First there was a log, a cylindrical portion of wood from a tree. Then someone tied a knotted rope to one and used it to calculate the distance and speed of ship. (These were later refined and standardised.) Then someone recorded distances and speeds, along with other relevant data, in a book. Then someone recorded any recurring data. Then someone recorded it on the world wide web (a world wide web log > blog). Then someone added video (a video world wide web blog > vlog (which I think is a horrible word, not least because vl- is not an allowable initial consonant cluster in English)). Then someone made one about their travels on a motorcycle (a motor bicycle video world wide web log > motovlog) and Youtube suggested that I watch it. The activity and word is common enough that Wikipedia has a short article about it.  

Along the way, log, blog and vlog (and probably motovlog as well) also became verbs. Pages for Mac doesn’t like vlog, autocorrecting it to blog and red-underlining it when I change it back, or motovlog, which it doesn’t autocorrect to anything.

There is some variation between motor– and moto– in these kinds of words, but motorhome, motocross and motovlog seem to be more common than their alternatives. 

(Surprisingly related to logarithms and their tables and books, being log + arithmós number (compare arithmetic).)


Brethren and sistren

Last weekend I got a card for our new local library and borrowed a book about language and the DVDs for the tv science-fiction series Firefly, which I have read small amounts about over the years but never seen. The series mixes futuristic science fiction with wild west settings, as the outer planets and moons of a complex solar system (or an inter-related group of solar systems; it isn’t fully explained) were terraformed to a basic level but the settlers are otherwise expected to fend for themselves.

In one episode the lead character unexpectedly finds himself married by local custom to a young woman who may or may not be what she seems (semi-spoiler: she isn’t). At one point she refers to “my sistren” in “the maiden house”. 

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rhyming slang

The tv comedy Mind your language ran from 1977 to 1979. I use it occasionally in class to illustrate vocabulary, grammar and communication. One episode (“Many happy returns”) is largely about money. It starts with Sid the college caretaker asking Gladys the tea lady for a free cup of tea, because he’s (something). She replies “You’re always skint, Sid!”. The subtitles (whether auto-generated or created by a human – some episodes are better than others) have “I’m a bit glacier mint”, but audibly that’s not what he says. I had always guessed that it is rhyming slang, as several other episodes show him using that, and even attempting to teach it to the students (one of whom refers to it as “cockeyed slanging rhyme”).

Fast-forward to a few days ago, when I was browsing through a book which I’ll donate or throw away soon. It has a section on Cockney rhyming slang, and one of the items is boracic lint. That is indeed what Sid says, but what is it? Wikipedia explains, quoting its entire article:

Boracic lint was a type of medical dressing made from surgical lint that was soaked in a hot, saturated solution of boracic acid and glycerine and then left to dry.

It has been in use since at least the 19th century, but is now less commonly used. When in use, boracic lint proved to be very valuable in the treatment of leg ulcers.

The term “boracic”, pronounced “brassic”, is also used as Cockney rhyming slang for having no money – “boracic lint” → “skint”.

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Speaking of language users’ ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, not everyone can do it with style of John Clarke, the New Zealand-born, Australian-based writer, actor and satirist, who died on Sunday. As part of a regular segment on The Gillies Report, a satirical tv program broadcast in 1984-85), he created the fictional sport of farnarkeling.

Farnarkeling is a sport which began in Mesopotamia, which literally means ‘between the rivers’. This would put it somewhere in Victoria or New South Wales between the Murray and the Darling. The word Farnarkeling is Icelandic in structure, Urdu in metre and Celtic in the intimacy of its relationship between meaning and tone.

Farnarkeling is engaged in by two teams whose purpose is to arkle, and to prevent the other team from arkeling, using a flukem to propel a gonad through sets of posts situated at random around the periphery of a grommet. Arkeling is not permissible, however, from any position adjacent to the phlange (or leiderkrantz) or from within 15 yards of the wiffenwacker at the point where the shifting tube abuts the centre-line on either side of the 34 metre mark, measured from the valve at the back of the defending side’s transom-housing.

On the program he would deliver passages like this in the style of a sports commentator – rapid-fire, deadpan, without hesitation and seemingly in one breath.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline on Monday was ‘Gone to the great farnarkeling grommet in the sky’.

the sewer of Armageddon

My fear of heights began when I climbed down the sewer of Armageddon during a thunderstorm.

Every language user has the ability to create sentences which have never before been spoken or written in that language, and every other user of that language has the ability to understand them (assuming linguistic competence, performance and cooperation by all).

Yesterday, one of my nieces, who is studying linguistics, wrote the sentence above as part of a Facebook post about the pipe organ she’s practicing on. Yes, she really did visit Israel, yes, she really did visit Tel Megiddo, yes, she really did climb down the former sewer/emergency escape route / current alternative route (with metal steps) for tourists, yes, there really was a thunderstorm at the time.

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Next stop, nek minut

I  spend rather too much time on Sydney trains. On some trains, as it is pulling out of a station, a recorded announcement says ‘Next stop (name)’. The recorded announcer is impeccably clear, and says ‘/nɛkststɒp/’ (that is, with the ‘st’ of ‘next’ and the ‘st’ of ‘stop’ clearly pronounced). On other trains, this announcement is given by the human guard, who usually says ‘‘nɛkstɒp’ (that is, running the two ‘st’s together). A variation on this is when the guard says ‘/fɜstɒp/ (name), then (names)’ (that is ‘first stop’).

This morning, the young woman sitting in front of me between Central and Town Hall was typing a Facebook post on her mobile phone. She’d been drenched by the heavy rain, then ‘nek minut’, she’d slipped and fallen on a wet surface. I don’t usually read other people’s mobile phones, but the way she was holding it made it almost impossible not to. The ‘nek minut’ had squiggly red line under it, but she didn’t correct it, despite that fact that the rest of the post had no red underlining, so I got to thinking that maybe she’d done that deliberately for some reason.

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