Tag Archives: Linguistics

Ever Jump Out at Someone and Say ‘Baf’?

The author sent me this new & improved graphic! Oh yes he did.

The author sent me this new & improved graphic! Oh yes he did.

It’s Tingo Tuesday!

The first Tuesday of each month, I share a word from The Meaning of Tingo & Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World by Adam Jacot de Boinod.

The best comment wins a month of love in my sidebar!

Cool, right? So if you’re a blogger, folks can click over and check you out for 30 days! Free!

But don’t worry if you’re not a blogger. You can  still win, so don’t be shy about leaving your best comment!

Today, I’m sharing the Czech word, VYBAFNOUT, which means to jump out and say ‘baf.’

As a kid, I hated my parents’ basement. Unlike the rest of our house, the basement was dark, cold, cluttered and wicked creepy. For a time, an African mask hung over the fireplace; its white eyeballs followed me as I passed to bring my basket of dirty clothes to the laundry room where the washer and dryer lived.

NOTE: I was willing to endure this psychological trauma to ensure my most awesome pair of perfectly faded, very torn, and strategically patched Levi’s were available whenever I wanted them.

I did a good job of freaking myself out in that laundry room.

Mostly because I was certain that while I put my jeans into the wash, that spooky mask had come to life and someone was waiting to get me — in the other part of the basement. To avoid the scary, masked-perv (who was apparently afraid of dirty laundry), I hauled ass when it came time to go back upstairs.

Sprinting across the shadows, I hauled a$$ up the 11 stairs to the landing adjacent to the pantry.

Believe it or not, the scary masked-man perv had an irrational fear of Hostess Ho-Ho’s, so that was the place I knew it was safe to breathe.

One day, the pantry door opened. Two hands reached out toward my neck.

Holy poop on a stick! 

I think I pounded the baf out of my brother that day.

Or he pounded me.

I’m pretty sure we both ended up banished to our rooms for a while.

{Okay, so he didn’t jump out and say baf, but still! He jumped out at me, people. I’m thinking the Czech ‘baf!’ = the American ‘Boo!’}

The main point here is that this is why I hate basements.

I love how other cultures have compact language for the actions and concepts for which we haven’t necessarily got the right word.

Now it’s your turn!

Leave me a comment about a time when you jumped out and scared the ‘baf’ out of someone  — or someone jumped out and scared the kakka out of you and receive a very scary, authentic African mask for free.

Just kidding.

This month’s winner is Christie Tate of Outlaw Mama. Last month we were talking about the Hawaiian word pana po’o, which refers to how some people scratch their heads when they are trying to remember something. Outlaw Mama wrote:

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 11.23.21 AM

Look at Outlaw Mama in my sidebar. Isn’t she cute? Click on her nose to read her amazing stuff. And I mean amazing. You will clutch your face and scream, as if someone jumped out at you and said baf!

tweet me @rasjacobson

You have until June 22, to enter! A new winner will be revealed on the first Tuesday in September. Why am I making you wait until September? I’m using the summer to develop more content. Or work on my tan.

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From Zhaghzhagh to Arborcade

Cover of "The Meaning of Tingo: And Other...

Cover via Amazon

Today marks the beginning of a new feature for me: Made-It-Up Mondays.

On Mondays when I’m in the mood, I am going to throw out a 100% made-up word and ask you to a) define the word, and b) then use the word in a sentence that indicates how the word could be used.

Why? Because someone recently gave me the book The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World.

(Of course, it is my new favorite book.)

I read that that there are approximately 1,010,649.7 words in the English language. And while this seems like a really enormous lexicon, many nuances of human language sometimes leave us tongue-tied.

Sometimes it is necessary to turn to other languages to find a word to find le mot juste.

As Bill DeMain noted in his article “15 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent”:

“Zhaghzhagh” is a Persian word, a noun, meaning the chattering of teeth from extreme cold or rage.

We don’t really have a word for that in English, do we?

When I can’t find the right word on the word-shelf to fit my mood or predicament, I just make one up.

It will be fun to see what other people come up with.

Remember, you can’t be wrong because the word I throw out will be a 100% fictional word.

If you’d like to submit a made-up word of your own, feel free to contact me. (My info is under the “Contact Me” tab.)

I’m starting alphabetically.

This week, the made up word is:

ARBORCADE

What the heck is that? When would you say it? Define it and give me a sentence in which you show me how you would use it.

You know, if it were a real word. 😉

Much Disagreement About Agreement

About a week ago, everyone in my neighborhood received this green postcard from the newly opened Huntington Learning Center. Very eye-catching.

Truth be told, normal people probably tossed it right into the recycle bin. But because I read anything and everything of/or related to education, I flipped over the card.  And I proceeded to do a little dance. Because I knew I had a blog.

Here is the back of the card. Can you spot the error?

The scene of the crime!

What? What do you mean you don’t see it?

Don’t worry, you are not alone. Almost no-one catches this error. In fact, it has gotten so that this “error” isn’t really considered an error at all. So today’s “Who-Gives-A Crap” moment is brought to you courtesy of this twit.

For those of you who are still looking at the postcard going: “I still don’t see the problem,” don’t be ashamed.

The problem is in the sentence:

Help your child learn skills they’ll use all year.

The issue is that “child” is singular. How many kids? Unless you also have a secret love-child unbeknownst to your wife, the answer is one.

But the folks at Huntington linked that singular child to the pronoun “they.”

Whaaaat? Where did all those extra kids come from? I thought there was only one kid.

To be sure, a person can deploy the “singular-they” in his or her speech, and it will likely pass without objection. People do this all the time. Spoken language is more casual than written language because of the speed at which we speak. We can forgive our newscasters, our reality TV hosts, our Snookis.

(We can forgive Snooki, right?)

But careful writers try to avoid using the “singular-they” whenever possible.

Looking for linguistic affirmation, I went over to the folks at Let’s eat, Grandma’ or ‘Let’s eat Grandma’: Grammar Saves Lives’ on Facebook to see if I might get some help from the moderators there.

I asked someone – anyone – to show me a page from a Style Book that says it is correct – even acceptable – to use this construction. Mike Workman showed up at Grandma’s and declared:

I figured someone might say language is always changing and the non-gender specific use of the word “they” is just easier. It sounds more natural, and we don’t have to fuss with any of that “he/she” stuff. But I didn’t expect someone to tell me that “most style guides accept ‘they’ as a gender neutral collective noun that could also be used as a singular noun.”

Whaaaaat?

Throughout the thread, Mike kept insisting that it was fine to use “singular-they.” He quoted famous authors who had done so from Shakespeare all the way up to the 1930’s. I gritted my teeth. To me, all that meant was that famous, dead authors made errors that, sadly, went into their books. (It seemed unfortunate that those great authors didn’t have better copy editors.)

Every time Mike said it was okay to use the “singular-they,” I kept thinking: Eating with our hands seemed more natural than using cutlery until someone taught us how to use forks and knives, no? I felt like I was getting linguistic advice from a Deadhead who had eaten way too many ‘shrooms. His message seemed to be: “Oh go ahead, it’s all right – nobody cares – do whatever you want, dude!”

So I went looking for these sources to which Mike was referring. (Because I am that geeky.)

And, frankly, because I was scared that I have been teaching it wrong.

And then, Charles Young showed up, my knight in shining armor. Or my Grammar Geek in white underpants. It didn’t matter. He swooped in to rescue me. He parried Mike Workman with his linguistic sword:

Okay, so I didn’t totally understand Charles, but I knew he was trying to agree with me. In a really fancy way.

Fifty comments later, Mike and Charles were having a serious cyber fist-fight. Each man was equally passionate about his (their?) love for me feelings about the use of “singular-they.” One man said, “Yea!” The other said, “Absolutely no friggin’ way.”

I figured things would die down at Grandma’s. I went to bed. And then I went away for the entire weekend. And when I came home, I saw the thread was still going strong!

At post 192, people were beginning to wonder if the thread would ever end. I thought I might be blocked from the group for causing such dissension among the ranks.

It was a runaway train. I had to try to stop it.

I left “Grandma’s” again, thinking: What is an English adjunct to do? I mean, I understand Mike’s point. The whole he/she thing is really cumbersome, and didn’t the lucky recipients of those shiny green postcards completely understand the intended meaning? I mean, we knew what we were being offered, right? So what’s the harm?

Well, here’s my issue. This place offers tutoring for SAT testing. And, as of today, if the following fill-in-the blank question showed up on the SATs —

Help your child learn skills ______ will use all year long.

— and the possible choices were:

(A) he

(B) they

(C) he or she

(D) who friggin’ cares?

as it stands right now, choice (A) would be considered sexist; (B) would be considered an example of  poor agreement, and (C) would be considered the correct answer. Although I recognize, at this point, most of you are leaning strongly toward choice (D).

I discussed this with two Advanced Placement high school English teachers and Most Excellent College Department Chairperson: a veritable holy trinity of English educators. And while Mike kept insisting the practice of using “they” is “widely accepted,” I was unable to find one single Style Book that stated it was “grammatically correct” to use this construction in formal essay writing.

I mean, some of us have to teach Comp-101. We have to explain the rules.

The nuances of language are complicated. It isn’t easy to master all these rules, especially the ones that feel archaic and forced. Come September, I am going to explain to my students that they need to have a speaking vocabulary and a writing vocabulary. I am going to try to convince them that we have to be poly-lingual. We need to know how to speak one way to friends and another way to teachers. We may write one way in texts, but (hopefully) that is different from the way we correspond to our parents and educators. On Twitter we have to Tweet it in under 140 characters, which requires a lot of creative abbreviation that would not be acceptable in a formal paper. Ever. The reality is, each of us needs to be literate in every one of these vocabularies (and others, too). We all need to be able to move between these worlds effortlessly and with expertise.

Call me old-fashioned, but until the folks at the Modern Language Association tell me otherwise, “singular-they” shall be considered sloppy usage.

Excited by my epiphany, I decided to pop in to “Grandma’s” and – to my horror – the thread was still going strong with over 400 comments! And even though I totally wanted some of the cookies that I knew were baking in the oven, I turned my back on “Grandma’s” house. It was getting ugly in there. I’m telling you, they were bringing out the Bazookas. And I don’t mean the bubble gum. Who’da thunk I’d get so much mileage outta dat ‘they’ question?

Do I need to tell the folks at The Huntington Learning Center about this? And seriously, what do you think they’ll say? Did anyone even make it to the bottom of this post?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

What The Huh?

This one comes to me from a College-Instructor-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, for reasons that shall become obvious. It is hilarious and awful all at the same time.

To: My Professor
Subject: Droped

Dear Professor:

I appologiz for not being in class the last and past week. But there is alot of stress put on me by other classes i can’t find myself a way to get to school on time for ur class. I know the matirial and everything is starting to let up. So i ask u to plez let me bake into the class. i promis to show up for the rest of the classes 😦

Sincerely,
Goin’ Nowhere Fast

Nice, huh.

In this horrendous wonderful day and age, where we can reach out and touch someone via text or email, college educators receive hellish quality correspondence like this all of the time.

All. Of. The. Time.

The lucky recipient of this email told me that this piece of correspondence – which arrived via email – was the first time he’d had contact with the student, and it came after his student had missed 12 out of 19 classes, two unit tests, and one quiz. 

So think about it? How would you respond to an email like this?

Is this what we have come to with all of our short-cuts and abbreviations? Do teachers at the college level have to respond to emails and texts filled with errors like this?

Do you feel sorry for the kid? I mean, he just wants “bake into the class.”

Or would you just say nothing? Because the student has already been withdrawn and, clearly, he is already fried.

I sometimes wonder if parents know that their kids are communicating with their college professors like this.  Seems we have to teach our children about how – sometimes – it is necessary to use different language to communicate to different audiences. About when it is appropriate to abbreviate and when it is necessary to use a more formal tone, proper grammar, and a spell checker. About when to use and refrain from using emoticons. According to Tim Elmore, today’s “screenagers” don’t get it. Or they get something else than us “old folks.”

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang: “Teach your children well.” Are we confusing our kids with all this “texting”? Or do teachers just need to loosen up and accept that the times  (and the language) are a-changing?

So About That Sign

Wegmans Food Markets

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday at 7 am, I posted a blog about a sign in my local grocery store that has been driving me bonkers for years.

By late morning, I received an email from a representative from Consumer Affairs.

While the rest of us were chattering about the sign and its grammar, one of my loyal readers — a former Wegmans’ employee — made a call, and the sign was promptly removed.

Last night at 8:25 pm, another loyal reader sent me this picture — along with an apology about the quality. She explained she was operating in stealth mode. 😀

The new & improved sign!

I felt I had to let everyone know the happy ending to this very big news story.

Mary Joan from Consumer Affairs wrote:

Bob Farr was more than happy to take down that offensive sign. And I have to tell you that reading your blog . . .  and the subsequent comments from your readers was quite enjoyable.  You made my morning!

Further proof that Wegmans positively rocks: Here is a company that received a little constructive criticism, and instead of getting defensive (typical) or just brushing it off and ignoring it (also typical), they got proactive, making this English teacher, blogger, and loyal customer soooooo happy.

So the new sign is up.

All grammatical errors have been corrected.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in the world could be fixed so quickly?

I’m feeling empowered. Positively zippy.

So what should I take on today? I’m taking ideas.

Grammar & Facebook Do Not Mix

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I am in love with this post! Gabe Doyle is a fourth-year graduate student in Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego. He is a computational psycholinguist. I don’t exactly know what that is, but I believe it means he is interested in how people choose to express the ideas they want to express. Or something like that.

While I am definitely a Facebook fan, I do not enjoy what social media and texting are doing to our language. It is becoming increasingly difficult to define and get people to agree to stick to a set of rules upon which we can all agree are necessary to follow with regard to language. Because, really, that’s all the conventions of writing are – little polite agreements between communicators.

I think of writing like driving. Just as there are rules of the road created to maintain civility and prevent chaos, so too, there are rules for writers. When we write, our pens are our cars. So we zoom around our little pen-cars where it is implied we have agreed to follow the same conventions because it helps us to better understand each other. Grammar conventions are kindnesses we bestow upon our readers, so they can understand us more easily. For example: Commas are little road bumps which make us slow down. Periods are stop signs. Semicolons are flashing yellow lights. The only problem is very few people follow the grammar rules anymore, so we are starting to have a lot of difficult situations out there like when people don’t use capitalization or end punctuation and just keep going on there is no break or anything at all to indicate that the sentence is coming or has come to an end so it just keeps going which can be confusing because sometimes writers  change topics suddenly you and are in outer space floating among the planets which is cucumber cool except you didn’t want to go to outer space. You wanted to go to a movie.

So check out the link to the great article above. I wish I’d written it.