Planning on traveling into the past?  Have you just discovered a time machine that will bring you back to the days of the caveman?  What will you say to the people you find there or will you be able to communicate at all?  In almost every movie where someone travels to the past, they encounter people and after only minutes, are able to communicate freely with them.  Is this really possible?  Some scientists think it is…to a point.

The study of glottochronology is based on the idea that language changes at a constant average rate which should allow us to be able to trace the changes in language through history, thus making it possible for us to figure out how to “speak” the English language during any part of history.  Does this really work?  It assumes that there are words that essentially do not change, such as “I”, “who”, “two”, “five” and “thou”, and words that will disappear from the language after a short period of time (words in our vocabulary such as “stick”, “dirty”, “guts” and “squeeze”.) So if you do pop back in time, try to avoid those words if you want to fit in with the locals.

Glottochronology Here is an example of a language being traced. (Courtesy of Alexander Bainbridge at his blog TransCaucasus.)

You can read more about the idea right here.


Adopt a word!


Larry over at the Fire Wire found another great site called “Save the Words”. The site is funny , with cute little voices as you run your mouse over the words scattered around the page saying “Me. Pick me!”.  The people at Save the Words would like us all to be aware that words from the English language disappear every day because they are just not used anymore.  So, to save the words, they ask that you adopt a word for a day, use it in your conversation and thus, the word will not disappear.  You can select your own word or they can choose one for you at random.

I wonder though, if you started using these words often enough, would you begin to sound like you just stepped out of a time machine?  I’m thinking that it might start to sounds a bit weird to use words like “sparsile” or “mulomedic” during an office meeting or while you’re out for lunch with the girls.  But, it is a fun concept.

The dictionary

Erin McKean is one of the youngest editors of one of the “big five” in American Dictionaries.  She is striving to reshape the way we look at dictionaries as well as the English language.

If you’ve never heard of it, TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) started out as a conference to bring people from all of these worlds together in order to share their knowledge with each other.  It is an annual conference now which brings together people from all over the world, each one challenged to give the talk of their lives….all in under 18 minutes.  This particular video of Erin McKean is one such talk.  Take your time and enjoy it!

Why would I want to wash my clothes in THAT?!


I was reading a blog this morning about the way products marketed throughout the world can have problems with translation, depending on the language.  For example, this little box of “Barf” above is actually a very popular detergent used in Iran.  To those of us who speak English, we wonder why anyone would call a cleaning product barf, but in Farsi (an Iranian language) the word barf actually translates as “snow”. Apparently, even though the company is aware that this has a negative translation into English, they have decided to keep the name the same.

Urban legends abound when referring to products and translations.  There are many items that have claims about their English translations (or translations into other languages), but many of these are just that….urban legends. To read more about this issue, you can visit this link.

Branding products can be tricky enough, but when language becomes an issue, there can be a whole new set of problems.  Urban legend or actual translation, words will always amuse us.

Buzzwords of 2008

The year is just about over and with it came a slew of words that most of us heard for the first (and maybe the last) time.  Many of the words that were tracked this year were politically based due to the huge interest in the American election in 2008.  Grant Barrett is a lexicographer specializing in slang and new words.  He is the co-host of a public radio program called “A Way With Words” and these are some of the words that he tracked this year:


Greyjing is the name given to Beijing during all of the controversy over the pollution during the summer Olympics.

On another Olympic theme:


Phelpsian refers to anything done with excellence, as in Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps.


AKA Gov. Sarah Palin

And one that I hadn’t really heard of, but find it to be a strange concept (why are people doing this?):


Photobombing is the act of intentionally inserting oneself into the background of someone else’s photograph.

If you’d like to read the rest of the list in the article found in the NY Times, you can visit the link here.

Thanks to Larry over at the Fire Wire for the great idea!

Please stop saying this….

Oxford researchers have compiled a list of phrases used in the English language that are just overused, plain and simple ( I meant to say that!).  After going through newspapers, books, magazines, watching movies and television and viewing any other media, these researchers came up with the list of phrases used most often in the recent past. I must say that one of my least favourite phrases is listed….24/7.  Is yours on the list?

1 – At the end of the day
2 – Fairly unique
3 – I personally
4 – At this moment in time
5 – With all due respect
6 – Absolutely
7 – It’s a nightmare
8 – Shouldn’t of
9 – 24/7
10 – It’s not rocket science

The list appears in a new book, Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare, by Jeremy Butterfield. (From


In Canada, we often hear people speaking French, and along with it comes a few scattered English words.  Maybe there is just no English translation for a word and so the English word is just inserted in regular speech. Is it Frenglish? Call it what you may, but it is just part of our world.  However, Italy is getting tired of its people using a combination of English and Italian, calling it Anglitaliano.

The Dante Alighieri Society asked people for examples of over-used foreign words and “il weekend” emerged as the worst offender.  Other commonly used words are “cool” and “lo stress”.  The society has asked that people stop abusing the beautiful Italian language by inserting English words, and many Italians seem to agree.  They feel that using English words is sometimes faster and often thought to be very chic, but many want to keep the language clean.

You can read more about this controversy here.

Do you think the English language is “clean”?