2018 Words of the Year

As in past years, I’ve come up with a list of words of the year. I do things a bit differently than other such lists in that I select twelve terms, one for each month. During the year as each month passed, I selected one word that was prominent in public discourse or that was representative of major events of that month. Other such lists that are compiled at year’s end often exhibit a bias toward words that are in vogue in November or December, and my hope is that a monthly list will highlight words that were significant earlier in the year and give a more comprehensive overview of the entire period. I also don’t publish the list until the final week in December; selections of words of the year that are made in November, as many of them are, make no sense to me. You cannot legitimately select a word to represent a year when you’ve got over a month left to go.

My list is skewed by an American perspective, but since I’m American (and living in Texas to boot), them’s the breaks—although I have tried to limit the number of Trump-related terms; given his ability to dominate the news cycle day in, day out, the list would otherwise be all Trump all the time.

I interpret word loosely, including phrases, abbreviations, hashtags, and the like. The selected words are not necessarily, or even usually, new, but they are associated with their respective month, either coming to widespread attention or relating to some event that happened during it.

So, here are the 2018 Wordorigins.org Words of the Year:

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Lodestar

This week the New York Times took the unusual step of publishing an anonymous op-ed piece by someone identified as “a senior official in the Trump administration” that was sharply critical of Trump. The writer described the president as incompetent and out of his depth and said that they and other senior administration officials actively worked to keep Trump from making decisions. Needless to say, it was a rather explosive article and speculation about who wrote it began immediately.

One particular speculative claim, however, is of particular interest and relates to this blog because of its linguistic nature. A certain Dan Bloom took to Twitter with the claim that the piece was written by Vice President Mike Pence, claiming that the giveaway was the piece’s use of the word lodestar. The anonymous op-ed had praised the recently deceased Senator John McCain as being “a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.” Bloom points to the fact that Pence has used lodestar on numerous occasions in the past, dating back to 2001, and that it is an unusual word. But he is just wrong in the way he conducts his analysis.

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Major League Team Names

It’s called the “great American pastime,” and baseball has been an integral part of life in the United States for, give or take, the last 160 years. So here are the origins of the names of the Major League Baseball teams, past and present.

For those not familiar with the structure of American professional baseball, the Major League Baseball consists of, and has consisted of since the early days of the twentieth century, two leagues, the National League (founded 1876) and the American League (founded 1901). But at various times, particularly in the nineteenth century, other leagues existed, and I make reference to them below when needed. There are also a number of minor leagues, which now exist primarily as “farm” teams to develop player talent for the majors. And until the middle of the twentieth century, professional baseball in the U.S. was segregated, with African-Americans not permitted to play in the two major leagues. There were separate Negro leagues, with the best teams every bit the equal in player quality with the white, major league teams. Following the integration of baseball with Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Negro leagues folded. Where I could find the information, I’ve included the origins of Negro league team names.

The dates listed after the team names are the dates the name came into baseball use, not the date the modern organization that currently uses the name was founded.

Oakland Athletics (1859). Athletics is probably the oldest sports team name still in use, dating to 1859 when an amateur Philadelphia team dubbed themselves the Athletics. The name was used, off and on, throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century for a number of professional, Philadelphia teams. The modern American League franchise played in Philadelphia (1901-54) and Kansas City (1954-67) before landing in Oakland in 1968. Since moving to the Bay Area, the name has alternated back and forth between Athletics and A’s, depending on the whim of the moment. 

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Is Two Better Than One?

My Facebook feed has filled with people posting about this Washington Post article about a study that purportedly shows that “science” has shown that typing two spaces after a period is superior to typing just one. The number of spaces that should follow a period is one of those eternal topics of debate, with peevers and pedants on both sides assuredly proclaiming that their position is the correct one, but almost never with any evidence to show that they are, in fact, correct. So the idea that a study has definitively settled the question would be a welcome relief. The trouble is, the study in question does no such thing.

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Swearing In Tarantino Movies

Who says linguistics is dull?

Stephen Black is a British data scientist who has done yeoman’s work creating a tool for analyzing profanity in Tarantino’s movies.

He’s also done an online concordance and tools for the King James Bible.

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