Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

The scrabble for a better word

Second hand board gamesDealer's Choice, Scrabble, Boggle...Bird Bingo, James Bond 007, Subbuteo...

For someone who loves words, reads a lot and works as a copywriter, I’m surprisingly mediocre at Scrabble. But then, only around 30,000 of the 171,476 words in the 20-volume OED are used frequently, which means that – however great your vocabulary – around 3/4 of potential Scrabble words are likely to mean little or nothing to you. This makes having an interest in the language or even an English degree less important to Scrabble success than your willingness (or ability) to memorise little-known words, particularly those pesky two-letter ones, as well as the strange vowel-intensive ones like Alii, Ilia and Uraei. I don’t think I’m ever going to be that person…


Read more…

Wordy Wednesday: neologism

Every day I'm capuling

Today’s Wordy Wednesday was inspired by Turkish protest graffiti – ‘Everyday I’m çapuling’ – and by the viral video it gave rise to.
Before I explain the provenance of çapuling though, it’s probably a good idea to remind ourselves of the kind of neologisms we hear and see every day, such as these from the techie world:
  • google (as a verb)
  • troll
  • spam
  • crowdsource (book lovers out there should check out crowd sourcing book publisher, unbound)
  • geotagging – something my friend Dingo does all the time, posting pics of himself on the plane, up a Swiss mountain, in the US, on Lake Geneva, at the Hamble… Frankly, it’s exhausting.
The Washington Post runs a great competition in which it invites readers to create neologisms, usually by changing just one letter of a word. Below you’ll find some wonderfully funny and insightful neologisms coined over the past decade by its readers:

Jimmy Fallon mondegreen

Courtesy of the Tonight Show

Courtesy of Late Night Live

I like Jimmy Fallon, I really do, and I think Late Night Live has flashes of brilliance, but as far as mondegreens go, he ain’t no Peter Kay…

Jimmy references some really funny mondegreens, such as the lyrics of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer misheard as “Hold me close and tie me down, sir,” and Michael Jackson’s Wanna be startin’ something misheard as “I’m ashamed of the side of my moccasins; I’m ashamed of the side of my moccasins,” (try singing it). But at times it was hard to know which song he was referring to, even though he had the benefit of a twitter storm to pull his mondegreens from and a criminally under-used house band in the studio (what were they there for, if not to help us work out which song the misheard lyrics came from?). One fail, for me at least, was “Hit me with your pet shark,” – does anyone know what song that’s supposed to be from? Anyone?

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British humour rules. Period.

Bodyform Facebook page

When a young British man called Richard Neill wrote a funny rant on the Bodyform webpage, blaming them for misleading him about the true nature of periods, his post received more than 85,000 likes.

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Wordy Wednesday: tmesis


(WARNING: this particular Wordy Wednesday starts off sweetly, but the language it contains goes downhill from here on in…)



If you’re a fan of The Simpsons, you’ll no doubt have heard Ned Flanders, Homer’s much abused, luxuriantly moustached Christian neighbour, saying “Wel-diddly-elcome, Simpsons!” 

Ned’s homey catchphrase is an example of tmesis. And if that sounds like Greek to you, it’s because it is: Tmesis comes from the Ancient Greek for ‘a cutting’; ‘I cut’, and it’s the linguistic phenomenon in which a word or phrase is separated into two parts, with other words interjected between them.

Other homey examples of tmesis are “just put it any-old-where,” and ‘it doesn’t matter, do it any-old-how’.

While these coinages are as wholesome as Mom’s apple pie, some of the most effective examples of tmesis are less so, involving as they do the insertion of a swear word into a word or phrase. There’s even a special term for this, ‘expletive infixation’, used for phrases such as:

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Brid: I know how this looks, but it wasn’t me…

Do you ever feel guilty about things that aren’t your fault? I do, and when I saw this photo on Grammarly’s Facebook page yesterday I had a flutter of panic: what did I misspell?

(It’s the stuff of nightmares: a post on Grammarly about a misspelling by the word bird…)

I imagine that the artist himself wasn’t an English-speaker (he probably saw ‘Brid’ not as a word, but as a shape). But that doesn’t explain why the US wholesaler, the warehouse assistants who unpacked the boxes, and the shop assistants who placed the items on the shelves failed to pick up on it.

Read more…

the mangled English of ebay listings

ebay ad

After a year in the smelly rental, we’ve finally moved into our lovely new house.

As we still need quite a few bits and pieces, I’ve been falling into bed (well, onto a mattress on the floor), and browsing ebay well into the small hours.

I think I must be over-tired, because the type of grammatical or sense error that would normally irritate me is starting to seem rather poetic. In fact I dreamt last night of a white day bed suffering little pain while haring around a field with a brindled greyhound in hot pursuit, jaws snapping. (See ad above, which I read before falling asleep.) I’d like to say I dreamt of wraith-like ‘smoke pets’ in their free home too, but I’d be lying…

We still need quite a lot of stuff, so if I see any more badly-written but lyrical ebay ads, I’ll let you know.

“Don’t gobblefunk around with words…” BFG

Just a quick note to wish you a happy Roald Dahl Day!

It seems highly appropriate to be celebrating Dahl and his darkly humorous stories on Friday 13th this year.
Roald Dahl Day

Amongst Roald Dahl’s enduringly popular works are:

James and the Giant Peach

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


The Witches

Fantastic Mr Fox

The Twits

Danny, The Champion of the World

George’s Marvelous Medicine


It’s difficult to choose a favourite, but if I had to, I’d choose Danny, The Champion of the World, because the warmth of the relationship between Danny & his dad makes me cry. Which is your favourite?

Wordy Wednesday: solutions (vs. Eddie Stobart)

"Thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you."

“Thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you.”

Some people, like Billy Connolly and Dave Allen, are great storytellers, able to keep you enthralled and entertained through the most unlikely of shaggy dog stories.

Others could be giving you the solutions to the Kennedy assassination and the death of Princess Di and all you’d hear would be ‘Blah, blah, Kennedy, blah de blah, blah Princess Di blah blah…’

The words we choose can either draw people in or make them tune out. And some words, or combinations of words, are like black holes, reflecting nothing at all back at the reader or listener. ‘Solutions’ has become one of these.

Billy Wilder’s top 10 screenwriting tips

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved. Titles: The Apartment Names: Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray Characters: Jeff D. Sheldrake Still of Jack Lemmon and Fred MacMurray in The Apartment

J.D. Sheldrake: Ya know, you see a girl a couple of times a week, just for laughs, and right away they think you’re gonna divorce your wife. Now I ask you, is that fair?
C.C. Baxter: No, sir, it’s very unfair… Especially to your wife.

I may soon be delving into the world of scriptwriting as part of my Writing MA. So, as Billy Wilder was the co-writer and director of Some Like it Hot and The Apartment, two of the movies I’d want to have with me if I was ever stranded on a desert island, I thought I’d see if he’d shared any useful tips on the craft. Here are his top tips:

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go. Read more…

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