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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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Language-related books recently added to the shelf. A few were gifts, the rest were second-hand bookshop finds.
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Black hole, the long falling
Darkness peering, portable darkness –
Tidal dreams, grotesque dreams,
The holy door on Green Dolphin street.
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Frequency of letters in the English language, compiled by Peter Norvig based on Google Books corpus data (over 743 billion words).
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Language is not solely a means of communication. It is also an expression of shared assumptions and trasmits implicit values and behavioural models to those who use it. When, for example, such ordinary words for a female person as woman or girl acquire the additional commonly understood meanings of ‘mistress’ and ‘prostitute’, as they once did, an attitude towards women held by some members of society becomes part of the experience of all that society’s members. Language is at once the expression of culture and a part of it. Just as changes in language may be understood by an examination of the social and historical context in which it is used, so may social attitudes be illuminated by a study of language change.
Jane Mills, Womanwords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Patriarchal Society, 1989
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In the heart of the sea
The waves breaking
The spell, the crossing
The ever-present origin
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Over his untasteable apology for a cup of coffee, listening to this synopsis of things in general, Stephen stared at nothing in particular. He could hear, of course, all kinds of words changing colour like those crabs about Ringsend in the morning, burrowing quickly into all colours of different sorts of the same sand where they had a home somewhere beneath or seemed to.
James Joyce, Ulysses
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