The Language Log

Posted: 2009-08-09 16:22   |  More posts about america linguistics words

I first came across this blog a week or two ago, and have so far thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of articles I've read there. It's updated frequently (certainly more frequently than this derelict blog has been in the past while) and is now enjoying a secure place in my RSS reader. Here, I'll link to a few articles that are worthy of mention:

The first article I read, entitled "Fucking shut the fuck up" is a serious analysis of the syntax of one of Van Morrison's on-stage outbursts. Short, readable and interesting - even a few of the comments are good - it's a must-read.

The next is an article on timing and silence in spoken discourse (summary from John Gumperz , "Contextualization and Ideology in Intercultural Communication"):

Conversations are often punctuated with relatively long pauses and silences. In informal gatherings, Indian people may sit or stand quietly, without speaking. If addressed, they may look away and remain silent for a relatively long time (at least from the perspective of mainstream Americans) before responding. When a person is asked a question and she has no new information to provide, nothing new to say, she is likely to give no answer. In all such cases, American Indians themselves interpret the silence as a sign of respect, a positive indication, showing that the other's remarks or questions are being given full consideration that is their due.
The blog post is essentially a series of quotations from the literature such as this, comparing the differences in implied meaning of silence in Native American and Anglo cultures. The final post is a link to an article from Ben Zimmer that's appeared in this week's New York Times' On Language column. It describes the transformation of the word "fail" from verb to noun, due to it becoming an internet meme:

Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into nounhood, in fixed expressions like without fail and no-fail. That all started to change in certain online subcultures about six years ago. In July 2003, a contributor to noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-’90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

In a few years’ time, the use of fail as an interjection caught on to such an extent that particularly egregious objects of ridicule required an even stronger barb: major fail, überfail, massive fail or, most popular of all, epic fail. The intensifying adjectives hinted that fail was becoming a new kind of noun: not simply a synonym for failure but, rather, a derisive label to slap on a miscue that is eminently mockable in its stupidity or wrongheadedness. Online cynics deploy fail as a countable noun (“That’s such a fail!”) and also as a mass noun that treats failure as an abstract quality: the offending party is often said to be full of fail or made of fail.

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