The word of the year according to Merriam-Webster dictionary

Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.

English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.

More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.

Nonbinary they was also prominent in the news in 2019. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA) revealed in April during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equality Act that her child is gender-nonconforming and uses they. Singer Sam Smith announced in September that they now use they and them as pronouns. And the American Psychological Association’s blog officially recommended that singular they be preferred in professional writing over “he or she” when the reference is to a person whose gender is unknown or to a person who prefers they. It is increasingly common to see they and them as a person’s preferred pronouns in Twitter bios, email signatures, and conference nametags.

The complete article on other 2019 words of the year is available at https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year/they

Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2019

About Words - Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

Our Word of the Year 2019 is . . . upcycling.

This word was chosen based on the Word of the Day that resonated most strongly with fans on the Cambridge Dictionary Instagram account, @CambridgeWords. The word upcycling – defined as the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material – received more likes than any other Word of the Day (it was shared on 4 July 2019).

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Useful and Obscure Words for Autumn


Autumn

small-bridge-with-fallen-leaves

Definition – the season between summer and winter; also, a period of maturity or incipient decline

Autumn is more confusing, linguistically speaking, than most of the other seasons. It has had multiple titles (fall is common in the U.S., and it’s also been known as harvest and harvest-time), and the exact dates of the season vary some. Autumn can be defined as the time extending from the September equinox to the December solstice, or as “the season in the northern hemisphere comprising the months of September, October, and November” (in the southern hemisphere it runs from the March equinox to the June solstice). And to confuse things a bit more in British use it commonly refers to the months of August through October.

Summer has followed after Spring;
Now Autumn is so shrunk and sere,
I scarcely think a sadder thing
Can be the Winter of my year.
— Christina Georgina Rossetti, The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, 1998

Please read the complete article at https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/words-for-autumn-fall

‘-Gate’: Notes on a Scandal

The Watergate Scandal

The use of the suffix –gate following a relevant word to refer to scandals (such as Irangate, or more recently, Bridgegate) has long been a media trope. Most people are already aware of the origin: Watergate, the shorthand used for the scandal in which the offices of the Democratic National Committee were burglarized, with an investigation later revealing that the burglary was covered up by high-level officials in the administration of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. The name Watergate refers to the name of the office complex, located in the Foggy Bottom district of Washington, D.C., consisting of office buildings, apartments, and the Watergate Hotel.

That scandal ultimately led to Nixon resigning from the presidency in August 1974. But by then, Watergate was itself used for scandals likened to Watergate for their levels of concealment and corruption:

“Why obviously?” “Jesus, Doctor!” He was momentarily indignant. “What sort of a question is that? A Central American Watergate you want now?” “I only asked.”
— Eric Ambler, Doctor Frigo, 1974

Usage After Watergate

By the time of Nixon’s resignation, the use of –gate as a somewhat mocking way to suffix the names of scandals (political or otherwise) had already taken hold in the American media and continued throughout the decade.

Last week the French wine industry was in ferment over the disclosure of a fraudulent scheme to peddle cheap wine as expensive Bordeaux … “You’ll think it’s exaggerating to say this, but the U.S. had Watergate and now we have our winegate,” a Bordeaux journalist told Newsweek’s Seth Goldschlager.
— Newsweek, 10 Sept. 1973

The suspects allegedly falsified records, fed incriminating evidence through a paper shredder and conducted a cover-up so pervasive that one investigator calls it “Ice Cream Gate.”
— Time, 18 Aug. 1975

Since obscenity is known to be the most low-investment-high-return of all businesses, there should be an investigation to ascertain whether payoffs are blocking enforcement of the law. May we have a burlesk-gate on our hands.
— The Pueblo Star-Journal, 17 May 1979

Some instances of the –gate suffix led to serendipitously punny phrasings that were likely too juicy for a writer to pass up.

For example, appending –gate to the last name of Daniel J. Flood, a long-serving U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania, yielded Floodgate when accusations surfaced in 1978 that he used his office to direct money and contracts to favored people and corporations in exchange for kickbacks.

In the 1980s, a scandal involving sexual misconduct and misappropriation of funds by the televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker led to New York Times columnist Russel Baker to coin the name PearlyGate, cleverly echoing the phrase pearly gates, envisioned as the place where one earns entrance to Heaven as described in Revelation 21:21.

Modern ‘-Gate’ Scandals

The –gate suffix has continued to be applied to more recent scandals, generations after its originator, seemingly with the paradoxical effect of simultaneously magnifying and diminishing the affair in question.

Bridgegate was the name for what was known more descriptively as the Fort Lee Lane Closure Scandal, in which lanes at the toll plaza on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey were closed by members of the administration of New Jersey governor Chris Christie purportedly as an act of retribution against Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich.

When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of using underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts in January 2015—a violation that ultimately resulted in Brady receiving a four-game suspension the following season—the scandal became known in the media as Deflategate.

And there are dozens of others, before and after and in between: Nipplegate (in which Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show); Skategate (a judging scandal regarding the pairs’ figure skating event at the 2002 Winter Olympics); and Spygate (another scandal involving the New England Patriots, accused of using video equipment to record the signals used by their opponents).

For every scandal, it seems, there will always be a gate. Remember to close it on your way out.

To read the article in full, please visit the website: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/gate-suffix-scandal-word-history

Pieces of cake and sour grapes: food idioms

About Words - Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

Angela Bax / Moment / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This week, we’re looking at English idioms that feature food and drink words. As there are lots of these idioms, we’re focusing today on idioms containing words for sweet food. Next month, we’ll publish a post on savoury (UK) or savory (US) food idioms.

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