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Here are some of the terrible words in the English language from the past year. This list is British, but much of it is universal. At least for those who speak English. And really, who doesn't? Not anyone I'd want to know.
Here are some thoughts on the differences between British and American cursing: "Anglo swearing is ornate, clever, and florid; American swearing is brutal, repetitious, and earthy."
"A snack maker in Australia has won approval to call its product 'Nuckin Futs' after authorities accepted the f-word was part of the country's vernacular."
"Psychologists from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey found that when presented with descriptions of women taken from lads’ mags, and comments about women made by convicted rapists, most people who took part in the study could not distinguish the source of the quotes. The research due to be published in the British Journal of Psychology also revealed that most men who took part identified themselves more with the language expressed by the convicted rapists."
"Different languages have different ways of talking about the future. Some languages, such as English, Korean, and Russian, require their speakers to refer to the future explicitly. Every time English-speakers talk about the future, they have to use future markers such as 'will' or 'going to.' In other languages, such as Mandarin, Japanese, and German, future markers are not obligatory…. Languages such as English constantly remind their speakers that future events are distant. For speakers of languages such as Mandarin future feels closer. As a consequence, [...]
"Comfortable" is a flexible term. Any one person’s threshold for comfort can differ from another’s. For the individual, comfort is relative: a heat wave in Edmonton, Canada, say, no longer agonizes after one has endured a heat wave in New York. When a person says "comfortable," they often mean "pleasant." Other times "comfortable" translates to just "bearable" or "satisfactory." While the word "comfortable" doesn’t change, a person’s definition of it can, and usually does, with time—that is, with age and experience. It might happen gradually, incrementally, with constant comparisons between then and now. Comfort itself is relative, its meaning elastic.
The word "comfortable" has been thrown around since the Middle [...]
"Computer spell checks have created an ‘auto-correct generation’ unable to spell common words such as ‘necessary’ and ‘separate’, a survey has found. Only one in five adults out of 2,000 who took a short spelling test were able to answer all five questions correctly. Sixty-five per cent failed to spell ‘necessary’ correctly while 33 per cent struggled with ‘definitely’ and ‘separate’." —I mess up "separate" all the time, so who am I to judge? I also have a surprising lifelong conflict with "recommend."
"A team at Cornell University has created a computer program to break down the formula behind some of cinema's most enduring lines, from Dirty Harry's 'Do you feel lucky, punk?' to Casablanca's 'Here's looking at you, kid.'… The researchers found that the more memorable quotes were made up of word combinations unlikely to appear elsewhere in the film. Yet the grammatical structures of the quotes tended to be ordinary. Other interesting quirks of the memorable quotes included more of a use of the indefinite article rather than the definite article, verbs in the past tense and the use of pronouns other than 'you'."
"Some TIME writers and I combed through the lyrics to Jay-Z’s 15 studio albums (both solo and collaborative) and this is what we’ve found: 109 out of 217 songs contain the word 'Bitch.' That’s 50.2% of Jay-Z’s entire lyrical output. Hova’s bitchiest album appears to be 1998’s Vol 2…Hard Knock Life, on which 71% of the songs feature the newly illicit B-word."
Johnny Depp took his reputation for eccentricity a little too far last week. Interviewed in the November issue of Vanity Fair, the actor appeared to let his guard down when discussing photo shoots with writer Nick Tosches, a long-time friend and a godparent to one of Depp’s kids. “Well, you just feel like you’re being raped somehow,” the actor said. “Raped. The whole thing. It feels like a kind of weird—just weird, man. Weird. Like you meet people and they say, 'Can I have a picture with you!' And that's great. That's fine. That's not a problem. But whenever you have a photo shoot or something like that, it’s [...]
"With the spread of digital technologies, dictionaries have become a two-way mirror, a record not just of words' meanings but of what we want to know. Digital dictionaries read us."
"'You can't do anything without hearing about it,' Ms. Viorst said, recalling how it invaded a recent Hanukkah visit to friends. 'It weaves its way into your lexicon,' she said." —Guess what it is! Guess GUESS GUESSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!
As Mafia nicknames go, "The Big Female Kitten" does not seem particularly intimidating. But maybe it sounds better in Italian.
"My predecessor (and the former keeper of the comma shaker) told me that she used to pester the style editor, Hobie Weekes, who had been at the magazine since 1928, to get rid of the diaeresis. She found it fussy. She said that once, in the elevator, he told her he was on the verge of changing that style and would be sending out a memo soon. And then he died." —Will no one rid The New Yorker of the tiresome diaresis?
Ben Zimmer, who writes a language column for the Boston Globe, has edited a series of clips featuring all of Downton Abbey's various verbal anachronisms. (SPOILER ALERT FOR AMERICANS: This video contains some non-plot relevant bits from episodes 7 and 8, both of which will air in the U.S. on PBS this Sunday, February 12th. Of course, it's possible that you are some kind of scofflaw and have already watched all of season two with some illegal Internet trickery. Shame on you, but yes, you can watch this video without fear.)
"It was once the lingua franca of science, used to name animals and plants with precision. But now botanists will no longer be required to provide Latin descriptions of new species. The move is part of a major effort to speed up the process of naming new plants – because in many cases it is feared they might die out before they are officially recognised."