Monthly Archives: June 2015

The OED Celebrates Canada — Word(s) of Wisdom

Q. Which quarterly event causes rejoicing among avid readers and prolific writers? Hint: It’s not the solstice/equinox combo!

A. The Oxford English Dictionary’s announcement of new words and meanings to be added to the lexicon.

I understand that caring about new words and usage officially classifies me as a geek, but I’mCanada_flag-9 proud to wear that banner for such an interesting cause – especially since a couple of Canadian words made the grade, just in time for Canada Day.

HomerSimpsonYes, in addition to adding twerking  (Hello, Miley Cyrus!) and meh (D’oh, Simpsons!), the folks at the august OED have included some Canadian terms this time around. Inukshuk makes its inaugural appearance five years after the Vancouver Olympics used the image in its logo, defined as “a structure of rough stones stacked in the form of a human figure.”

From francophone Canada comes depanneur (without the accent – this is Britain), a convenience store. Last, but not least, is stagette, which in the States referred to a woman attending a function without a partner, but in Canada means a party given for a woman about to be married.

Being Canadian, those words were familiar to me, but words from other cultures will take me a while to absorb. The South Asian dhaba, for example, is a roadside food stall or restaurant, and the Tagalog word, barkada, means a night out with friends. Apparently, if I can’t afford to travel the world, I can simply travel by dictionary!


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Getting real about feelings — Word(s) of Wisdom

James Brown, the soul music legend, was renowned for the song, I Feel Good, a tune written by Naomi Neville.Jamesbrownimreal

Undoubtedly, neither Brown nor Neville expected to be the focus of a grammar lesson. However, the song offers a perfect illustration of correct usage, one a recent guest on CBC Radio hadn’t learned.

The woman, whose name I can’t recall, was showing her empathy for someone’s misfortune, saying something along the lines of “I feel badly that he has had such a hard life.”

Her sentiments were admirable, but her grammar was not. As Brown could probably point out, she really meant, “I feel bad.”

Badly is an adverb that modifies an action verb. If feel is used as an action verb, it refers to the act of feeling. If someone asks you, “How do you feel?” and you reply that you feel badly, you are actually saying that you aren’t very good at absorbing the sensations that occur when touching an object. Perhaps the nerve endings in your hand are damaged!

Feel can also serve as a linking verb, however, referring to the state of your emotions. Linking verbs are modified by adjectives. If you want to express your upset, you would choose the adjective and say that you feel bad.

Remember, James Brown didn’t sing, “I feel goodly.” Here’s hoping that when it comes time to make the choice between an action verb/adverb combination or a linking verb/adjective pairing in the future, you won’t choose badly!

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Emoticons: Pro or Con — Word(s) of Wisdom

It’s a golden age for punctuation, opined Mary Norris, copy editor for the New Yorker magazine during a recent interview with Michael Enright, the CBC radio host. Norris gave credit to social media for much of the fun: emoticons and their cousins, emoji, have provided a wealth of expression not covered by the ordinary exclamation point.

In case the distinction is unclear, emoticons represent facial expressions and are created using standard keyboard characters. The smile, for example, combines a colon and a comma — :). Emoji originated in Japan and the word itself means picture letter. There are emoji     to represent a wide variety of objects and activities, including plants, flags and travel destinations.

As adorable as they are, a debate rages. Are emoticons appropriate in business communication? It depends on your point of view, on the organization your represent  – and on the recipient of your email or text message. In other words, context is the key.

If you work for a Bay Street bank, the work environment is formal, so it is a good rule of thumb to stay away from emoticons in your business correspondence. If you work for an advertising agency, where creativity rules the day, using emoji may be accepted simply as evidence of that imagination.

Learn to keep your emoticons in check when the situation warrants, or your virtual smile may be rewarded with a real, live frown.

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You Say Potato — Word(s) of Wisdom

Last week’s discussion about the British vs. the American pronunciation of the word, idyll, reminded me of the much loved Gershwin song from the 1930s, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off. Dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers introduced the tune in their 1937 movie, Shall We Dance?FredandGinger

“You like potato and I like potahto/ You like tomato and I like tomahto

Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto,/ Let’s call the whole thing off,” warble the stars.

Spoken language conveys more than the meaning of the words themselves; it gives the listener clues about the speaker’s origins. When meeting someone for the first time, we judge them on appearance, but also by the way they sound.

Is their voice distinctive in pitch or tone? Is their conversation a rapid-fire, staccato burst of sound, or is it measured and slow? What kind of accent can we detect? What kind of language do they use: an extensive vocabulary or lots of slang?

We absorb each of these cues subconsciously, but they contribute to our overall assessment of an individual, which is based on our own assumptions and prejudices.

Next time you meet someone new, take a moment afterward to think about how you have assessed them based on their speech. Further acquaintance will determine if your judgments are right or wrong.

In the song, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, the varying pronunciations denote class differences between the two characters, but love triumphs nonetheless. In real life, it isn’t always that simple.

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