • In baseball, today a hitter flies out; yesterday he flied out.
  • The past of cast is cast, but the past of podcast and broadcast is very often -casted.
There are many more, not that I can think of any.

Update 10/17/06: Saw the past of to cheerlead in the New Yorker recently: they cheerlead. Again, correct per the stem, but still a "No, wait ..." moment.

This phenomenon really only occurs when the original word has some sort of irregularity to it -- for example, the past of shoot is shot (irregular), not shooted (regular). But in the new context, folks apply the rules for formation of new words, which are overwhelmingly to use regular inflections and declensions and conjugations. New nouns are pluralized by adding -(e)s -- whatever your classics teacher might have told you, the common plural in English of octopus is octopuses. New verbs form the past tense with -d/-ed -- if we make up a new verb to bim, its past tense is going to be bimmed.[1] (A form of not particularly hilarious humor is to apply faux irregular rules to regular verbs, e.g., squeeze-squoze, think-thunk, bring-brang, status-stati, etc.)[2]

There is a certain, mmm, class of people who look down on this type of formation, but I don't see any particular reason why that should be. When little kids do it, we think it's cute, although the more appropriate sentiment might be astonishment at how quickly and thoroughly small children deduce morphological rules. And anyway, did you have a "No, wait ..." moment when you thought about troubleshoot? All right, then.

[1] A pattern that can throw people is a verb whose root contains -ing, like ring, sing, or fling. Make up a verb with -ing (e.g., fring), and a certain number of people will intuitvely use the irregular past. See Pinker in Rules and Words (or equivalent).

[2] A few times these forms have scrabbled their way into acceptance, the commonly cited example always being snuck in place of the (nominally) historically correct sneaked. Also: quit (vs. quitted), knelt (vs. kneeled), drug (vs. dragged).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Sucks rocks

Seth Stevenson expounds in Slate on the de-vulgarization of suck (as also mentioned earlier here):

Sucks is here to stay. And what's more, it deserves its place in our lexicon, for a couple of reasons. First, it's impossible to intelligently maintain that sucks is still offensive. The word is now completely divorced from any past reference it may have made to a certain sex act. When I tell you that the new M. Night Shyamalan movie sucks (and man, does it suck), my mind in no way conjures up an image of a film reel somehow fellating an unnamed beneficiary.

And he makes this observation, which (who knows?) might end up applying to to pimp:
And take heart, sucks-haters. Soon enough, another bit of slang will come along and gain entrance into our common language, and it will be vastly more offensive than sucks ever was.
Via Nicole Stockdale.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Trying to suss this one out

The NPR blog notes something I hadn't heard before, namely using the term effort as a verb. Their (possibly invented) cite: We're efforting to get an interview with the president of Kazakhstan.

I'm clearly out of the loop on this one, because it's been the topic of various discussions (or so Google tells me) for at least a little while. Predictably, the usual suspects are apoplectic about the word. I found a nice comment in a forum discussion, though: I love this kind of stuff, and i'm not even a native speaker . Lovely proof that English is not a dead language!!!

Not that anyone had recently suggested as such, as far as I know.

This Web page helpfully posits a definition: ... 'efforting.'; By this he meant the act of putting your attention on a goal or target result while you are in the act of doing something. (I didn't say it was a good definition.)

Anyway, the famous Google currently reports 23,300 hits for efforting, the clearest use of the term as a verb, imo.

I must admit that I'm a little puzzled by this one. Normally when you encounter a new term, whatever your opinion of it, you can at least get a sense of where it came from. This one, less so. In fact, even I (gasp!) find the term a little awkward, perhaps even forced. It seems more, haha, effortful to use the term than its more common analogs. And, like ... what's the past tense? We efforted mightly, but did not succeed -- ? Seems a little odd.

But we'll see. [Insert closing sentence here that uses the term in question.]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Look this one up on the Web

In the news today: M-W has added google to its dictionary as a generic verb. Along with new terms like biodiesel, ringtone, spyware, text messaging, and others.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lavishly decorate my workspace

The general culture of our particular workplace is, mmm, perhaps more youth-oriented than some. (Boeing, say, or Safeco Insurance.) When we came into work the other morning, the place was festooned with posters for a new campaign designed to get internal people interested in Windows Live Messenger. The campaign is titled "Pimp your Office", and the idea is that you take a picture of your sorry office and upload it to a shared folder on WLM. Then people go have a gander and vote. Result: traffic. (I guess.) The winner has their* office "pimped" with stuff like a couch and big plasma monitor

Well. It didn't take particularly long for HR to get sucked into a controversy about the term pimp. Official dictionary definitions were bandied about and various people professed to be mortally offended.

Google currently gets 2.6 million hits for the phrase pimp your, although that might be false, since I think they don't actually index your. Certainly the first several pages of search results contain the phrase pimp your ... or pimp my ...". This includes the site ("Pimp your Mac Mini"), and there are pages that will help your "pimp your blog," "pimp your Web page," and "pimp your MySpace." There's a page with a post titled "Pimp Your Tech Writer." (FWIW, the way I read that post, they're not using the term as I understand it.)

When does a term that's current in youth culture become widely acceptable? Some older people cringe whenever they hear the term sucks, as in This music sucks. The word suck has become a mainstream, if very informal, term. (There once was an irreverant magazine, I guess you'd call it, at I wonder what reaction we'd get from people who are objecting to pimp your office if there were a poster that said something like Does your office suck? And what about that classic Johnny Paycheck song "Take this job and shove it"?

Update I am reminded of some other terms that are in common (informal) use but that have nominally vulgar origins: snafu; fubar; that blows (synonymous with that sucks); putz; schmuck; the various forms of WTF (discussed here before); ballsy. Prolly plenty more.

For anything we do on our team (technical documentation), pimp is still on the "forbidden terminology" list, along with a truly impressive variety of Anglo-Saxon terms. I don't know whether the marketing folks have to adhere to the same rules. In this case, it's quite likely the hipness overruled that list, assuming it even occurred to the poster's producers that they had a controversy on their hands.

* Used deliberately. No grief, please; if you think that their cannot refer to singular antecedents, you are wrong, sorry.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Next: Opinionation

I learn second (or some subsequent) hand that George Bush recently said "all the sharp elbows being thrown and the people opinionating and screaming and hollering." Pundits debate. Jan Freeman at the Boston Globe asks "Is it legit?" In response to her own question, she says:
And 400 years ago, opinionate was standard English, though writers in need of a verb meaning "believe, express an opinion about" could also choose opine or opinion. "Pythagoras opinionated [the soul] a Number moving of it selfe," says a 1643 tract cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. Opine has since pulled far ahead in the popularity contest, but that doesn't mean opinionate is dead.
Well, whew for that. I thought for a moment there that we might have an illegitimate verb, and that would mean that ... uh ... well ... Well, someone's going to have to tell the President.

This kind of thing has a tendency to annoy those in the "we already have a word for that" school, which would hold that ipso facto the new word is illegitimate. As Freeman notes, the already-have word is opine. However, she comes to the defense of the "new" word by noting that it has a subtle distinction from opine; she notes the analogy of the subtle distinction between comment (what you and I do) and commentate (what people do who are paid to comment).

But words don't need to be justified by the lexirati to be "legit." Whether opinionate means exactly the same thing as opine or not, it's out there. One thing that Freeman does not mention is that opine is a stuffy word and probably not used much by ordinary speakers. And why should it be? The relationship between opinion and opine is hardly obvious, certainly nowhere near as obvious as the relationship between opinion and opinionate. It's not inconceivable that opinionate could even replace opine someday, and the latter could come to be seen as an archaic term. (Current Google count for opine: 5.2 million; for opinionate, a paltry 48,000.)

Extending nouns to verb them is a common enough occurence; we recently saw executionalize. And although the -ate suffix seems to really bug some people, it's a, you know, legitimate way to form new verbs. (hyphenate, disambiguate, etc.) When I was in the U.K., I picked up to orientate as a pretty common variant on to orient. I use it now and then, mostly for my own amusement, seeing as how it often gets a rise out of people. I did that the other day, and sure enough someone cringed. I could not convince them that it was a common usage in Britain.

Paul Niquette devotes a page to the topic of orient and orientate and, as he says, "marked the beginning of a personal effort to identify every potential 'misguided back-formation' -- verbs that might have been derived from English nouns ending in '-ation'..." And boy howdy, he does come up with quite a list: adaptate, administrate, admirate, adorate, ...

For laffs, we could ponder -- that is, we could opine -- on what other new verbs we might see some day:

evaluationate (Heh, wouldn't that be hilarious?)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Nature calls

JimP sent me an email today with the title "Microspeak?" and this content:

biobreak. In a long and ongoing meeting, an agreed upon break so people can, um, meet their biological needs in a timely manner.

This is a word I hadn't heard until recently, and now it seems ubiquitous. I wonder how far out of Redmond it has traveled.

Pretty far, it seems. The more common variant is bio break (two words, or bio-break with hyphen), for which Google lists 16,700 hits right now; another 925 for the biobreak variant. Examples:

  • The site has a definition and includes this note: "Although its use originated in the tech world, this bit of jargon is now used in business meetings in many industries and even appears on published conference schedules."

  • And indded, a Canadian site with a meeting agenda shows "There will be a Biobreak: [Depending on good behaviour and desperation]".

  • There's even a definition in French: "Terme employé par les netsurfers pour indiquer qu'ils doivent satisfaire des besoins naturels, et donc s'éloigner de leur clavier."

This is an example of a word that seems useful, if for no other reason that it's a very neutral term for something that we (in the U.S., anyway) are always a wee bit uncomfortable in saying. (What are the current terms? Bathroom break. Potty break. It's like we're little kids. :-) ) And anyway, as noted in the definition, biobreak covers a wider spectrum of, um, needs, including hydrating and fueling.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gaming -gami

I'm in a bit of rush today -- about to change continents -- but did want to throw down a "let it be known" post on yet another cran-morph bustin' out all over. (Warning: All views in this post subject to the Recency Illusion.)

Today's morpheme: -gami. As I say, hurry today, but two examples:
  • Microsoft's new ultra-mobile computer had the working name Origami, at least, until the marketing people got hold of it and christened it ... the Ultra-Mobile PC.1
  • Aaron Swartz is in the process of starting a company named Infogami. The company aims to make setting up a Web site very, very simple.

MS's use is just recasting an ordinary noun as a name. Swartz actually takes the step of decomposing the term. So what's the common semantic, I wonder? Small? Folding? Make cool things out of simple materials? I can't quite pull the instances together.


1 If my eyes do not deceive me -- but it's early -- the Microsoft page is the 2nd hit on Google for "origami," yet the word is not visible on the page itself. (Presumably in the page for the likes of Google to find.) A good example of making sure people can find your info using the term that they know.

I see also that MS is feeding its successful (?) viral marketing campaign with a faux-independent Web site, wherein the class of thing that Origami is is referred to as UMPC. Looks odd as yet.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why Wi-Fi?

This was news to me, and I am sad to say that I had not even thought much about it. The word Wi-Fi ... where did it come from?

Back in November, BoingBoing published a little piece by Cory Doctorow in which he in turn quotes one Phil Belanger:

Wi-Fi doesn't stand for anything.

It is not an acronym. There is no meaning.

Wi-Fi and the ying yang style logo were invented by Interbrand. We (the founding members of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, now called the Wi-Fi Alliance) hired Interbrand to come up with the name and logo that we could use for our interoperability seal and marketing efforts. We needed something that was a little catchier than "IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence".


The only reason that you hear anything about "Wireless Fidelity" is some of my colleagues in the group were afraid. They didn't understand branding or marketing. hey could not imagine using the name "Wi-Fi" without having some sort of literal explanation. So we compromised and agreed to include the tag line "The Standard for Wireless Fidelity" along with the name. This was a mistake and only served to confuse people and dilute the brand.

This is a little weird, isn't it? A word that's in common use today was invented as a brand name. Of course, that's nothing new: (insert long list here of one-time name brands). FWIW, it's interesting how quickly Wi-Fi took off.

Quiz: what does the term Wi-Fi actually mean? Extra points for providing both a formal and informal definition. (Hint: try Wikipedia.)

Anyway, the kinda weird part is that it came complete with a kind of back-etymology that, if one is to believe the quotation, was entirely invented. Based on a pun.

Doctorow has an earlier post in which he first noted this story, and got, uh, many comments contesting his assertion. Glenn Fleishman, a guy with some authority in this field (I guess), makes the following observation. (I am not a lawyer; please do not take the following as legal advice. Haha.)
Wi-Fi is a trademark and thus can't mean anything that's not arbitrary in the realm in which the trademark is coined. Wi-Fi had to have no prior meaning, so it's de facto meaningless.
The phrase "wireless fidelity" comes in at about a million hits on Google at the moment, so clearly the pseudo-etymology took hold. The people who invented the term certainly can't complain that others mistakenly believe the etymology they invented, although they do seem to be doing just that. Someone notes in one of these posts that at least part of the reason for the pseudo-etymology was "when they started getting barraged by writers whose editors demanded that all acronyms must be spelled out." Heh. Been there. As regards that, I liked Doctorow's comment: even if Wi-Fi stood for wireless fidelity, what would it help you to know that? Excellent point. Been there, too.

We now return to our regular programming.

(All of this orginally via Raymond Chen.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Mash up and out

Another rising-with-a-star term these days is mash-up or mashup, which refers to combining media to create something new. The term is common in the world of music, where it seems to be an extension of sampling. Urban Dictionary sez:
1. mash-up

A remix made by taking two different songs, usually by 2 seperate artists, and combining them into one.

Closer in da club (Nine Inch Nails: Closer, combined with 50 cents Up in da club)

I've seen it in software to describe combining services from two sources to create a new thing. A typical software mash-up is to use Google maps with something else to produce maps that pinpoint something. For example, lets you click an icon on a Google map for information about the housing market in the area you click. Or this :
Mashing Up Google Maps with Wikipedia Articles

Google Maps, now integrated with Google Local, offers a lot of information about local merchants, but these detailed results typically don't include "overview" information about locations. Wikipedia, by contrast, has great general-information articles about thousands of places throughout the world.

A new service called Placeopedia maps geographic locations in Wikipedia articles onto Google Maps. It's a great feature that bolsters both services.
(Another time we'll tackle the -pedia suffix.)

So, nothing new here with mash-up per se. Paul McFedries finds a cite (in the musical sense) from 1999.

Today, though, I found an instance (new in my experience) of using mash up in a more generic, non-media sense:
Sundaresan was a student of Milos Konapasik (I might have the spelling wrong) who taught textiles at Georgia Tech and worked at Software Arts to create TK!Solver because of the need to solve complex equations. With all the attention focused on glitzy bio stuff it's good to remember that there are other cross-disciplinary opportunities such as mashing up textiles and computing.
I poked around a little to see if I could find other such uses, but the majority of uses (all I could find, anyway), were referring to either music or computer services. So maybe this is a term starting to break away from its original, somewhat specific meaning.

Friday, March 10, 2006


I was in a meeting recently and heard this sentence, which I quickly wrote down:
How do we executionalize that?
I passed this around to my colleagues, one of whom made the comment "Dang, someone's been to Suffix Mart." (Someone else said "cruelly and unusually, of course.")

I suspect this was a slip of the tongue, although even there, it has the form of grammatical correctness, i.e., it's still following rules for verbing. I can kind of see how we get there. At work, a phrase that's popular is execute crisply, as in We need to execute crisply on that. To accomplish that task, you need crisp execution. If you want crisp execution, you need to executionalize crisply. See how that works?

I'm sure there are other examples of verbs (I can't think of any at the moment, but I'm just sure, ok?) that follow the development pattern of verb -> nouned verb -> re-verbed noun in new form. If you can think of any, by all means, drop a comment.

Update 3/24/06 I heard the same person use this term again today. So it's not just a slip of the tongue. Google: zero hits, except as noted on this blog.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More cast-ery

Broadcast + iPod = podcast. (See also: podfade.)

Today (well, recently), buzzcast. What does it mean? How does it differ from podcast? Michael Lehman explains the term:

Part of my "day" job at Microsoft is to be a "professional" podcaster. I started the first podcast show on the Channel9 ( website last June and now I'm about to start a new of new shows. The first new show is a rebirth of the podcast show I called the "buzzcast" which was a countdown to a Microsoft event. The original buzzcast was to talk about the Microsoft Professional Developer's conference. The new buzzcast is leading up to the Mix06 show ( scheduled for March 20th in Las Vegas.

Google today: 18,300 hits.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


A follow-up to the earlier post about anachronistic terms like telegraph. It occurred to me that another somewhat linguistically oriented fallout from the days of the telegraph, as suggested by the definition of telegraphic, is the style in which telegraphs came to be written. Telegraphs were charged by the word, so brevity became the goal, with some cleverness in reducing word count. A page on the history of the telegraph describes telegraphic language this way:
Most telegraph companies charged by the word, so customers had good reason to be as brief as possible. This gave telegram prose a snappy, brisk style, and the frequent omission of pronouns and articles often became almost poetically ambiguous. Telegrams were almost always brief, pointed, and momentous in a way unmatched by any other form of communication.
(For the curious, this page from the Irish Telegraph Office details the very exacting way in which chargeable words were calculated.[1])

This page has an improbable story that nonetheless illustrates telegraphic style:
I recently heard an account of a foreign correspondent for the BBC in the heyday of telegraphy. After long silence from the reporter, the BBC wired him to ask: NEWS? The reporter wired back: UNNEWS. The BBC, seeing no point in paying him if he wasn't working, retorted: UNNEWS, UNJOB. To which the reporter replied: UPSTICK JOB ASSWARD. (I've also heard that last line attributed to a telegram from Hemingway; I assume it's apocryphal. But it makes a good story.)
I found online a booklet from 1928 titled "How To Write Telegrams Properly" that provides the following guidelines for reducing word count. (As an aside, I find it amusing to contemplate the difference in style for how this same information would be presented today.)
Naturally, there is a right way and a wrong way of wording telegrams. The right way is economical, the wrong way, wasteful. If the telegram is packed full of unnecessary words, words which might be omitted without impairing the sense of the message, the sender has been guilty of economic waste. Not only has he failed to add anything to his message, but he has slowed it up by increasing the time necessary to transmit it. He added to the volume of traffic from a personal and financial point of view, he has been wasteful because he has spent more for his telegram than was necessary. In the other extreme, he may have omitted words necessary to the sense, thus sacrificing clearness in his eagerness to save a few cents.

A man high in American business life has been quoted as remarking that elimination of the word "please" from all telegrams would save the American public millions of dollars annually. Despite this apparent endorsement of such procedure, however, it is unlikely that the public will lightly relinquish the use of this really valuable word. "Please" is to the language of social and business intercourse what art and music are to everyday, humdrum existence. Fortunes might be saved by discounting the manufacture of musical instruments and by closing the art galleries, but no one thinks of suggesting such a procedure. By all means let us retain the word "please" in our telegraphic correspondence.
Another aspect of telegraphic language was that punctuation might be written out, leading to a style of message like SEND MONEY STOP . Older people who see that might immediately recognize it as telegraph-like, but I suppose younger generations would not know the genesis of this odd style. The booklet also addresses itself to the punctuation thing:
This word "stop" may have perplexed you the first time you encountered it in a message. Use of this word in telegraphic communications was greatly increased during the World War, when the Government employed it widely as a precaution against having messages garbled or misunderstood, as a result of the misplacement or emission of the tiny dot or period.

Officials felt that the vital orders of the Government must be definite and clear cut, and they therefore used not only the word "stop," to indicate a period, but also adopted the practice of spelling out "comma," "colon," and "semi-colon." The word "query" often was used to indicate a question mark. Of all these, however, "stop" has come into most widespread use, and vaudeville artists and columnists have employed it with humorous effect, certain that the public would understand the allusion in connection with telegrams. It is interesting to note, too, that although the word is obviously English it has come into general use In all languages that are used in telegraphing or cabling.
What does all of this remind us of? Texting of course, whose highly reduced orthography shares a couple of features with classic telegraphic style. One is the desire to keep things short (though not so much because of per-word charges as because of the limited UI). But the more important motivation is speed of entry, given -- hey, just like telegraphs! -- comparatively primitive means of creating text. (It's amusing to contemplate the picture of a telegraph operator keying out a message while driving down the freeway.)

And on a more thematically appropriate topic (for this blog), I am also very pleased to find a note that illustrates that the objections to evolving English have been with us always:
The word “telegram” was coined in 1852, when it first appeared in the Albany Evening Journal of April 6th. E. P. Smith, of Rochester, New York, wrote the following letter to the newspaper: “A friend desires us to give notice that he will ask leave … to introduce a new word…. It is telegram instead of telegraphic dispatch, or telegraphic communication.” Pedantic scholars opposed this horrible new word at first. To use proper Greek, the word should have been telegrapheme. But Americans preferred the catchier sound of telegram, and within a few years the new term had become standard.

[1]A (sort of non-PC, sorry) joke I found about word counts:

A young woman had a boy, and of course, there was great rejoicing. The husband wanted to send a telegram to his mother. So he took a piece of paper and wrote down, "Fanetshka happily delivered son."

He showed the telegram to the wife's father, who took a look and said, "Well, you aren't a businessman. Telegrams need to be short. Just take a look at all the unnecessary words you've got here.

First, Fanetshka. What do you mean, Fanetshka? Obviously, Fanetshka. Would you go and send telegrams about women you don't know?

Second, happily. How else? Not happily? If there had been (God forbid!) any danger, would you be running and sending a telegram?

And further, delivered? What else? The kid dropped out of the sky?

And again, why bother writing 'son'? Of course, if you're happy enough to send a telegram, it's a son. If it had been a daughter, you wouldn't be sending a telegram."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Super-exciting verbing!

My colleague David sent around a comment on one of the many breathless announcements we get at work. I'll just quote the text and his comments.

Here's an excerpt:
Several beta programs for XXXX are already underway and we are making great progress, but we still need your help to customer-ready these services. [...] If you're already dogfooding some of our services – thank you. If not, we need your help [...] Below you’ll find more details on each of the betas you can trial [...]

Here's David:
Obviously, dogfooding is old hat. But I've never seen customer-ready as a verb! Though if it said "to ready these services for customers" or something like that, I wouldn't have noticed. A noun stack converted to verb! And then, the tour de force: trial as a transitive verb! Cool. I'm super excited to cutting-edge these locutions!

Update After our initial super-excitement! had died down a little, David and I chatted about this. As with most things linguistic, these locutions are not random and do not come out of thin air. (Right, they come out of thick air.) We noted, for example, that to ready is an established verb, so to customer-ready isn't perhaps as much of a stretch as it might seem on first hearing. And we poked a little bit at what possible subtle differences in coloration might obtain between to trial and (for example) to test. We agreed that testing is a somewhat generic verb, whereas trial has a slight connotation of to try out -- we do not, for instance, buy shampoo in "test-size" bottles. So there is some difference there, which the author(s) were apparently trying to capture.

We also noted that this type of unabashed repurposing of words is for the most part not done by those of us who think about every (well, many of the) words we write. "That can't be right!" is probably not a thought that the author of the announcement entertained when writing the verbs in question. David pointed out that the announcement was, unusually, correct in every other way -- grammar, punctuation, verb agreement, and many of the other niceties that are often considered secondary to the many! exciting! things! that the announcements have to say. So clearly the text had been reviewed, or at least, put together by someone who is not inexperienced in basic English writing skills.

Another Update (2/15/06) Saul forwarded an email from Comcast that announced "Comcast would like to invite you to trial a Beta version of one of our latest communication products, Comcast Video Instant Messenger." It's a trend!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Open the pod word doors, please, Hal

Briefest post yet, another cranalysis, tee-hee:

iPod -> podcast -> podfade (to stop podcasting)
                -> ?
                -> ?

(I now have it on good authority (Benjamin Zimmer, also Yaron) that Google doesn't do stem searches, so searching for pod* won't get me other such variants. Hence readers are invited to submit examples.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Telegraphing the end (cc me on that)

An article in notes that Western Union has discontinued its telegram service. A fellow editor (JimP) and I were musing on vocabulary that is based in outmoded technologies. In this instance, there are at least a couple of words:
  • to telegraph (AHD: To make known (a feeling or an attitude, for example) by nonverbal means: telegraphed her derision with a smirk ). Also, as Jim added, "to reveal one's intentions without meaning to (a boxer who telegraphs his punches, f'rinstance). "
  • telegraphic (AHD: Brief or concise: a telegraphic style of writing. )
Jim had earlier sent me some terms he'd encountered while working with telephone-related software. He noted that the following phone-ish terms, while still in use, had essentially lost their literal sense:
  • On the hook, off the hook
  • Hang up
  • And as he said, "Really, even dial tone."
To which I add that to dial itself is a term that references obsolete technology.

Some time back, I'd been writing about software used to send emails (that is, "e-mail messages"). The two terms cc and bcc are still in wide use -- I can see them in Outlook 2003 right now. But how many people these days have ever held in their hands the "carbon" part of "carbon copy"? Only us old folks.

I would be surprised if there isn't a term for this kind of anachronism; the phenomenon happens all the time, and not just in high-tech. It's slightly odd, though, to watch it happen within one's adult life.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Dang. Oh.

My friend Le'a spotted a billboard for a Web site called She says: "Is this -palooza, part deux? Apparently."

We rely primarily on speculation rather than research here at (to borrow from Geoff Pullum) Evolving English Plaza, so we'll speculate, encouraged by our field agent, that the novel jobdango is "inspired by" (as they say about movies) the heavily adverstised Web site

Teasing out the semantics of the morphological reparsing is kind of interesting. Assuming for the moment that our speculation is correct, they're breaking -dango out of Fandango. To spell it out maybe more than needed, there is no basis for this (AFAIK); fandango was imported as a unit from Spanish. (The etymology suggests that in Spanish it's a borrowing from Portuguese.) So our assumption is that there is no etymologically valid way in English in which the -dango portion has a meaning of its own.

So that's the fun part. They've broken off -dango and used it to mean, I am guessing, something like "place where you get something":

Fandango = place where you get movie tickets
Jobdango = place where you get jobs

The flaw in this theory is that Fan- doesn't map cleanly to "movie tickets." But who says that the -logy part of etymology has to mean "logic"? Not I.

I did some searching on Google, but did not find too many more examples. The closest I could come in about 12 pages of search results was an eBay auction for a product named "flame-dango," an airbrush template with a flame pattern on it.

There are some instances of a kind of missing-link spelling fan-dango, but most of those just seem to be variations on fandango. One possible exception is what looks like an effort to pry apart fan- and -dango -- in this case a review of tourist destinations that uses the phrase "Plan a FAN-dango", which is about visiting a shop that sells ... fans.

So it's possible that Le'a has spotted a very early -- perhaps the earliest? -- example of the attempt to generalize -dango. Let's see what happens.

Update 30 Jan 06 Benjamin Zimmer expands in a Language Log entry on both -dango and on "cran-morphing," a name for breaking off these word chunks for later reuse. (He also shows that he's got way better Googlechops than me, oops.)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Passed tenses

Some short follow-up notes to a previous entry about simplified verbal structures in English. First, I was reading an article in the New Yorker ("Liquid Assets: The Social Life of Beverages," Aug 1, 2005) where the article's author quoted Pepys. The author was interested in Pepys's views on beverages (interesting enough), but I was struck also by the use of verbs. Here's one:
... with Sir W. Batten and [Sir] J. Minnes to St. James's, and stopt at Temple Bar for Sir J. Minnes to go into the Devil's Taverne to shit, he having drunk whey, and his belly wrought. [May 15, 1667]
And here's another:
To the office, where Sir W Batten, Collonel Slingsby, and I sat a while; ... And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before) and went away. [September 25, 1660]
Two constructs requiring a past participle, and he uses two different forms. So clearly confusion about the "correct" participle for various verbs (I presume mostly irregular verbs -- i.e. "strong" verbs) goes back a long way.

Second, over on polyglot conspiracy today, he or she asks as an aside:
... past tense of shrink is shrank, right? Because I saw a NYT article two weeks ago where the headline used “shrank” (as in “Movie audiences shrank this year”), but the lead sentence said “shrunk” (as in “Audiences shrunk this year”). I’m not crazy to think that shrunk sounds bad, right? Despite Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Note: this from a linguistics student. I tell you, verb forms are confusing to everyone, which means they're not set by any means.

Finally, Mr. Pepys reminds me of a somewhat delicate, but nonetheless legitimate question, namely what are the simple past and participle of to shit? The question is whether you know this without looking it up somewhere. FWIW, in German, our cousin language, it's a strong verb, hence ablauts in the past: scheißen, schißen, geschissen.

Now, to quote Mr. Pepys, "And so to bed."