Trying to write something concisely, I came across a quirk of English. I ran into an example where inserting a pause changes both the syntax of a sentence and its meaning. Here’s the context. Sarah Wells married Joseph Randall, but Joseph died within a few years. After that, Sarah remarried. Her second husband was Louis…… Continue reading A pause can change syntax and meaning
I was reading yesterday about a football club that has 2 ‘co-sporting directors’. That is an odd place to put the hyphen. People do often put a hyphen after the prefix co. Indeed, I often do that myself, to make it easier for readers to see the structure of the word. But in this case,…… Continue reading Not-the best place for-a hyphen
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson allegedly told a staff meeting in 10 Downing Street that they were at ‘probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now’. That comment not only raises political questions but also illustrates an interesting linguistic point. What does the prefix [un-] negate in that phrase? The spelling…… Continue reading Unsocially distanced: a bracketing paradox?
A recent study suggests that approximants—sounds such as /l/; /r/; /w/; and /y/—appear less often in swear words than they do in other words. The paper is The sound of swearing: Are there universal patterns in profanity?, by Shiri Lev-Ari and Ryan McKay (2022) published online in December 2022 by the experimental psychology journal Psychonomic…… Continue reading Do swear words contain some sounds more often?
A Raritätenkabinett (cabinet of rarities) is a collection of things, living or dead, which are considered worth collecting (and perhaps exhibiting) because they are rare. An online collection of grammatical rarities is available at https://typo.uni-konstanz.de/rara/ The site classifies the items it contains into the following categories: rarum (plural rara): ‘a trait (of any conceivable sort:…… Continue reading Cabinet of grammatical rarities
I recently came across a word that was new to me: contronym. A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. An often-given example is sanction. Sanctioning an action can mean either penalising it or permitting it. Some other examples are: WordOne meaningAnother meaningcleave clingsplitclipattachcut offdustremove dustadd a layer of dustapologystatement of regret for an…… Continue reading Contronyms
When two people are arguing, it’s quite common to hear one of them say ‘that’s just semantics’. I find that expression slightly curious. Speakers tend to mean ‘you’re arguing about words, not about substance’. It seems the word semantics has acquired a folk meaning ‘sterile, pointless and pedantic, relating to words, not to the real…… Continue reading It’s just semantics …