Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Category: Language (page 1 of 2)

Päntsdrunk, baby box, Moomin, and Finland’s other official emojis

God bless Finland, my ancestral homeland. First, there’s the new book Pantsdrunk (Kalsarikanni): The Finnish Path to Relaxation (Drinking at Home Alone in your Underwear) by Miska Rantanen. From the publisher:

Danes have hygge. Swedes have lagom. But the Finnish secret to contentment is faster and easier—”kalsarikänni” or pantsdrunk—drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.

When it comes to happiness rankings, Finland always scores near the top. Many Finnish phenomena set the bar high: the best education system, gender equality, a flourishing welfare state, sisu or bull-headed pluck. Behind all of these accomplishments lies a Finnish ability to stay calm, healthy and content in a riptide of endless tasks and temptations. The ability comes from the practice of “kalsarikanni” translated as pantsdrunk.

Peel off your clothes down to your underwear. Place savory or sweet snacks within reach alongside your bed or sofa. Make sure your television remote control is nearby along with any and all devices to access social media. Open your preferred alcohol. Your journey toward inner strength, higher quality of life, and peace of mind has begun.

Second, Finland’s official Ministry of Foreign Affairs produced a set of 56 emojis to “explain some hard-to-describe Finnish emotions, Finnish words and customs.” I can and cannot believe these are real:

“pantsdrunk” personified:

kalsarikannit_m.png

kalsarikannit_f.png

The famous Baby Box:

baby_in_a_box.png

The Aurora Borealis:

auroraborealis.png

“Finnish Love”, which is so emo:

finnishlove.png

The concept of sisu:

sisu.png

The sauna:

sauna_m.png

And of course, the OG cell phone, the Nokia (which they call “Unbreakable”):

unbreakable.png

Download the app or the image files for more pantsdrunk-ing pleasure.

Abolish the apostrophe!

I came out against irregular superlatives. I lobbied for the interrobang. Now throw this on my personal 2018 platform: Abolish the apostrophe.

James Harbeck laid out the case against them a few years ago in an article that, to make his point, lacks apostrophes:

Why are so many people so confused by apostrophes? Because they cant hear them in speech, and they dont serve a valuable grammatical function. They simply mark contraction or possession, and you can tell the meaning without them. If you couldnt, the indignant red-pen-wielding self-appointed correction brigades wouldnt know for sure which ones were wrong because the meaning wouldnt be clear. But they always do know, because the meaning is clear even when the apostrophe is used wrongly or omitted.

I liken apostrophes to library fines. Fines are an outmoded practice based on faulty assumptions, and they annoy patrons and staff equally. When libraries do get rid of them, patron satisfaction increases and items miraculously still come back.

Same with apostrophes. They no longer serve any practical function, are too easily misused, and, most importantly, are a pain to type on a typewriter. English would be better off without them. So lets get rid of them.

Lane Greene’s language litany

Lane Greene, from his forthcoming book Talk on the Wild Side:

Language is not so much logical as it is useful. It is not composed; it is improvised. It is not well behaved; it is resourceful. It is not delicate; it is hardy. It is not always efficient, but its redundancy makes it robust. It is not threatened; it is self-renewing. It is not perfect. But it is amazing.

Amen.

OED can you see?

A used books and records store in my town just moved even closer to my place. Today I stopped by and saw a two-volume Oxford English Dictionary Compact Edition. It comes in a case and with its own magnifying glass, because they weren’t kidding when they called it compact:

I exercised enough self-control to pass on it, but one day…

Make the interrobang banal‽

99% Invisible (a personal favorite podcast) just did a typically great short history of the interrobang and its fight for survival:

Today, the interrobang is just barely hanging in there. It has its own character in Unicode, the common directory of symbols which all computer fonts must reference. But Keith Houston points out that it still hasn’t cleared the biggest typographical obstacle of all: “I think that in order to really consider it to be a real mark of punctuation, people have to use it without thinking about it.” In other words: a truly remarkable mark of punctuation must be unremarkable.

I strongly believe in the interrobang. For my part, I created an iOS text replacement shortcut that replaces ?! with ‽ in my texts. This doesn’t pass the ease of use test, and it’s not available in every typeface. But it’s what I can do to help make the interrobang ubiquitous enough to save.

See also: Shady Characters

What a Chad

I get the Word of the Day from Merriam-Webster, the OED, and Urban Dictionary in my RSS feed every day, which usually make for a lively bunch.

Well, today, May 8, 2018, Urban Dictionary’s Word of the Day is What A Chad:

A phrase describing a stereotypical young urban white male, typically single and in his 20s. This phrase is usually used to denote stereotypical “Chad” behavior which is ususally derogatory.

The misspelling of “usually” means you know it’s a legit Urban Dictionary entry.

Dictionary on display

This morning I looked at my bookshelves and noticed my three volumes of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. I haven’t cracked them open since I got them from Half Price Books a few months ago. I was so excited to get them so I’d have an accessible and thorough way to tap into the dictionary’s mighty powers, but, lacking space for exhibition, they’ve just languished on the shelves.

Then I saw that my standing desk—a hefty wooden podium acquired from a library rummage sale—was unusually lacking my laptop. Taking this as a sign, I cracked open Volume 1 and let it breathe:

It immediately looked like it was meant to be there. I like using that space for computer work, but I think I’ll give this a try for a while.

Inherit the Words

I was helping my parents clear out their bookshelves in advance of their living room being painted and in the process stumbled upon some interesting artifacts. Among the books, family photo albums, and LPs that had stuck around unplayed for decades, I spotted a small University of Wisconsin notebook. I opened it to find in my mom’s handwriting a list of interesting words and their definitions she started in college:

My mom’s late father also kept a list of new and interesting words he encountered in Time magazine and other reading. I couldn’t help but laugh because I do the same thing, only my list is digital. There are even several words in common between her list and mine. There’s clearly a juiced-up lexicographical chromosome in the gene pool.

I took the notebook home with me because I want to transcribe my word list into it and start adding new ones to keep the tradition alive. Now I wish I’d started my list of words on paper, because I think the order in which I discovered them would be more interesting than an alphabetical list.

No More ‘More’: Against Irregular Superlatives

Who’s ready for a grammatical crusade of pedantic proportions?! Get in on this: It’s time to standardize English comparative and superlative adjectives.

Those are used when you are comparing one or more things. For example, a banana can be big, bigger, or biggest. The -er and -est progression is common and used for most adjectives. The ones that don’t use -er and -est typically use more ___ and most ___, as in more beautiful and most beautiful. But why?

Beautifuller and beautifullest actually have a nice flow and even become accidental portmanteaus, combining beautiful and fullest. Even longer adjectives can work: extraordinarier is quite fun to say, and comfortablest sneaks in the archaic spelling of blessed.

In a previous post, I wanted to write about something that was the next level up from vibrant. The “correct” version would be more vibrant, but is vibranter any worse? (Or badder?) It may look and sound odd, but only because the brain has been trained to expect more vibrant. There’s no reason why vibranter can’t be acceptable, especially in a language as flexible as English.

I’m fully aware that English is a strange and stubbornly idiosyncratic language. I love it for that. (You should see the list of interesting words I keep just for fun.) But it’s also an amenable language, subject to evolution over a long time or by brute force.

So let’s make it happen: no more more, avoid most to the utmost, and let those -ers and -ests fly!

Word by Word

“The process of creating a dictionary is magical, frustrating, brain wrenching, mundane, transcendent. It is ultimately a show of love for a language that has been called unlovely and unlovable.”

Unlovable? Bah! English may be a strange, amorphous beast, but its quirkiness is its charm. In Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, captures this charm with verve and infectious enthusiasm. She brings to life a profession that, like many old trades, has been disrupted by the internet, in good ways and bad, yet still (I believe) remains vital. The institution of Merriam-Webster, Stamper writes, “has been around longer than Ford Motors, Betty Crocker, NASCAR, and thirty-three of the fifty American states. It’s more American than football (a British invention) and apple pie (ditto).”

Then again, as one of those people who keep a word list and lights up when I stumble upon a new fancy word, I’m an easy mark for a book like this. But I’ve also tried similar books written by word or dictionary people, and none of them hooked me like this one.

Tackling a different word or phrase with each chapter, Stamper addresses the typical ongoing lexicographical catfights—is “irregardless” a real word (technically), do people who write “it’s” instead of “its” deserve to die (no)—but also ventures into muddier terrain. How should “bad” words like “bitch” be handled? How to modernize the “nude” definition (in the pantyhose color sense) without racializing it? How to respond to the write-in campaign to eliminate the “same-sex” aspect of the “marriage” definition (because removing a word from the dictionary removes it from existence, apparently)?

The chapter on the word “take” is especially illuminating. You’d think the obscure ten-dollar words would require more work to nail down, but those are relatively easy; it’s the small words like “take” and “but” that are more demanding because they have so many different uses and senses, most of which native English speakers don’t even consider. I now have a vastly greater appreciation for the thousand and one small choices that go into every dictionary edition, and not only from the definers but the etymologists, word daters, pronunciation editors, and proofreaders who somehow corral the incorrigible, ever-expanding, often insensible English language into something approaching order.

But to do that, Stamper writes, requires all English speakers to think of the language not as a fortress to be defended within the paper walls of the dictionary, but as a child:

We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go; it heads right for the goddamned electrical sockets. We dress it in fancy clothes and tell it to behave, and it comes home with its underwear on its head and wearing someone else’s socks. As English grows, it lives its own life, and this is right and healthy. Sometimes English does exactly what we think it should; sometimes it goes places we don’t like and thrives there in spite of all our worrying. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like Latin; we can throw tantrums and start learning French instead. But we will never really be the boss of it. And that’s why it flourishes.

Hear, hear! And may dictionaries flourish along with it.

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