Monday, August 27, 2007

The internet's most hated words?

As mentioned previously, language is always changing and new words are added to a language's vocabulary. However, is there a such thing as adding unnecessary words to a language?

There has been a survey done recently on the most hated words on the internet. Some argue that adding too many of these words will ruin the English language. Here are the top 10 words that made the list:

* Blog
* Blogosphere
* Vlog
* Blook
* Netiquette
* Webinar
* Folksonomy
* Social Networking
* Cookie
* Wiki

Note the large number of blend words (or portmanteau) on the list, it is quite the prevalent method of forming new words.

The word blog itself is an ugly sounding word, with the hard consonants b and g and the unpleasant vowel sound [ɔ]. Blog is pretty much ubiquitous now, the name has stuck, and it's too late to do anything about it. Newspapers are freely using this word without explaining what it is (i.e. it is no longer considered to be technical term).

Blogosphere is a collective term that describes all bloggers. I've heard this term being used by bloggers even though they hate it, simply "'cause there's no other word for it."

Blook seems like a poor choice simply to describe a web-based book. The pronunciation is ambiguous (does it rhyme with look or Luke?) Similarly, a vlog is simply a video blog (why start with the seldom used consonant cluster vl- ?) and there really isn't a need for a special designation.

Netiquette and webinar would be better off using their offline counterparts. Just plain old etiquette and seminar will do, no need for a new word just because it's "online."

Next, folksonomy (a play on taxonomy) is a way of having your site's visitors categorize web based content by themselves. I haven't heard this term used much, by the way. On the other hand, social networking is a term used relatively often to describe myspace-like sites.

Lastly, cookie (in the online sense at least) and wiki may be too technical to be included as new words that would appear in a dictionary.

Monday, August 20, 2007

How languages increase their vocabulary

There are multiple ways that a language can increase its vocabulary, or acquire new words.

1. Derive a word from existing word(s)

This is commonly done by adding prefixes or suffixes to words, or by changing a word's figure of speech.

Example: The prefix cyber-, as in cyberspace.

2. Borrow a word from another language

In the past 100 years, English has accepted words from over 100 languages. English has actually borrowed more words from French during the last century than from any other language. Conversely, the French are not as receptive to borrowing words from English. However, one Americanism, the term OK, is acceptable almost everywhere.

Examples: taco (from Spanish), ciao (from Italian), klutz (from Yiddish)

3. Create an entirely new word

This is quite rare, but in some cases an entirely new word is created which is not based on forming words from another familiar word.

Examples: zap, quark, nerd

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mind your P's and Q's?

Mind Your P's and Q's
What is the origin of the phrase Mind your p's and q's?

1. The letters p and q, with the lowercase letters being a mirror image of each others, were often confused by children learning to write (and also by typesetters).

2. Mind your pints and quarts, as used by bartenders when serving.

3. Mind your please's (P's) and thank you's (the last syllable sounds like Q).

Interesting etymology tidbit: The word peas came from the Latin word pisum, and was adopted into English as pease. Since most nouns take an -s ending for their plural, the s sound was dropped and thus pea became the singular. This is an example of a back-formation.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Types of conversation repairs

In the last post on conversation repairs, we mentioned that there are 4 possible ways to resolve them. Here's an explanation and examples of the 4 kinds of repairs. Keep in mind that conversations that are both self-initiated and self-repaired are the most preferable and least disruptive.

The part of the conversation which initiates the repair will be displayed in red, while the part that resolves the repair will be displayed in blue.

1. Self-initiated and self-repaired

Situations used in:
- correcting yourself
- you can't find the right word, and you find it yourself after a small pause

Example 1:
A: I'm heading off to Sue's-- I mean Mary's house tonight.

Example 2:
A: I need to renew my whatchamacallit-- my prescription today.

2. Other-initiated and self-repaired

Situations used in:
- couldn't hear the speaker clearly
- misunderstanding

Example 3:
A: I'm heading off to vacation next week.
B: What?
A: I said I am going on vacation next week.

Example 4:
Students: We want to [unintelligible speech] the books today!
Teacher: You want to count the books?
Students: No, we want to color the books!

3. Self-initiated and other-repaired

Situations used in:
- you can't find the right word, and someone else fills it in for you

Example 5:
A: I need more storage space on my computer, so I need to get a new umm....
B: A hard drive?
A: Yeah, that's right, a hard drive.

4. Other-initiated and other-repaired

Situations used in:
- you have your facts incorrect and someone else corrected you

Example 6:
A: With the 6% sales tax, that would add quite a bit to the price.
B: The sales tax is actually 7%. *

Example 7:
A: Aren't you glad that today is payday?
B: Payday is actually tomorrow. *

* indicates that the repair has been both initiated and resolved in the same sentence.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Conversation Repairs

When we have to correct ourselves (or others) while speaking, we make a conversation repair.

Repairs can be initiated and resolved by the speakers themselves or another conversationalist. This makes 4 different kinds of conversation repairs, listed from most to least polite:

1. self-initiated and self-repaired
2. other-initiated and self-repaired
3. self-initiated and other-repaired
4. other-initiated and other-repaired

It's pretty obvious that repairs that are initiated and repaired by oneself are more polite than those that are repaired by others. This is because there is an unspoken rule that speakers be given a chance to say what they want to say by themselves.

Conversation repairs happen for a variety of reasons: when we (or someone else) can't find the right word, when we can't hear a speaker clearly, or when we misinterpret an utterance.

The next post will provide examples of the different kinds of converation repairs mentioned above.