Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ann Curzan and real words

I keep urging friends to watch TED talks.  On a computer, the spoken dialogue, which is the most important part, can be read in print while the presenter is talking.  It can also be downloaded.  That is handy for people like me with hearing problems.  In a typescript, I can see the spelling of special terms and names if I want to find out more about them.

Last evening I watched several TED talks.  The most memorable one was by Prof. Ann Curzan of the department of English at the U. of Michigan.  I have listened to a Great Course by Prof. John McWhorter of Columbia and learned about the evolution through our current years of language.  The Great Courses people suggested Ann Curzan and I listened to her Great Course.  Her TED talk is about what English professors do, how they are treated and what they know about words and dictionaries.

She gets asked if current language habits are "ruining" English.  Both McWhorter and she explain that new words are introduced all the time, old words sometimes die and they often morph into something new.  Older people especially can remember when a given word was "the bee's knees" but now is not used or has changed its meaning or acceptability.

She gets asked if a given word is a "real" one.  She knows that people often use the fact that a word is in the dictionary as the deciding factor as to whether it is "real".  She explains that dictionary writers work hard to listen to people and find out what words they use and what is meant by their words.  If a word "sticks", that is, gets used, it is real.  Curzan listens to her students and has learned "hangry" and "adorkable".  She explains that when I am so hungry that I am angry, I am "hangry".  If I am somewhat dorky but cute, I am "adorkable".

If you are situated to watch her 17+ minute talk, you can find it here.

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