The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘language’

The Coconut Cupcake

April 18, 2014 | by

cupcakes

Yesterday I made some Easter-themed cupcakes, topped with cream-cheese frosting and dusted with green-tinted coconut. Within each nest, I placed four jelly beans. Brand: Teeny-Been. They were, if I do say so myself, pretty cunning.

When I was asked to contribute a word to Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition, I was thrilled to have a chance to agitate for my favorite adjective. It’s not that the word has disappeared, exactly, but it has shed one of its meanings. While one usage always denoted craftiness, the other meaning was benign, even infantile. Something cunning was dear, precious, made with craft and care. Read More »

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Trading Places

March 19, 2014 | by

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An illustration from the Betsy-Tacy series.

Repeating compliments to a third party is a bit like giving money: everyone’s glad to get them, but the giving can be awkward.

It was not always so. Time was, the passing on of compliments was so ritualized a part of life that the practice had a name: trade-last. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as “a complimentary remark by a third person that a hearer offers to repeat to the person complimented if he or she will first report a compliment made about the hearer,” and dates the first recorded use of the term to 1891. Read More »

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Who Wants Flapjacks?

March 4, 2014 | by

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Photo: Janine, via Wikimedia Commons

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.”

 

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Slip of the Tongue

December 20, 2013 | by

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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”

 

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Area Man Returns Book After Discovering Wilde Gay, and Other News

June 27, 2013 | by

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  • The Tweet pictured above really speaks for itself.
  • And another one down: Chicago’s oldest used bookstore, the eccentric and beloved O’Gara and Wilson Antiquarian Booksellers, is closing its venerable Hyde Park location. But all is not lost: the shop is relocating to a more affordable location in Indiana.
  • Here are mashups of chick lit and Marvel comics, because we live in a world unrecognizable to our great-grandparents.
  • Speaking of! Subtle changes (degredation or evolution, you choose!) to the English language, happening as we speak.
  • The Atlantic asks: Must every new coming-of-age novel be “the next Catcher in the Rye?” (Yes.)
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    You’re Saying It Wrong

    June 6, 2013 | by

    This series of infographics, illustrating how different parts of the country say different things, is fascinating. Below: mayonnaise.

    mayolarge

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