Posts Tagged ‘language’
March 4, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Today is Mardi Gras, yes—the beads, the cake, the booze, the breasts. We get it. I love a Dionysian spectacle as much as the next joe, but one can take only so many years of unhinged debauchery, face paint, and galettes des Rois before the charm wears thin, even when there’s nudity involved. We need a change of pace.
Enter Shrove Tuesday, i.e., National Pancake Day, i.e., today. Picture a Mardi Gras where men lust not for nipples, but for fluffy flapjacks. The Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day has just taught me about the pancake bell, “A bell rung on Shrove Tuesday at or about eleven a.m., popularly associated with the making of pancakes.”
Imagine! A bell devoted entirely to pancakes, a bell whose mellifluous peals say to all within earshot, Abandon your post, hire a sitter, and get thee to the griddle—it is time to eat starch.
Shrove is the past tense of shrive, meaning “to hear the confession of, assign penance to, and absolve.” On the Tuesday before Lent began, the same bell that called people to confession served as a stern reminder: use your eggs, milk, and butter now, because once the day is out, we must begin ritually fasting and you are totally fucked.
Thus, everyone began to run home and whip up hotcakes; some people, rumor has it, even tried to cook the pancakes as they ran home, tossing and jogging, jogging and tossing, perhaps ladling syrup on occasion. To this day, the British town of Olney holds a pancake race (“Participants must don an apron and hat or scarf to compete. They are also required to toss the pancake three times during the 415 yard race, serve it to the bell ringer, and receive a kiss from him”) and IHOP hosts a fundraiser, though it does not, to my knowledge, involve the tolling of a pancake bell.
The OED includes an early reference to the bell, from Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemakers Holiday, which dates to 1600: “Vpon euery Shroue tuesday, at the sound of the pancake bell: my fine dapper Assyrian lads, shall clap vp their shop windows, and away. This is the day, and this day they shall doot, they shall doot.”
December 20, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
The Dictionary of American Regional English is an epic compendium that’s been in the works since 1965. Now, it’s done and all 60,000 words are available on a great interactive site. Just to give you a taste of the myriad riches contained therein, the following are all regional variations on informing a woman her slip is showing:
- “It’s snowing down south”
- “Your father likes you better than your mother”
- “Whitey’s out of jail”
June 27, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
June 6, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
This series of infographics, illustrating how different parts of the country say different things, is fascinating. Below: mayonnaise.
June 5, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
March 27, 2013 | by Spencer Woodman
Earlier this month, after it was reported that several prominent dictionaries had expanded their definitions of literally to include “figuratively” as an informal usage, grammar-sensitive commentators launched into another wave of condemnation of the word’s expansive use.
“The dictionaries have begrudgingly bowed to the will of the grammar-averse public,” wrote The Week. “As anyone who paid attention in grade school knows, ‘literally’ means ‘in a literal or strict sense, as opposed to a non-literal or exaggerated sense,’ and is the opposite of ‘figuratively,’ which means ‘in a metaphorical sense.’”
Criticisms of the word’s unorthodox use are, strictly speaking, accurate. They reflect well-founded fears that society is coming to care less about clear and beautiful linguistic expression. So I often worry that I might be alone in my enjoyment of the nonsensical images created when the word is misapplied. For me, the usage can introduce gratifying little flashes of surrealism into everyday conversation.
Just think of Joe Biden’s remark last September: “We now find ourselves at the hinge of history, and the direction we turn is not figuratively, it’s literally in your hands.” Here Biden is ambitiously making two metaphors concrete: both that history can have an actual hinge and that this can be in someone’s hands. This remark conjures, for me, an image of the vice president heroically grappling, both hands (perhaps amid a howling thunderstorm), with a mighty vaulted door glowing iridescent with the sum of human destiny. It gives me a tickling look at the vice president’s imagination and his sense of the palpability of something as abstract as world history. Read More »