Posted by Neal on August 11, 2009
Last month, I wrote about fail and other words becoming mass nouns, as in bucket of fail or made of awesome. If you found that interesting, be sure to read a couple of items from Ben Zimmer. First is his fuller discussion of fail in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, as he subs for William Safire. The other is his latest Word Routes column, where he gives some details that didn’t make it into the NYTM article. Also, he makes a simple yet insightful observation that ties together the various verbs, adjectives, or interjections that are doing duty as mass nouns: They all were interjections before making the shift to mass noun. And finally, Zimmer clears up something I’d been wondering about: In my post on the topic (which he kindly links to), I mentioned a line from the movie Juno: “That’s a big, fat bag of no!” I tried to find the line in the script to make sure I had it right, but “bag of no” didn’t get me any hits. Zimmer was smart enough to try the phrase “sack of no”, and found that the actual line was indeed “That’s a big, fat sack of no!”
Next, Dr. Goodword asks, “Why is a person who is half white and half black, black? Why is Halle Berry the first ‘African American’ female actor to receive an Academy Award? Why is President Obama a black president? Where is the logic here?” I’ve wondered about this, too.
My brother Glen, who is busy writing for the second season of Fringe, went to a seminar held by the FBI for the benefit of screenwriters. He now reports a semantic shift in the verb forfeit in FBI jargon. Specifically, the subject of forfeit gains something rather than lose it. Don’t believe me? Read his post at Agoraphilia and find out how it happened.
You’ve probably wondered on occasion why the inverted-question contraction of am not is aren’t, as in Aren’t I? If so, read David Crystal’s sketch of the development of aren’t I.
And for a limited time only, you can listen to Stephen Fry‘s BBC Radio miniseries “English Delight”. This week’s episode, the first of three, is “So Wrong It’s Right”. (Hat tip to Damien Hall on the American Dialect Society email list.)