This weekend I finished the stunning 20020 by Jon Bois, which had been released over the past month. It’s the sequel to the equally stunning 17776, which in my view is the finest piece of sports-themed speculative fiction ever written. Should have had a Hugo nomination (at least) but was longlisted in both Novella and Graphic Story, of which it is neither, because it is sui generis.
Both 17776 and 20020 are exquisite existential reflections on meaning and how we create it, loneliness, the nature of utopia, America’s beauty and tragedy, and imperfection in a seemingly perfect world. Oh, and football. But please, please, even if you think you hate American football or don’t know anything about it, don’t ignore it on that basis. I’m sure that some awareness of the game has some side benefits but is not really essential to the core of the story. I’d read 17776 first – but I’d read them both. I will read them both again soon.
Oh, and apparently, because this year hasn’t been cruel enough to me yet, we have to wait for the story to finish next year with 20021.
Recently over on the social media hellsite, I offered the following puzzle:
The answer, which a couple people got, is that they all are used to form negative epithets ending in -o. This morpheme is actually somewhat productive: pinko, weirdo, wino, dumbo, sicko, wacko, lesbo, fatso, rando, lameo, maybe also psycho, pedo, and narco if you don’t analyze them as abbreviations.
There are of course a bunch of other words formed using -o as a suffix that aren’t insulting nouns: ammo, camo, repo, demo, aggro, combo, promo, etc. Again, some of these are analyzable as shortenings but others, like ammo for ammunition, have something else going on. But these are different insofar as the role of the -o is not to create a noun describing a person.
Having looked around a while, I can’t find a single one of these epithets ending in -o that’s positive or even neutral. You can’t describe a smart person as smarto or a fun person as a funno (I think?).
The Google Ngram chart for these forms shows them to be largely a late 20th-century phenomenon; wino is the earliest and most popular through the early 90s, now overtaken by far by weirdo, but most of these words seem to emerge in the 1980s or later:
The OED and other major dictionaries don’t identify these distinctly as creating insults; the OED does have an entry for -o, suffix but doesn’t really distinguish these senses in terms of their negative sense or treat them as a class – rather, it distinguishes those that derive from adjectives (weirdo) from those that derive from nouns (wino) which is valid but doesn’t capture what I really think is going on here. Also, many of the -o forms were earlier -ie / -y nouns: dummy, weirdie, fatty.
I think little mini-word classes like these are interesting in that they show linguistic change and productivity on a small scale and in a way that doesn’t really show up in reference grammars and dictionaries. They’re a little aesthetically rich fragment of English informal speech that really, all languages have, but don’t get well-captured in some kinds of formal analysis. And as a language weirdo – or wordo? – I think that’s pretty cool.
Just a note to any longtime readers who may access this site through the glossographia.wordpress.com domain: Going forward the appropriate links should all be glossographia.com. All old links should automatically be redirected.
Once again this year, my students in my undergraduate Language & Culture class will be writing original research papers on the history of individual English words. I’m teaching online but the project is completely portable to that format. I’ve always found this to be a great way to introduce students to doing their own research on sociolinguistic / social-historical / lexicographical topics, and this year’s list of words for them to choose from is (he says not-so-humbly) pretty awesome. What are your favorites?
Welcome to the latest and perhaps the last in a series of self-flagellatory blog posts in the post-blog era of Glossographia, apologizing for a lack of content here! Ahhh … but this time I have lots of exciting things to come in the next few months.
Most notably I want to draw your attention to my forthcoming book, Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition, and History, coming out in late fall from MIT Press: Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition, and History. Lots of new publications and content and such to be coming out this fall.
In general, though, to keep up to date on whatever doings are transpiring, follow me on Twitter @schrisomalis where I will surely post more regularly than here.
The abstracts below are summaries of papers by junior scholars from the 2019 edition of my course, Language and Societies, posted at the course blog of the same name. The authors are undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University. Comments and questions are extremely welcome, especially at this critical juncture over the next two weeks, when the authors are making final revisions to their papers.
The abstracts below are summaries of papers by junior scholars from the 2018 edition of my course, Language and Societies, posted at the course blog of the same name. The authors are undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University. Comments and questions are extremely welcome, especially at this critical juncture over the next two weeks, when the authors are making final revisions to their papers.
Linguistic anthropologists (et al.): I’m looking for a suggestion for a different ethnography for my undergrad Language and Culture class. I’ve been using Basso’s Portraits of “the Whiteman” and while it’s great, it’s almost 40 years old now. What I need:
– (Relatively) short (<200 pages of text)
– In print and for sale for <$20 or so (or widely available used, or a good ebook edition)
– Ideally, focus on a non-English context
– Accessible to and of interest to juniors/seniors
– Appeal to both anthro and linguistics majors (could be more sociolinguistic, or more linguistic anthro, but needs to have something that looks like linguistic data)
The abstracts below are summaries of papers by junior scholars from the 2017 edition of my course, Language and Societies. The authors are undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University. Over the next few weeks, some students will be posting links to PDF versions of their final papers below their abstracts. Comments and questions are extremely welcome, especially at this critical juncture over the next two weeks, when the authors are making final revisions to their papers.