Welcome to the Wordlady blog!

This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Of coffee, monks, and monkeys

 

This week, Wordlady is guest blogging for her friends at beautiful Ch√Ęteau Mathias in the south of France. Find out the fascinating story behind your morning cappuccino by clicking here: 
http://chateaumathias.blogspot.fr/2016/03/of-coffee-monks-and-monkeys.html

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Enjoy!



This week I was involved in a facebook discussion about the use of "Enjoy!" as uttered by waiters. The discussion started off with someone identifying this as an anachronism when she heard it in the recent movie Carol, set in 1950s New York. She felt that it has only been in use in the last 15 or 25 years (and said it "raises her hackles" whenever she hears it). In the old days, waiters would use the verb transitively, with the object expressed: "Enjoy your meal!"

(There's another usage of "enjoy" that came in for criticism in the past, but we'll come to that in a minute.)

As with many things, "Enjoy!" is older than you think. I remember people complaining to me about it in the 80s, but it goes back farther than that amongst Jewish English speakers, because it seems to be of Yiddish origin. This is what the OED has to say:
[In later use, probably after dialectal Yiddish genist.]
In imperative, with ellipsis of object: take pleasure in the thing (freq. food or drink) being presented.
1876   H. James Roderick Hudson ix. 304   Don't mind the pain, and it will cease to trouble you. Enjoy, enjoy; it is your duty.
1959   H. Golden For 2¢ Plain ii. 92   When my mother served our meals..she would always say, ‘Enjoy, enjoy’... The word ‘enjoy’ was seldom used by itself. It was always repeated.
1964   Prevention July in L. M. Feinsilver Taste of Yiddish (1970) 306   Just read, enjoy, absorb!
1985   L. Sanders Fourth Deadly Sin v. 41   ‘Spend money’, he said. ‘Enjoy.’
1998   30 All Time Great Recipes (BBC Good Food) Autumn 1/1   We hope that in this selection, you will rediscover some old friends—and make some new ones as well. Enjoy!
Apart from that intriguing first quotation from Henry James, the early examples are from Jewish English speakers. It's quite possible that "Enjoy!" could have been used in a Jewish restaurant or by a Jewish waiter in the 50s, but since the scene in Carol involved neither, it clearly was an anachronism. I wish film and TV writers would pay as much attention to linguistic anachronisms as they do to other production values. (See my posts on Downton Abbey here and here and on Murdoch Mysteries here and here.)

This is from Billy Wilder's 1960 megahit movie The Apartment (both the writer, Wilder, and the character being Jewish):
MRS. DREYFUSS Here. The best thing for dizzy is a little noodle soup with chicken white meat -- and a glass tea. She sets the tray down on Fran's lap. FRAN Thank you. I'm really not hungry. MRS. DREYFUSS Go ahead! Eat! Enjoy! She hands her the soup spoon, turns to Bud.
One can only wonder if the immense popularity of this movie, which was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five (including Best Picture), started "Enjoy!" out on its journey into the vocabulary of every restaurant waiter, Jew or gentile. 

It's hard to search online corpora for examples "with ellipsis of object", but already by the late 70s, The Globe and Mail was publishing this:

The church cookbook is a good book, too

Burkhart, Shirley. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 01 Dec 1977: F.1.
...oven for 30 minutes, uncovered. Season and thicken. Enjoy.

and, as you can see from the BBC Good Food quotation in the OED, the usage was well established in British English by the end of the 90s.

In fact, there is British English evidence (referring not to food but to marijuana) from the early 90s:


Title Jay loves Lucy. Cooper, Fiona. London: Serpent's Tail, 1991, pp. 11-154. 3899 s-units.


Francis drifted in while Jay was changing.' Sweetheart!' he said, hugging her silk-clad body, butterflying her just-rouged cheek.' Best of luck! And happy birthday to you! Here's your prezzie. I feel like one of the three wise men, love, enjoy! 
All of the above examples are in the imperative, but the logical next step would be for the verb "enjoy" to start being used "with ellipsis of object" in other circumstances. And indeed, we are starting to see this:
.
Date 1999 (19990924)
Title CHEF DAVE HARTUNG DEMONSTRATES HOW TO PREPARE STRIPED BASS
Source CBS_Morning


ASSURAS: Don't force yourself. If you don't like rockfish... ENGBERG: I think that I can be forced into doing this. ASSURAS: It does look like a beautiful plate. McEWEN: Mm-mm-mm. You know, I love it. Dave knows exactly... ASSURAS: Uh-huh. ENGBERG: That is just terrific. Mr-HARTUNG: Very good. ENGBERG: That is just terrific. Mr-HARTUNG: Well, I'm glad you enjoyed .

Date 2011 (110828)
Publication information KIDSPOST; Pg. Y03
Title Bookin^
Source Washington Post


Almost 800 of you joined KidsPost's 2011 Summer Book Club. This year we featured books that were made into movies. We hope you thought about how books are different from movies, but mostly we hope you read and enjoyed. 

The interesting thing is that, if "enjoy" is to become a true intransitive as a result of this, it would be reverting to its very earliest usage in English, when it was borrowed from a now-obsolete French word and used to mean "To be in joy, or in a joyous state; to manifest joy, exult, rejoice."

You may be astounded and entertained to learn that this is not the first time that a usage of  "enjoy" has provoked criticism. In the 19th century some critics inveighed against "enjoy oneself" (if you can believe it).  They said that the "true" meaning of "enjoy" was "take pleasure in" and that therefore "enjoy oneself" could only mean "take pleasure [and we know exactly what kind of pleasure they had in mind] in oneself". SHOCKING!!! It goes without saying that this is a ridiculous objection to a usage that has existed since the 1600s.

All I can say is I hope you all enjoy yourselves when reading Wordlady posts.

How do YOU feel about "Enjoy!"? If you don't like it, what would you prefer waiters say to you? Let me know!


P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:


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(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com


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Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Oversight investigations

Furniture...and other things (including words)

Today at my "Tea and Wordlady" event, one of the attendees brought up the question of the meaning of "oversight". We both agreed that the use of "oversight" to mean "supervision" (e.g. "effective oversight of the financial reporting process") rather than "unintentional failure to notice" (e.g. "was the mistake due to oversight?") was both new and confusing.

"Well", said I, "I wonder how old that is? Surely just since the last century. Let me look it up."

You know where this is going, don't you?

Turns out the "supervision" sense is OLDER than the "negligence" sense. What's more,  both are older than I suspected: 1413 for the former and 1470 for the latter. The "supervision" sense has been in uninterrupted use over all those centuries.

Why, then, do we perceive it as "new"? Looking at some Google ngram charts of typical uses of "oversight" in this sense gives us a clue (keep scrolling after the chart):

Ngrams: regulatory oversight, effective oversight, subject to the oversight
You can see that it has become dramatically more frequent since the 1970s. If we look at another chart, for "oversight of" (which will include some in the sense of "negligence" but is predominantly in the sense "supervision"), we notice something else: before its rapid post-1970 rise, this sense was DECREASING. Those of us born between 1940 and 1970 were therefore at the bottom of the trough of "oversight" usage in this sense, so its dramatic increase in frequency since then (to the point where it is now much more frequent than the "negligence" sense) appears to us like a brand new usage. (Keep scrolling, I'm not done yet.) Ngrams: oversight of

 

Moral of the story: never assume that a usage is new just because you've never heard it before. It may be, in the parlance of the used-car salesman, just "new to you". 

All the same, it's odd to have one word with two apparently contradictory meanings: close attention paid to something vs. failure to do or notice something. It's surprising that both have survived for so long. One of these meanings may become obsolete; with the way things are going, it's likely to be the "failure to notice" sense. But perhaps not. If we've lived with this for over 600 years, perhaps we can continue to muddle along.
 
P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:





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Friday, March 4, 2016

National Glamour Day

The Kate in this picture is into glamour; the Kate writing this post is into grammar


Well, apparently it's National Grammar Day. I don't know where these "days" originate and don't usually observe them, but hey, I'm as much of a sucker for people clicking on my site as other people, so I am going to share the surprising history of the word "grammar".

"Grammar" comes ultimately from the Greek word gramma (a letter of the alphabet or something written). In theory, "grammar" in the Middle Ages meant the study of language, but in practice it meant only the study of Latin, because Latin was the only language that was taught using the study of structures. People probably weren't even aware that languages like English, French, and German even had something that could be called "grammar". Many students are probably wishing at this point that we could go back to those innocent days.

Grammar is magic

Because "grammar" meant the knowledge or study of Latin, it was also used to mean the knowledge of those who belonged to the learned class, and this knowledge was thought to include magic and astrology. So "grammar" or "gramarye" could mean "magic" or "occult learning" as well.

Grammar is beauty
 
Yet another variant of this word was "glomery", which the Scots changed to "glamour" in the early 1700s, still with this association with the occult. So "glamour" started out in Scots English meaning "magic" or "spell". Then Sir Walter Scott used it  in this sense. Because Scott's novels were such big bestsellers, this Scottish word became very popular, shifting in sense to mean a kind of bewitching beauty, and gradually acquiring its current sense of highly refined beauty or attractiveness. 

When I was a teenager, my sister and I used to read Glamour  magazine (you would never be able to tell by looking at me now). I bet it wouldn't sell half so well if it were called Grammar magazine!

Grammar is glamour

So, unlikely as it may seem, grammar and glamour have the same origin.

A couple of spelling issues with "glamour". 

  1. Even Americans spell it this way; there is no "glamor" variant listed in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary. This is because its history is different from other words ending in -our/or (for which click here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2011/07/discouver-vancouver.html)
  2. Just to be annoying, however, the adjective derived from "glamour" is spelled "glamorous" by everyone.  This maintains the pattern established by such pairs as "humour/humorous", "odour/odorous", "rigour/rigorous" etc.


May 18 & 19 "Tea and Wordlady": Hebrew and Yiddish Words in English is filling up. Book before the end of March. You don't need to know anything about Hebrew or Yiddish to enjoy this presentation. For information, click here: 
http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2016/02/tea-and-wordlady-hebrew-yiddish-in.html 

March 16 "Tea and Wordlady": Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English is now SOLD OUT 



P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:



use the subscribe window at the top of this page

OR

(if you are reading this on a mobile device): send me an email with the subject line SUBSCRIBE at wordlady.barber@gmail.com



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Follow me on twitter: @thewordlady

About Me

My photo
Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.