Lane Greene of The Economist writes to tell me about their new language blog, Johnson. It won my heart in the first entry I looked at, Wild pigs versus cucumber troops, when I saw the following sentence: “The Etymologisches Wö[r]terbuch der deutschen Sprache notes that Gurke is a loan word from Polish (ogurek or ogorek), which in turn comes from the Middle Greek agovros, meaning ‘unripe’ or ‘immature’.” That could have come straight out of LH, and any blog that quotes the Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache is jake with me. Furthermore, in their first post, after explaining that the blog is a revival of a monthly column on the English language written in the ’90s by Stephen Hugh-Jones (available here), they say “this blog is not to be primarily about peeves—’we simply can’t stand it when someone says thus-and-such,” which of course was music to my ears (and has proven to be true). In their second post, they mocked the absurd Queen’s English Society (also mocked by Mark Liberman at the Log and by John McIntyre at You Don’t Say, e.g., here). And they’ve already taken a couple of whacks at the NY Times for their prudery (“We learn from Jeffrey Goldberg that the Times will not even print the Yiddishism ‘tuchus’. Oy.”). All in all, I feel confident in giving Johnson the coveted Languagehat Seal of Approval.
And I have to pass on their hilarious post about their name:
Last week A.T., an American colleague, tackled me, a Brit, about the title of this blog. Never has the nostrum about Britain and America being “two countries separated by a common language” seemed truer:
A.T.: I don’t like the name Johnson.
G.L.: What would you suggest?
A.T.: Well, for instance, Fowler, who wrote the great guide to English usage.
G.L.: What’s the advantage of Fowler over Johnson?
A.T.: Well, it doesn’t mean dick.
G.L.: Hold on—are you saying you prefer Fowler, or Johnson?
G.L.: But is Fowler well-known in America?
A.T.: No, but nor is Johnson.
G.L.: So if Fowler doesn’t mean dick to Americans and nor does Johnson, why is Fowler better?
A.T.: But it does mean dick.
G.L.: Fowler does?
A.T.: No, Johnson.
At this point light dawned, and I realised that A.T. was trying to communicate one problem, while I, thinking myself a connoisseur of American slang, had understood another. In fact both were true: the trouble with “Johnson” is that while Brits know the name well, to Americans it both doesn’t mean dick and does mean “dick”. Fowler, on the other hand, may not mean “dick” to Americans, but to my mind it doesn’t really mean dick to anybody. So I proposed that we stop dicking around and simply explain, at the top right of the page, who Johnson was, so that even if it still means “dick”, at least it no longer doesn’t mean dick. I hope that’s now clear to everyone.