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Posts Tagged ‘language’

Truly Trending: An Interview on Intensifiers

August 31, 2016 | by

William Blake, Geoffrey Chaucer.

William Blake, Geoffrey Chaucer.

Sali Tagliamonte is a linguist at the University of Toronto, where she studies language variation and change. Her latest book, Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents, was published in June.

I called Tagliamonte because I’d noticed more and more people using the word truly. All of a sudden it seemed to be everywhere: in work e-mails and movie reviews, in headlines, on Twitter, on Twitter, and on Twitter. “It truly is up to us,” Hilary Clinton said this summer in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. A week prior, in Cleveland, Trump had remembered his “truly great mother.”

Is truly trending? I couldn’t tell—Liane Moriarty’s book, Truly Madly Guilty, had just published. There had been that Savage Garden song in the nineties, and the Lionel Richie one in the eighties. I wanted to find out more, so I did what anyone with a linguistics question would do: I e-mailed Noam Chomsky. To my surprise, he wrote back within half an hour, suggesting I ask “an outstanding sociolinguist like William Labov.” So I did. Labov told me, “The person who has done the most work on intensifiers like truly is Prof. Sali Tagliamonte.” Read More »

What’s the Takeaway?

August 29, 2016 | by


Every month, the Daily features a puzzle by Dylan Hicks. The first list of correct answers wins a year’s subscription to The Paris Review. (In the event that no one can get every answer, the list with the most correct responses will win.) Send an e-mail with your answers to The deadline is Thursday, September 1, when we’ll post the answers. Good luck!  

This month’s puzzle is composed of twenty three-part questions whose one-word answers get shorter by subtraction. A riddle by Roget provides a model for our answers, though not our questions:

What is that which is under you?
Take one letter from it and it is over you?
Take two letters from it and it is round you?

The answers are chair, hair, and air. Our answers rarely rhyme, but the form is pretty much in line with Roget’s. Letters are taken away—from any part of the word, not just the beginning—but never jumbled; left-to-right order is diminished but maintained. Croton could become croon but not Orton. As those examples illustrate, we’ve imposed no Scrabbly prohibitions on proper nouns. Abbreviations are welcome, too. Note also that letters, as they travel from word to word, might take on diacritical marks, be capitalized, or otherwise undergo modest transformation. Très, for example, might follow trees. In most cases, the answer words shrink by ones (bread leads to bead before heading to bed) but in some cases they decrease by twos (bonobo to Bono to no) threes, or fours. Tailgate wags discovered this classic of quadrimedial reduction (above). Read More »

Five Hours of Happy Hour, and Other News

August 25, 2016 | by

Still from Happy Hour.

  • Early in the fourteenth century, an Egyptian bureaucrat embarked on the kind of project that many of us attempt on nights off: an enormous encyclopedia designed to contain all knowledge in the Muslim world. The book, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, ran to nine thousand pages, and a part of it will see English translation, after so many centuries, this fall. It illustrates “the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam, so different from the crude puritanical myths purveyed by modern-day jihadis,” Robert F. Worth writes. “Reading it is like stumbling into a cavernous attic full of unimaginably strange artifacts, some of them unforgettable, some merely dross. From the alleged self-fellation of monkeys to the many lovely Bedouin words for the night sky (‘the Encrusted, because of its abundance of stars, and the Forehead, because of its smoothness’) to the court rituals of Egypt’s then-overlords, the Mamluks, nothing seems to escape Nuwayri’s taxonomic ambitions.” (We’ll have excerpts on the Daily after Labor Day.) 

Read More »

Of Course Hemingway and Wolverine Fought Crime Together, and Other News

August 22, 2016 | by

Wolverine with Ernest Hemingway, duh.

  • Say what you will about Ernest Hemingway, the guy knew how to market himself. He’s remained in print for many decades after his death, which is no mean feat—but more impressively still, he’s found a second life in the comics, where his boastful machismo thrives. Robert Elder writes, “I found him battling fascists alongside Wolverine, playing cards with Harlan Ellison, and guiding souls through purgatory … He’s appeared alongside Captain Marvel, Cerebus, Donald Duck, Lobo—even a Jazz Age Creeper. Hemingway casts a long shadow in literature, which extends into comic books. It’s really only in comics, however, where the Nobel Prize winner gets treated with equal parts reverence, curiosity and parody … In the forty-plus appearances I found across five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian), Hemingway is often the hypermasculine legend of Papa: bearded, boozed-up and ready to throw a punch. Just as often, comic book creators see past the bravado, to the sensitive artist looking for validation.”
  • In the past five years, the Internet has gotten really good at this whole “angry mob” thing—just ask Gawker’s former editor in chief, Max Read, who watched as the digital media slowly recalibrated its approach to privacy: “Not so long ago, it was actually sort of okay to publish a short excerpt from a celebrity’s sex tape to your otherwise mainstream gossip blog. ‘Okay’ is relative here, of course … Still, the extent of mainstream condemnation was cheeky expressions of disgust … What was okay (if naughty) in 2012 is, in 2016, regarded as indefensible. The reaction to the enormous judgment against Gawker makes it clear where public opinion now lies: in sharp if muddled defense of privacy rights, even for public figures. But what has changed isn’t just the outer boundary of what’s appropriate to publish, but where it can be published. Gawker’s biggest mistake in a way was that it had failed to realize that it was no longer the bottom-feeder of the media ecosystem. Twitter and Reddit and a dozen other social networks and hosting platforms have out-Gawkered Gawker in their low thresholds for publishing and disregard for traditional standards, and, even more important, they distribute liability: there are no bylines, no editors, no institution taking moral responsibility for their content.”

Secrets of the Trade

August 4, 2016 | by

Károly Ferenczy, The Woman Painter, oil on canvas, 53.5 in x 51 in, 1903.

Károly Ferenczy, The Woman Painter, 1903, oil on canvas, 53.5" x 51".

Anna Akhmatova’s poem “Secrets of the Trade,” translated by Jo Ann Clark with Zhenya Zafrin, appeared in our Winter 1996 issue. Akhmatova died in 1966; our columnist Anthony Madrid recently wrote about an epigram of hersRead More »

On Transcribing the Lyrics to Pop Songs

August 2, 2016 | by

A still from “Prisencolinensinainciusol”

Still from Adriano Celentano’s music video for “Prisencolinensinainciusol.”

You really can’t tell what a song is going to look like until you type it, and that fact itself is interesting to me. When you listen to a song, for instance, you don’t know whether its “stanzas” are in quatrains or tercets or what. The stanzas and line breaks you install when you type the lyrics simply were not there before you typed them. They were not in your head, and they were not really in the song either. 

You discover all kinds of things. For example, I recently typed up the words to Cream’s “White Room” (1968). Before doing that, I didn’t know that the song does not rhyme. If someone had asked me if it rhymed, I would’ve had to sing it to find out. It somehow seems like it rhymes? But how is that possible.

I go around telling people that 99 percent of songs rhyme. Is that true? It might not be. Maybe songs all seem like they rhyme, but when you actually check … ? Read More »