“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.
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
Thus, there is no contradiction in the claim “No head injury is too trivial to ignore, but some head injuries are too serious to ignore.” Continue reading
Fauxhawks for my real friends, and real hawks for my faux friends! Continue reading
I think of the phrase with ‘time’ preceded by the possessive form of a measure of time as a very British expression, as in ‘two hours’ time’ or, in this case ‘three years’ time.’ Continue reading
Grammar is not this binary thing,” says Jana Häussler, a linguist at the University of Wuppertal in Germany and one of the study’s authors. She adds that many of her colleagues still judge grammar using old binary models, when they should be coming up with systems that build in gradience—or the gray zone—as a possibility. Continue reading
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