Every June, around the 21st day of the month, the year reaches a milestone. With the sun at its highest latitude, the northern hemisphere experiences its longest day in terms of daylight hours. This day, known as the summer solstice, has played an important part in how we humans measure and record time. Our methods for doing so have evolved considerably over the years, as have the words we use to describe them.
And/or is a common term in written English, particularly in legal, technical and journalistic texts. It is also widely criticized: the Chicago Manuel of Style warns writers to “Avoid this Janus-faced term.” Meanwhile, it has been described in courts of law as a “grammatical monstrosity”, a “bastard conjunction”, and worse. So why is and/or so controversial? And how did the term come about in the first place?
Although we humans are quite different from our fellow inhabitants of Earth, we can’t help but see a little bit of ourselves in them. Just look at how often we liken our own physical characteristics or personality traits to those of other creatures, or consider the number of animal-inspired words and expressions used to describe people.
Words like talented and glossy-paged represent a curious feature of English: adjectives that seemingly take the past participle verbal ending -ed, but that do not derive from verbs. Why can you say talented when there is no lexicalized verb to talent? Why does a glossy-paged book sound natural but a paged book, a concreted wall or a five-houred drive sound strange?
In recent years, technology has drastically changed the way in which we communicate. While it has brought us countless new words, as shown in our last instalment of Word Stories, it has also superseded some older methods of communication. Still, for the time being, the printed page survives, and the language of printing and typography is very much alive.
Although Latin is a dead language, it has a funny way of coming back to haunt us from beyond the grave. Complex declensions and deponent verbs aside, aspects of Latin grammar and vocabulary continue to affect the English language today. One such linguistic haunting is the question of whether the Latin-derived word data should be treated as a plural or a singular. So which is it, data is or data are?
While most people associate January 1 with the new year’s arrival, some also consider it to be the “birthday” of the Internet: TCP/IP, the protocol on which the Internet operates, was adopted on this day in 1983. Since then, this technology has changed our lives, and our language, in countless ways. The subjects of this month’s Word Stories were either unheard of or had very different meanings back in 1983. Read on to find out how these words have evolved alongside the Internet itself.