Is there a name for the kind of sounds commonly found in profanities?

Fuck. Shit. Bitch. Cunt. I remember reading somewhere — a very long time ago — that these “hard” sounds are virtually necessary in profanities. The explanation I roughly remember is that because these “hard sounds” are unmistakable, that is, because there is no half-hearting them in phonation, that lends to them to use in words … Read more

Verbs of inaction

It seems to me that most English verbs always convey some action. That is, no words (to my knowledge) convey that absence of an action. Let me explain. Let’s assume that I wanted to say that a certain person is not running. Notice, I don’t want to say that he’s “standing around” or “sitting” or … Read more

Is there a term for “*cough**cough*”?

What I mean is the act of “coughing” something that you don’t actually want to (or rather dare) say outright. So instead of writing, say, “Miss Parker”, you’d write “*cough*Ms Parker*cough*” or fake a cough that sounds very much like “Miss Parker”. Written and spoken differ in that of course, when written is absolutely clear … Read more

English questions and negation with *do* in syntax

A former lecturer of mine once explained why, from a syntactic point of view, the English rule that negation and questions are formed with the auxiliary do follows from other syntactic facts about English. More precisely, if you gave a good syntactician not familiar with English a corpus of English sentences containing everything but questions … Read more

When and why did the letter “u” begin being called [ju]?

We pronounce the name of the twenty-first letter of the alphabet homophonically with the word you. Was this what the letter was always called (ever since the analogous letter in Latin), or did it at some point shift from being called [u] to [ju]? Answer According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “U” was not always … Read more

Is there a word or phrase for the feeling you get after looking at a word for too long?

Sometimes after looking at a word for a while, I become convinced that it can’t possibly be spelled correctly. Even after looking it up, sounding it out, and realizing that there’s simply no other way to spell the word, it still looks wrong. Is there a shorthand way to describe this feeling so that people … Read more

Modern replacement for checking frequency tables?

What is the most up-to-date, robust, and reliable way to check verb (or other POS) frequencies in current usage? Is there any hope of an algorithm involving counting Google hits and dividing by some benchmark number (say 1,000,000,000,000) or is that so error-prone as to be out of the question? (Any help with tags would … Read more

Where does “ta!” come from?

Where does the expression “ta” come from? Wikipedia has only this to say: “ta!”, slang, Exclam. Thank you! {Informal}, an expression of gratitude but no additional information or links about its genesis. I have only ever heard it from englishmen and -women. Is it used anywhere else in the world? How did it come about? … Read more