October 28th, 2013
John Simpson, soon to retire from the post of chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph:
The OED's uniqueness, says Simpson, lies in rediscovering lost information about core words and putting it back in the public eye. He cites the verb "coalise" (to form a coalition), which the first edition traced back to 1794. The richness of today's lexical material has produced a 1697 use of the word, in the letters of an English pharmacist, John Houghton. Such triumphs are a lexicographer's orgasmatron (spanking new entry dating from Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper).
[Via Pop Loser]
January 7th, 2013
Phil Gyford on setting out for another decade-long stint of publishing the Diary of Samuel Pepys online:
As I wrote last week the Diary of Samuel Pepys project has kicked off again for another almost-decade of daily publishing. What's wrong with me? Or, more practically, what did I think about when starting a ten-year project all over again?
[As the process of adding all the hyperlinks was complete from the project's first run...] there wasn't much reason not to restart the diary from the beginning. Restarting only involves having the site's front page and RSS feed automatically update daily with "today's" diary entry.
Of course, I couldn't let it be that easy. [...]
December 28th, 2012
21 Brilliant British People Problems:
# 4. I accidentally rang the bell on the bus at the wrong stop, and instead of explaining my predicament to the driver, got off and walked the rest of the way home.
#20. I'm a Brit staying with a family in New Zealand. My hosts told me to help myself to food and drink whenever I want it, otherwise I won't get fed. This goes against everything I know.
It's as if they've been following me round, taking notes on my life. And now they're publishing them on the internet for the whole world to see!
August 13th, 2012
December 13th, 2011
Nancy Friedman's Words of the Year 2011 post introduced me to this doozy:
Nontraditional start. How Mrs. Newt Gingrich's best friend, Karen Olson, diplomatically labeled the adulterous affair that led to GOP presidential candidate Mr. Newt Gingrich's third wedding: "'They're a great couple,' she said, 'that had a nontraditional start.'" The phrase joins "hiking the Appalachian Trail" in the lexicon of creative euphemisms for adultery. My nominee for "Most Euphemistic Word."
April 25th, 2011
What does the word 'blockbuster' mean to you? Obviously, there's the use of the term to describe an expensive and successful film. Then there's the 'blockbuster' bomb. But there's a third meaning I hadn't encountered. Fritinancy explains:
In the 1950s, blockbuster acquired two figurative meanings: the entertainment meaning (1957) and a racial/economic meaning (1959). The entertainment sense gave rise to the name of movie-rental chain Blockbuster [...]
The racial/economic sense is illustrated in this 1967 citation from the British weekly The Spectator:
The 'block-buster' is a figure in American urban life who has yet to emerge in this country. He is a property dealer who by subterfuge introduces black residents into all-white neighbourhoods.
October 3rd, 2010
Jonathan Meades on The March of the Acronym:
It is a truism that the development of everything from medicines to meteorology has depended on the prosecution of wars. This version of events flatters our paranoia, our fearful fondness of sombre forces. And the paraphernalia of armed conflict – secrecy, adrenalin, ruthlessness, dirty tricks, machismo, gadgets – can exert an attraction on those who have never known war. Its allure overlooks the actuality of boredom and body bags.
The further we are from military life, the more seductive its supposed traits. A corporation's ends will most probably be different from the armed forces' – less killing, for instance. But the means are there to be aped, the tics to be imitated: the speed, the modernity, the purposefulness, the can-do. Above all, the language.
[Via Arts & Letters Daily]
October 14th, 2009
March 25th, 2009
Marcus du Sautoy on enormous numbers:
1,000,000,000 (one billion)
In the UK, this number used to be called, simply, 1,000 million, while a billion was reserved for a million million (a number with 12 zeros). But pressure to standardise our numbers with the US drove Harold Wilson to announce in 1974 that any government mention of a billion would from then on mean a number with nine zeros.
If you really want someone to blame for the confusion over billions, however, it's the French. Throughout history, they have flip-flopped between different definitions, wreaking havoc on the names of numbers. In 1480, they proposed that a billion have 12 zeros, which is what the British adopted. Then, in the middle of the 17th century, they knocked three zeros off, so a billion became a number with nine zeros. The young United States inherited this new definition. Then in 1948, the French reverted back to the old system.