ON THE RADIO.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from a a producer at KPCC, the NPR affiliate in Los Angeles, which said:

We are doing a fun, little segment inspired by this article in this month’s Atlantic called “In Praise of Fancy Words.” … I am wondering if you might be interested in coming on our show for a live, phone interview TOMORROW, DEC 4 between 2:40p to 3:00p EDT to talk about the topic. The conversation is going to be about the enjoyment of coming across and using big words, and what our culture of instant communication has done to our diction. Also, when we lose these vocabularies, what else do we lose along with them? [It will be] a call-in show and we are expecting the conversation with Mr. Bowden would generate a lot of listener comments on which their favorite fancy word is.

It looks like it’s going to happen; anyone wanting to listen can do so at KPCC’s website. Start time is 2:40 PM Eastern (US) Time, which is 11:40 AM on the West Coast; I’ll let you work out the appropriate time for wherever you are. Bowden’s Atlantic piece was linked and discussed at this recent LH post.

Update. Just finished the call-in show; it was a lot of fun, and I was delighted that Geoff Nunberg was the other talking head (if that term can be applied to the radio). I was surprised it was over so soon (subjectively). If I’d had a chance to say one more thing, it would have been: “Once again, I must disagree with the estimable Geoff Nunberg; he has no idea whether ‘sixty or seventy percent’ of English speakers know any given word. If there’s one thing I’ve learned running a language blog, it’s that intuitions on that are worthless; I frequently learn that something I thought was vanishingly rare is in fact quite common, and vice versa. I found an online post by somebody who thinks vex, sentinel, erudite, and loquacious are ‘archaic, unusual words.’ People should use the words they like and let the chips fall where they may!” Oh well, perhaps I’ll get another chance to bloviate on the air one day. The show should be available here by 2:00 PM PST (5 PM Eastern).

Comments

  1. My favourite word is “seldom”.

  2. dearieme: As the American folk song has it: “Home, home on the range / Where the deer and the buffalo play / Where seldom is heard / A discouraging word / And the skies are not cloudy all day.” I take the last line to mean that they are in fact cloudless all day.

  3. John, I heard it several times as a boy, presumably at our local Picture House, where Westerns were common Saturday fare. I also remember the satirical “I’m an old cowhand from the Rio Grande ….”: presumably I heard that on the wireless.

  4. The original writer, one Dr. Brewster Higley, wrote “The sky is not cloudy all day” back in 1876, but it was evidently transformed by the folk process, reaching its current form before 1910. Such is antiquity in the U.S.!

  5. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Antelope. The deer and the antelope play. Yes?

  6. With the vast authority of WKPD behind me, I can say that “antelope” was commonly used of the “pronghorn”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronghorn

    As for the other song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYFgfHB0_L0

  7. Oh well, perhaps I’ll get another chance to bloviate on the air one day.
    Here’s an idea: podcasts. Say once a week, with guests like folks from LanguageLog and LH regulars (I for one would love to hear from Messrs. Cowan, Emerson, Souag or Marjanović).

  8. I missed it live, but I’m guessing it will be available to hear as a podcast from tomorrow.

    https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/airtalk/id73329334?ign-mpt=uo%3D6&mt=2

  9. … not to mention prof. Tarpent :)

  10. Alas, it coincided with the one absolutely immovable event of my day: picking up my grandson from school. I’ll try to catch the podcast.

    “Antelope”, of course. A brain fart, or alternatively the folk process at work once again! And yes, antelopes in the U.S. are pronghorns, except in zoos.

  11. I take the last line to mean that they are in fact cloudless all day.

    That’s also how I understood it. This interpretation is encouraged by the actual weather in El Paso, where I grew up. It’s at the top of the league tables in
    Days of Sunshine Per Year in Texas. Note the sneaky definition, though: “the average number of Sunny Days for a city in Texas is the total days in a year when the sky is mostly clear. This includes the days when cloud covers up to 30% of the sky during daylight hours.”

    Does anyone know what game it is that the deer and the buffalo play ? Some nice card game like Gin Rummy, I suppose. On the range there are few opportunities for hide-and-seek.

  12. I always took that line as a kind of passive-aggressive sniping: “And the skies are not cloudy all day (unlike SOME places I could mention)”. Whether the skies are cloudless all day is not the point; what matters is that they are superior to the skies of places that are not the range.

  13. Passive-aggressive sniping ! That would also explain “Where seldom is heard / A discouraging word (unlike SOME negative-attitude venues I could mention)”.

  14. Also

    “Home, home on the range (it’s more like home than SOME places I could mention)”.

    “Where the deer and the buffalo play (instead of saying hateful things, like SOME I could mention)”

  15. nice programme! You even had ‘obsequious sycophants’ discussed here. Nunberg pronounces sycophant as psycho-fant. Is that common? My American OED says it’s see-ko-fant.

  16. I say sicko-phant.

    I like bulbul’s idea. Could it be done using skype so it didn’t cost a fortune in phone calls?

  17. Oh, and it was great to hear Language! I kind of agreed with Geoff Nunberg’s final point, which is surely just to make a distinction between everyday general expressions and ones that have a specific technical meaning. Obviously he’s not going to try and stop anyone from using one of “those” words when they feel like it.

  18. I say sicko-phant too.

    As for bulbul’s idea, somebody else is going to have to organize it — I’m willing to pick up the phone and talk, but have no interest in doing anything more complicated.

  19. sicko-phant too. But then I say apposit when some say appoz-eye-t.

  20. Bulbul will organise it! I’m sure he’s not busy.

  21. I also like “awry”.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    Sick-o-phant here too.

    Awry I have heard aw-ry from some non-native speakers, but I had already figured out that it must be a-wry.

  23. “amiss” is pretty good too. Not to forget

    “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
    Gang aft agley”

  24. Too many executive producers, not enough interns…
    Back to the show: I was struck by Geoff’s assertion that this big distinction between native words and what he called classical words (so basically Latin) does not exist in other countries. Of course it does. It might not be that obvious in French or Spanish, but in German, Czech, Polish etc. etc. it certainly does exist.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Here’s an idea: podcasts. Say once a week, with guests like folks from LanguageLog and LH regulars (I for one would love to hear from Messrs. Cowan, Emerson, Souag or Marjanović).

    …Oh dear. The Internet is such a timesink that I don’t even take the time to listen to podcasts. The idea of participating in one triggers my “alas, the day only has 30 hours” reflex.

    However, a conference call on Skype or a “hangout” on Google+ wouldn’t be impossible at irregular intervals!

    BTW, bulbul, academic titles are capitalized in English (and French and of course German, but not Dutch).

    It might not be that obvious in French or Spanish, but in German, Czech, Polish etc. etc. it certainly does exist.

    Arguably, though, we lump the 18th-century French loans with the Latin/Greek ones. Would that fit what Nunberg meant?

  26. I wondered about that too. I thought of German & Norwegian.

  27. I was struck by Geoff’s assertion that this big distinction between native words and what he called classical words (so basically Latin) does not exist in other countries. Of course it does.

    Yeah, that’s one of the things I wanted to call him on if I got the chance. Which I didn’t. N.b.: I listened to the producer’s repeated injunction to “keep it short and conversational,” but Geoff, the professor, seemed to have ignored it and just kept lecturing, eating up lots of time during which I could have been lecturing. Not that I’m bitter.

  28. Next time insist on being the only expert on the program.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    seemed to have ignored it and just kept lecturing

    Ah, memories of scientific conferences, most recently a month ago. Some colleagues manage to stay in the allotted time, others merrily keep talking through the time for questions and, if the moderators let them, even beyond.

  30. David,
    BTW, bulbul, academic titles are capitalized in English

    My mistake. Henceforth I shall be sure to run by you every bit of written communication I will intend to publish here as well elsewhere so as to avoid embarrassment and humiliation. And in case my sarcasm font doesn’t work on WordPress: dude, this is like the fourth time you’ve corrected me here. Would you please, in the interest of our continued good relations, cut it the fuck out?

  31. marie-lucie says:

    David: academic titles are capitalized in English

    In the present context, herr doktor, who really cares?

  32. David Marjanović says:

    …Sorry. I’m really surprised you’re offended; I’ve seen similarly outstandingly bright minds (this is not sarcasm) get this consistently wrong, so I thought “pattern” instead of “typo”. I definitely didn’t think “embarrassment and humiliation”. ~:-|

    In the present context, herr doktor, who really cares?

    What do you mean by “care”? I was afraid of bulbul getting this wrong in other contexts as well.

  33. Eh, it’s easy for someone to think they’re being helpful and discover that someone else didn’t like being told whatever it was; I’ve done that myself. No harm, no foul.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I have been accused of this a few times myself.

    David, when I wrote “in this context” I meant that informality is OK here.

    As for our friend bulbul, I am sure he is as aware as some of us here that names, nicknames or aliases are usually capitalized in English too.

  35. In Über den Prozess der Zivilisation, Nobert Elias analysed the emotional and psychological components of normative behavior – here orthography – as it changed over the centuries:

    The first volume traces the historical developments of the European habitus, or “second nature,” the particular individual psychic structures molded by social attitudes. Elias traced how post-medieval European standards regarding violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were gradually transformed by increasing thresholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette. The internalized “self-restraint” imposed by increasingly complex networks of social connections developed the “psychological” self-perceptions that Freud recognized as the “super-ego.” The second volume of The Civilizing Process looks into the causes of these processes and finds them in the increasingly centralized Early Modern state and the increasingly differentiated and interconnected web of society.

    This appears to suggest that the expression “second nature” was formed by analogy with secundum naturam, the Latin form of an Aristotelian category of phenomena. So secundum = “second” = “following” = “in accordance with” ?!

  36. I fear the Farlex Trivia Dictionary cannot be relied on in this matter. The OED, a slightly more reputable source, says: “Proverb: habit (or usage) is second nature [...] The Latin form, consuetudo est altera (or secunda) natura, is found in St. Augustine and Macrobius, and approximately in Cicero (see Lewis & Short at Natura); the notion occurs in Aristotle (e.g. Probl. iv. xxvi, Eth. N. vii. x) and other Greek writers.”

  37. So my “?!” was justified.

  38. Indeed.

  39. Nevertheless, my Georges Lateinisch-Deutsch indicates that secundum is an adverb and preposition derived from secundus, which is derived from sequor. I don’t know if “derived from” is politicolinguistically correct. I put it in quotes because these words do not appear explicitly in the lemmas. Unproblematic etymologies are indicated in parentheses like so:

    secundum, Adv. u. Praep. (secundus), I) Adv. 1) nach, hintennach, age i tu sec., komm nach, Plaut. Amph. 551: …

    secundus, a, um (sequor), folgend, I) im allg., der Zeit u. Reihe nach: 1) der Zeit nach: lumine secundo, am folgenden Tage, d.i. morgen, Enn. fr.: …

    In contrast:

    sequor, secutus sum, sequi, tr. u. intr. (altind. sácate, begleitet, griech. epomai, Aor. e-spomhn, St. sep), folgen, nachfolgen, begleiten …

  40. David,
    I’ve seen similarly outstandingly bright minds (this is not sarcasm) get this consistently wrong
    And do you also correct them?

    I was afraid of bulbul getting this wrong in other contexts as well
    As m-l said, who cares? Or, more specifically, why do you care? If it really is my best interest you have at heart, then I assure you I am aware of my many shortcomings, including those affecting spelling, and I am working more or less dilligently on remedying them. I certainly don’t need you to point them out to me, least of all in public. If, on the other hand, you are doing this for your own benefit, I would appreciate it very much if you could find another outlet.

  41. Secundus is indeed from sequor, and displaced alter in its sense ‘second’, though not in its sense ‘other’. In exactly the same way, second displaced other in English from its sense ‘second’, though not from its sense ‘other’, a truly amazing coinkydink.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    I love the word coinkydink. It would be a great in-group marker.

  43. I like it too. It’s considered rather silly, and I use it when that’s the way I feel.

  44. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang says it’s from the ’80s, but I’m sure it goes back at least a decade before that. I definitely heard or was aware of it in my grad school days.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    I must be way behind the times: I had never encountered it before.

  46. It’s quite uncommon; I’m sure there are lots of people who have never run into it.

    (Why is LH making me sign in again to post this comment??)

  47. I haven’t been able to get the podcast. Would there be a good Samaritan able to e-mail me the mp3 from Nablous, or wherever he or she may live?

    I think I know what Good Samaritan means. Raucous as well.

  48. Siganus,

    if the link doesn’t work, let me know an address, will email it to you.

  49. Thanks Bulbul. It’s siganus.k and it’s on gmail.com.

  50. David Marjanović says:

    And do you also correct them?

    Well… yes? That’s why I’m so shocked at your reaction: I haven’t encountered anything similar. I expected you to say something along the lines of “I know, that was a typo”…?

    This shock is why I stayed away for two months.

    I certainly don’t need you to point them out to me, least of all in public.

    I still don’t understand why you’re ashamed, or why you speak of “shortcomings”.

    When my colleagues think I’ve got something wrong, they don’t merely tell me in public, they use papers in journals with an impact factor to tell everyone and create a permanent record. I can think of four cases just off the top of my head. In my little subculture, SIWOTI syndrome is presupposed.

    Besides, when I tell you in public, I also tell the public. I find it fascinating that the abbreviations of academic titles are capitalized in some languages (like French) but not in others (like Dutch and Danish). To digress, I also find it fascinating that French, and French alone, uses Pr. instead of Prof..

    Anyway, everyone, please do correct me, because otherwise I’ll never learn! Most of the unsystematic gaps in my knowledge of English (in particular) are in pronunciation, so they’ll hardly feature here, but I am sometimes uncertain about pretty basic points of grammar (I changed “I’ve stayed away” to “I stayed away” right now), and I remember confusing beech and beach right here on LH.

  51. This shock is why I stayed away for two months.

    Well, I certainly hope you won’t do so again — we missed you! On the bright side, the new LH allows you to comment on articles no matter how old they are, which must be a relief to you.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    which must be a relief to you

    It is! :-)

    In praise of David Ricardo: better to be right than to have been right.

    Exactly. That’s what I try to do. In particular, I value completeness as an end in itself; when I comment on something, that doesn’t mean I think it’s vitally important, just that it’s there!

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