Archive for words in English

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

From Fawney to Phoney

Cathlin Berndt

Image by Caio Resende from

Phoney, which today means “Fake, sham, counterfeit; false; insincere” (OED s.v. phoney, sense 1), seems like a pretty straightforward word. However, that is not the case. This word, according to Cohen, has been a debated topic for over 100 years (Cohen 1). Phoney (or phony) is an interesting word. It looks like the word phone but has absolutely nothing to do with phones. There is evidence that the word phoney originated from the word fawney which means “A finger-ring” and is an Irish slang word (OED s.v. fawney, sense 1). The earliest form of fawney is in relation to fawney-rig which was a con game where someone would drop a ring in front of the person they were trying to con. They would then attempt to sell them the ring claiming that it was being sold at a way cheaper value than what it should have been, when in reality, they were making about ten times as much as the ring was worth (OED s.v. fawney, sense 2)

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Monday, March 23rd, 2020

An Analysis of the Changing Meanings of “Gothic” and “Goth” Throughout History


The word “Gothic” has both a complex history and a variety of meanings. Originally related to a variety of ancient Germanic tribes, the word slowly became a synonym for “barbaric” as time went on. During the early modern period, the term then became retroactively applied to architecture popularized in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as such architecture was considered “barbaric” by critics. However, through the revival of Gothic architecture in the mid-eighteenth century, as well as through the creation of new “Gothic” forms of media, the term shifted into a more positive connotation, and developed to represent a variety of artistic signifiers, as opposed to any notion of barbarianism.

A depiction of a Gothic warrior from the third century (Nguyen).

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Friday, March 13th, 2020

Gaelic Loanwords in Early Modern English

Mae McDonald

Dunquaire Castle near Kinvarra in the County of Galway. Image: (c) Tammy McDonald.

With Ireland and Scotland close to parts of England, loanwords from Gaelic were bound to enter the English language in some way. Loanwords began to really pop up around the 14th century and slowly increased until the 20th century where there was a large drop. Focusing on the 16th century, there is a commonality in the types of loanwords. A large chunk of the most used words that came from Gaelic in this time period were words that described landscape features or had to do with agriculture. I didn’t go into a specific dialect of Gaelic, in order to keep it open to both Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Most of the words I’m planning on looking at are under the Goidelic branch of Celtic. Because of this, there are only a few words that have about a medium frequency and must have been universal throughout the Gaelic dialects.

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Monday, February 17th, 2020

Hey, you people, what are we going to do about it?

Bryce Bulgis1

“I definitely won’t say ‘they’ or ‘them’ for one person. I speak English, so ‘it’ will do.”

This quote, an excerpt from a texting conversation,2 comes from one of my oldest friends from grade school, a man named Bob.3 Knowing me as an English scholar, someone well versed with the intricacies of our lingua franca, you may be surprised to learn that Bob is actually my best friend, ha ha. You see, Bob and I sometimes clash over certain topics, many of which centre around how people use language to describe certain phenomena. And we most recently clashed over the usage of the third-person gender-neutral singular pronoun it when referring to people, particularly transgendered people. Bob thinks that “[t]ransgenderism is just another thing that people do . . . . They have a mental disorder and I hope they can get help.” And what’s his solution to when they face scrutiny in public? To “do what we all do. If you go somewhere that people don’t accept you, stop going there. Only go places where people don’t care about you . . . . It’s as simple as that.” However, being transgendered isn’t a phase, a joke, nor an act; it’s who these people are, and their pleas to seek acceptance and equality in society is anything but simple as they and their allies advocate for society to use language to recognize them as people.4

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Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

Linguistic Appropriation: AAVE, Hip-Hop, and Digital Culture

Nathan Metivier

If you are below the age of thirty and/or active on social media, you are probably familiar with words like squad, woke, salty, cap, and others. You may recognize these terms as only the trendy slang of teenagers and young adults. However, most of these terms originate from African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Despite the ubiquity of these lexical items, their cultural origins remain largely unknown by the white, English-speaking communities that often use them. The widespread use of AAVE outside of its native speech community can be explained, in part, by the popularity of hip-hop music and the widespread use of social media platforms. The profound effect of digital media culture on the speech of young white people demonstrates the potential for digital media to radically alter common vernacular English. That said, the effects of digital media on English vernaculars have consequences. While the widespread use of AAVE by white speakers may appear to reflect an appreciation of African American culture or a bridge across racial tensions, the lack of recognition for the origins of culturally embedded AAVE terms and the attitudes of the white speech community — who flippantly overuse and eventually dismiss appropriated AAVE terms as “outdated” or “no longer cool” — ultimately reflect a lack of appreciation for the African American speech community’s language, culture, and art forms by the cultural hegemony.

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Uncleftish Beholding: An Uploosening of English Cleanness

Alexei Muzyka

Many English words are directly borrowed from, or take influence from many other languages. Loanwords can fill lexical gaps, increase the ways people can say what they want to, and increase the precision of communication in a language. English has borrowed so many foreign words that it might seem impossible that the complex ideas of today’s world could be communicated without loans. However, doing so can show one where English receives new words from, which languages contribute heavily to certain word categories, and how loans are more helpful than harmful.

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Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

He’s Not Dead… He’s Resting!: Political Euphemisms and What To Do With Them

Stephanie Ruiz

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While Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot Sketch” exploits the potential for humour in euphemistic language, it also signals the potential for euphemisms to blur the perception of reality. When the client attempts to return a dead parrot, the pet shop owner uses the euphemism for death “to be at rest” hoping to confuse his client or expecting he interprets it literally. Both characters and the audience know the parrot is dead, so by using euphemisms to hide the obvious, the owner reaches the limits of absurdity. Thus, it illuminates that euphemisms play an important role in the negotiation of perceived reality.

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Monday, February 12th, 2018

The Influence of Flemish Trade on the English Language

Jake Decker

While both originating from the language family of Proto-Germanic, Dutch and English have evolved in close proximity to one another for hundreds of years. A surprising amount of loan words exist in the English language originating from Dutch but most of this lexical change happened during the period of Middle-English.

The County of Flanders. Image: (cc) Wikimedia Commons.

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Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

The Language of Hockey

Nathaniel Wingerak

The typical appearance of the hockey-talk speaking demographic. Image: CraveTV, “Letterkenny | One Team,” screenshot from YouTube clip at

While sitting on the team bus during a three-hour road trip to Wilcox, amidst the expletives and insults I hear someone yell out the ridiculous phrase “Hey sauce me my sandy!” A teammate then proceeds to hand him his sandwich. This type of chatter was everywhere in hockey; on the road, in the dressing room, on the ice, at team gatherings, this lingo was omnipresent throughout the realm of hockey. In my past experiences with hockey I’ve witnessed extensive use of this language variety that I’ll hereby refer to as “Hockey-Talk”.

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Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Klutz, putz, schmuck and all the dreck in between: Yiddish pejoratives in English

Quinnton Weiman

A traditional bagel with lox. The culinary equivalent of Yiddishisms in English — sharp, bold, and to the point. Image: Sandwich America.

After spending the past few months with my nose in books about the topic, and shlepping them all over between the Murray library and student coffee klatches around town, I’ve decided to finally quit my kvetching and get this blog post written. It is no small task to sift through the storied, thousand-year-old history of the expressive mame loshn Yiddish and the (very long) short list of the languages it has influenced and been influenced by, but thankfully in regards to English specifically, there is a definite and relatively recent starting point. This period, known as the great migration, spanned roughly between 1870 and 1914. Fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe, Jews sought out greener pastures in the western, primarily English-speaking world, with as many as two million Jews emigrating to the United States during this period alone (Weinstein 133). English, seen as a pathway to a better life, was adopted with gusto by many of these emigrés, whose mordant and cynical humour, tempered by centuries of oppression in Europe, was also readily absorbed into English. This can be largely attributed to the decline of Yiddish as it was subjected to the cultural melting pot of English America. Miriam Weinstein, in her book Yiddish: a Nation of Words, also attributes this decline to a strong desire to fit in and to quickly cast away the “otherness” of Yiddish – as she describes it, “no other people would feel such ambivalence about what they had left [behind]” (142). This loss of language was hailed as tragic by many, in particular in the wake of the cultural genocide and virtual extermination of Yiddish in Europe during the Holocaust. However, little could stop the language from occupying the niche of humour, in particular among its own people as they embraced their new English lives and left the past behind. As Weinstein puts it, Yiddish had slid from being the “golden key to Jewish tradition” to being an “easy laugh at the immigrants’ expense” (and delight, mind) within a generation (143).

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