Thursday, 18 March 2010

Don't Forget to Flush Your Teeth

I need to be a little honest here. I may have gotten a little over-excited about the OED update. Maybe. That, though, was because they've been really good in the past. This time, however, it was all a little bit bland. By all means, have a look for yourself, but there was little of interest I could find.

The best of the lot was "generation Y", the kids born after so-called "generation X", which doubles up in meaning as "generation why", the ones who've got answers at their fingertips. Naturally, this lead me to ask what happens after "generation Z"... Do we start again? Do we use numbers? I say we should find a sponsor for each. We could start, in an age of sugary foods and obesity, with "generation M&M". Or not...

In order to clear this gloom and doom, I say we throw some light insults. More to the point, I say we clear up the strange and interesting background behind some. Ever heard someone described as "po-faced"? I have. Any idea what that actually means? Neither do I. Let's take a quick look...

There's a couple of explanations (as usual) various people have put forward to explain the origin of the puzzling bit here: "po". The first of these is the archaic little number "poh", pronounced how it looks. It means to reject something contemptuously, in other words telling someone to shove it with a look. Later in its life, it came to have the spelling "pooh", but I assure you it's got nothing to do with the bear, unless he finds anything particularly contemptible...

Alternatively, Lady Gaga could be onto something. There's every chance that "po" could simply be a contraction of "poker". Then again, there's a bit of a difference between a look of hatred and a blank expression, in my experience, so how could the two explain the same word? I'd say it all boils down to personal use of "po-faced" at this stage. Which ever face you consider to be "po" will determine its origin for you.

There is another option, though. Yes, history really has spoiled us this time. Perhaps the most logical root is the mediaeval word "po". It's the same spelling, and its meaning fits perfectly. What is it? Chamber pot. To be "po-faced", then, is to have a mug like a bog. It's plain, it's simple, and it's a damn fine insult. What's not to like?

I may be a tad biased here. Don't let my preferences stop you choosing any backstory you think best fitting. Even now, when you next call someone "po-faced", it could be the greatest testament to their stoic visage, or a bash at their potty-shaped ears. The choice, dear reader, is entirely yours. Stay po-faced when confronting the sceptics, and they'll run away pretty quickly.


Friday, 12 March 2010

It's Awwwright

Earlier today, I was asked about the origins of the word "O.K.", which I deemed to be no big deal. Think I'd had this one down for some time, I went into a very cocky spiel about how "O.K" way an abbreviation of an old president's nickname, which he used to sign documents presented to him. Thus, to "give something the O.K." would be to give it the president's signature, and give it the go ahead.

And that's that. Problem solved. Rather, that would have been problem solved, if curiosity and self-doubt hadn't gotten the better of me. I looked up "O.K" again, and lo and behold there were a ton of alternate roots. It turns out that nobody actually knows where it came from. It's a little embarrassing to have lost a word, but we're only human. Still, that hasn't stopped people guessing, and there are currently a handful of theories still supported by various academics. I'll leave it up to you to chose which one you prefer.

For our first theory, we can take a quick look at the Greek language, which is always a fun thing to do. In Greek, the phrase "Ola Kala" means "everything's ready", and some clever-clogs thinks they used the abbreviation of it. When it comes to explaining how "O.K." first became popular in America, not Greece, the reasoning goes that "O.K." was written on the side of seaworthy Greek ships or, if you prefer, that lots of Greek people worked on building railways in America. Strange, perhaps, but it stands.

Next up, there was a time in America when it was entertaining to deliberately misspell words, in some strange attempt to mock the illiterate. This was the 18th century, you understand, before they had telly. We all had to make our own entertainment back then. Here, it's claimed that "O.K" is the hilariously misspelled "Oll Korrect", or "All Correct". Hahahahaha. Anyway, that only allows the word to spread amongst the social elite, which would have had a big impact on its contagious use, which clearly didn't happen.

There are also those who say "O.K." is a word we've borrowed from another language, but even they can't agree with each other. The first group reckon it came from the Native American language Choctaw, and the specific word was "okeh". It's nice, but the pronunciation is a little off, and it's hard to see how it could have been so influential. For this one, I might just call coincidence (alright, I'm not going to leave you to your own opinions, I'm going to tag mine on too. Just deal with it).

The other lot who want to say "O.K." is a borrowed word generally go for African languages. Wolof and Bantu both have the word "waw-kay", and Mande uses "o ke". What with the slave trade and all (way to brush over history), these linguists think it's very likely these words would have made their way to America in this manner. Looking at how both they and the Native Americans can come up with similar word makes me suspicious though. If they can do it without relating the two, what's to say the American's didn't?

Lastly, we come back to the president. Martin Van Buren was known occasionally as "Old Kinderhook", and it did appear in slogans in public. See, it's more than just my bizarre little imagination that brought out that story. One guy who did a lot of research into "O.K.", Allen Walker Read, thought it stood up pretty well as a potential root. It helps to stay on the linguist's good side, y'know.

Ultimately, the two theories Read puts forward as most likely are the president's nickname and "Oll Korrect". He puts this downs to their meaning and documented usage, but he could still be wrong. It's anyone's guess, really. I like these two explanations, mind, because they account for "O.K." being an acronym, rather than just "okay". Otherwise, what do they stand for? Maybe it's a misspelling. Maybe I'm completely wrong. Only you can finish the story, dear reader, and do it as you will. It's all O.K. by me.


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Meet the Glocals

Ok, so this is a bit rushed. I'm sorry. Some time in the middle of March, the OED should be adding some new words to their beloved dictionary, which gets people like me incredibly excited. I realised last night that I'd never commented on their inclusions from December, as they do them quarterly. So, I give you the highlights of the OED's December 2009 update. Have fun!

Blogosphere - That's right, I'm now writing this in a space recognised by the OED. Huzzah! This is an example of how thorough usage of a new word has to be before it's entered actually. This little baby's been with us since ol' 1999. Mind you, it might be a little outdated already. I wonder if "Twitterati" will find its way in?

Adultescent - Funny looking word, innit? That's because it's adolescence, but for adults. It refers to someone who's kept their teenage interests going much longer than most people. Oftentimes, you'd expect these sorts might be in the pop music industry, or in orbit around that area. I can't help but feel, sadly, that this is a word invented so society can avoid saying "people who need to grow up a bit". Not that the adultescents will notice, though, they're probably still in bed.

Conspiratorialist - So, how long did it take you to work out this was an American word? It's pretty much the same thing as a conspiracy theorist, except it sounds much more like a member of a cult, or something Bush would say. Actually, I've been noticing that with a lot of American nouns recently. Maybe it's worth looking into... maybe it's government mind control...

Glocalization - Now, this is an odd word. It means making something global and local. Doesn't make sense? I know, it confused me a bit, too. It's turning a world wide issue into a personal one. Example: "Climate change is destroying the ice caps!" could become "In 20 years, polar bears will live in your fridge!" See? Suddenly, it's a bit more pressing.

Taxflation - Yeah, there was always going to be one about money, wasn't there? It's all to do with paying more taxes as inflation makes you richer (remember the old days?). For such a serious matter, a word based on a play on sound ("taxflation" = "taxation") seems a little light-hearted to me. It's almost as if those people who play with money for a living are a tad careless...

Apartotel - Another one of these blended words. Place your bets on what it's a mix of! That's right, "apartment" and "hotel". In essence, a hotel room with self service, like an apartment. Interestingly enough, it started off life as a brand in Spain. It's a good bit of marketing, getting the name of the thing you deal in used as an everyday word.

-zilla - I've saved the best until last here. "-zilla" is a suffix, so you can use it at the end of most nouns, and make 'em mean something gargantuan, and comically over-sized, like what Godzilla was. The best example from the OED was a "thespzilla", an actor (thespian), so dominant and overbearing as to look stupid. "Bridezilla", by the way, even got a separate entry as its own word. I'll leave you to mull.

So these are some of the new words that entered the great compendium of the English language at the end of the naughties. Take a long, hard look, everyone. That's the past decade you could sum up right there.

Now, I've booked an apartotel, but my taxflation means I have to share it with an adultescent conspiratorialist I met in the blogosphere in my guise as a geekzilla. The room's in your garden, by the way, just to glocalize the situation.


Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Put Your Foot Down and Talk About Novelists

Once again, I 'umbly apologise for the lack of updating over the past week and a half. Sadly, this is the nature of coursework: it brings us all to our knees at some point. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to rise above it, and to continue as normal. In this way, we march towards the misty dawn, hoping for a new post. What I'm trying to say is that I've found some interesting stuff, and I'd like you to read it.

Today's word is a common one. I'm certain you use it all the time, so there's little explaining to do in terms of its meaning. What I'm concerned with, however, are its roots. Often paraded as it may be, it's not well known where it came from. That's where I come in. Behold as we push away the cobwebs to find the history of...


I told you it was common. If I have to explain its meaning to you, I'm surprised you're able to even read this. Standard usage has come to have an "author" as an alternative word for a writer. That's no bad thing, but it has, and has had, other related meanings. Allow me to show you what I mean.

An "author" doesn't have to relate to a writer, and we still use it (although a little less often) in different ways. I could "author" a plan, or a design. In its simplest terms, the word "author" comes to look a lot more like a creator of anything. In fact, it's sometimes used to talk about THE Creator. The Big Cheese, the Man Upstairs - "Author" of the Universe.

If you look at the word for a minute or so, it's really not surprising that "author" and "authority" have the same root. Their relationship is a logical one: if the "author" is the creator of something, then the "authority" is the person or organisation maintaining it. If we start thinking in this sense, we can spread into verbs, you could "authorise" access to a vault, perhaps. If you're unlucky, the government of your country is "authoritarian". Play around with the sound a bit, and you'll find a bunch of new words.

Go on, give it a try. I can wait...

Now, if you've done this long enough, I bet you got pretty close to the word "authentic" at some point. Sounds similar, yes, but does it have the same origins? It half does, is my cheekily avoidant answer to my own question. Both "authentic" and "author" come from the Latin word "auctor" (I bet that came as a surprise...), but then they split. In the case of "authentic", there's a Greek word for original very similar to "auctor", and the two got confused and ultimately mixed together. "Authentic", then, comes from "authoritative" and "original", which is pretty much what it means. See, all language is a mess at the end of the day. Consider me the research equivalent of a dustpan and brush.

So "authentic" wandered off down its own path of adventurous change and muddling, whilst "auctor" was still in use. As can be expected, it bumped into another similar word, but this time it was a local friendly Latin one: "augere", which kind of sounds the same a bit to a Latin scholar. Now, "augere" means "to grow", and when combined with a word meaning "authority", you get the beginnings of our modern "author".

It's the meaning behind that root which attracted me to looking into "author". If you really want to "author" something properly, you can't just be controlling and demanding. It takes a lot of care, and you have to actually grow the thing, it can't be forced. I know it's not the most pulse pounding adventure of a history, but maybe it's given you a little insight into the backstory of writing and creation - you have to let the creation do its own thing.

And so I authored this post, but I let it take me where it wanted to go.