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Down here everyone arrives with a sack, like the sacks used to keep the wind in, but each of these sacks is full of words — words you’ve spoken, words you’ve heard, words that have been said about you. Some sacks are very small, others large; my own is of a reasonable size, though a lot of the words in it concern my eminent husband.
Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
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‘Meshuge' is a Hebrew word which has survived in Yiddish, and as such is universally understood in all Central and Eastern Europe: it means 'mad', but it carries the additional idea of an empty, melancholic, doltish and lunar folly.”
Primo Levi, The Reawakening
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Often he felt when he spoke to her that for her the words came physically from his lips, that they were things she could examine after he’d ejected them, in order to assess their truth.
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I’m reading China Miéville’s squid-cult apocalypse romp Kraken and just came across the phrase “centuries of dissident cephalopod gnosis” and it may be a long time before I read five consecutive words so splendid.
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My first, and probably last, doge macro, to mark the American Dialect Society’s choice of because as Word of the Year.
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When you call me Miss or Mrs.
You invade my private life,
For it’s not the public’s business
If I am, or was, a wife.
(Anon, quoted in Miller & Swift’s Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing.)
More at Sentence first: Ms., Mrs., and Missing options
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Quotative like can set up a whole miniature drama, with visual content contributing to a richer vocabulary than words alone could license.
Sentence first: “And I’m like, Quotative ‘like’ isn’t just for quoting”
[T]he story of English includes not only the change in its sounds and grammar that transformed Old English into the language I am writing in, but at the same time rampant vocabulary mixture with other languages. Writers often attribute this to English being particularly “flexible,” but this is a post hoc misconception. Any language can incorporate boatloads of foreign words, and most have. All it takes is contact between cultures, and of course there is no culture on earth that does not have, or has not in the past had, significant contact with other peoples.
John McWhorter, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language
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Sentence first: The dramatic grammatic evolution of LOL; or, how LOL has become grammaticalised into a pragmatic particle.
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Is perky really the word we would apply to someone with, as a dictionary might say, “a buoyant or self-confident air; briskly cheerful”? Michael Richards’ Seinfeld character Cosmo Kramer was buoyant, self-confident, and briskly cheerful, but one would not call him “perky.” On the contrary, perky in American English is a word that one cannot use without quotation marks — it has taken on a deeply ironic tone, is largely restricted in regard to gender (referring usually to women), and carries a faint whiff of disapproval in implying a certain shallowness. Many words in a real language are like this; you kind of have to “be there” to fully grasp their arbitrarily particular meanings.
John McWhorter, The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language (Arrow Books, 2003)
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