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Book Review: Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar by David Crystal

Crystal against crystallization

by James Harbeck

(Oxford University Press, 2017) MAKING SENSE

How can we have crystal-clear language spoken by people with a crystal-clear understanding of how it works? For one thing, don’t try to crystallize it—just Crystal-ize. Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar, by David Crystal, is for anyone who wants to get Crystal clarity on the function and uses of English. Crystal is a world-renowned British linguist, academic, and author. He is one of the leading lights of popularizing linguistic understanding; he has written, co-written, or edited more than 120 books, including the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, The Stories of English, Language and the Internet, and, most recently, a series of books beginning with Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling, continuing with Making a Point: The Pernickety Story of English Punctuation, and now adding Making Sense, which gives us what is effectively an introductory course in English linguistics—syntax, morphology, semantics, pragmatics, and history—written for people who want something readable and usable. And he adds some extra details that you’re more likely to get in a course in effective writing.

It can be difficult to review a book that has nothing wrong with it. Honestly, in real life I would normally just say, “If you’re interested in grammar, read this book; if your work in any way involves grammar—and of course it does—read this book; even if you know a lot about grammar already, it will still be worth your time.” But let me give you some more details so you know why I’m recommending it. (more…)

Book Review: The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language by David Crystal

STORY OF BE by David Crystal

(Oxford University Press, 2017)

By Christine Albert

Some words are so familiar that it feels as though we instinctively know what they mean. And when we don’t, we use a dictionary to read its definition and determine how it can be placed alongside other words to form cohesive narratives. But how often do we think about the history behind the word itself, the changes it’s gone through and the nuances it provides the English language and the topics being discussed?

In The Story of Be: A Verb’s-Eye View of the English Language, David Crystal examines the verb to be, highlighting the meanings created and used throughout its long history. A linguist, editor, and prolific writer, Crystal is well-known for his research in English language and has published over 100 books and almost 500 articles on topics such as religious language, Internet language, and clinical linguistics. Each chapter of The Story of Be is dedicated to a specific function of the verb, ranging from the more philosophical (“existential be”) to the scatological (“lavatorial be”). In the latter chapter, for instance, Crystal muses on the origins of the saying “Have you been?” to denote using the washroom, delving into past literature to see when this phrasing began. Alongside these explanations are numerous examples from a variety of sources, including literary, pop culture, religious, and technological. And sprinkled throughout the book are text boxes that focus on the history of the word’s various tenses, showing their development from Old English to modern times and their regional uses. (more…)

The Nitpicker’s Nook: November edition

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, blog posts, and podcasts. If you read or hear something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

Nitpickers Nook Image by Deven Knill

By Carol Harrison

Need a five-minute break from hacking and chopping and cursing the English language? Open Culture features a short lesson by Yale linguistics professor Claire Bowern on the roots of English. A sweet, simple, and smart TED Talk, cheekily animated by Patrick Smith.

Speaking of roots, The Independent’s Natasha Salmon reports on how the French language is facing a backlash on gender-neutral words.

I’m a big fan of Words to that Effect, “a literary podcast of the intriguing, the curious, and the unexplored” hosted by Conor Reid from Dublin, Ireland. In episode 9, “Imaginary Countries and the Ruritanian Romance,” Conor talks about making up place names. Lovely stuff!

And for those days when you’ve run so low on dilithium crystals that your flux capacitor just goes kablooey, consider listening to “Technobabble” on Imaginary Words. In this episode, scientists and screenwriters team up to get the words right. It’s the droid you’re looking for.

Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and quality assurance specialist at CPA Canada. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200.

This article was copy edited by Afara Kimkeran.

The Nitpicker’s Nook: early October edition

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected].

Nitpickers Nook Image by Deven Knill
By Carol Harrison

Thanks to Sara Scharf for her contributions and to Deven Knill for the lovely new banner image!

 

Blimey! The Guardian’s Mona Chalabi reports that data shows the Americanization of English is rising.

“Friends with benefits” and other idioms that may not translate: or that time The Guardian’s Mona Chalabi made her mom guess the meanings of English expressions.

Because, at the end of the day, the bottom line is that idioms can be annoying: So say The Globe and Mail readers.

On people, language, and respect: Alex Kapitan writes about person-centred language in the blog The Radical Copyeditor. 

It is my great honour to introduce a new honorific: Merriam-Webster on Mx.

So, does this mean my computer will swear back? In The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance writes about how AI has created its own language.

Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and quality assurance specialist at FRAS Canada. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200. 

This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.

Book Review: Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World  by Yee-Lum Mak 

(Chronicle Books, 2016)

By Jaye Marsh
Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World by Yee-Lum Mak 

Jungian analyst Robert Johnson’s oft-quoted words from his book The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden have stayed with me: “Sanskrit has 96 words for love, ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one.” Given the English language’s predilection for absorbing new words from many cultures, it still has a paucity of beautiful and concise terms for the eternal and universal concepts of love, pain, and the sublime. In her search for the sublime in language, Yee-Lum Mak created Other-Wordly in which we find “komorebi: the sunlight that filters through the leaves and trees” and “hiraeth: a homesickness for a home which maybe never was”. Mak is from California and currently completing advanced English studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her love of words began when she stumbled across the Portuguese term for “the love that remains” (saudade), which sparked her search for other “strange and lovely” words.

Some words are striking, respectfully highlighting different cultural norms. Others show a sense of humour about the human condition. Two paired Japanese words let us peek at cultural values: “tatemae: what a person pretends to believe” and “honne: what a person truly believes.” A lovely Spanish word describes my favourite activity, “sobremesa: the time spent around the table after dinner talking to the people with whom you shared the meal.” Not wanting to spoil the joy of discovery, I expect most of us in the editorial world can relate to page 13: buying books, hoarding books, books piling up – there are words for that! (more…)

Report on ACES 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida

By Berna Ozunal

This year, 591 people travelled to St. Petersburg, Florida, for the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference held from March 23 to 25 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront Hotel—the second-highest attendance ever.

I went to St. Pete’s for a few reasons this year: I enjoyed last year’s conference in Portland and learned a lot, I seriously needed to “defrost,” and I was presenting a session.

Located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, St. Petersburg has a population of just over 250,000. From the Tampa International Airport, it’s just a 30-minute taxi or shuttle ride to the hotel.

I was told that March is the perfect time to travel to Florida, and it’s true. With highs between 24ºC and 28ºC, you are transported to another dimension—one where people do not walk around half the year swaddled like mummies in wool and down. (more…)

Webinar: A linguist’s guide to grammar

What you learned in English class will help you with syntax about as much as what you learned in driving lessons will help you with mechanics—you get by fine until one day you find yourself stopped in the middle of a sentence with smoke coming out from under the hood. In this webinar, we’re going to learn how to take apart sentences the way a mechanic takes apart an engine.

The key learning objectives of this webinar are to

  • diagram sentences the way linguists do—accurately and elegantly,
  • learn about the building blocks of syntax,
  • clear up some common misunderstandings about verbs, nouns, and pronouns, and
  • dismantle and fix some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to apply “proper grammar.”

Date: Thursday, April 27
Time: 2 p.m., EDT / 11 a.m., PDT
Length: 1.5 hours
Language: English
Member price: $56.25
Non-Member price: $75

Register HERE

james_harbeck
James Harbeck is a linguist, editor, and well-known writer and speaker on language. His articles appear regularly on websites such as TheWeek.com and BBC.com as well as on his own blog, Sesquiotica.

Nitpicker’s Nook: March “it’s almost spring” edition

The Nitpicker’s Nook is a monthly collection of language-related articles, interviews, and blog posts. If you read something that would make a good addition, email your suggestion to [email protected]

The Nitpicker's Nook, Carol Harrison

Irish editor and “swivel-chair linguist” Stan Carey blogs about how usage snuck/sneaked into The Simpsons.

Writer and teacher John Kelly dishes up some fresh hell on Strong Language. (This blog contains language may not be suitable for some readers).

CBC Ideas host Paul Kennedy interviews Canadian archaeologist Genevieve von Petzinger about some of the world’s oldest symbols.

An un-comic take on Comic Sans. See also Christine Albert’s post, “Promoting Accessibility in Editorial Businesses,” and Ambrose Li’s article, “Web Accessibility: An Editor’s Guide.”

Ryan DeCaire, an assistant linguistics professor at the University of Toronto, seeks to revive the Mohawk language.

Do you know that author who uses the same old, tired word or phrase over and over repeatedly with no end? Here are the famous writers’ favourite words. Got your sharpened red pencil ready?

Ooh, this is fun! How IKEA names its products!

Carol Harrison is editor-in-chief of BoldFace and freelance editor and writer at Muse Ink. When she isn’t focusing on words, she’s focusing her Nikon D3200.

This article was copy edited by Olga Sushinsky.