Friday, December 23, 2005


Oh boy, I love the holidays. When else do you get to spend a whole day tinkering with your iPod? How on earth can that take a whole day, I hear you ask... Well, when you've somehow managed to blow up your iPod and you've got to restore it to its factory settings, and then install the updated software, and then you've got to reload all 3710 songs, trust me, that can take all day...

And what's this all got to do with the state of the English language, you're muttering into your Cadbury's selection pack. Well, the makers of the T9 predictive text dictionary have also just upgraded. Did they hear me chuntering about its inadequacy a few weeks back?... They don't appear to have added any words normal human beings might actually find useful, but much to my delight they have added some words I've never even heard before. Like 'playlistism' - judging a person by the playlist of their digital music player. Ha! That's fantastic! I was only teasing someone the other week for having Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry on his iPod, and now I have a word for my viciously judgemental response!

So long as no-one finds out I've got the full 9 minute 52 second version of Bat Out Of Hell on mine, I think I'll be okay...

Check out the predictive text new words - it's language change in action.

At a stroke: ASBO, smlirt, podcast enter predictive text dictionary

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Happy [choose your word]

Have you ever stood and read the insides of greetings cards in a shop, or is it only me that does that?... I know, really must get a life, but Christmas provides the ideal opportunity to indulge my fascination with the forms of language used in greetings cards without the burly store detective coming to stand next to me, breathing heavily and eyeing me suspiciously. So, although most of my cards are still at work, I've just done a mini-investigation of the ones at home. I've noted all the words/phrases (and the absence of any) printed on the cards, either inside or out, and these are my findings:
  • No greeting 36%
  • Happy Christmas 18%
  • Merry Christmas 14%
  • Season's greetings 9%
  • Bethlehem 4.5%
  • Christmas wishes 4.5%
  • With best wishes for the New Year 4.5%
  • Merry Christmas and a happy New Year 4.5%
  • Festive greetings 4.5%

Why exactly have I done such an odd thing? Well, it was stimulated by the article I've linked below, from the New York Times. In the first half of this, William Safire explores the issue of what greetings Americans are choosing to send to their friends and families. I've been aware of this cultural difference for a while, as my Jewish Manhanttanite friend always sends me a "Happy Holidays" card round about this time of year - usually one depicting her cats and dogs bedecked in tinsel... To me, that greeting still sounds frightfully American, but with political correctness and religious sensitivity both playing a much bigger role there than here, it is understandable. What I'm interested to know is how much things might be changing here...

Safire quotes a greetings card company spokesperson as saying that this year there has been a 50-50 sales split between greetings that mention the word 'Christmas' and those using 'holidays'. My card from the States hasn't come yet, and the word 'holidays' doesn't appear anywhere in my sample. But if you take those that do use the word 'Christmas' (and I've included the one with 'Bethlehem' on it) and those that don't, you get a 46-54 split.

Is this evidence that people are sending more secular greetings? Well, it's too small a sample to say (need a language investigation project? Don't chuck those cards away, then!), and things are never as simple as that anyway. Some of my cards with nothing at all printed on them have images that are explicitly Biblical. And maybe it says something either about my friends, or about their perception of me, but I haven't had any cards either that are like those I saw in Tescos yesterday, with pink baubles and the greeting something like "sparkly shiny starry". What kind of greeting is that?!! It's not even a greeting, which has a certain grammatical structure - it's just a list of adjectives! Sparkly shiny starry what?

So, there you go. Check the linkylove article, go hang out in card shops.

Gifts of Gab

(You need to register with the NYT to read this article but it's free, it really does only take a minute, and it's kosher.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

All together now

When Ali G first hit the radar, a lot of people weren't quite sure what to make of it. Was it funny? Was it meant to be funny? Was it offensive? There was all kinds of debate about whether it was a negative portrayal of the way black young people speak, debate that rather missed the point because it was only ever about how white wannabes think black people speak. But for comic effect, Sacha Baron Cohen successfully tapped into a feature of language change that was already evident: the crossover amongst young people between traditional regional accents and dialects and language forms influenced by the immigration history of recent times. In the big cities, and especially in London, a new dialect was being formed, one that now no longer seems comic or gauche when young white people use it, but seems an entirely normal and natural use of language if you hang out there long enough.

And while Ali G has been dying a slow death from our collective memory, researchers have been busy formally investigating this phenomenon. You might remember the post here in the summer which detailed Sue Fox's research findings from Tower Hamlets (if not, use search the site gizmo to find it). And in the Times this weekend, there's news from the project Sue Fox has subsequently been part of, that this phenomenon is not a small scale local one, restricted to parts of London, or specific communities, but part of a much larger scale process of new dialect birth. A generic multi-ethnic dialect has been created by young people, one which includes rather than excludes people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Now how cool is that? (I'd obviously say 'nang' if I were 25 years younger...). Check it out.

All raait! It's a new black-white lingo

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tackle tart

So, apologies first up for not having posted for over a week. I've been a bit tied up teaching a residential course for English Language teachers on using very cool ICT gizmos. So, if you're one of the students who gets guinea-pigged as a result, way to go, have fun!

During the course I learned a phrase I'd not heard before.
"You know what?" one of the teachers said. "You're a right tackle tart!"
A 'tackle tart'?!! That's fantastic! It's someone who is obsessed with the beauty and perfection of their equipment, and as I was at the time caressing my custom engraved iPod, it seemed a reasonable comment...

This epithet also partly came about because we were investigating new words and meanings in assorted online dictionaries. "Bilking"? "Mef"? "Spork"? Go check 'em out. And that takes me to today's news that "podcast" is officially the word of the year with the New Oxford Dictionary, pipping "bird flu" and "ICE" to the post.

The list of top new words compiled by this authoritative source is interesting. I like to think I'm a bit of an early adopter of new words. Not the real hardcore slang stuff cos I'm far too old to get away with that, but I am a magpie for shiny new words or meanings that get used in the papers or by the people I meet. So, the fact that I'd never seen or heard 7 of the 12 items on the list quoted in the article linked below surprised me. Check it out. Any surprises for you?

Podcast voted word of the year