In some parts of the US people call sunshowers “the Devil beating his wife.”
The late 18th-century use of the word ‘huffle’ in the sense ‘perform fellatio’, for instance, was new to me, and indeed to the OED, which limply presents it as meaning only ‘to blow, or inflate’.
As Geoffrey Hughes noted in his excellent Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, the more charged a swear word is the more susceptible it becomes to grammatical transformation. This means that the boundaries between nouns and adjectives and adverbs can all get completely fucked up by swear words, and before you know it the little fuckers are everywhere.
One thing Robin never dared say, bless his little golden rayon cape, was ‘Holy Shit’, the uttering of which would certainly have KAPOWED him right off prime-time TV in those tender-eared days.
People are part families, part random things that catch attention, part forgetting and re-building from the ground up.
I have an emotional connection to words or expressions in Russian that I’ve never felt to English.
Sometimes buzzwords become so pervasive they’re almost inaudible, which is when we need to start listening to them. Disruptive is like that. It floats in the ether at ideas festivals and TED talks; it vanishes into the jargon cluttering the pages of Forbes and Harvard Business Review. There’s a quarterly called Disruptive Science and Technology; a Disruptive Health Technology Institute opened this summer. Disruptive doesn’t mean what it used to, of course. It’s no longer the adjective you hope not to hear in parent-teacher conferences. It’s what you want investors to say about your new social-media app. If it’s disruptive, it’s also innovative and transformational.
English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.
Fun Fact: British radio and television presenter Alan Partridge (a fictional character played by Steve Coogan) is referenced in not one, not two, but seven entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Oh, you cheeky Brits.