Words about words, language, grammar, punctuation, and the like are among my favorites. Here’s my latest list. Also check out my previous Wordy Words post.
- Snoot, noun: syntax nudik of our time. Alternately a word connoisseur and a word snob. Bryan Garner uses the term in his Modern American Usage as part of his Language Change Index:
Stage 4: The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (the traditionalists that David Foster Wallace dubbed “snoots”: syntax nudniks of our time). Examples are pronouncing flaccid as /flas-id/ instead of the traditional /flak-sid/ ; using unbeknownst for unbeknown; saying or writing *the reason is because instead of the reason is that.
- Phrasal verb, noun: a verb phrase made up of a verb plus a preposition or an adverb and whose meaning is idiomatic Examples include drop off, catch on, and take in. Find more at Purdue OWL.
- Octothorpe, noun: #. Also called the pound key, number sign, hash, and square. World Wide Words has a good history of the octothorpe.
- Skunked term, noun: a term so riddled with disputes, such as hopefully, data, and enormity, that to use it is to invite harsh criticism. Says Garner:
When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another—a phase that might take ten years or a hundred—it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. Some people (Group 1) insist on the traditional use; others (Group 2) embrace the new use, even if it originated purely as the result of word-swapping or slipshod extension. Group 1 comprises various members of the literati, ranging from language aficionados to hard-core purists; Group 2 comprises linguistic liberals and those who don’t concern themselves much with language. As time goes by, Group 1 dwindles; meanwhile, Group 2 swells (even without an increase among the linguistic liberals).
A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. The new use seems illiterate to Group 1; the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become “skunked.”
- Pilcrow, noun: ¶. The mark used to indicate a paragraph. Keith Houston posted a lengthy but interesting three-part history of the pilcrow on his blog, Shady Characters.
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