And the Oxford Word of the Year is… Selfie

duckface-33

Must. Remind. Self..  The OED is not an arbiter of, but a chronicler of,  English language use.

Every year, the Powers-That-Be lean over the windowsills located high atop their Ivory Towers and cock an ear towards the milling crowds below. When they hear a word they do not recognize being shouted often enough, they dip their quills into wells of octopus ink and inscribe that word on gold-rimmed parchment.

Okay, not really.  Actually, it’s only been since 2004 that Oxford has selected a word of the year at all. Judy Pearsall, editorial director at Oxford, explains that a language usage program “collects around 150m words of current English in use each month.”  The word in 2013 that has become the most frequent was “selfie.” According to The Guardian

The word can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

So now we can blame Australia for both Crocodile Dundee and the word “selfie”! (Just kidding, mates!) 

Read the rest of this entry »


Don’t Have Any FOMO! The Complete List of New Words in the OED is Here

oed_new_word_a_0913

Don’t know what FOMO stands for? Yeah, me either. (Psst… old folks! It means, “Fear of Missing Out.”)  Good thing it is one of the sixty-five new entries in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary. As you will see, many of them are from the virtual world.  Among my favorites, which originated on Reddit, is TL;DR (Too long; did not read.) Some of this year’s entries have met with howls of outrage among the literati, but we would all do well to remember the wise counsel of Jorge Luis Borges who said that “language is not, as we are led to suppose by the dictionary, the invention of academicians or philologists. Rather, it has been evolved through time…by peasants, by fishermen, by hunters, by riders.” Say that over and over to yourself when you understand that  “twerk” is now an officially recognized word:

verb

[no object] informal

  • dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance:just wait till they catch their daughters twerking to this songtwerk it girl, work it girl

Here are a few of those new entries.  Do you know your emoji from your omnishambles? WELL, DO YOU?

Read the rest of this entry »


Charles Dickens: Ghost Hunter

victorian_ghost

Victorians were big on clubs.  Gentlemen’s Clubs.  No, the Brontes were not wearing pasties and stripping to “Oh, Mother Take the Wheel Away!” These were exclusive gatherings of writers and artists who came together to chill, drink, and probably scratch-and-spit.  No “damned scribbling women allowed.”  (Such a fun guy, that Hawthorne…) .

ANYWAY, Charles Dickens was one of those writers who was a high-profile member of a hoity-toity club called “The Garrick Club” until he got into a fight with William Makepeace Thackery.  Apparently a journalist was talking smack about Thackery, and what he knew could have only been found out through club connections.  (First Rule of Garrick Club:  Don’t Talk About Garrick Club.)

SO, Dickens says, basically, “Screw you, Thackery. I’m the biggest star you’ve got and I’m taking my fame elsewhere.” Plus, the journalist, Edward Yates, was a very close friend and the godfather of Dickens’ children.

Dickens would eventually join the still-in-existence “Arts Club” (actress Gwyneth Paltrow is now its Creative Director). But before that, in 1862, Dickens became one of the founding members of “The Ghost Club. ”  Until he joined and brought some legitimacy to the off-beat club, the press was not very complimentary, but his presence gave the organization a modicum of credibility.

Read the rest of this entry »


Positive Development in Negative Spaces: Anne Frank and Peter Schiff

anne

Despite her own fears as well as the horrors going on outside the crowded annexe where Anne Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis, Anne, like many girls her age, was mooning over a boy.  His name was Peter Schiff and Anne recalls a poignant dream about him in one of her candid entries.  She writes:

This morning I woke up just before seven and immediately remembered what I’d been dreaming about. I was sitting on a chair and across from me was Peter… Peter Schiff… the dream was so vivid… Peter’s eyes suddenly met mine and I stared for a long time into those velvety brown eyes. Then he said very softly: “If only I’d known I’d have come to you long ago.” I turned away abruptly, overcome by emotion. And then I felt a soft, oh-so-cool and gentle cheek against mine, and it felt so good, so good.’

On another date, Anne describes Peter so well we can almost see him:

Peter was the ideal boy: tall, slim and good-looking, with a serious, quiet and intelligent face. He had dark hair, beautiful brown eyes, ruddy cheeks and a nicely pointed nose. I was crazy about his smile, which made him look so boyish and mischievous.”

Anne would never know what became of her childhood sweetheart, but history tells the sad story.  Peter was imprisoned in two concentration camps, arriving first in  Bergen-Belsen, before he was transferred to Auschwitz, where it is known that he perished although the exact date is unclear.

Like Anne, we, her readers, could only envision Peter in our heads.  This remained so for nearly sixty years, but in 2009, one of her classmates donated a picture of Peter to the Anne Frank House.  Here he is:

peter

It would have been lovely to know if this young love would have come to anything, if, as Anne hoped, they were able to consummate their desire.  Calling Peter by his pet name, “Petel,” Anne opines:

Once, when Father and I were talking about sex, he said I was too young to understand that kind of desire. But I thought I did understand it, and now I’m sure I do. Nothing is as dear to me now as my darling Petel!’


Can Women in Science Also Have Kids?

jane_goodall

I was in graduate school in 2005.  During the Spring semester, I was enrolled in two courses which I adored and looked forward to daily. One was “The History of Science” with Dr. Pamela Gossin and the other was “Women in Science and Science Fiction” with Dr. Edrie Sobstyl.

I also had an eight-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.  I was a teaching assistant at my university as well. I thought it would kill me.

I’ve always had an interest in science and love to learn about process and theory, but sadly, I’ve never had the math brain to pursue “real” science. But I knew plenty of brilliant women who did.  I knew what would be required of them, far more than would be asked of someone in humanities pursuing a doctoral degree.  Many of these young women also wanted to have children.  They wondered and worried about how they could pursue the intellectual life they loved and the emotional life they also desired.  There was no good answer.

But we all realized how the system was “stacked” for men. So in the winter of 2005, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers made  dismissive remarks about women’s intellectual abilities, many of us balked at how unfair such comparisons were,  The reasons women were not reaching the upper echelons of research and academia had almost nothing to do with ability. Instead, what mostly held (and holds) women back is a system designed around the lives and needs of men.   A recent article on this topic in the Atlantic by Nicholas H. Wolfinger clearly articulates those reasons.  Wolfinger writes:

“[L]ess than one half of tenured female faculty all disciplines are married with children. Consequently, aspiring female scholars don’t have a lot of role models, especially those who’ve managed to combine marriage and children with a successful career in academic science…Married female scientists are almost always in dual-career marriages, while only around half of male faculty have wives who work full-time. One spouse must defer, and that spouse is likely to be wife (unfortunately we have no data on same-sex unions, or non-marital live-in relationships). And unlike in most other professions, taking an academic job typically requires relocation to another state. The baby penalty is even easier to understand. Many women are loath to face the demanding “publish or perish” assistant professor years while caring for young children; cognizant of this challenge, some academic search committees are reluctant to hire women perceived to be on the mommy track rather than the tenure track. These problems persist because the rigid academic career structure really doesn’t offer women any good time to have children.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 804 other followers