February 2012

Gene Owen, “Buck’s English: People Didn’t ‘Man Up’ in JFK’s Day” (The Oklahoman, Feb. 28, 2012)

Jeff Cook, of Seminole, was reading a piece of fiction about John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. One of the characters urges another character to “man up.”

“I have lived through those times,” said Jeff, “and don’t remember hearing that until the last couple of years. Is there any way to track when a phrase started gaining in popularity?”

One way to do it, Jeff, is to consult someone who has already done it. Ben Zimmer, who writes the column, “On Language,” for The New York Times, looked into the origins of the verbal phrase. His research indicates that you’ve caught the author in an anachronism.

Read the rest here.  (Related On Language column)

Interview on WBUR’s Radio Boston about the roots of the Boston accent and Richard Bailey’s book “Speaking American.” (Feb. 27, 2012)

It’s widely believed that Boston Brahmin deliberately kept up their British accents as a way of displaying their elite English pedigrees. That may be true, but research by University of Michigan scholar Richard Bailey suggests it was Bostonians who first started dropping the letter ‘R’ from words when they spoke, and only then did the practice actually spread back to England.

That’s just one of the revelations in Bailey’s new book “Speaking American: A History of English in the United States.”

Sadly, Richard Bailey died last year before he could see his work published. But linguist Ben Zimmer examined Bailey’s work closely and joined Radio Boston to discuss Bailey’s findings.

(show page, audio, related Boston Globe column)

Richard Sandomir, “When Brain, Fingers and Vocal Cords Drop the Connection” (New York Times, Feb. 22, 2012)

Ben Zimmer, the language columnist for The Boston Globe, said the expression ["chink"] — about a rupture in something — comes from Middle English and has no Chinese roots. Its derogatory meaning developed in British-American usage in the late 19th or early 20th century.

He said that there were various explanations for how “chink” came to be related to China.

“But the whole idea that the phrase has double meaning is not new,” he said, adding that linguists talk about “taboo avoidance” to refer to not using an expression that has a negative meaning.

Read the rest here.

Analysis of “Downton Abbey” anachronisms inspires a joke on Saturday Night Live Weekend Update (at 1:25 in the video). (Feb. 18, 2012)

Amy Poehler: Some linguistics experts have noted that the hit British series “Downton Abbey”, which is set in the 1920s, has incorrectly used phrases that would not have been popular until much later, including: “Step on it,” “Push comes to shove,” and the most glaring of all: “You should totally tweet that.”

(Video, transcript, related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column, NPR Morning Edition interview)

Featured in the opening panel round of the NPR news quiz, “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” (Feb. 18, 2012)

Our panelists answer questions about the week’s news: Downton Blabby.

(Show page, audio, related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column, NPR Morning Edition interview)

Mason Levinson, “‘Linsanity’ Contender for Word of the Year, American Dialect Society Says” (Bloomberg, Feb. 17, 2012)

The sports world’s newest craze has Lin-guists impressed.

“Linsanity,” the word that has encapsulated New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin’s rise from bench-warmer to international sensation in less than two weeks, has thrust itself into the American English vocabulary and been translated into Mandarin, making it a strong early candidate for 2012’s Word of the Year, according to the American Dialect Society.

“It certainly has had a meteoric rise in less than two weeks,” said Ben Zimmer, chairman of the society’s New Words Committee.

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column)

Katy Steinmetz, “Wednesday Words: Downton Dialect, Linsanity and More” (Time, Feb. 15, 2012)

Speaking of Downton Abbey, the PBS program centered on a noble English family in the early 20th century, language guru Ben Zimmer compiled some of the anachronisms the show’s writers have used. In mid-1918, Thomas, the evil, secretly gay footman, says, “I get fed up seeing how our lot always get shafted.” Zimmer points out that using to get shafted to describe being treated unfairly or harshly wasn’t in fashion for at least another 30 years.

Other anachronisms he found include “I’m just sayin.” and “Step on it.” But suffering through some disingenuous dialogue is a small price to pay for such a compelling show. (I mean, an evil, secretly gay footman is but one piece of ammunition in the show’s dramatic arsenal.)

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column)

Interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about verbal anachronisms on Downton Abbey. (Feb. 13, 2012)

PBS’s hit series Downton Abbey has been praised for its subtle and witty dialogue. But a few anachronisms have slipped into the characters’ conversations, and spotting them has become a hobby for many fans.

Linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of Visual Thesaurus and language columnist for the Boston Globe, talked with NPR’s Renee Montagne about snippets of dialogue that British people of the time would’ve been very unlikely to say.

(Show page, audio, transcript, related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column)

Leah Rozen, “Yo, Does ‘Downton Abbey’ Diss the Language of Yesteryear?” (BBC America, Feb. 12, 2012)

While Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess may not be addressing other characters as “dude” on Downton Abbey, are she and the other characters on the hit British TV series still speaking out of turn? More specifically, are they speaking as if they lived more in the 21st century rather than shortly after the turn of the 19th?

Yes, English students, it’s time for… anachronism watch.

Linguist Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus blog and a columnist on language for the Boston Globe, has posted a video highlighting words and phrases spoken by characters in Season Two of the Emmy-winning drama airing on PBS that seem more au courant than World War One-era.

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column)

Kirsty Stewart, “They Don’t Sound That Different to Us on ‘Downton Abbey’” (Metro, Feb. 10, 2012)

Boston Globe language columnist, Ben Zimmer, has gathered clips from the British period drama Downtown Abbey and criticized the accuracy of the show’s language on Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus.

Zimmer picked up anachronistic phrases in the show’s dialogue such as “What did you want me to do? Tell him to get knotted?” and “To me, Lady Mary is an uppity minx” and edited them into a video, which you can see below.

Read the rest here. (Related Word Routes column, Boston Globe column)