As I read on my kindle (or other places), I note new vocabulary. I enjoy words and their meanings and I am always thrilled when I learn a new vocabulary word. Sometimes, however, I don’t use the word and then it is lost.

Recently I learned the word mogshade, which means the shadow of a tree, but when I wanted to use it again, I could not remember the word. I even looked up the websites that I had been on at the time, trying to find it. Despite finding the actual article, I still did not see the word. Thankfully, however, I had put it on the blog. Yay!

In our house the wall in the dining room, grass cloth painted a light gray, produces an amazing art piece when the mogshade of the 100+ year old mesquite right outside the back window is visible in the evening. That’s why I went looking for the word again and now that I have found it, I refuse to let it go.

Main point:
Mishegoss is a Yiddish word, which I knew just from the look of the word, that, when I looked it up on the kindle app, did not appear in the dictionary or Wikipedia. However, when I whipped out my phone and put it into Google, I found multiple entries for the meaning.

Mishegoss means craziness or senseless behavior or activity, according to the Free Dictionary.

The word was used in a romance novel, Santa’s Playbook, by Karen Templeton-Berger, published as Karen Templeton.

“Please don’t give me any mishegoss about fighting for my man, Virgil–” (200).

It is a wonderful word and sounds cool, too.

Delightful Words

I call myself a word hoarder, so when I ran across the post on the BBC on 26 Words We Don’t Want to Lose I was intrigued.

I needed the word for “shadow cast by a tree” (did it really come from Old English?), mogshade, just a few days ago.

Finding out there was a word for “a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbour coming and the time she knocks on the door” from Maine Lingo made me laugh. The word is scurryfunge.

Lost Language Reclaimed

After six generations of no speakers of Wopanotooaok, nineteen students are receiving their education entirely in that language. I wonder whether the sounds of how people speak are the same?

“The language brought to the English lexicon words like pumpkin (spelled pohpukun in Wopanaotooaok), moccasin (mahkus), skunk (sukok), powwow (pawaw) and Massachusetts (masachoosut)…”

The movement to revitalize native American languages started gaining traction in the 1990s and today, most of country’s more than 550 tribes are engaged in some form of language preservation work, says Diana Cournoyer, of the National Indian Education Association.

But the Mashpee Wampanoag stand out because they’re one of the few tribes to have brought back their language despite not having any surviving adult speakers, says Teresa McCarty, a cultural anthropologist and applied linguist at the University of California Los Angeles.

‘‘Imagine learning to speak, read, and write a language that you have never heard spoken and for which no oral records exist,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s a human act of brilliance, faith, courage, commitment and hope.’’

from the Boston Globe

Americanization of English

The Conversation‘s article “The Americanisation of the English language: a frightfully subtle affair” says that Americanisms aren’t killing English.

Spelling goes both directions fairly equally, the article argues.
” Take spelling, for example – towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the “u” in “colour” and writing “centre” as “center”. But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out.”

I was relieved to learn that folks is correct, after all, just American.
“The British are still using “mum” rather than “mom”, “folk” rather than “folks”, “transport” rather than “transportation”, “petrol” rather than “gas”, “railway” rather than “railroad” and “motorway” rather than “highway”.”

I am amazed by the discussion of apostrophes, as a class of English majors was unable (or perhaps only unwilling) to explain the rules of apostrophes or admit they knew them.
“Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words “do not” into the single “don’t”. They’re getting rid of certain possessive structures, too – so “the hand of the king” becomes the shorter “the king’s hand”.”

Having been unaware that gradable adverbs were a thing, I was intrigued to learn that these include boosters (like, for Brits, frightfully and awfully) and down-toners (like quite and rather). American boosters would be really and very. I’m not sure we have down-toners–even the spell check doesn’t recognize the word. (Don’t get too excited. I realize that specialized language for various fields are often underlined as misspelled when they are not. I just don’t know if down-toners is an example of that.)

It’s an interesting article with more than I discussed here.

Evolution of “Do”

While the title of this makes me want to sing a ’50s doo-wop, the information I am referencing comes from the same research that I have talked about in my last two posts, Evolution of English and Evolution of English (again).

Though the arguments on the verb shifts they make seemed to me to be “old hat,” I had no idea what their point on the use of do changing was exactly. I’m glad to have found an IFLScience article that summarizes that point.

As another example, look at the word “do”. By our current use of the word, “do” did not exist in the same way 800 years ago. Instead of saying “Do they say?” or “They do not say”, one would say: “Say they?” or “They say not.”

The use of the periphrastic “do” emerged in two stages, first in questions (“Don’t they say?”) around 1500 CE, then in imperative and declarative statements around 200 years later. Plotkin explained: “It seems that, once ‘do’ was introduced in interrogative phrases, it randomly drifted to higher and higher frequency over time. Then, once it became dominant in the question context, it was selected for in other contexts, the imperative and declarative, probably for reasons of grammatical consistency or cognitive ease.”

How they know the cause/reason for its selection in those contexts isn’t clear. Perhaps that is just their supposition.

Evolution of English (again)

My last post, Evolution of English, talked about a study in language drift from UPenn, as described in a Science article.

LifeHacker’s “Stop Resisting Change to the English Language” by Jaime Green is talking about the same study.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that randomness is a more powerful component of English’s evolution than previously thought. (The findings can’t necessarily be extrapolated to other languages—as one of the researchers told The Guardian, “English is weird.”)

For a long time, linguists have thought about language as subject to evolutionary selection, much like species. When a language has more than one way to say something, or variable spellings, the “fittest” one wins, with speakers, en masse, selecting for ease, speed, and regularity. But the new research shows that those streamlining forces don’t always seem to win.

By tracking past-tense spellings of 36 verbs—those found to have at least two spellings, like quit/quitted and spilt/spilled—researchers could see a slice of how English, from 1810 to the present, evolved. And they saw that it made no sense. Six of the 36 verbs had one form being actively selected for. And for four of those six, the chosen past-tense form is the irregular one, which in grammatical terms is decidedly unfit.

Researchers expected selective pressures to steer language toward regularity, making the language easier to remember (and more logical!). But no, they saw “Dove” instead of “dived,” at least in American English; “woke” instead of “waked.” There may be other logical factors driving these evolutions—the researchers speculate, for example, that “dove” is favored because it lines up with the similar-sounding, and similarly patterned, “drove.”

Dive’s past tense is dove. It’s an old irregularity and it’s a common one. That’s why it stuck around. That was my argument in 2013 and I haven’t changed my mind. Now I have someone else’s research to help show more research-focused proof.

Evolution of English

Two evolutionary biologists and two linguists from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed historical language data to examine the evolution of English. In a letter to Nature, they argue for random drift, according to Michael Erard in a Science article.

The researchers used statistical methods from population genetics to analyze three well-known changes in the English language: how past-tense verbs in American English have taken the “-ed” ending, (as when “spilt” became “spilled”), how the word “do” became an auxiliary verb in Early Modern English (as in “Did you sing?”), and how negative sentences were made in Old to Early Modern English.

When it came to the verbs, they found that drift’s influence was stronger when the verb was less frequent. Only six past tense changes in their data set, such as “lighted” to “lit,” were deemed to have changed for purposeful reasons, such as being easier to learn and use.

This doesn’t seem to me to be that exciting or revolutionary, though I suppose the research to support it is significant.

Why doesn’t it seem revolutionary? Because I already knew it–and gave a speech on it, in 2013.

Verbs have gotten simplified. We used to have seven different sets of normal endings. Now we only have one—that –ed you learned in elementary school. However, the most common verbs, the verbs we use the most, are the ones most likely to have kept their original form—so there are [still] seven sets of endings instead of just one.

That is rather cool because you can always tell that a verb is old—really old—if it has an odd ending.

For example, the past tense of Dive—and I’m going to tell you this, not ask you because one of the authors I have been reading recently misused it twice—is dove. Dive, dove. But the past tense of jive is not jove. Jive is a new verb, so its past tense is jived. dive, dove… jive, jived.

The –ed ending was one of our seven endings in English, so just because a verb ends in –ed in the past tense doesn’t mean that it isn’t old… We’re exceptional like that.

Words We Need

While reading about the 30 lost words in English, I found a link to an earlier BBC article on the word for the nails on a chalkboard feeling.

Though I like the idea of having that as a word, I am not sure I think it is an emotion. Despite that, the article has a list of nine words that aren’t in English that we need. Since English is well known for adapting words from any language (as far as I know we are equal-opportunity word snatchers), I don’t see why we can’t just adopt the whole list.

If we don’t want to borrow all nine, how about just taking these three?

Hygge (Danish) – This is the pleasant, intimate feeling associated with sitting around a fire in the winter with close friends.

Tartle (Scots) – That panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Boketto (Japanese) – Gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking.

Lost Words

British researchers spent three months trolling through old dictionaries and books looking for words that have fallen out of favor. They created a list of defunct but relevant words.

Ear-rent is a word for the cost of wasted time from listening to something unimportant. I like that word and don’t know why it has disappeared from usage.

On the other hand, slug-a-bed, meaning someone who sleeps late, is still used among folks I know, so maybe the words aren’t all defunct.

While I was unable to find the research in a publication, I am very interested in virtually collecting some of these awesome words.