Archive for ‘Language’

March 22, 2020

Umarell

Bologna

Umarell is a term in Bologna for men of retirement age who pass the time watching construction sites, especially roadworks – stereotypically with hands clasped behind their back and offering unwanted advice.

It’s literal meaning is ‘little man’ and it is often pluralized in spelling by adding a final s (out of English influence). The wife of an umarell is called a ‘zdaura.’

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March 19, 2020

Creative nonfiction

In Cold Blood

Creative nonfiction (also known as verfabula) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as academic or technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact but is not written to entertain based on prose style.

For a text to be considered creative nonfiction, it must be factually accurate, and written with attention to literary style and technique. ‘Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.’ Forms within this genre include biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, travel writing, food writing, literary journalism, chronicle, personal essays, and other hybridized essays.

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February 15, 2020

Message in a Bottle

MS. Found in a Bottle

message in a bottle is a form of communication in which a message is sealed in a container (typically a bottle) and released into a conveyance medium (typically a body of water).

Messages in bottles have been used to send distress messages, in crowdsourced scientific studies of ocean currents, as memorial tributes, to send deceased loved ones’ ashes on a final journey, to convey expedition reports, and to carry letters or reports from those believing themselves to be doomed. Invitations to prospective pen pals and letters to actual or imagined love interests have also been sent as messages in bottles.

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December 1, 2019

Mansplaining

Rebecca Solnit

Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning ‘(of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.’ Lily Rothman, of ‘The Atlantic,’ defines it as “‘explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.’

In its original use, mansplaining differed from other forms of condescension in that it is rooted in the assumption that a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman. However, it has come to be used more broadly, often applied when a man takes a condescending tone in an explanation to anyone, regardless of the age or gender of the intended recipients: a ‘man ‘splaining’ can be delivered to any audience.

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November 17, 2019

Bromide

From Cliché to Archetype

Bromide [broh-mahyd] in literary usage means a phrase, cliché, or platitude that is trite or unoriginal. It can be intended to soothe or placate; it can suggest insincerity or a lack of originality in the speaker. It can also refer to a commonplace or tiresome person, a bore.

A now outdated usage of ‘bromide’ is a photographic print, stemming from the use of silver bromide in photographic films, emulsions and papers. Its original usage was as a chemical term, referring to bromine salts.

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October 16, 2019

False Equivalence

False balance

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two completely opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.

False equivalence is a common result when an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence doesn’t bear because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors. False equivalence arguments are often used in journalism and in politics, where the minor flaws of one candidate may be compared to major flaws of another.

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October 8, 2019

Hoist With His Own Petard

Petard

‘Hoist with his own petard’ is a phrase from a speech in William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ that has become proverbial.

The phrase’s meaning is literally that the bomb-maker (a “petard” is a small explosive device) is blown up (‘hoisted’ off the ground) by his own bomb, and indicates an ironic reversal, or poetic justice.

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September 24, 2019

Firehose of Falsehood

Russian web brigades

The firehose of falsehood is a propaganda technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over multiple channels (such as news and social media) without regard for truth or consistency.

Since 2014, when it was successfully used by Russia during its annexation of Crimea, this model has been adopted by other governments and political movements around the world.

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September 23, 2019

Punchline

A punchline concludes a joke; it is intended to make people laugh. It is the third and final part of the typical joke structure: set-up, premise, punch line. In a broader sense, ‘punchline’ can also refer to the unexpected and funny conclusion of any performance, situation or story.

The exact origin of the term is unknown, though the classic three-part joke format was well-established in Vaudeville by the beginning of the 20th century. Merriam-Webster dictionary pegs the first use in 1921. It has also been argued that the term’s origin is related to the British weekly magazine ‘Punch.’

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September 6, 2019

Joie de Vivre

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Joie de vivre (‘joy of living’) is a French phrase often used in English to express a cheerful enjoyment of life; an exultation of spirit.

It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung [worldview]. Robert’s Dictionnaire says ‘joie’ is ‘sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience,’ that is, involves one’s whole being.’

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August 1, 2019

Dog Days

Canis Major

The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

In addition to following Orion into the night sky, the Dog Star Sirius can be easily located in the heavens by following the line created by the prominent asterism (a popularly-known group of stars) Orion’s Belt.

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July 11, 2019

Scunthorpe Problem

Dirty Words

The Scunthorpe problem is the unintentional blocking of websites, e-mails, forum posts, or search results by a spam filter or search engine because their text contains a string of letters that appear to have an obscene or otherwise unacceptable meaning. Names, abbreviations, and technical terms are most often cited as being affected by the issue.

The problem arises since computers can easily identify strings of text within a document, but interpreting words of this kind requires considerable ability to interpret a wide range of contexts, possibly across many cultures, which is an extremely difficult task. As a result, broad blocking rules may result in false positives affecting innocent phrases.

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