hairbag

What is a hairbag? And is it a bad thing?

Police Detective Keith Dietrich has sued New York City, alleging that he was driven into retirement because his supervisors considered him too old for the job. One piece of evidence that Dietrich put forward was that his supervisor called him a hairbag.

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Pilot’s Lounge: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I recently did a podcast with my niece, Ania Wilton on the slang of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In their podcast Pilot’s Lounge, Ania and her cousin Chelsea Pula discuss the pilots, i.e., first episodes, of television series. This was a bonus episode where Ania and I sat down, sipped some scotch, and talked about the language used in Buffy.

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meme

Most of us are familiar with memes, those images with varying text that propagate, often virally, through the internet, but where does the word meme come from?

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RIP, John Algeo (1930–2019)

John Algeo, linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, has passed. He will be missed. A former president of the American Dialect Society and editor of American Speech, he started the “Among the New Words” column in that journal that traced the appearance of neologisms in English.

Here is his obituary from the Bowling Green (Kentucky) Daily News.

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terror, terrorism, terrorist

Terrorism is not simply a modern phenomenon; it’s existed since time immemorial. But it wasn’t until the French Revolution that it was given its name.

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prorogation, prorogue

In September 2019, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the queen to prorogue parliament, that is to discontinue its meetings without formal dissolution, in the run-up to the UK’s Brexit from the European community. The queen granted the request. Prorogation is a commonly used but little noticed parliamentary tool, and in the UK its traditionally used in a pro forma manner in the few days leading up to a new session or just prior to parliament’s dissolution and a new election. But Johnson used it to end debate on Brexit and prevent backbenchers from taking action on Brexit contrary to what he wanted. This particular instance of prorogation is of dubious constitutionality, and, as of this writing, is under review by the UK courts. [24 September: The UK Supreme Court ruled this prorogation of parliament unconstitutional, and parliament will return to session on 25 September as if it had never happened.] But where did the word come from?

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Anglo-Saxon

Update: Friday, 22 November 2019

The University of Illinois Press has given permission for me to post a pre-publication copy of the paper which will appear in an upcoming issue of JEGP (tentatively October 2020, 119.4).

A pdf of the paper can be downloaded from here.

The raw data, in the form an Excel spreadsheet, can downloaded from here.


The article uses linguistic corpora, ranging from the Dictionary of Old English Corpus to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, to trace the usage and senses of the term Anglo-Saxon from the early medieval period through to the present day. It shows that in the early medieval period, while the term was used on the Continent insular use prior to Norman Conquest was rare, referred only to the unified kingdom of Mercia and Wessex, and was limited to the context of royal intitulature. Following the Conquest, it disappeared from English usage before being re-borrowed from continental Latin in the late sixteenth century. And starting at the turn of the nineteenth century it began to be applied to contemporary contexts, first as politico-cultural marker for things English or British, and shortly afterward as an ethno-racial marker. Present-day use of Anglo-Saxon, even in academic circles, is usually not as a reference to the pre-Conquest era, but rather as a contemporary identity label, usually as a marker of whiteness, or as a politico-cultural marker for the global dominance of U.S./British cultural, political, and economic institutions and policies. While the use of the term as an identity label is strongest in North America, such use makes up a substantial percentage of British usage as well.

The results of this study have implications for how the field of medieval studies, and studies of pre-Conquest England in particular, use Anglo-Saxon. Not only is the term analytically problematic because it conflates ethnically and politically distinct peoples in the pre-Conquest era, but its present-day use as a ethno-racial identity marker inevitably associates the field with race and whiteness at a time when the field is striving to break from its roots in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, ethno-nationalist thinking.

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whip

Whip is a word that is used in a variety of contexts with different senses, and I’m only going to be exploring the development of its political senses here—in both British and US political parlance, a whip is the official who maintains party discipline in the legislature and ensures the members and representatives vote the way the party wants them to. While we know the general outlines of the word’s origins, the specifics are lost to the ages.

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jones

The exact origin of this word meaning an overwhelming yen or craving is unknown. It obviously refers to the name Jones, but exactly how it arose and developed is uncertain. 

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rapture

The other day, a friend of mine who lives in Berkeley, California posted this on her Facebook feed:

Anyone not getting raptured want to go to Nerd Nite East Bay on Monday?

After someone asked what she was talking about, she went on to explain in a comment:

raptured = the burning man rapture, or what happens to the Bay Area when everyone goes to burning man. Nerd Nite east bay is a monthly night of entertaining science-based presentations. You know, for nerds.

Burning Man, for those unaware, is a week-long festival held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada at the end of August. Around 70,000 people attend each year. The capstone event of the festival is the burning of a giant, wooden effigy of a man, hence the name. I was very familiar with Burning Man—I’ve never attended myself, but having lived in the Bay Area, I know many people who go each year—but before her post I’d never heard rapture used to describe the emptying out of the Bay Area each year.

Most people are at familiar with the word from the apocalyptic Christian doctrine of the rapture, but that’s a relatively recent development in theology. The word is much older.

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