Evolving English

Watching English evolve, day by day

Give 'em a rest
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Seth posts "Five Words Brought On By The New Job That The Mrs. Wishes I'd Stop Using", which is effectively a list of vocabulary that's au courant here at Giant World-Famous NW Software Company, Inc (a.k.a. "Ginrmous Software, Inc.", perhaps, har-har):

  1. Architect, as a verb
  2. Take-away(s), that do not involve food
  3. Pivot, when not referring to sports or things mechanical (“I pivot on the small and mid-market.”)
  4. Enterprise, when describing a business
  5. Message, as a verb
He admits he was "inspired by" 5ives, which has this entry:

Five words Madeline would just as soon I stopped using for a while
  1. orthogonal
  2. notional
  3. sciolist
  4. functionality
  5. janky

These are a few of our favorite words
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Jeff Atwood sent me a link to this article, which starts off:
The response from the "vocabularians" was so "ginormous" that the lexicographers let out a "whoot."

"Confuzzled?" You must be a "lingweenie."

The editors of Merriam-Webster dictionaries got more than 3,000 entries when, in a lighthearted moment, they asked visitors to their Web site to submit their favorite words that aren't in the dictionary.
As Jeff noted in his email, the author of the article misspelled "woot," and moreover used it incorrectly -- it's an exclamation, not a noun.

The list of Favorite Words Not in the Dictionary is here. Here are the top five (of ten):
1. ginormous (adj): bigger than gigantic and bigger than enormous

2. confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time

3. woot (interj): an exclamation of joy or excitement

4. chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends

5. cognitive displaysia (n): the feeling you have before you even leave the house that you are going to forget something and not remember it until you're on the highway.
As for "confuzzled," although the speculation is that it's confused+puzzled, I think we detect here also the influence of that most prolific of neologisticators, Snoop Dogg. :-) For fun, go here to translate Web pages into his, er, idiolect.

About about
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From Jim G, who finds the following in an article about indexing, and who begins with an editorial comment:

I automatically love any article that includes the words "monolingual thesauri," especially when they're right next to each other. :o)
It's about aboutness
There is still a strong need to connect "aboutness metadata" to chunks of content. That aboutness metadata can be exposed, as in an index, or listed in a categories list, or hidden in fields and used by a fine-tuned search engine. Indexes may go away in the next version of Longhorn, but they will be back in other ways, because it still takes human analysis to provide oversight on "aboutness." Searching for content in the right context is a last frontier, and although we are on the edges of the frontier, we still don't have automated content retrieval completely solved. We get a lot of results that don't meet our needs at the time, or when we switch search modes. There's still a lot of unfindable information. metadata provides the contextual clues.
[Mike here: I'm not sure what to think about the fact that this all makes sense to me ...]

Bang-bang, pretend you're dead
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From Michael B, who adds "And you thought only you guys create words," by which he meant computer people:
Pfc. Chorn Pen, 240th Quartermaster Battalion, provides cover for a fellow Soldier while damage assessment is conducted following his convoy's escape from a simulated ambush during simunition (paintball) convoy training at Fort Pickett, Va.
From an Army site.

"Simunition" is training ammunition used by the military and by police forces. It is the trademark of SNC Technologies, and of the 7,000 or so hits on Google for this word, most seem to relate directly to the company's products. Yet the word is used in an un-trademarked sense in the cite, and apparently not directly related to SNC Technologies products, so at least some people now think of it as a generic word.

Now sourcing
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From an internal email today:
I am trying to source a programmer/writer, either internally or externally, to create an SDK docset.
Editorial ears pricked up at this one ("I guess hire is too 20th century."). One of our managers came up with the best explanation, though:
He’s just speaking recruiter. ;) When I was meeting with our recruiter, she kept asking if I wanted to do some "sourcing" with her and I kept staring at her blankly trying to figure out what the heck she was talking about.

Sourcing = looking through their database for suitable candidates.

Beware geeks bearing "gifts"
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I was reading a thing about hacking, and noticed that they used the term "Trojan" as a verb. The more usual usage is, I believe, as a qualifier, e.g. a "trojan horse program." I was able to find the term used in various ways conveniently on the Hackfix Web site:
Welcome to HackFix, the site that's dedicated to helping people stay informed about trojan horse programs, how to find out if you are infected, and how to remove these trojans safely from your system.
Using "to trojan" is unusual but not unheard of. The title of this forum thread is "Realnetworks is trojaning people...again!!!". The original cite I had (which I don't have to hand because it's in one of those, whaddya call 'em, books) carefully capitalized the term, thus "To Trojan." Seemed like an odd place to be fussy.

As a special bonus free gift at no cost to you, the HackFix site also gives us this:
If you wish to talk to a live person about anything on these pages, or trojans in general, stop by our IRC channel #HackFix and ask one of our oped or voiced users.

Label side up
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John McPhee startled me twice in a single sentence in the latest New Yorker (April 18). He's writing about UPS, which he does in characteristic style by following along with a shipment of lobsters. At one point he says this about the UPS plant in Louisville:

Sortation used to require a more complex application of human thought, but in the development of the UPS air hub the intellectual role of the workers "out in the sort" underwent a process of "de-skilling." "When they made the hub, they de-skilled a lot of positions," a UPS manager explained to me. "Label side up. That's pretty much the extent of the training for these folks."

I stumbled first over "sortation." That sounded like an odd term -- what's wrong with "sorting"? -- but the New Yorker does not use unusual words casually. So a quick search, and sure enough, AHD, for one, lists it as its own word, defining it as "Sorting, especially when mechanized or automated." Still, I think it's clear that this is at least a recent term, yes?

But even the editors at the NYer are still quotation-marking "de-skill." WTF? (haha) Well, again to my surprise, again AHD lists the term with these definitions:

1. To eliminate the need for skilled labor in (an industry), especially by the introduction of high technology.
2. To downgrade (a job or occupation) from a skilled to a semiskilled or unskilled position.

Yup, that's it, all right. My Friend Google lists ~17,000 hits, with a variation "deskill," which looks a little odd. The fact that a relatively stodgy magazine still puts the term in quotation marks appears to mean that the word has not been entirely embraced yet, as does the ambiguity about the hyphen (meaning the spelling has not been formalized, I guess). But it's on its way. (Alas for those thusly affected.)

What the WTF?
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This isn't a new thing, just a comment on seeing it appear more often in different contexts. An acronym that seems to have pervaded our culture fairly (?) recently is "WTF," for "What the fuck?" It's a nice, concise way of expressing puzzlement or occasionally resignation. If my instincts are correct, "WTF" seems to share with "snafu" and "fubar" a wider acceptance in casual speech (well, writing) than what its nominally vulgar origins might suggest. As in, where someone might use "WTF" in an email, say, I believe that they'd be less likely to use the spelled-out version.

Just looking through my own email and some blog posts, I come up with:
  • Email: "But will people see only two topics for DDL and say 'WTF?'"
  • Email: "Flipcharts at every table? WTF? That doesn't even make sense."
  • Blog post: "i shouldn't be posting this, wtf, i don't care."
  • From BoingBoing (courtesy Seth): "Did you know the British have a different numbering system than we do for numbers over a million? They have shit called Milliards, and Billiards! WTF?"
A sign of the prevalence of the acronym -- and a mark of how well-understood it is -- is that there are Web sites such as The Daily WTF, which displays examples of egregious programming badness. To have one's work appear on thedailywtf.com is a shame indeed. And not just tech. There are other, similar sites:

In fact, Google gets 4,720,000 hits for "WTF", although I suppose some of those might be for the World Trade Federation or something like that.

I was put in mind of all this because Mark Liberman has a post today in the Language Log with this sentence: "Another, lighter linguistic WTF moment, thanks to a Democrat: the recent statement by State Sen. Ellen Karcher (D, New Jersey), who said of the tomato: 'Botanically it's a fruit, legally it's a vegetable'."

It's interesting to note that "WTF" can serve in different roles. As an interjection:

"But will people see only two topics for DDL and say "WTF?"

As an adjective, as used by Liberman ("Another, lighter linguistic WTF moment"). In fact, the folks on the Language Log have a category of posts that go under the rubric "WTF grammar," which I believe Liberman has defined as: "when you're taken grammatically aback by something you hear or read, and then try to figure out what the problem was."

Also, a noun: "Thanks to Tit Petric for sending in this WTF." [#]

I'll keep a lookout for it as an adverb as well.

Cerebral aerobics
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If you do exercises to keep your brain in shape, what's that called? Neurobics, of course. Thus the title of the book: Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises.

Some googling suggests that most (all?) uses of the term derive from this book, which I guess means that Lawrence Katz coined the term and we're still waiting to see if it can break out of the context of just his book. It's a nifty term, though, so I'm rooting for it.

(I remember that Gary Larson had a Far Side cartoon in which a bunch of guys in lab coats, I think it was, are standing in a room with a guy at the front yelling out something like "And now the left lobe!") If I could find a copy of that, I'd scan it and post it ...

Migratory grammar
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I am connected in the second degree with a guy at work (Richard) who has done work with the Microsoft Word grammar checker. He forwarded me an email whose subject was "strange grammar complaint from Word." Someone had run the grammar checker over this sentence:

   How do we migrate the current mess to something new?

and reported "The word 'migrate' is underlined and the error message is 'verb confusion'."

When Richard sent me the email, he asked: "How many speakers of English do you suppose there are who use 'migrate' as a transitive verb? Are there any outside of the technology industry?"

This usage is so common in my field that I think I would not have blinked. We constantly talk about "migrating applications," meaning converting applications, with the specific meaning of moving either from one version to another or from one platform to another.

(Computer people - or hell, maybe English speakers at large -- like to transitize verbs all the time anyway. Another common one I see about 12 times a day is "to persist," in the sense of "to store": "The data is persisted to disk," for example.)

But I pondered Richard's question and did some looking about. Lo and behold, this usage is interesting enough that the good folks at MacMillan are tracking it and featured it once upon a time as their Word of the Week:
Like its predecessor relating to birds and people, common collocates of the new sense of migrate are the prepositions from and to, so we talk about migrating from one format or system to another. Unlike its predecessor, the new migrate has a transitive realisation, for example Consumers are migrating their CD collections to computer music files. In Internet and computing domains, migrate is also used with a direct object to refer, for example, to the transfer of data from one database to another, or the movement of a website from one server to another. This process can be referred to by the derived noun migration, and the noun migrator is often used to refer to software that manages or facilitates the transfer process.
(I particularly like "a transitive realisation.")

The nice twist is that this supposed new transitive usage is, whaddya know, a throwback:
Although the transitive use of migrate seems to be a new invention restricted largely to technical and computing domains, the adoption of the verb as a synonym for move or transfer is in fact just a return to the verb’s original meaning.


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