meta/phr(eɪ) Weekly Digest

The Extraordinary Origins of 11 Ordinary Words

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionary added more than 2,000 new words, and now the world’s foremost authority on the English language includes such entries as badassery, showrooming, live blog, emoji, bitcoin and, naturally, twerking. The ubiquitous selfie moreover was named Word of the Year by the OD after its use skyrocketed by 17,000%, and it soon spawned an array of derivatives like belfie (a picture of your behind), helfie (a ‘hair-selfie’), and shelfie (the word you’ll need next time you take a picture of your own bookcase). To language purists, words like these are at best considered ungainly, and at worst represent a collapse in language standards. To less conservative English users, they are just signs of the times, and new words of any type are exciting reminders that the language is constantly developing and evolving. No matter what you might think of them, however, there’s no denying that, etymologically at least, these words are a fairly uninspiring crop.

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Mind your slanguage, and don’t be an erk. YOLO

Slang should be celebrated, not condemned. It enriches our language – from bloomers to booty, from cool to ceebs, and from doing a Lohan to LOLZ

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Elicit or illicit? A handy guide to making the right choice

You’re mentally fit as a fiddle and in no doubt as to the meanings and use of illicit and elicit.

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When science stopped being literature

We tend to think of ‘science’ and ‘literature’ in radically different ways. The distinction isn’t just about genre – since ancient times writing has had a variety of aims and styles, expressed in different generic forms: epics, textbooks, lyrics, recipes, epigraphs, and so forth. It’s the sharp binary divide that’s striking and relatively new. An article in Nature and a great novel are taken to belong to different worlds of prose. In science, the writing is assumed to be clear and concise, with the author speaking directly to the reader about discoveries in nature. In literature, the discoveries might be said to inhere in the use of language itself. Narrative sophistication and rhetorical subtlety are prized.

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