A Blog About Language

April 4 2014 9:54 AM

Do You Ever Say Probly Instead of Probably? Here's Why.

We've all done it one time or another. Rather than enunciating the syllables in "probably," a slurred "probly" comes out instead. Why does this happen?

It's really a question of efficiency. English words tend to have one or two syllables that are stressed. In this case, we say PRO-bab-ly, not pro-BAB-ly or pro-bab-LY. This naturally also means that the stressed syllables are more interesting and important to your production and understanding of the word than the unstressed ones.

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April 2 2014 12:20 PM

Is the Question Mark Disappearing

so what's the deal with question marks online is the collective Internet too lazy to use the Shift key does anybody even care

I pose these questions, such as they are, because lately in my Twitter feed and GChat conversations I've noticed a lot of sentences that look like the one above. They're interrogative, but they don't end with interrogative punctuation—or, in some cases, any punctuation at all.

April 1 2014 11:22 AM

What Makes a Selfie a Selfie?

We typically think of a selfie as a photo taken by and of oneself, whether in a mirror or by holding a camera out at arm’s length, hence the name. But here's a recent anecdote from Language Log suggesting that some people are extending it more figuratively:

March 31 2014 11:42 AM

The OED Gets All C-Wordy. You Should Too.

Among the Oxford English Dictionary's list of "new word entries" for March 2014 are the following four adjectives:

  • cunted
  • cunting
  • cuntish
  • cunty

In what has turned out to be a rather cunt-happy month at the OED, these "subentries" were added as well:

  • cunt lapper
  • cunt-bitten
  • cunt-sucker

March 28 2014 9:39 AM

The Linguistic Legacy of the Crimean War

March 28, 2014, is the 160th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Russia to formally start the Crimean War. The war was fought by Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire against Russia, mainly to curtail Russia's presence and ambitions in the Black Sea and Eastern Europe. It lasted until 1856, and was fought in several places, not just Crimea. But it's best remembered for just one battle, a battle that was vaunted as glorious and heroic by the side that lost it (but won the war) — and that has left us with some misquotations, three articles of clothing, and some lessons in accidental and deliberate miscommunication.

Here is your pocket guide to what we owe to that battle.

March 26 2014 11:07 AM

On: The Fall and Rise of a Preposition

As anyone who has ever graded a stack of freshman composition papers can attest, over the course of this Herculean task, one will inevitably wonder what exactly standard usage really is. I, for one, began to doubt my very prepositions.

Indeed, as the editors of The Chicago Manual of Style note, "Among the most persistent word-choice issues are those concerning prepositions. Which prepositions go with which words?" Putting aside the quibble some linguists have with the very definition of preposition, why is it that these tiny particles of grammar give even the most eloquent native speakers such a hard time?

March 25 2014 2:21 PM

That Word for a Meme-Obsessed, Self-Aware Age

Any consumer of the broadcast news media will have encountered a certain formulation over the last fortnight. You could have heard it from Erica Hill on the Today Show on March 9: "We do want to get you caught up, though, on the investigation into that missing Malaysian jet." And you could have heard it from Megyn Kelly on Fox News on March 21: "The new twist in the search for that missing Malaysia Airlines jet that seemingly disappeared into thin air with 239 people on board."

March 21 2014 10:45 AM

Why Is the Mor in Voldemort (and Mordor and Dr. Moreau) So Evil-Sounding?

Sherlock Holmes's mortal nemesis was Professor Moriarty.

Harry Potter's nemesis was Voldemort.

Doctor Who had a nemesis named Morbius. So did Spider-Man. Morbius was also the name of the antagonist in The Forbidden Planet.

March 18 2014 12:58 PM

These Sports Terms Should Be Playable in Scrabble

On the March 17 edition of the Hang Up and Listen podcast, Stefan Fatsis discussed sports words that should be added to the Scrabble dictionary. An adapted transcript of the audio recording is below, or you can listen to the story by clicking on the audio player beneath this paragraph.

As I wrote on Slate last week, Scrabble owner Hasbro Inc. is letting the public choose a word to add to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. My top seed for the 16-word bracket is ew, with zen on the two line. But of the hundreds of nominations Hasbro has received on Facebook, I noticed just one sports-related word that isn't currently playable in Scrabble in North America, the very timely seedings.

March 18 2014 10:09 AM

In Defense of I Could Care Less

There are several good reasons why people might say, "I could care less." And no, the list does not include "because they're stupid and have no idea how logic works." It turns out, there are a number of things about English that conspire to make "I could care less" a less irrational phrase than it might seem.