Tag Archives: semantics

Language and Grammar Jokes

My favourite language joke of all time goes as follows:

Three intransitive verbs walked into a bar. They sat. They drank. They left.

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If you ever want a tumbleweed moment, deliver that to a classroom of teenagers!

However, here are a few more, shamelessly stolen from around the interweb… Thank you Grammarly, in particular.

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Have a wonderful 2015!

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Word of the Week: banal

Okay, so posting two words of the week within two days does display both my utter disregard for the rules of mathematics and time keeping and also my awareness of my own limitations: I figured a word a day would be far too much for my limited brain; a word a week was a manageable minimum!

Anyway, let’s take a step away from such banal topics as myself and onto the word itself: banal.

Banal.

What a word!

How utterly and unashamedly judgemental does one have to be to use the word banal to describe anyone else’s opinion, work, writing, appearance or existence. And just to be clear, I have no objection to being judgemental!

From the initial plosive /b/ with which this word is spat out at the poor unsuspecting victim, months of disappointment and despair behind it; to the shift from the initial short /æ/ to the long, sneering, corner-of-lip-raised /a:/ it is a word that encapsulates all that is supercilious, contemptuous and haughty. It is pronounced to rhyme with snarl which is the most appropriate facial expression to be adopted whilst using it.

Banal words function as a feeble phenomena that fall into their own mental bogs of meaning.
Robert Smithson

In science, all facts, no matter how trivial or banal, enjoy democratic equality.
Mary McCarthy

The etymology of the word is equally unfortunate. It derives from Old French “ban” which was used to describe those things which were open and accessible to the general populace, more specifically ovens and mills according to the world wide web, as well as compulsory military service. I can imagine that there was a potential for its meaning to become widened into a word that suggested something like “democratic” or “universal” in the same way that Catholic does. Unfortunately, it came instead to mean “common” and “trite” and “valueless”, the lowest common denominator of moral or intellectual or cultural experience. It is a word that conjures up the questionable joys of a somewhat legendary television show that (I am informed) offers the opportunity for viewers to watch in realtime and at any time the inanities of the frequently undereducated and overinflated egos that populate a mythical and guarded House from which they are not permitted to leave until voted out. It is currently showing on BBC Parliament Channel.

Word of the Week: viscera

Viscera… One of those wonderful words that sounds so much better than the things it describes.

I love the brevity of the initial /Ī/ vowel and the final short vowels that almost seem to elide together around the /r/, ending the words in a gentle exhalation, a sigh, a breath. And then the length of the /s/ in the middle that seems to linger and lurk around the whole word, writhing like a snake… or like the coils of the intestine.

Which leads us to the meaning of this beautiful word: all the guts and spleen and liver and gall bladder and bladder-bladder and pancreas and bloody wriggling boiling organs that keeps these frail human bodies working. There is something very physical, honest and brutal about the images that this word conjures up.

I am epileptic and both photosensitive and audiogenic. When I hear loud, rhythmic, heavy beats in music it can generate such a strong urge to run that visceral is the only word to describe it: it is deep wrenching panicked urgent need to flee deep in my gut.

The word itself derives from Latin viscus which is pluralised to viscera meaning the internal organ(s) of a body. The adjectival form visceral is such a great word to describe those things that affect us physically in art, cinema and watching the latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn, for example, after the initial 90 minutes of utter tedium, I found viscerally repulsive in the birthing scene; the lovely Mrs P had an identical reaction to Alien vs Predator; visceral is a wonderful word for my students to use in analysing Wilfrid Owen’s poetry redolent with a personal response to literature and words.