Tag Archives: definition

The diaeresis

30 Apr


The diaeresis, or a black bear with pink eye looking in your window at night.

Remember that time I had a blog? Ah, good times. Well, get ready, because BLAM – here’s my return to that very same blog!

And this post is about the diaeresis – AKA the thing that looks like this: ¨. In English, it’s most commonly seen in the word naïve (when properly written), and in names, such as Brontë, as in the Brontë sisters. It has a Greek background and means “to divide”.

Basically, the diaeresis is used to indicate that the adjoining letters should be pronounced as two separate sounds. Naïve is the best example, as it shows how the two vowels are used as two syllables.

Fun fact 1: Diaeresis is pronounced “die heiresses”.

Fun fact 2: The New Yorker still uses the diaeresis on the words coöperate and reënter. The alternatives are, of course, to go without (cooperate, reelect) or to hyphenate (co-operate, re-elect), but decades ago they chose the diaeresis, and goddamn it, they’re sticking with it.

Fun fact 3: It’s really hard to write naïve without Microsoft Word changing it to naive. You can make it by pressing the option key + U on a Mac. I’m not sure about PCs though. Frankly, just buy a Mac.


Deciphered: Rolling in the deep

17 Feb

If you’re anything like anyone in the western world (and personally, I think you are), you’ve had an Adele song stuck in your head some time in the past few months. Specifically, Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You or Rumour Has It.

While it’s kind of obvious what the last two titles mean, the former is a bit of a conundrum. Rolling where? What’s deep? Is this like John Williamson’s great hit, Crocodile Roll?

Luckily, Adele has cleared up any deep rolling confusion in an interview with Vogue:

“There’s a gang phrase in the UK, roll deep. That basically means having someone have your back so you are never on your own if you come into trouble. It’s a real gangster thing, but I think it’s really beautiful.”

So the next time you’re doing your best Adele impression in the car, shower or in front of the mirror, you’ll at least know what you’re wailing about – wannabe gangsters looking out for each other. Or something like that. All together now

“We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it to the beat.”


29 Dec

2012 resolutionsIt’s nearly New Year’s Eve! It’s time to come up with a list of things you swear you’ll achieve in 2012! Like “Subscribe to Literate Chicken’s blog/tell everyone about it!” and “Buy Literate Chicken a decent poultry-themed joke book” – you know, that sort of thing.

Anyway, before the new year rolls around, it’s time to learn one last word for 2011. Someone recently asked me the definition of this word, but I didn’t know the answer. “To the internet!” I cried (in my head, because I’m not completely obnoxious all the time).

That word, ladles and jellyspoons, was quixotic. And it turns out, according to Merriam-Webster, that it means:

foolishly impractical, especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.

(Interesting fact: my friend pronounced it “quicks-otic”. I thought she may have been wrong, but it turns out that’s how you’re supposed to say it. Huh.)

SO, neatly linking my introduction with this definition, I would just like to warn you against making any quixotic resolutions this new year. Sure, foolishly impractical and lofty aims are a great idea, but when it’s 31 December 2012 and you realise you never did lose that 20kg, run a marathon or start a vegie co-op with your neighbours you’ll just feel bad about yourself.

It’s probably best to just stick to the classics.

And the 2011 winners are…

2 Dec

It’s December, and you know what that means – stressing about another year having passed while your goals are inexplicably further away than ever! No? Just me then? Ahem, moving on…

December is when the when lexicographers unveil their words of the year. Exciting times!

The Oxford English Dictionary gave us a shortlist of 10 words, each one chosen to reflect the ethos – or “flavour” – of 2011. Different lists were made for UK and US audiences, but the chosen word of the year was the same for both countries: ‘squeezed middle’. (It’s worth noting that the OED recognises two-word expressions as compounds, which is why it’s counted as one word.)

So what does this title-winning word mean, according to the OED?

squeezed middle

Squeezed middle: the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.

Or, as Ed Miliband, the British MP who coined the word, explains: “[The squeezed middle is] around the average income, but below and above the average income.”

Right, just about everyone then.

Some of the other words on the OED list are to be expected in current times: ‘occupy’, ‘ the 99%’, ‘crowdfunding’… and, somewhat randomly, Berlusconi’s ‘bunga bunga’.

But that’s just the OED. The dictionary.com team came to a different conclusion for its word of the year, choosing a word that “aptly defines the spirit of 2011, even if the choice is obscure”. And obscure it was – drum roll please…

Tergiversate: to change repeatedly one’s attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc.

Try to work ‘tergiversate’ into a conversation today!

Meanwhile, in Holland, it was a democratic process, with the public visiting the Dutch Institute of Lexicology website to vote on words. Their winner? ‘Wild knitting’, which is the practice of knitting items to cover poles, trees, statues and other public items. You might also know it as yarn bombing or street/graffiti knitting.

The Dutch runner-up was also interesting – it was ‘infobesity’, the word used to describe what happens when you overdose on information gleaned through the wonders of modern technology.

So there you go! As my mother is fond of saying, “You learn something new every day.” Well, she doesn’t say the learned information will always be helpful.

Untranslatable words of love and longing

22 Nov

The English language sure has a lot of nifty words. For example: Sandwich. Muleskinner. Iguana. Those are just three random words – they were the first that came to mind. I don’t know what that might mean, and frankly I don’t want to know.

But I recently read an article over at bigthink.com that pointed out some of the shortcomings in our language. The author listed 10 relationship words that have no equivalent in English – or that at least need more than one word to be explained. There’s mamihlapinatapei, a Yagan word for “the wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start”, through to ya’aburnee, Arabic for “You bury me” (not an order of assisted suicide, funnily enough, but a statement of wanting to die before one’s beloved does, so life doesn’t have to be experienced without them).

I was also really interested in the almost throwaway line referencing the Chinese proverb meaning “have fate without destiny”. The author pointed out the differentiation between fate and destiny, which are often seen as being interchangeable in our language. This proverb is said to describe “couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason”. Aww, bittersweet.

You can read the full list of words and their meanings over at Big Think.

And let’s start making up some of these words ourselves – it’s like a love-only version of Balderdash! I’ll start. Transchell: a fellow passenger on your regular public transport route that you have a crush on, but you don’t want to ask them out in case they say no and you’ll be so embarrassed you’ll have to change your public transport routine and it would be all really inconvenient, so it’s probably just better to keep quiet and dream from afar.

Catchy, no?


17 Aug

The New York Times’ excellent grammar-nerd blog, ‘After Deadline’, recently spilled the beans on the words most frequently looked up on NYTimes.com. These words included ‘president’, ‘America’, and ‘religion’.

JUST KIDDING! Of course the list featured some real head-scratchers.

So how many do you know – and I mean properly know, not just ‘I kind of think I know what that might kind of mean, maybe’?

NYT word list - a boggle board come to life

By the way, the word at the top of the list, ‘panegyric’, was only used in one article but had a total of 582 look-ups. So what the hell is a ‘panegyric’? According to the dictionary built into the NYT site, it means:

  1. A formal eulogistic composition intended as a public compliment
  2. Elaborate praise or laudation; an encomium

So basically it’s a formal expression of approval.

Interestingly, when I searched the NYTimes site for the word, I could only find one use – and it was in a letter penned by a Stu Freeman of Brooklyn, regarding an article on Miranda July:

“The most honest, uninhibited filmmaker of our time”? For heaven’s sake, she has made two features, one of which hasn’t been released yet, and she’s the subject of a Times Magazine cover story cum panegyric. Have you guys seen my nephew’s bar mitzvah video? Talk about genius!’

Well, too bad, Stu. I like her.


3 Jul

This word has come up in a few stories I’ve read lately. But do you think I can find one of these examples now, when I’d like to actually use one in my blog? Of course not. My exceptional organisational skills have failed me for the first time ever (ha).

Anyway, inchoate – according to the good old Merriam-Webster – means:

being only partly in existence or operation; imperfectly formed or formulated

roller coaster, unfinished

That's one inchoate roller coaster.

But I prefer another definition:

in an initial or early stage; incipient.

That one’s from The Free Dictionary.

Fun fact 1: ‘Inchoate’ is currently in the top 20% of words being looked up on the Merriam-Webster site at the moment. What’s with that?

Fun fact 2: It’s pronounced in-CO-et. Pronounce the ‘h’ at your own peril…