(The Blog)

And now for a few words about words (and many other things)...

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Entries in words (7)


In football, as in life...

Here's just one more reason that I'm proud of my alma mater—and, of course, its football team. After a Rose Bowl championship, Stanford is planning on "using vocabulary to win a national title." Yes, words matter.

PALO ALTO, Calif. – When David Shaw and his assistant coaches go out in search of football recruits capable of playing for Stanford, the list of necessary attributes is long.

Superior academics are mandatory for admission and success at the elite university. Great athletic ability, strength and speed are a necessity to play for the reigning Pac-12 champions. Character, leadership and motivation are highly valued intangibles. 

And then there is something unique Stanford coaches evaluate when meeting with a prospect, something that few would think predicts football success.

"Vocabulary," Shaw said.


"Yes, you look for vocabulary," he said. "Can this kid express himself in a way that befits a Stanford man?

"Does that correlate to football? I say, yes, absolutely. [We seek] a young man that has the confidence to stand up in front of you and express himself as opposed to what a lot of young kids do today – they don't give you eye contact, they kind of mumble when they talk to adults. 

"You walk around and talk to our kids, they look you in the eye," Shaw continued. "And we play that way. We are going to play right at you, in your face, 'Here is who we are, here is how we play.' There is a one-to-one correlation. There is no doubt about it to me. The inability to be intimidated by a person or a situation is something that is significant."


"The Power of Words"

I’m ashamed to say that I am only discovering this online clip now. It’s bad enough that I was a little late to Gangnam Style, but to know that some 15 million people saw this before me hurts more, since it so beautifully expresses the point of what I do. (Thanks to my computer-savvy dad for forwarding it.) This brief, sweet story was familiar to me as a parable—I’d heard it in a speech as recently as this year—but it’s much more affecting in cinematic form. Just watch.  

Full credit goes to Purplefeather Online Content Specialists, the British marketing firm that created the film. If you’re in the market for online content and you live in the UK, by all means, try them first. Otherwise, I’m here.


Words and remembrance

If you need a Sunday diversion, my newest post is up now on Book Riot:

It’s commonly accepted (and, I suppose, scientifically confirmed) that as we get older, our memory starts to fade. Of course, this does not happen evenly—how else to explain that while I have forgotten just about everything I ever heard in high-school calculus class, I can still recall nearly every line of dialogue from So I Married an Axe Murderer…, which I saw and was encoded onto my brain at roughly the same time in my life? More specifically, when it comes to language, why do some things make it into our long-term memories while other moments and phrases never stand a chance?

Don't worry, a team of computer scientists at Cornell seems to have come up with a theory, based on memorable quotes from movies. Also you can try your hand at recognizing (remembering?) so-called memorable lines from classic books (after all, this is Book Riot).

See the whole thing here.


After all, it is called the mother tongue...

Happy Mother's Day all. While everyone is busy appreciating all that mom has done for them, I take a look at how much our language—that is, our mother tongue—also owes to dear “mother,” in my newest Book Riot column:

...There’s Mother Nature, Mother Goose, motherboard, mother lode, mother-of-pearl, and, thanks to Saddam Hussein’s popularization of an Arabic expression, “the mother of all [relevant noun!]”

But there are also a number of wonderful words out there that owe their existence to “mother,” though you may never know it to look at them. (Not that “mother” is looking for any credit or gratitude. Sigh.) Here are just a few...

Read the whole thing. And then share it with your mom.


It's (Word) Award Season...

Well, as you can probably tell by the fact that your neighbors have had their Christmas lights up for nearly a month now, we are slowly but surely approaching the end of another year. ’Tis the season not just for getting a great deal on an Xbox at Walmart,* but for reflecting on the year gone (going) by, noting the highlights, and—particularly if you edit or write for any kind of publication, such as a blog—singling out people, places, and things in all variety of categories as “____ Of The Year.”

*Assuming you know how.

That goes for words, too—not just in terms of writing or literature, but words themselves. And just as music has the Grammys and the AMAs, film has the Oscars and the Golden Globes, and, of course, bowling has both the National Bowling Association and U.S. Bowling Congress Awards, the “Word of the Year” depends on which authority you consult.

For example, in a couple of weeks, Merriam-Webster should be announcing its assessment of the term that most captures Americans’ mood and interests this year, according to how frequently it has been looked up on merriam-webster.com (last year’s winner: “austerity”). The American Dialect Society will be putting its finalists for 2011 WOTY up for online voting in January.

But the earliest returns are in, thanks to Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary. The winning word by consensus—consensus because editors of both the British and American editions agreed, which apparently doesn’t happen too often—is really two words: “squeezed middle.” Its introduction credited to British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, the word/phrase is defined by the OED as “the section of society regarded as particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty, consisting principally of those people on low or middle incomes.”

And that’s the thing about awards…from “austerity” to “squeezed middle,” they are just so feel-good.

So…what would you nominate as your favorite/most important/all-around bestest word of this year?


First appeared on Book Riot on November 28, 2011.