Shigetaka Kurita designed the first emoji set that laid the foundation for what is now the world’s fastest-growing form of communication. Kurita’s original 176 designs, which launched in February 1999 for Japanese mobile phones, were weirdly specific, including no fewer than five phases of the moon, three timepieces (watch, clock, sand-timer) and two states of an umbrella (open, closed).
Today, more than 1,800 emojis are in the current set. And emoji are estimated to be used by more than 90% of the world’s online population.
For some, these “brainless little icons” (as Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones described them last year) represent not an adjunct but a regression for our species. Their precursor, hieroglyphics, Jones argues, never produced an Iliad or an Odyssey because, put simply, the written word is infinitely more adaptable. But, for most, emojis offer not a substitute for the written word, but a complement, lending brevity or wit, irony or joy, to a text message.
The people who use emojis are indeed proving detractors wrong, at least regarding the form’s adaptability. For example, denied a pictorial penis, millions have come to rely on the aubergine emoji – purple engorged, topped with a pubic shock of green leaves. This abusage is now so widespread that, in 2015, Instagram banned search results for photographs tagged with an aubergine emoji, fearing their users would include it as a signifier of nudity. An American woman solidified the double meaning in the minds of many, when, last month, she launched a vibrator made in the eggplant’s image.
This week’s word is: Deter
The word Deter means to turn aside, discourage, or prevent from acting. It can also mean ‘inhibit’. An example of it in a sentence: The cold weather didn’t deter people from holiday shopping.
This week’s word is: Verbatim
The word Verbatim made its way into English via Latin and it means, “in the exact words.” and is used when you’re copying or quoting someone or something ‘word for word, exactly.’
I didn’t really analyze a whole lot of words last week, but I did make a video of my grammar report, which you can see below Continue Reading
Defined as common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument, fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points. They are often identified because they lack evidence to support their claims. Continue Reading
This week’s Word Nerd features the concept of a “double entendre,” which comes to English from a French phrase that can be understood to mean, ‘two ways of hearing.’ It is a word or phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué or indecent. Continue Reading
Word Nerd: The “no-E” novel
Believe it or not, there’s a 50,000-word novel that doesn’t contain a single letter ‘e’ in it, beyond the cover or the introduction explaining the constraints of the project. Continue Reading
The UK’s Guardian Online posted their top podcast picks to “make you smarter by listening”
A Podcast For Fans of Fiction
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is close to being the greatest book group, English seminar and public lecture you never joined. Each month the magazine’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, invites a different New Yorker author as a guest. Each guest chooses and reads aloud a story from the magazine’s archive then they discuss it.
The Guardian started with AM Homes reading Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, set in a sinister and haunting village. It’s the short story I wrote about back in 2012 when I covered some of the parallels it has with the Hunger Games.
A Podcast For Language Lovers
Is the English language your bag? Then Helen Zaltzman’s “The Allusionist” is the etymology party you’ve been waiting for. After all, who knew a simple word like ‘please’ could have such completely different meanings and uses on either side of the Atlantic?
A Podcast For Journalism Junkies
If you like your journalism lengthy, give a listen to the Longform Podcast. It features interviews with journalists such as Malcolm Gladwell and Kathryn Schulz. Speechwriters like Jon Favreau who worked with President Obama and editors like David Remnick have also been featured.
The Guardian’s own excellent podcast is a nice option too. It’s called, Long Reads audio series.
The word “Abracadabra” is often said while one uses slight of hand. A magician might say it before pulling a rabbit out of his hat. Your kid brother could utter the word with a theatrical flair while doing a card trick.
Past Power of Abracadabra
In the past, the word itself held a power all its own.
Yes, hundreds of years ago people actually believed that the word “abracadabra” was a magical spell and its mere utterance could have a magical effect. Continue Reading
Cellfish is the word of the week. When spoken it sounds like ‘selfish’ which is basically what a person does with their phone when they’re being ‘cellfish’
The word of the week is: Mansplaining. It is a portmanteau of the words ‘man’ and ‘explaining.’ It is generally defined as “to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.”
Lots of men ‘mansplain’ to one another without condescension. When present, it often goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. As such it’s often unlabeled and just considered a normal part of conversation. To rise to a level that requires a label, the explaining has to be done without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer. This is too often done by a man to a woman. Continue Reading
Homunculus is our word of the week. It comes from Latin and generally means “Little Man.” Some translate it as “Little Person” which has become an emotionally charged term. Many see “Little Person” as condescending while others feel it empowers them. The Midget/Little Person issue has caused an outsized sense of consternation. Like many ‘politically correct’ terms, “Little Person” is a clunky alternative. The options for the plural often overwhelm. “Little Persons” and “Little People” are both acceptable English variations. Use of either term often leads to confusion as to which might be more acceptable. With no clear agreement, a neutral alternative was needed. Homunculus is a centuries old word with a variety of applications. Because of its Latin origin, homunculus has a more scientific or medical ring to it. The term has gained wider use in recent years. It often replaces both ‘midget’ and ‘little person’ in spoken and written communication.
Babies in Medieval religious art were often depicted as small, diminutive men. To modern eyes they are “Super Ugly Medieval Babies.” Its acronym, ‘Sumba’ or ‘FMB” (Fugly Medieval Baby) can be seen all over the Internet and especially social media.
Multisyllabic is an adjective used to describe words that have two or more syllables.
Some use the word interchangeably with ‘polysyllabic’. Words with only one syllable are called, “monosyllabic.” English has over nine thousand monosyllabic words. In comparison, words with six syllables are fairly rare. “Accountability” and “Generalization” are two words with six syllables.
Poetry and Rap Music have long championed multisyllabic rhymes. Continue Reading
Words are incredibly versatile things. Even when they are supposed to be simple and unambiguous, they can often be anything but.
Ordinary communication is replete with figurative, non-literal word use. Juliet is the Sun. Time is money. Linguists have documented in detail how pervasive metaphor and other types of figurative expression have become. They are now so pervasive in everyday language that most can no longer discern them. These days, a fish is more likely to notice the water it swims in. Continue Reading
When it comes to expressing ourselves, the world has been getting it wrong for hundreds of years… literally.
The word “literally” means “in a literal way or sense” but, to the fury of language purists, many people now use it simply to stress a point. Continue Reading
A battle rages online about the serial comma. It is more commonly known as, “The Oxford Comma.” While I typically tend to favor it, I’ve never been a ‘grammar nazi’ about its use. Seeing so many rants and screeds online that demand its universal use seem like a waste of time to me. Often it feels like people are just tilting at windmills. Continue Reading
I think grammar is interesting and useful but I’ve never really considered the question, “Does grammar matter if you’re still understood?”
It can be hard sometimes, when speaking, to remember all of the grammatical rules that guide us when we’re writing. When is it right to say “the dog and me” and when should it be “the dog and I”? Does it even matter? In the video below, Andreea S. Calude dives into the age-old argument between linguistic prescriptivists and descriptivists — who have two very different opinions on the matter. Continue Reading
A Readability Analysis of Campaign Speeches from the 2016 US Presidential Campaign by the Language Technologies Institute in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA found that the grammatical usage of Donald Trump scored the lowest of any other candidate. Continue Reading
I have plenty of friends from all over the English speaking world. Because I know where they are from, and what they sound like, I have become quite familiar with the nuances of each variety of English. By hearing someone speak and then comparing it to the way my friends talk, I can almost always deduce a person’s origins. Continue Reading
I’ve been thinking a lot about different aspects of The Hunger Games film and something that keeps coming to mind is a short story called, “The Lottery.” We read it in High School back in the 80’s but the story was first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1948. It is sometimes seen as a protest against totalitarianism, a form of authoritarian government that permits no individual freedom. The story explores the potential of ordinary people to do evil things solely because of a sense of tradition. Only it doesn’t do that exactly… there is no authoritarian government forcing people to take part in the Lottery the way it is in the Hunger Games. I think for me the story explores what happens when people cling to old ways of doing things not because they work or because they continue to serve society’s cohesion or progress but unquestioningly because that’s the way they’ve always been done.
An unexamined life is no life at all so I decided to explore some of the parallels between The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and 1948’s short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson…
HG – Josh Hutchinson stars as the boy whose name is drawn
TL – Bill Hutchinson is the man who draws the dot
BOTH – names are drawn and the “winner” will be killed to make the crops grow or keep people eating well for another year or a variety of reasons.
BOTH – villagers gather in the town square for the lottery/reaping/drawing of names
HG – Only older children ages 12 to 18 participate
TL – Everyone participates
Last night I watched the 80’s teen movie, “Revenge of the Nerds.” I’ve seen it before and I’ve always remembered really loving it. What I didn’t remember was how much they stretch the nerd hating and bullying. It’s awesome that they never devolve beyond that, especially when taunting Lamar, the gay black character. IRL the word “Faggot” would have been used quite a bit not just for Lamar but I’m sure for all of them.
Also missing were other nerd related epithets like, geek, spaz, dweeb, dork, etc. It made the antagonism a bit one-dimensional and more than a little bit corny but maybe that’s part of the appeal.