Adventures in linguistics

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The New York Times reports on a recent study in the Journal of Voice on the speech habits of young women. Researchers found that some feminine vocal habits—like “uptalk,” the practice of ending a sentence on an ascendent note to evoke a question—aren’t, in fact, “markers of immaturity or even stupidity” but markers of a sort of linguistic vanguard. Douglas Quenqua writes, “Girls and women in their teens and 20s deserve credit for pioneering vocal trends and popular slang, [researchers] say, adding that young women use these embellishments in much more sophisticated ways than people tend to realize.” A new trend, Gawker noted a few months ago, is vocal fry, a “guttural fluttering of the vocal cords” that I couldn’t quite imagine until I listened to this mp3. This is interesting stuff, though troubling—one hopes that it didn’t really take a rigorous scientific study to determine that young women “take linguistic features and use them as power tools for building relationships,” as opposed to just being dumb.

Elsewhere, the Awl says that this is Dord Day. (Also, unrelated: National Pancake Day! According to some.) Dord Day? It can mean what you like, because it’s not a real word. According to Wikipedia, it’s an “error in lexicography” dating back to a 1934 edition of Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary. In ’31, Webster’s chemistry editor “sent in a slip reading ‘D or d, cont./density,’” by which he “intended to add ‘density’ to the existing list of words that the letter ‘D’ can abbreviate.” "Dord" ended up as a dictionary definition; it stayed there until an editor noticed it on February 28, 1939.

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