Posted on 26 February 2020

If words could kill

If you're a fan of horror, fantasy or just plain crime novels, you've probably come across some interesting (and hypothetical) ways to kill people. Speaking entirely figuratively, we've had a look at some of the more obscure and specific words in the Australian English language to do with killing someone. To start with, there are the generic terms for killing, such as murder, slaughter, eliminate and execute. These can be done in a variety of different ways, so their definitions are quite similar. You can also include massacre and butcher in this list of standard terms for general murder. But from here, it's gets a little more interesting – from a lexicographical perspective. One which arguably belongs with the aforementioned group, but which in some ways stands alone is the word assassinate. Meaning 'to kill by sudden or secret, premeditated assault, especially for political or religious motives', while the means of the murder can vary, the fact that it is done suddenly or secretly sets this particular term apart. On the other hand, take, for example, the oft-cited word defenestrate, which means 'to throw (a person) out of a window'. This is not to say that death would definitely occur which is why death by defenestration is more widely known, but it is an interesting and very particular definition (and a favourite word in our podcast on internet slang). A couple of words that go together thematically if not etymologically are excoriate (from Latin) and dismember (from Middle English). Both words have definitions that revolve around the removal or separation of body parts, ending in death. To excoriate is to 'strip off or remove the skin from', and to dismember is to 'divide limb from limb'. Both visceral, fascinating expressions. And then we have some more elemental forms of death. International news coverage brings with it information on these kinds of deaths, usually as a form of death penalty where it is part of the law of the nation. For example, the electric chair is a tool used to electrocute a person to death. And while hanging is the means to the end, the ultimate cause of death might be suffocation, strangulation (and in some rare and obscure cases, to burke, which is 'to murder, as by suffocation, so as to leave no or few marks of violence.' So named for W Burke, hanged at Edinburgh in 1829 for murders of this kind). Other methods used in these situations are to shoot (with a gun) or stone a person to death. And finally, something which stands alone is immolation. While the definition of this word is 'to kill as a sacrificial victim; offer in sacrifice', due to widespread reports of people self-immolating by setting themselves on fire, occasionally, the fiery aspect of this can get confused with the definition of the word. But, like assassinate, the method of murder can vary, but the motive must stay the same. We are tentatively curious about what other words like these may be out there, and aware that in theory, you could put 'death by' in front of any word to create a new and horrifying meaning, such as death by spoon, or death by platypus,  or some such.   
Posted on 23 February 2020

LGBT and the letters in between

In the dictionary, we have entries for many iterations of the acronym that represents the diverse range of the rainbow community. The acronym started as LGB, which stood for lesbian, gay and bisexual. Over the decades, it has been added to many times to become LGBTQIA for which the letters stand for the following words. These abbreviations are sometimes followed by a plus sign (+) to represent inclusiveness of all minority gender identities and sexual orientations. We have also discussed binary and non-binary words for gender on our blog and would love to hear of any words we may have missed.The community is also represented by the rainbow flag, a flag combining six horizontal stripes of colour: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, flown with the red stripe on top as occurs in a natural rainbow; the symbol of the LGBTIQ movement. lesbian a female homosexual. gay (especially of a male) homosexual. bisexual a person sexually attracted to people of two particular genders, especially as of males and females. transgender of or relating to a person whose gender identity is different from their physiological gender as designated at birth. queer (or questioning) a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, transgender, or otherwise not heterosexual. intersex an individual possessing both male and female physical characteristics. asexual a person who does not experience sexual desire or attraction to others. + including but not limited to ally and pansexual.
Posted on 18 February 2020

Binary and non-binary gender words

The words that we use to talk about gender are always evolving. At the heart of these changes are the differences between the terms binary and non-binary (or enby, one of our runner-up Words of the Year) in relation to gender. The third definition of binary means 'of or relating to a person who identifies as either male or female'. While non-binary in this context, covers all the genders outside of these two identities. Scroll down to find a table of definitions related to this concept. Due to the fluid and changing vocabulary being used in this public discussion, some words have shifted into the mainstream and made their way into the Macquarie Dictionary. While by no means a definitive list, following are some examples of words to do with gender that fall outside of the binary. Something we (and many linguists and lexicographers around the world) have discussed is the usage of they as a gender-neutral pronoun. We had a good chat about it in our podcast, Word for Word, which you can listen to here. But in writing, there are a number of ways to avoid talking about binary gender.  For example, the honorific Mx, which has two meanings. One is as a title prefixed to the name of a person who does not identify as male or female but as a third neutral gender. And the second meaning for Mx is a title prefixed to the name of a person who does not wish to disclose their gender. Another written device is the use of s/he to represent he or she, to avoid being gender-specific. But the most common use for this purpose is they, which can be used in a similar manner. The use of theythem, and their as non-gender-specific singulars (as in a doctor and their patients) has always had currency in spoken English and is now increasingly accepted in written English. This use of they gives rise to the form themself for the reflexive pronoun by analogy with myselfhimself, etc. There are now two meanings for they related to this in the Macquarie Dictionary. The first is 'used with singular force in place of a pronoun such as he or she where the sex of the antecedent is unknown' and the second is 'used with singular force to refer to a person whose gender identity is non-binary or genderqueer.' We would love to hear from you if you know any other gender-related words that should be in the dictionary. Submit your suggestions here. agender identifying as having no gender, whether male, female or non-binary. bigender a gender identity which is two genders, either simultaneously or at different times. cisgender relating to or designating a person whose gender identity matches their physical sex as designated at birth, that is, a person identifying as a female and who has a female body, and a person who identifies as a male and who has a male body. gender fluid of or relating to a person whose gender varies over time, ranging from male to female or any combination of both. genderqueer of or relating to, or designating a person who does not identify as either male or female or who feels that they are a little bit of both, and therefore not fully the stereotype of either gender. theyby a baby raised without a designated gender or stereotypical concepts of gender being imposed, and sometimes without a physiological sex being recorded on their birth certificate. third gender a gender which is neither male or female, but rather one in which a person identifies as both a combination of the two, or as neither, especially in certain non-Western cultures. transgender of or relating to a person whose gender identity is different from their physiological gender as designated at birth.
Posted on 10 February 2020

Foreign affairs: bruschetta, lingerie and other words from abroad

Did you know that forte, as in 'His forte is portrait photography', which we pronounce  'faw-tay in Australian English, is actually pronounced like ‘fort’ in French, with a silent ‘e’? Or that the sch in bruschetta is pronounced ‘sk’ rather than ‘sh’ in Italian, so  ‘broos'ketuh’ rather than ‘broo'shetuh’? Similarly, you might think that the confusing pronunciation of the letters ie at the end of lingerie as ‘ay’ comes from French, when, in actual fact, the French do pronounce it ‘ee’. And we won’t even start on the first syllable on that word. We often do this in English – we try to pronounce words from other languages in a way that sounds ‘foreign’, resulting in pronunciations that reflect neither the rules of English nor the original language. Other languages do this too. The phenomenon even has a name – hyperforeignism.  Hyperforeignism is a type of hypercorrection, the process of trying to be so correct that we slip into incorrectness, with results like between you and I. We are aware that foreign words are subject to different spelling and pronunciation rules but, understandably, are vague about the particular rules and differences across languages. This leads us, sometimes, to generalise.  For example, although we tend to pronounce the u in Punjab like that in Mumbai and Buddha, the original pronunciation is actually closer to ‘pun’. The written form of Punjab in English dates back to British colonial rule, so, like curry and suttee, is intended to be pronounced according to standard English spelling rules. Similarly, French champagne brand Moët is often pronounced by English speakers with a silent ‘t’ (‘moh-ee’), generalising a French pronunciation rule (not pronouncing the final letter) to a name that is actually Dutch and so is pronounced more like ‘moh-et’.  Another example is the generalisation of the sound /ʒ/ – think the sound in the middle of measure or the French j (bonjour, je ne sais quoi). Although the sound does exist in English, we tend to associate it with ‘foreign’ words (especially French). This leads us to pronounce some foreign words, like Mah jong and Beijing, and sometimes taj and raj, with ‘zh’, even though ‘j’ (/dʒ/) is closer to the original sound.  But before you go around ordering ‘brusketta’ and purchasing ‘lanzh-ree’, it is important to remember that hyperforeignisms have often become established pronunciations – so you might get some weird looks! You may end up pronouncing them incorrectly anyway – sound systems differ between languages and so very few loan words will retain their original pronunciation completely. In this way, hyperforeignism is not necessarily mispronunciation it is just another linguistic phenomenon which has made English what it is today.