In Stanislaw Lem's 1968 novel His Master's Voice, a message bubbles up from an underground fringe community that comes to be regarded as a message from an alien civilization.
A group of scientists are secretly assembled by the United States government to crack the message. For the most part, they fail. They run through some math, come up with a genome, use it to pop out a useless goop that can sort of kind of teleport things with absolutely no precision, and continue to search for meaning in the message. They fail.
The book served as a sort of treatise on the problem of communication with an extraterrestrial society. Such [...]
I dig sports, so I was watching "Game of Thrones" on Home Box the other night and there was this part where a dude was being super-rude to a lady, but he was doing it in a Foreign Language from errbody else, so he thought he was slick. However, the person he was being rude to was the chick who has the fire-breathing dragons, and she came up hard, and she does not play. Spoiler alert. Aiieeee!
All the people on "Game of Thrones" pretty much speak the "Common Tongue" or whatever they call it on the show (if they call it anything) and nobody gets bent outta shape if [...]
"From the sidelines" is a sports term. "Cheering from the sidelines" can be a nice phrase. It means "I am rooting you on while watching you play." If we are not clothed in rags and eating from dumpsters on Sunday, we will be cheering on New York Marathon runners from the "sidelines," perhaps as they hop downed power lines along the shore after they cross the Verrazano.
But sometimes the "game" in question is a metaphor. And if you [...]
"Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of 'algorithm' or 'Albert Pujols' — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage."
Recently, NPR aired the word "goddamned" again, this time in a quote from a Tom Cruise-in-character-as-Les Grossman appearance, and boy howdy is America upset about the taking of the Lord's name in vain. But don't worry, NPR's ombudsman (who is a woman! Which gives me pause that she should be opining on language usage!) is on the case. She writes: "I'm seeing the question through a different lens-one that is not based in the New York-Washington corridor, where this example of offensive language often goes in one ear and out the other." While it's surely true that in "real America" it is sometimes considered offensive to Christians to use [...]
As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot, I think I'm fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in a practice of curation. Call it what you like: aggregating? Blogging? Choosing? Copyright infringing sometimes? But it's not actually curation, or anything like it. Your faux TED talk is not going well for you if you are making some point about "curation" replacing "creation" because, well, for [...]
Profanity is alive and well on Twitter, except in Utah, apparently. You'd expect heathen citydwellers to swear, and we do not disappoint, but the Bible belt is pretty foul-mouthed too (no word whether language there trended cleaner on Sundays). Thanks to tweets, blog comments and unlocked Facebook feeds, we know more than ever before about the way regular people—in New York, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, and [...]
Female bonobo: "Oh my god, have you been to the new kiwi place?!" Male bonobo [looks up from piece of bark he's perusing]: "You mean the kiwi tree?" Female bonobo: "Yeah." Male bonobo: "No. I heard about it, though. Sifton liked it, I think. It's good?" Female bonobo: "It's not just good. It's excellent! Male bonobo: "Ha! Boogie Nights." Female: "Seriously, though. You have to go. They have the best kiwis."
This is a couple of weeks old, but as linguistic prescription seems to be the theme of the day, we might as well go with it: British comedian (and recent mugging victim) David Mitchell provides some instruction of proper usage. (If you are unfamiliar with Mitchell, he is one of the most interesting comedians working today. Co-star of the popular British sitcom "Peep Show" with his comedy partner Robert Webb, he is also responsible for "That Mitchell and Webb Look," which can be seen on BBC America. I'm including my favorite skit from the show below as a bonus.) If you enjoy this, here's the channel [...]
“Damn, hell, shit, and fuck are not what an anthropologist observing us would classify as ‘taboo,’ ” says linguist John McWhorter, author of What Language Is: And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be, among other books. “We all say them all the time. Those words are not profane in what our modern culture is—they are, rather, salty. That’s all. Anyone who objects would be surprised to go back 50 years and try to use those words as casually as we do now and ever be asked again to parties.”
For a number of Federal court judges, As I am sure there will be for Members of Congress.6 For non-disabled drivers who sport a handicapped placard on the dash And park free all day at a downtown metered spot.7
I have always thought of the word 'literally' as someone else's problem. Then, suddenly, it arrived: My summer of Literally. A recent family vacation revealed my brother as one of the worst offenders. He likes to couple ‘literally’ with the phrase… 'on the planet,' as in, “You are literally the best sister on the planet.” (Or rather, you were.) Other literally fans (is it the heat?): my lesbian best friend, my rich best friend, my yoga best friend—she’s the one it seems rudest to complain about since last weekend we went to Wanderlust together, and I spent half the time in a sobbing rage and the other half crawling around [...]
"If you didn’t already know that euphonious dichotomies are usually phony dichotomies, you need only check out the latest round in the supposed clash between 'prescriptivist' and 'descriptivist' theories of language. This pseudo-controversy, a staple of literary magazines for decades, was ginned up again this month by The New Yorker,which has something of a history with the bogus battle."
In an interview with Martha Stewart shortly before her 2003 indictment, Jeffrey Toobin asked the visibly exhausted celebrity if she felt herself the victim of “schadenfreude.” He didn't expand upon the Germanism, and Stewart certainly didn't need it defined.
Schadenfreude? I asked. “That's the word,” she said. “I hear that, like, every day.” And she added, in her precise way, “Do you know how to spell it?”
While spelling the thing might be an issue, writers assume nowadays that when they say “schadenfreude,” readers know exactly what they mean. It’s defined as the “malicious enjoyment of the misfortunes of others” in the OED, which first included the word [...]
For a while now, something has been bothering me. It's not particularly menacing or sinister, just annoying and unavoidable. It's a word, and I see it in the comments section of YouTube videos and hear it from the mouths of guffawing teenage girls next to me on the subway. Sometimes it even makes an unwelcome appearance on my cell phone in the form of a text message. The word I'm talking about is random—and I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Facebook Groups have risen in opposition to this ubiquitous six-letter expression. There is "Irritated by the incorrect use of the word 'random,'" "I HATE the word [...]