From Alright to Zap: An A-Z of Horrible Words – Rebecca Gowers


“Do not force nouns or other parts of speech to act as verbs,” says The Economist Style Guide; while in Lost for Words, Humphrys writes similarly that “verbs can refresh a sentence any time they are needed – but not if they earned their crust as nouns in an earlier life.” This goes beyond mere lexical Nimbyism: “wordclass conversion” is absolutely vital to English. Take cloud. In the ninth century it was a noun meaning a pile of rocks or a hill (cloud is related to clod and clot). Around 1300, clouds became (as they still are) heaps in the sky. Then in the 16th century, cloud was converted into a verb, meaning to “darken” or “obscure”. Catastrophe? No: good news. Gripers rate the expression epic fail to be an example of what it names, decrying this use of fail as a noun on the grounds that fail is, and should only be, a verb. Yet in the expression without fail, they accept the noun fail exactly as the phrase describes.

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Words that Sound Like Their Meaning are Easier to Learn, Study Finds – Lily Feinn

To explore how sensitive native Dutch speakers are to sound-symbolism, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University in the Netherlands devised learning exercises using Japanese ideophones. From the thousands of mimetics in the Japanese language, researchers started with a list of 376 words. They eliminated all but 95 that had clear easily-understandable Dutch translations (for example, the ideophone “fuwafuwa” which means “fluffy”). Continue reading

The Difference between Epistemic & Deontic, Necessity & Possibility, in an Overlapping Diagram – Gretchen McCulloch

Notice that English is generally good at making distinctions between necessity and possibility but bad at making distinctions between epistemic and deontic, which must be cleared up via context. Some languages do make straightforward lexical distinctions between various flavours of modality like epistemic and deontic.  Continue reading