A friend of mine identifies as a geek; he even worked for the Geek Squad for a while.
But some seem the term as derogatory – particularly if going by dictionary definitions. Google’s dictionary defines a geek as “an unfashionable or socially inept person” with a secondary meaning of “a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: “a computer geek” “.
Whilst my friend self-describes as a computer geek, he’s definitely not socially inept or particularly unfashionable. He loves computers, but he’s not devoted. He’s reclaimed the word “geek” and isn’t alone:
The Geeks say they have reappropriated the term, and it no longer has a negative connotation. “Personally, I have no problem identifying myself as a geek girl, geek, nerd, dork, etc,” writes Jill Pantozi on The Mary Sue (a site that describes itself as “A Guide to Girl Geek Culture”) pointing to a survey that shows all the ways geeks are positively viewed. Some of the findings: 51 percent of Americans surveyed consider geeks professionally successful; 54 percent find them extremely intelligent with perceptions of social awkwardness much lower down. “When you talk about a geek, you used to think of the guy in the back of the room, pocket protector with a bunch of pens in it, the white shirt, the high pants, very socially inept,” said Jack Cullen, president of Modis, which sponsored the survey. “Today, when I think of geeks, I think of Steve Jobs. One guy has redefined the geek concept. You could put Zuckerberg in the same category,” he continued. (Source: The Atlantic)
Seems it’s long past time for dictionaries to catch up: Geeks are cool!
What language will people speak in the future?
That’s the subject of a chapter from new book “The Language Wars: A History of Proper English” by Farrar, Straus and Girous, extracted at Salon.com. English currently continues to dominate as the lingua franca of business and popular culture and it’s widely used in other industries. It’s also the most popular second language in the world: more people speak English as a second language than there are native speakers.
This has consequences – the authors see the rise of different, local Englishes as being the main challenge facing the language. Native speakers may soon have no advantage as English becomes a standard requirement, as seen from a study published by the British Council:
When polled in 2005, more than 80 per cent of people in the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden claimed to be able to speak English. The ﬁgure was around 60 per cent in Finland, 50 per cent in Germany, 30 per cent in France and Italy, and 20 per cent in Spain and Turkey. These ﬁgures can safely be assumed to have increased. They come from a study published in 2006 by the British Council, an organization set up in 1934 and today operating as an “international cultural relations body” in more than a hundred countries. In 1989 its Director General, Sir Richard Francis, stated that “Britain’s real black gold is not North Sea oil, but the English language.”
The full extract is absolutely fascinating – take a look! It’s also a great affirmation for native English speakers learning a second language – your bilingualism will be a great advantage in future years.
Have you ever wondered why the skin-tight one piece mostly seen on gymnasts is called a leotard? Or why a bathtub with massage jets is called a Jacuzzi? Then this slideshow from Slate is for you!
Jacuzzi is the name of the Italian immigrant brothers who first invented a particular type of hot tub. The name has now become synonymous with all hot tubs, much like Hoover for vacuum cleaner. Another example of this is the inventor of safety razors, King Camp Gillette.
And the inspiration behind leotard? Jules Leotard, a French acrobat who invented both the trapeze and the outfit to wear whilst on it.
See more people who became nouns at Slate.com and also at Life.com.
A multimedia artist in New York City is planning to teach English – at a Laundromat.
Hector Canonge will teach two one-hour English classes a week, as part of his public art project, The Inwood Laundromat Language Institute. What was the inspiration behind the project?
“There are a lot of newcomers [to the United States] in the area, and I see that they struggle with a lot of the concepts that we take for granted – the wash cycle, the spin cycle,” he explained. “Sometimes they even have difficulty asking to buy soap or for change because they don’t speak the language.” (Source: Manhattan Times)
Canonge will teach vocabulary essential to using the Laundromat, including “clothes”, “soap” and “machines” before moving on to more complex aspects like verbs and possessive nouns. He will use flashcards, a brochure and the environment to support his teaching.
At the end of the project a graduation will be held for the students. The art comes in at the end of the ceremony – Canonge will unveil a multimedia interactive kiosk installmant in the Laundromat which will “outline the process of the project and highlight individual experiences that took place over the course of the month”.
This sounds like a great way of reaching out to the community and involving them not just in language, but art. What’s the most unusual place you’ve learned a language?
An article on Slate.com comes out in praise of ‘verbal stumbles’ – the “uhs”, “ums” and “ers” we all use to fill in gaps in our speech.
Apparently there is an organisation called Toastmasters International who charge every time one of these fillers is used. And conventional wisdom says using fillers rather than staying silent makes you seem stupid or nervous.
But “uh” and “um” don’t deserve eradication; there’s no good reason to uproot them. People have been pausing and filling their pauses with a neutral vowel (or sometimes with an actual word) for as long as we’ve had language, which is about 100,000 years. If listeners are so naturally repelled by “uhs” and “ums,” you’d think those sounds would have been eliminated long before now. The opposite is true: Filled pauses appear in all of the world’s languages, and the anti-ummers have no way to explain, if they’re so ugly, what “euh” in French, or “äh” and “ähm” in German, or “eto” and “ano” in Japanese are doing in human language at all. (Source: Slate.com)
There’s also evidence to suggest that markers such as “ah” and “um” help listeners recognise what follows, and that the use of these doesn’t affect the speaker’s standing.
For language learners, using “um” and “uh” gives us space to think about what we’re saying next, without breaking the conversation. My high school French teacher actively encouraged me to use a sort of French-sounding “errrr” in my speaking exams as he said this would add to the impression that I had a decent level of spoken French (this was not entirely true).
What fillers are used in your target language?
A portmanteau is a blend of two or more words into one – Chinglish for example.
Arnold Zwicky’s blog has a list of some portmanteau words from the last year and a half:
2. Gleek (“a portmanteau that won the American Dialect Society competition for 2010 Word of the Year in the (new) “fan word” category (the clipping app was the overall WOTY winner“)
Take a look at the full post for the origins of each word. Can you think of any others?
It may not sound possible, but the history of English has been encapsulated in 10 short videos totalling 10 minutes.
Created by The Open University, the videos span time from Anglo-Saxon English to modern-day Global English. The entire collection of videos is linked here. I particularly like the illustrations used in The Age of the Dictionary video!
My last post explored some ideas about the future of the English language. Now it’s time to look to the past – a new project aims to find 100 events that shaped the English language.
The English Project, a charity dedicated to promoting the language, has started to compile a list of important events that made English what it is today. Starting in 475, the list includes the Undley Bracteate medallion which is the first evidence of written English. The most recent entry on the list is from 2003, when apparently more people said “I luv you” by text than said “I love you” by post.
The project has so far made 20 entries and is looking to the public to help fill the remaining slots.
Bill Lucas, a trustee of the English Project and professor of learning at the University of Winchester, said: “This is a wonderful way of engaging people in a wider conversation about the English Language.
“We want to get the nation really thinking about the stories behind our evolving language.
“How, for example, do you rate the relative significance of Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, versus London’s part in the birth of the world wide web?
“English has now become the lingua franca of the world. It is the most exciting and exotic language partly because of its capacity to incorporate so many elements of other languages, and somehow to make these dynamic, descriptive and always exciting.
“The history of Britain and the history of the English language are also very closely intertwined.
“We’re excited about hearing people’s ideas about the places and events they think have shaped the language.” (Source: Telegraph)
Sadly it seems that they are only looking for places in the British Isles that are important to the history of the language – I wonder if this will extend to include the rest of the English-speaking world?
An interesting blog post at the Washington Post looks at the five words shaping our future.
Jonathon Keats proposes that “words occasionally anticipate the reality they come to reflect”, particularly now in our technological society. The words he thinks we will be using more in the future are mostly combinations of other words, for example memristor = a resistor with electrical memory.
The most interesting for me is Panglish – “a simplified future world English”.
An estimated 1.5 billion people speak English, fewer than a quarter of whom speak it as a first language. Most get by with simplified grammar and a vocabulary of a couple thousand words. Coined to identify this streamlined English, panglish has transformed the phenomenon into a topic of debate. Panglish has been vilified by English nativists afraid that their language is being gutted, and by lexical nationalists abroad terrified that panglish will sully local tongues. Yet few panglish speakers even know the word panglish. They have no need for it. Those who would decree the future of language might as well speak gibberish.
The idea that everyone will speak some level of English in the future is hotly debated. Some believe English will wither away and die out, others think it will go from strength to strength. One of the world’s foremost experts on English thinks it will fragment into global dialects. In 2000, the British Council estimated that over a billion people were learning the language, so it looks healthy so far – who knows what the future will bring?
Earlier this month I posted about a debate in The Economist over whether the English-speaking world should adopt American English.
Some people who commented on the debate pointed out that no single group of people controls the English language – like all languages it is constantly in motion and changing, depending on who uses is and how. In this video, Professor David Crystal explores that notion further, discussing whether control of the English language is shifting away from native British and American speakers. Take a look.
Professor Crystal on English