language and words in the news

Week in review: 1 May, 2009

© Ioannis Kounadeas / Fotolia.comThis post contains a weekly selection of links related to English language today. These can be items from the latest news, blog posts or interesting related websites. A new weekly review post will be posted every Friday. Please contact us if you would like to submit a link for us to include.


Vast language, gene study unveils our history.
When people move, they borrow words from the people where they settle. Those new words inserted into older languages can tell us when the newcomers arrived.

The French have a beef with the English.
French influence on the English language came after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, brought with him Norman French.

Foreign accent syndrome.
A man from Yorkshire claims to have started speaking in a broad Irish accent after waking up from a brain operation. Why?

All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad held at Dublin City University.
More than 80 transition-year and fifth-year students took part in Ireland’s first All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad.

The joy of exclamation marks!
Exclamation marks used to be frowned upon. Now look what’s happened! We use them all the time! Hurrah!!! But what is it about the age of email that gets people so over-excited?

Gadget jargon still confuses many.
WAP, dongle, and cookie are some of the least understood words by the British public, according to a survey.

Your ancestors durst to speak the English language.
Do you recall how hard it was to learn the rules of English grammar when you were a kid? Count your blessings that you aren’t old enough to have studied Elements of English Grammar with Progressive Exercises in Parsing, first published in 1828 in Boston.

Brain reads word-by-word.
Reading may be fundamental, but how the brain gives meaning to letters on a page has been fundamentally a mystery. Two new studies fill in some details on how the brains of proficient readers handle words.

American newspaper circulation declines 7% in last six months.

Blog posts and columnists

Of loos and language.
(From New York Times opinion column). ‘America works, every day, its youthful ambition still boundless. England, having seen everything go pear-shaped, relieved of the burden of running a ropey world, boozes and says it’s sorry and prefers a lie-in.’

“Metrosexual”: Real Men Wear Pink!
“Metrosexual” was introduced to society by Mark Simpson. As a writer for The Independent, Simpson published an article on November 15, 1994 titled “Here Come the Mirror Men”

In Defense of Common English.
A look at a number of popular books which deal with modern English. ‘When linguists try to share their insights and scholarship, the results are rarely boffo.’


English Vocabulary via Greek and Latin Roots.
Discussing the fascinating Greek and Latin roots of English vocabulary words.

Orwell on Politics and the English Language.
‘…one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end.’


Funny: European Union agreement to adopt English language.
‘As part of the negotiations the British government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement…’

The English Language WordClock.
Counting down to a million words in the English language! Ok, we know it is impossible to put an exact figure on the number of words in the English language, but hey, who doesn’t love a countdown?

History of communication cartoon
(picked up from The English Blog)

Funny commercial.
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Jonathan Cole


  • As a few commenters on the site mentioned, the first story doesn’t actually have any new information about language or genes at all. Would be interesting if they could prove that click languages were the original human languages, but again no evidence is given in the article

  • From the BBC article on gadget jargon:

    The firm says companies should use language people understand, rather than resorting to jargon. The move is backed by the Plain English Campaign, saying it would help bring down the “walls of techno-babble”.

    Spot on. Assumptions are killers when it comes to all sorts of writing; especially tutorials, user manuals, and articles that reference new technology. Add a glossary or explain in full the first time you use a technical term and you ensure more people will understand.

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