meta/phr(eɪ)Ze.com Weekly Digest

Can a word really be untranslatable?

There’s no such thing as an untranslatable word. There, I’ve said it. Despite all the memes, blogs, and books to the contrary, all language is inherently translatable. However, whether the broader meaning of a text – the jokes, philosophies, and cultural peculiarities of its language – is translatable depends almost entirely on the individual with their nose in the dictionary (not to mention the dictionary itself).

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Simples-tic!

I’ve mentioned what I call “word-inflation” before. Sometimes it is a case of extending words to make them sound more important: “transport” is lengthened to “transportation” (when it means transport around a city, not to a penal colony), or “methodology” is thought to sound more impressive than “method”.

In other cases a sort of hyping occurs. We used to say, for example, “We need to be clear”, and maybe that was varied with “have clarity”. Then someone sought to emphasise it by saying “crystal clear”. Somewhere along the line this became commonplace or hackneyed and “transparently clear” began to be used, without really thinking of the meaning but just by a sort of inflation or, um, upgrade. Then we began to hear of the need for “transparency”, “total transparency” and so on.

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Our favorite Heathers slang

We can hardly believe it but Heathers is turning 25 this year. We thought we’d celebrate with some slushies, croquet, and TNT, but that seemed like a lot of trouble so we’re rounding up our seven favorite slang terms from the movie instead.

EXPLETIVE ALERT: if you’re familiar with Heathers, you’re familiar with its, um, colorful expletives, two of which will be discussed at some length below.

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This blogger found Upworthy-style headlines very annoying. You’ll find his response utterly plausible

Many people are constantly complaining about the current trend to write “Upworthy-style” headlines, but why does such a seemingly-harmless thing cause such annoyance? The science and psychology behind it really won’t blow your mind

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Looking for love… and other popular search terms from 2014 so far

If you’re reading this, you almost certainly use Oxford Dictionaries Online, and if you use Oxford Dictionaries Online, you’ve probably used the search box – and have you ever wondered which words receive the highest number of search requests?

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The early history of the guitar

I am struck by the way the recent issue of Early Music devoted to the early romantic guitar provides a timely reminder of how little is known about even the recent history of what is today the most popular musical instrument in existence. With millions of devotees worldwide, the guitar eclipses the considerably more expensive piano and allows a beginner to achieve passable results much sooner than the violin. In England, the foundations for this ascendancy were laid in the age of the great Romantic poets. It was during the lifetimes of Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Coleridge, extending from 1772 to 1834, that the guitar rose from a relatively subsidiary position in Georgian musical life to a place of such fashionable eminence that it rivalled the pianoforte and harp as the chosen instrument of many amateur musicians.
What makes this rise so fascinating is that it was not just a musical matter; the vogue for the guitar in England after 1800 owed much to a new imaginative landscape for the guitar owing much to Romanticism. John Keats, in one of his letters, tellingly associates the guitar with popular novels and serialized romances that were shaped by the interests of a predominantly female readership and were romantic in several senses of the word with their stories of hyperbolized emotion in exotic settings.

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Hire and Rent

The upshot: in BrE one hires things (and sometimes places), employs people, and rents places; in AmE one hires people and rents things or places. That said, one hears hire for people in BrE too, but just not as much as one does in AmE. And employ is not particularly non-American, it’s just overwhelmed by hire there. Both have let for what the landlord might do and lease for certain things (e.g. long-term non-ownership of cars, I think). It’ll probably be easiest if I go through these verbs one at a time.

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That’s all, folks!
See you next week.

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