Lexiculture (word list + class project)

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?

  • all in
  • all out
  • Amerindian
  • amp up
  • anymore
  • baloney
  • bejesus
  • bespoke
  • booty
  • brain trust
  • bruschetta
  • burnout
  • business end
  • buzzkill
  • call dibs
  • car phone
  • card-carrying
  • centric
  • challenged
  • childfree
  • coed
  • columbused
  • conversate
  • deja vu
  • disinterested
  • doggone
  • donut
  • drama queen
  • druthers
  • endgame
  • fast forward
  • finalize
  • frenemy
  • get-go
  • goner
  • grassroots
  • halfsies
  • hardcore
  • hardwired
  • has-been
  • hiccough
  • highfalutin
  • hyphenated
  • impersonator
  • impostor
  • Information Superhighway
  • jailbait
  • jinx
  • jock
  • Judeo-Christian
  • kewl
  • lavender 
  • lit
  • majorly
  • man cave
  • Mohammedan
  • moonshot
  • next-level
  • NSFW
  • nth
  • nuke
  • nutjob
  • octoroon
  • often
  • outro
  • peopling
  • phase out
  • porridge
  • pronto
  • pussyfoot
  • rando
  • realtime
  • reboot
  • recap
  • restroom
  • runner-up
  • shoo-in
  • shout out
  • slider
  • snuck
  • stalemate
  • stalker
  • stat
  • suntan lotion
  • suplex
  • swiff
  • tailgate
  • tardy
  • thunk
  • tinfoil hat
  • touchless 
  • trump
  • underprivileged
  • upside the head
  • upsize
  • vibe
  • wannabe
  • white trash
  • whodunit
  • whole nother
  • widget
  • workshop
  • yea big

Back from the dead?

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.

Language and Societies abstracts, vol. 11 (2019)

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.

Kate Blatchford: Redefining Urban Space: Language in the City Beautiful Movement

Dina Charara: Islamophobic Discourse Beneath the Façade of Liberalism and Atheism

Amanda Diaz: To stage manage or not to stage manage

Josh Linden: Contrastive Focus Capitalization: Nonstandard Usages of Capital Letters in Web-based English and their Capital-I Implications

Sam M: Comparing nineteenth century literature portrayals of AAVE by black and white authors

Justin Mazzola: A Ghost of a Tale: Discerning Evidentiality Among Ghost Narratives on Reddit

Shannon Mckeown: Fake News, Crooked Hillary, and Bad People: A Linguistic Analysis of Donald Trump’s Twitter Insults

Jahnavi Narkar: The Promise of Fairness: A Linguistic Analysis of Skin Lightening Advertisements in India

Jennifer Reed: Linguistic Landscape of Japanese in Novi

Zachariah Shorufi: The linguistic legacy of British colonization in Iraq

Tabitha Trembley: The Dichotomy of Gender in Relation to Honor as Shown in the Language of Irish Fairy Tales and Folktales Printed After 1800

Michael T. Vollbach: Historical Influences on the Odawa Language

Li Zhang: Navigating internet censorship in China



Language and Societies abstracts, vol. 10 (2018)

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.

Yen-ting Chang: “Found My Best Self”: Women’s Fitness and Body Transformation Discourse

Asa Choate: French Naming Practice of Assimilating English-based Internet Terminology

Grace Fusani: Languages in Dreams: A Look into the Influencers of Bilinguals & L2 Learners in the Dreamworld

Ashley Johnson: Language, gender, and uncertainty in writing about sex identification in Maya bioarchaeology

Robert McCallum: Tensions, Power and Words: The Use of Authoritative Brand Identity Language on Ad Agency Websites

Andrew McKinney: Sorrow, shame, and lament in Irish folk lyrics

Kelsey McKoy: The Interpretation of African American Vernacular English in Museums

Craig Meiners: Metaphors in Branding and Design of Professional Basketball Players’ Shoes

Haley Scott: Melancholia, A Lover’s Rejection, and Fortune Teller’s Reading: A linguistic analysis of suicide obituaries in a historical newspaper

Carly Slank: Dogespeak: a Heckin Good Descriptive and Contextual Analysis

Samantha Spolarich: The magical discourse of Harry Potter: how spells came to be

Cory Taylor: The Language of the Time Lords: A linguistic study on the effect of invented languages on the social hierarchy of fandom communities

Jami Van Alstine: Voice in postcards related to the woman’s suffrage movement in the United States in the early 20th century

Anna Zabicka: “Rigvir, Anyone?”: A Discourse Analysis Of Oncolytic Virotherapy Medication Websites


Suggestions needed: a good linguistic ethnography

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)

Language and Societies abstracts, vol. 9 (2017)

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.

John Anderson: Symbolic Meanings of the “Rune Poems”

Bridget Bennane: A Woman Ran for President: A Political and Gender Discourse Analysis on Hillary Clinton

Kaitlin Carter: Ubermess: Corporate Social Responsibility Responses as a Dialogue through Social Media

Lynn Charara: Portraits of The Orange Man

Rebecca Cornejo: Identity at 70 MPH: The crafting, meaning, and importance of personalized license plates

Nadine Duchaine: Native American Code Talkers: Life before the Code

Katilyn Gerstner: Differences in opportunity teaching styles between multiparous and uniparous chimpanzee mothers suggest that experienced mothers are better teachers

Michael Henson: Critical Discourse Analysis of Media: A Systematic Approach to Analyzing Child Welfare Representation in the Media

Miriam Jacobs: Metaphors of Poverty

Kelsey Jorgensen: Displaying the Dead: Assessing Agency Through Museum Linguistic Practices

Travis Kruso: Updating the Fashion System? Using Language to Create and Maintain Authenticity in the Online Avant Garde

Colleen Linn: Legitimatizing the right to water in Michigan’s post-industrial cities

Emily K. Lock: Gettin’ Fit to Push a Bit: Medical advice about exercise during pregnancy (1900-present)

Stacy F. Markel: Power Play: gender, power, and language of nurses and doctors

Kailey McAlpin: Analyzing Detroit’s Racialized Public Discourse of Urban Renewal through Metaphor

Luke Pickrahn: The language of extreme metal

Terri Renaud: Language Construction and Cultural Representation in Fantasy Video Games

Elizabeth Riedman: The discourse of Detroit: A critical look into the use of language within Detroit documentaries

Rebecca Sawyer: Beisbol and Tostones: Constructing Narratives of Puerto Rican Identity in Secondary Level, First Year Spanish Textbooks

Maria Schell: Discipline or Domestic Violence: Distinctions in discourse about interpersonal violence

Jasmine Walker: Lexical and Performative Cues for the Provocation of an Altered State of Consciousness in the American Evangelical Church

Hannelore Willeck: 18th Century Advertising Language and the Shift from British Colony to New Nation

Josh Wolford: Anishinaabe Toponyms in Michigan: A History of Colonized Folk Etymology and Anishinaabe Cultural Renaissance

Athena Zissis: Memories of Unrest: Placing the Detroit 1967 Project within the Riot vs. Rebellion Debate

Public lecture: Renewing a dynamic cognitive philology of numerals

For any of you in the New York City area this coming week, I’ll be giving a public lecture ‘Renewing a dynamic cognitive philology of numerals‘ at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, Friday 02/24, 5:00pm.  All are welcome.

And for those of my readers who are in the Detroit area / part of the Wayne State community, have no fear: I’ll be reprising this talk at the WSU Humanities Center brownbag series, Thursday 03/23, 12:30 pm.  Again, this is a public lecture.

Seeking survey participants: Knowledge and Beliefs About Cognitive Anthropology

I’m writing to ask for your help in spreading the word about a new online research study on anthropologists’ knowledge and beliefs about the subfield of cognitive anthropology.  I hope you will consider participating in this short survey by clicking the link below.

Also, please take a moment to let your colleagues and students know about this survey by sharing this post.

I’m interested in learning more about how cognitive anthropology is understood today, among anthropologists and anthropology students of all subdisciplinary and theoretical perspectives.   My hope is to collect a wide range of data from people from different career stages, nationalities, and research interests, including both people who know a lot about cognitive anthropology and those who don’t.

Participants will complete an online Qualtrics survey, which should take about 15 minutes to complete.   Participation is voluntary, and no identifying information or IP addresses are being collected.  Participants should be 18 years or older.

To complete the survey, you can click on this link or copy/paste the following URL into your browser: https://waynestate.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_eP9wrelIjKNS4p7

If you have any questions about this research study, please contact me (Stephen Chrisomalis) at chrisomalis@wayne.edu.

Thank you for your assistance.

Two immigrants: a story for a Trumpian era

January 10, 1904. My great-grandfather George Kastris, a non-literate farmer from Greece, arrives in North America for the first time at the age of 25 through the port of New York, en route to Toronto, travelling back and forth to Greece several times until finally emigrating for good in 1925. You can see him on line 11 of this register (click to enlarge).


List or manifest of alien passengers, S.S. Savoie, Port of New York, Jan. 10, 1904

He had $10 to his name, and since this was his first trip, he spoke basically no English. Maybe he had a passport, but certainly no authorization was needed to go from the US up to Canada to work for as long as he liked, to stay with his brother-in-law. No chest X-ray, no green card lottery, no extreme vetting. I guess I’m glad to see that he was neither a polygamist or an anarchist, since those things could get you turned back. But you know that other than asking him “Are you an anarchist?” there was no way for the folks in New York to confirm that.

Now look at the guys above and below him, with their names like Jamal and Hussein and Kalil, from ‘Syria’ – actually you can see they are from Beirut, now Lebanon. Probably Muslim (though there are a few Lebanese Christian names further down the list too). Just a few dollars to their name, first time in the country, going to live with some relative, just like my grandmother’s dad George. I like to think they were all buddies (but that could just be my imagination). Just a bunch of brown dudes from the eastern Mediterranean, come on in to work in America, or Canada, doesn’t much matter, just let us write down where you’re going to end up and whether you have a ticket there already. Think about how normal it was to just come across the ocean in steerage on the S.S. Savoie in 1904, just a bunch of Greeks and Lebanese and Italians and whatnot. I wonder about the grandkids of those other guys, whether they’re old retired farts in Newark or Mississauga or wherever.

Now I’m confident that North America in 1904 was a pretty racist place. I’m not saying that everyone welcomed George and Jamal and Hussein and Kalil with open arms. From Know-Nothings to the Klan to goddamn Breitbart, anti-immigrant sentiment is hardly new. My point is not to idealize 1904.

But ask yourself this: If your family came to North America as immigrants, whenever they came, do you have any sense of what papers they carried, what questions they faced, how they were treated? When we talk about immigrant societies, we’re not just talking about 1904 but the millions of immigrants and refugees, coming from all walks of life, from the Germans who Ben Franklin hated so much, to the hated papist Irish, to the Jews (side note: America, stop painting swastikas all over the place already! Don’t you watch enough stupid World War II movies to know that’s seriously screwed up?) And of course, the Mexicans and the Syrians and the Chinese. What gives you the right to tell today’s potential Americans that the country is full? When did you suppose that you, particularly, have the right to decide who can be American? On what basis comes the right to choose who counts as a good immigrant?

And then let’s not forget poor little Steve, come to America in 2008 to take some American’s job, an immigrant only because his great-grandfather ended up on this side of an imaginary line instead of the other side. Takes me about 20 minutes to get to work, not eight days, and I’m damn glad not to be in steerage class on the Savoie (although the Ambassador Bridge is in rough shape these days). But you know damn well that I’m not the immigrants they’re talking about. And then you have to ask yourself: why the hell not.