Ugh! What is this nasty, disgusting, loathsome word? How do you even say this? It starts with a b and a d bumping bellies in an apparent fight over which gets to attach to the rest. It’s like it was going to be bely and then the d gave it the lie and gazumped the whole thing. And though the b keeps the first position, we end up saying the d – because, unlike Ancient Greeks (and many other people), we are constitutionally opposed to saying [bd] at the start of a syllable. Our tongues simply… abdicate. (That bd is across a syllable break, so it’s OK.) And then we have the echoing y’s like twin tornadoes or, perhaps, cesspits. And the h like an upside-down y, and the g to complete the set of blunt, grunting, burbling, gargling voiced stops. Why. Just why.
Would you like to know who’s responsible for this mess, where it came from and how it came to be on your screen squinting up at you like some kind of tangle of mudworms? Perhaps a nice hate-read? Continue reading →
Summer, at last, has arrived. In ecdysiastic frenzy the denizens of my city are reaching what’s left of the beach and commencing estivation. And whether or not a sunburn appeals to them, it will be time for desquamation: peeling and prying off the scales of winter sartorial defence, the scales of emotional self-protection, the scales of busy-ness with business, the scales on which we weigh our winter weight. The scales of home and job, too, for it is time for a vacation: to get up and go somewhere – anywhere but here.
There are people who are like a tropical shower, sweeping through and drenching all around. If they are disposed to humour, you may even be literally showered by spray from their lips and perhaps by a splash from their glass. Some people find such social hydration refreshing. Some need it often; others can absorb it occasionally like succulents and then go without until the next party or conference. Some people find it altogether excessive and retreat to seek dryness before they drown.
Today’s words are for people exactly not like those passing showers. The people they describe are much better for those who require aridity. Continue reading →
You know what an “Indian summer” is, I presume, though it’s a phrase I would avoid using (and one that isn’t used as much these days): A bit of fall that is recidivistically warm – which is to say, a few days that might make you think summer isn’t over yet, though it is. Well, have you heard of a “Tory spring”? Continue reading →
We all know the result of an insult. If you jump at someone, you get push-back. Which, as it happens, is etymologically correct: the sult in both words comes from Latin saltare, ‘leap’. The re means ‘back’ (as in what springs back at you after you push); the in means ‘in’ or ‘into’ or ‘towards’ or ‘at’ – if you jump down someone’s throat, that’s covered etymologically by insult too, though in English idiom jumping down someone’s throat is usually going a little farther than just insulting them.
So what do we do if we want to diss someone without getting blowback? How do we cast shade without getting chopped down? We can dance around it. Or, more to the point, we can jump around. Continue reading →
I make audio versions of all my blog posts and put them on Patreon for all subscribers who pay $2 or more per month. But occasionally I make one free for everyone. Today’s is one of those. As a bonus, it’s the audio version of a subscribers-only blog post: chont, text version, is available only for those who subscribe for at least $1 per month. So you get to hear it for free… but not read it.
What is chont? A satisfying sound. Here is the sound of chont, with lots of chonts.
This word has a very satisfying sound, I think. Like something that fits neatly being slotted in just right, or a nice bit of mechanics tightly machined and working to perfection. A key fitting in a lock. A catch clicking in its notch. A door closing smoothly and tightly. Or perhaps the sound of a block of cheese or soap being cut in a perfect diagonal slice. It starts with the crisp click-slide of “ch” and after a short vowel pushes the cushion of the nasal “n” to the tongue-tip stop “t.” Tidy. Complete. Satisfying. Continue reading →
Patrick Neylan, Eeditor of business reports. Permanently angry about the abuse of English, maths and logic. Terms and conditions: by reading this blog you accept that all opinions expressed herein will henceforth be your opinions.
The Economist "Johnson" language blog
In this blog, named for the dictionary-maker Samuel Johnson, correspondents write about the effects that the use (and sometimes abuse) of language have on politics, society and culture around the world