Weekly Digest

Dopo le vacanze pasquali, il ponte del 25 aprile e quello del Primo Maggio (quite a big hiatus, actually), ripartiamo con la nostra Weekly Digest, raccolta settimanale di letture, spunti, curiosità di argomento linguistico e grammaticale, ma non solo.
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Buona lettura!/Happy reading!

What do you call a group of …?

Many of the following terms belong to 15th-century lists of ‘proper terms’, such as those in the Book of St Albans attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes (1486). Some are fanciful or humorous terms which probably never had any real currency, but have been taken up by antiquarian writers, notably Joseph Strutt in Sports and Pastimes of England (1801).

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Etiquette – Greetings and salutations
(via The Economist) 

An American friend in New York who speaks good Spanish contacted her house mover, who is Mexican, by e-mail in January. The exchange was going acceptably, until my friend got a strange reply. “I don’t know what your intentions are…but I think these were lies so that you could get my number.” Things broke down quickly. The man will not be getting any more work from my friend. Her mistake? Signing off two e-mails with the word “abrazos”, or “hugs” in Spanish.
Spanish differs quite a lot from place to place. This article from recommends “un abrazo” as one of several possibilities for an informal Spanish sign off. But some Spanish-speaking areas are much more conservative than others, and this was clearly an intimacy too far for the Mexican gentleman. In other countries and for other speakers, it would be totally unremarkable. Elsewhere in Latin America, Brazilians are so free with “um abraço” in Portuguese that they can even be used as a goodbye over the phone between men who have never met, and abraços are near-ubiquitous in e-mail. In both Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking bits of Latin America, if one person of the two communicating is female, besos/beijos (kisses) can be exchanged instead.

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Personal names and the development of English

It is one of many linguistic consequences of the Norman Conquest that only a few of the original, native English personal names are familiar to us nowadays. In late Anglo-Saxon England, names of Germanic origin like Old English Godwine, Wulfsige, Dodda (all male), Cwēnhild and Godgifu (both female) were commonplace. In eastern and northern England, where Vikings had settled from the late-ninth century onwards, the name stock also included Old Scandinavian names such as Þorgeirr, Tóki (both male), and Gunnhildr (female). By about 1250 almost all of this extensive name-stock had been abandoned by the English in favour of continental names used by their Norman rulers. In most cases, our modern contact with the old native names is solely through hereditary surnames coined no later than the mid-thirteenth century, thus Goodwin, Wolsey, Dodd, Quennell, Goodeve, Thurgar, Tookey, and Gunnell. After 1250 only a handful of such names remained in general use, in particular Ēadweard, Ēadmund, Cūđbeorht (which was popular in northern England), and Ēadgýđ, which we know in their Middle English forms Edward, Edmund, Cuthbert, and Edith.

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Are Americanisms taking over the British Language? (via

“American influence is busily eroding a valuable and once firm distinction in British speech and writing” (Amis 1997: 11). This is a quotation from Kingsley Amis’s usage guide The King’s English (1997). As we can tell from these words, Amis is concerned that the British English language is under attack by American influences and he does not seem too happy about it. Secondly, Amis states that certain Americanisms are driving out their British equivalents in British English . These concerns are shared by the Fowler brothers, who in their usage guide from 1906, which carries the same title as the one by Amis, also express their concern: “There is a real danger of our literature’s being Americanized, and that not merely in details of vocabulary – which are all that we are here directly concerned with – but in its general tone” (Fowler & Fowler 1906: Americanisms).

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Who’s confident [confidant?] about using -ance, -ence, and similar suffixes?

For those of you who’ve been following my occasional series about homophonous affixes (or, to put it another way, word-endings and -beginnings that sound the same when spoken!), you should now know your -ables from your -ibles and be proficient in fore- versus for- or four. There are plenty more similar-sounding affixes, though, so I thought it was high time to disentangle another set: the pair of suffixes -ance and -ence, and the related pairs -ant/-ent and -ancy/-ency.
These endings are much used in word-formation and cause no amount of spelling confusion, as is evident from many examples in today’s English. For example, the Oxford English Corpus (OEC) shows that independent is misspelled as independant 737 times. Although this only represents 0.3% of the total occurrences of the word, what is significant is that this error appears in many newspapers (such as The Guardian) and specialist journals (e.g. American Zoologist), which have been edited and proofread. It may be comforting to learn that journalists, editors, and other professional writers are just as prone to these mistakes as ordinary mortals, but correct spelling does matter if you’re writing for public consumption: misspellings are distracting or tend to make people irritated, and so the thrust of what you’re saying is diminished or gets lost completely.

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What do Otis Redding and Roberto Carlos have in common?

Soul’s latest incarnation comes in the guise of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. St. Paul is not really a saint. He is Paul Janeway of a new band that is hot on the rise. When you listen to him sing it evokes memories of a time past. But the most impressive part is that he does not look the part. People wonder how someone who looks nothing like Otis Redding can sound just like him. So how is it that this Drew Carey look-a-like ended up sounding so soulful? The answer comes from his early childhood.
Janeway grew up hearing gospel music and went to church on Sundays. His parents made a conscious decision to not allow him to hear anything but gospel and soul music. Church also contained quite a bit of gospel. He sung to a number of records and was immersed in this genre of music. He continued in his life and was actually almost ready to graduate from college when the opportunity to sing appeared once again. His band began to receive praise for their singing and the rest is history.

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