Meet the Americans Who Speak with Elizabethan English Accents: An Introduction to the “Hoi Toiders” from Ocracoke, North Carolina

I remem­ber sit­ting in on a con­ver­sa­tion with some old timers in the British vil­lage my par­ents grew up in, and one man remem­bered a time, very ear­ly on in the 20th cen­tu­ry, where vil­lages were so iso­lat­ed you could tell where some­body was from in a radius of about 20 miles. That doesn’t exist so much these days, as radio, tele­vi­sion, and now the inter­net expos­es us more and more to accents at an ear­ly age.

So that’s why I found the above footage so fas­ci­nat­ing. Tak­en from a doc­u­men­tary on region­al accents (pos­si­bly this one) from the North Car­oli­na coast, I could hear a bit of that East Anglia accent from my grandparents…but then a few words that sound­ed like Som­er­set or Devon in the south-west of England…and then some straight up south­ern Amer­i­can twang. And that was in one sen­tence! What’s going on here?

Iso­la­tion, that’s what. The island of Ocra­coke has over the cen­turies devel­oped its own dialect, “Hoi Toide” (as in “high tide”), that is also the name for a way of life. Even now, it takes a boat to reach the island–ferries only start­ed arriv­ing in 1957–and back in the 18th cen­tu­ry it was a refuge for pirates.

One of them, William Howard, pur­chased the island in 1759 for £105, after King George I par­doned all pirates. Ocra­coke, its name already a bas­tardiza­tion of a Native Amer­i­can word, became a fish­ing com­mu­ni­ty, a mix of Eng­lish, Scot­tish, and Irish set­tlers, natives, and pirates. The result­ing mish-mash of bor­rowed and made-up words, along with pirate slang, make Hoi Toide one of the few Amer­i­can dialects not iden­ti­fied as Amer­i­can, as it also has its own pecu­liar gram­mar.

With a pop­u­la­tion of just over 900, Ocra­coke has its own pace to life, which does attract tourists try­ing to get away from it all. As this BBC arti­cle points out:

Instead of cin­e­mas, there are out­door the­atre groups. Local teashops, spice mar­kets and oth­er fam­i­ly-owned stores take the place of chain super­mar­kets. Cars are allowed on the 16 mile-long island, but most peo­ple just park them and walk every­where. The island’s chil­dren all attend one school, while res­i­dents work as every­thing from fish­er­men to brew­ery own­ers to wood­work­ers.

Mod­ern life is threat­en­ing the dialect, inevitably so, even as the com­mu­ni­ty remains close-knit. By all accounts it will be gone in a few more gen­er­a­tions, so let’s cel­e­brate this par­tic­u­lar­ly Amer­i­can brogue, born out of neces­si­ty, indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, and most impor­tant­ly, a love­ly melt­ing pot.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Shakespeare’s Eng­lish Sound­ed Like, and How We Know It

The Speech Accent Archive: The Eng­lish Accents of Peo­ple Who Speak 341 Dif­fer­ent Lan­guages

Why Do Peo­ple Talk Fun­ny in Old Movies?, or The Ori­gin of the Mid-Atlantic Accent

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

Why David Sedaris Hates America’s Favorite Word, “Awesome”

David Sedaris has made his name as a humorist, not­ing the absur­di­ties of every­thing from life with his par­ents and sib­lings to the per­pet­u­al cycle of world trav­el and book-sign­ing into which fame has launched him. But as his long­time read­ers know, he’s real­ly a stu­dent of lan­guage: not only has his own voice on the page been shaped by close obser­va­tion of Eng­lish, he’s stud­ied and con­tin­ues to study a host of for­eign lan­guages as well. Long­time read­ers will remem­ber how much mate­r­i­al he got out of the French class­es that gave his book Me Talk Pret­ty One Day its title, and he has more recent­ly writ­ten of his strug­gles to get a han­dle on such diverse tongues as Ger­man, Japan­ese, and Slovene. (I myself wrote an essay about Sedaris’ lan­guage-learn­ing in the Los Ange­les Review of Books.)

Though he’s nev­er explic­it­ly cit­ed it as part of his writ­ing process, these stud­ies have clear­ly honed Sedaris’ ear for lan­guage in gen­er­al, espe­cial­ly when it comes to its local tics and eccen­tric­i­ties. “In France the most often used word is ‘con­ner­ie,’ which means ‘bull­shit,’ ” he says in the audio­book clip at the top of the post from his lat­est col­lec­tion Calyp­so, “and in Amer­i­ca it’s hands-down ‘awe­some,’ which has replaced ‘incred­i­ble,’ ‘good,’ and even ‘just OK.’ Pret­ty much every­thing that isn’t ter­ri­ble is awe­some in Amer­i­ca now.” What once denot­ed a sight or expe­ri­ence filled with the emo­tion of “dread, ven­er­a­tion, and won­der that is inspired by author­i­ty or by the sacred or sub­lime” has become, in Sedaris’ view, a syn­onym for “fine.”

“It just got out of hand to me,” Sedaris explains to USA Today. “Everything’s awe­some all the time. I was in Boul­der, Col­orado” — a city he has else­where described as “the ‘awe­some’ cap­i­tal” — “and some­one said, ‘I’ll have a dou­ble espres­so, awe­some,’ and the oth­er per­son said, ‘Awe­some.’ ”

(In anoth­er inter­view, he men­tions that he often fines peo­ple “a dol­lar a time at events for using the A‑word. I warn them first, because it’s only fair, but I can make pret­ty good mon­ey that way.”) This may sound like a futile objec­tion to inevitable lin­guis­tic change, but only to those who haven’t noticed the under­ly­ing debase­ment of mean­ing. If “awe­some” can now describe a cof­fee, what word, if any, indi­cates gen­uine awe?

A sim­i­lar fate has befall­en oth­er Eng­lish words and expres­sions. “Great” pre­ced­ed “awe­some” into the seman­tic haze, and “to beg the ques­tion” has become a stan­dard exam­ple of a phrase to whose orig­i­nal mean­ing only a pedant would cling. Peo­ple now often use it syn­ony­mous­ly with “rais­ing the ques­tion,” but if we accept that as its mean­ing, we’re left with no way to refer to ques­tion-beg­ging itself, a rhetor­i­cal prac­tice still as ram­pant as ever.  To crit­i­cize the mod­ern loos­en­ing of these usages is to keep sharp and com­plete one’s array of tools for expres­sion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion; we con­demn the overuse of a word not out of pure hatred but out of under­stand­ing the neces­si­ty of its true mean­ing. Even David Sedaris grants “awe­some” its prop­er time and place: “I went to the Great Wall of Chi­na once, and I have to say, that was awe­some. But that’s the only thing I can think of. Not a lat­te.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

20 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Sedaris: A Sam­pling of His Inim­itable Humor

David Sedaris Breaks Down His Writ­ing Process: Keep a Diary, Car­ry a Note­book, Read Out Loud, Aban­don Hope

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Cre­ates Lists of His Favorite Words: “Mau­gre,” “Taran­tism,” “Ruck,” “Prima­para” & More

Bertrand Rus­sell Lists His 20 Favorite Words in 1958 (and What Are Some of Yours?)

The Largest His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish Slang Now Free Online: Cov­ers 500 Years of the “Vul­gar Tongue”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

A Witty Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)

In the intro­duc­tion to his Dic­tio­nary of Con­tem­po­rary Slang, Tony Thorne writes of the dif­fi­cul­ty of defin­ing infor­mal speech: “A sym­po­sium on slang held in France in 1989 broke up after sev­er­al days with­out hav­ing arrived at a def­i­n­i­tion accept­able to even the major­i­ty of par­tic­i­pants.” If you’re think­ing maybe this seems like tak­ing the sub­ject a lit­tle too seri­ous­ly, I’d agree. But if we trav­el back eighty years in time and across the Eng­lish Chan­nel, we’ll meet an eccen­tric lex­i­cog­ra­ph­er who approached the task in the right spir­it.

“Here is a numer­i­cal­ly weak col­lec­tion of ‘Pass­ing Eng­lish.’ ” writes James Red­ding Ware in the Pref­ace to his posthu­mous­ly-pub­lished 1909 Pass­ing Eng­lish of the Vic­to­ri­an Era, A Dic­tio­nary of Het­ero­dox Eng­lish, Slang and Phrase.


“It may be hoped that there are errors on every page, and also that no entry is ‘quite too dull.’” He goes on in a more seri­ous tone to sum­ma­rize the rapid lan­guage change occur­ring in Eng­land in the last few decades of the 19th cen­tu­ry:

Thou­sands of words and phras­es in exis­tence in 1870 have drift­ed away, or changed their forms, or been absorbed, while as many have been added or are being added. ‘Pass­ing Eng­lish’ rip­ples from count­less sources, form­ing a riv­er of new lan­guage which has its tide and its ebb, while its cur­rent brings down new ideas and car­ries away those that have drib­bled out of fash­ion. Not only is ‘Pass­ing Eng­lish’ gen­er­al ; it is local ; often very sea­son­ably local. 

Ware—a pen name of British writer Andrew Forrester—goes on to get very local indeed in his descrip­tions, from “Pet­ty Italia behind Hat­ton Gar­den” to “Anglo-Yid­dish.” The Pub­lic Domain Review high­lights the fol­low­ing quirky entries.

Got the Morbs – tem­po­rary melan­choly
Mut­ton Shunter – the police
Bat­ty-Fang – to thrash thor­ough­ly
Doing the Bear – court­ing that involves hug­ging
Maf­fick­ing – get­ting row­dy in the streets
Orf Chump – no appetite
Poked Up – embar­rassed
Nan­ty Nark­ing – great fun

Ware’s atti­tude may be appro­pri­ate­ly infor­mal, but his method­ol­o­gy is suit­ably rig­or­ous, and this com­pre­hen­sive lex­i­con was clear­ly a labor of love. His book is a seri­ous resource for schol­ars of the peri­od, and, hell, it’s also just great fun. Read and down­load the full dic­tio­nary at the Inter­net Archive.

via The Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read A Clas­si­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Vul­gar Tongue, a Hilar­i­ous & Infor­ma­tive Col­lec­tion of Ear­ly Mod­ern Eng­lish Slang (1785)

The Largest His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish Slang Now Free Online: Cov­ers 500 Years of the “Vul­gar Tongue”

The Very First Writ­ten Use of the F Word in Eng­lish (1528)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

What Did Old English Sound Like? Hear Reconstructions of Beowulf, The Bible, and Casual Conversations

What is the Eng­lish lan­guage? Is it Anglo-Sax­on? It is tempt­ing to think so, in part because the def­i­n­i­tion sim­pli­fies a lin­guis­tic his­to­ry that defies lin­ear sum­ma­ry. Over the course of 1000 years, the lan­guage came togeth­er from exten­sive con­tact with Anglo-Nor­man, a dialect of French; then became heav­i­ly Latinized and full of Greek roots and end­ings; then absorbed words from Ara­bic, Span­ish, and dozens of oth­er lan­guages, and with them, arguably, absorbed con­cepts and pic­tures of the world that can­not be sep­a­rat­ed from the lan­guage itself.

Shake­speare and oth­er writ­ers filled in the gaps (and still do), invent­ing words where they were lack­ing. Why do we then refer to the long-dead Anglo-Sax­on lan­guage as “Old Eng­lish,” if it is only a dis­tant ances­tor, and one, you’ll note, no Eng­lish speak­er today under­stands? There are many tech­ni­cal rea­sons for this, but to put it in plain terms: if Eng­lish were a body, Anglo-Sax­on might be the bones and lig­a­ments: not only for the hard­ness of its con­so­nants and its blunt, unadorned poet­ry, but because it con­tains the most com­mon words in the lan­guage, the struc­tur­al bits that hold togeth­er all those pan-lin­guis­tic bor­row­ings.

Observe the piece of verse known as Cædmon’s Hymn, below. Amidst the tan­gle of unfa­mil­iar phonemes and extinct let­ters like the “þ,” you can­not miss such bedrock words as “and,” “his,” “or,” “He,” and “to.” In oth­er texts, you’ll find rec­og­niz­able equiv­a­lents of “father,” “moth­er,” “hus­band,” “wife,” “good,” “god,” and many oth­er com­mon house­hold words.

Nu scu­lon her­ian     heo­fon­rices Weard,
Metodes mihte     and his mod­geþanc,
weorc Wul­dor­fæder,     swa he wun­dra
ece Dry­ht­en,     or onstealde.
He ærest scop     eorþan bear­num
heo­fon to hrofe     halig Sci­ep­pend.
þa mid­dan­geard     man­cynnes Weard
ece Dry­ht­en,     æfter teode
firum foldan     Frea ælmi­htig.

Despite shar­ing many words with mod­ern Eng­lish, how­ev­er, Anglo Sax­on is anoth­er lan­guage, from an entire­ly dif­fer­ent world long dis­ap­peared. No one liv­ing, of course, knows exact­ly what it sound­ed like, so schol­ars make their best edu­cat­ed guess­es using inter­nal evi­dence in the scant lit­er­a­ture, sec­ondary sources in oth­er lan­guages from the time, and sim­i­lar­i­ties to oth­er, liv­ing lan­guages. Now that you’ve seen what Old Eng­lish looks like, hear how it sounds to mod­ern ears.

In the video at the top, stu­dent of the lan­guage Stephen Rop­er reen­acts a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion with an Anglo-Sax­on speak­er, one who can under­stand but can­not speak con­tem­po­rary Eng­lish. The oth­er exam­ples here come from lit­er­ary con­texts. Fur­ther up, Justin A. Jack­son, Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Hills­dale Col­lege, reads the open­ing lines of Beowulf, and just above, hear an unnamed nar­ra­tor read the epic poem’s full Pro­logue.

Just below—backed by a dra­mat­ic, dron­ing score and recit­ed over footage of misty Eng­lish moors—a read­ing of “The Lord’s Prayer” in 11th cen­tu­ry Old Eng­lish. In this text, you’ll pick out quite a few more famil­iar words, though the fact that most read­ers know the mod­ern Eng­lish equiv­a­lent prob­a­bly doesn’t hurt. But if you feel con­fi­dent after lis­ten­ing to these spec­u­la­tive recon­struc­tions of the lan­guage, enough to take a crack at read­ing it aloud your­self, head over this Uni­ver­si­ty of Glas­gow col­lec­tion of Old Eng­lish read­ings.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Beowulf Read In the Orig­i­nal Old Eng­lish: How Many Words Do You Rec­og­nize?

These Four Man­u­scripts Con­tain All of the Lit­er­a­ture Writ­ten in Old English–and Beyond That, There’s Noth­ing More

Hear Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight Read in Their Orig­i­nal Old and Mid­dle Eng­lish by an MIT Medieval­ist

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

A Dictionary of Words Invented to Name Emotions We All Feel, But Don’t Yet Have a Name For: Vemödalen, Sonder, Chrysalism & Much More

Philoso­phers have always dis­trust­ed lan­guage for its slip­per­i­ness, its overuse, its propen­si­ty to deceive. Yet many of those same crit­ics have devised the most inven­tive terms to describe things no one had ever seen. The Philosopher’s Stone, the aether, mias­mas—images that made the inef­fa­ble con­crete, if still invis­i­bly gaseous.

It’s impor­tant for us to see the myr­i­ad ways our com­mon lan­guage fails to cap­ture the com­plex­i­ty of real­i­ty, ordi­nary and oth­er­wise. Ask any poet, writer, or lan­guage teacher to tell you about it—most of the words we use are too abstract, too worn out, decayed, or rusty. Maybe it takes either a poet or a philoso­pher to not only notice the many prob­lems with lan­guage, but to set about rem­e­dy­ing them.

Such are the qual­i­ties of the mind behind The Dic­tio­nary of Obscure Sor­rows, a project by graph­ic design­er and film­mak­er John Koenig. The blog, YouTube chan­nel, and soon-to-be book from Simon & Schus­ter has a sim­ple premise: it iden­ti­fies emo­tion­al states with­out names, and offers both a poet­ic term and a philosopher’s skill at pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion. Whether these words actu­al­ly enter the lan­guage almost seems beside the point, but so many of them seem bad­ly need­ed, and per­fect­ly craft­ed for their pur­pose.

Take one of the most pop­u­lar of these, the invent­ed word “Son­der,” which describes the sud­den real­iza­tion that every­one has a sto­ry, that “each ran­dom passer­by is liv­ing a life as vivid and com­plex as your own.” This shock can seem to enlarge or dimin­ish us, or both at the same time. Psy­chol­o­gists may have a term for it, but ordi­nary speech seemed lack­ing.

Son­der like­ly became as pop­u­lar as it did on social media because the theme “we’re all liv­ing con­nect­ed sto­ries” already res­onates with so much pop­u­lar cul­ture. Many of the Dictionary’s oth­er terms trend far more unam­bigu­ous­ly melan­choly, if not neurotic—hence “obscure sor­rows.” But they also range con­sid­er­ably in tone, from the rel­a­tive light­ness of Greek-ish neol­o­gism “Anecdoche”—“a con­ver­sa­tion in which every­one is talk­ing, but nobody is listening”—to the major­ly depres­sive “pâro”:

the feel­ing that no mat­ter what you do is always some­how wrong—as if there’s some obvi­ous way for­ward that every­body else can see but you, each of them lean­ing back in their chair and call­ing out help­ful­ly, “cold­er, cold­er, cold­er…”

Both the coinages and the def­i­n­i­tions illu­mi­nate each oth­er. Take “Énoue­ment,” defined as “the bit­ter­sweet­ness of hav­ing arrived in the future, see­ing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.” A psy­chol­o­gy of aging in the form of an elo­quent dic­tio­nary entry. Some­times the rela­tion­ship is less sub­tle, but still mag­i­cal, as in the far from sor­row­ful “Chrysal­ism: The amni­ot­ic tran­quil­i­ty of being indoors dur­ing a thun­der­storm.”

Some­times, it is not a word but a phrase that speaks most poignant­ly of emo­tions that we know exist but can­not cap­ture with­out dead­en­ing clichés. “Moment of Tan­gency” speaks poignant­ly of a meta­phys­i­cal phi­los­o­phy in verse. Like Son­der, this phrase draws on an image of inter­con­nect­ed­ness. But rather than tak­ing a per­spec­tive from within—from solip­sism to empathy—it takes the point of view of all pos­si­ble real­i­ties.

Watch the video for “Vemö­dalen: The Fear That Every­thing Has Already Been Done” up top. See sev­er­al more short films from the project here, includ­ing “Silience: The Bril­liant Artistry Hid­den All Around You”—if, that is, we could only pay atten­tion to it. Below, find 23 oth­er entries describ­ing emo­tions peo­ple feel, but can’t explain.

1. Son­der: The real­iza­tion that each passer­by has a life as vivid and com­plex as your own.
2. Opia: The ambigu­ous inten­si­ty of Look­ing some­one in the eye, which can feel simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inva­sive and vul­ner­a­ble.
3. Mona­chop­sis: The sub­tle but per­sis­tent feel­ing of being out of place.
4 Énoue­ment: The bit­ter­sweet­ness of hav­ing arrived in the future, see­ing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
5. Vel­li­chor: The strange wist­ful­ness of used book­shops.
6. Rubato­sis: The unset­tling aware­ness of your own heart­beat.
7. Kenop­sia: The eerie, for­lorn atmos­phere of a place that is usu­al­ly bustling with peo­ple but is now aban­doned and qui­et.
8. Mauer­bauer­trau­rigkeit: The inex­plic­a­ble urge to push peo­ple away, even close friends who you real­ly like.
9. Jous­ka: A hypo­thet­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion that you com­pul­sive­ly play out in your head.
10. Chrysal­ism: The amni­ot­ic tran­quil­i­ty of being indoors dur­ing a thun­der­storm.
11. Vemö­dalen: The frus­tra­tion of pho­to­graph­ic some­thing amaz­ing when thou­sands of iden­ti­cal pho­tos already exist.
12. Anec­doche: A con­ver­sa­tion in which every­one is talk­ing, but nobody is lis­ten­ing
13. Ellip­sism: A sad­ness that you’ll nev­er be able to know how his­to­ry will turn out.
14. Kue­biko: A state of exhaus­tion inspired by acts of sense­less vio­lence.
15. Lach­esism: The desire to be struck by dis­as­ter – to sur­vive a plane crash, or to lose every­thing in a fire.
16. Exu­lan­sis: The ten­den­cy to give up try­ing to talk about an expe­ri­ence because peo­ple are unable to relate to it.
17. Adroni­tis: Frus­tra­tion with how long it takes to get to know some­one.
18. Rück­kehrun­ruhe: The feel­ing of return­ing home after an immer­sive trip only to find it fad­ing rapid­ly from your aware­ness.
19. Nodus Tol­lens: The real­iza­tion that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you any­more.
20. Onism: The frus­tra­tion of being stuck in just one body, that inhab­its only one place at a time.
21. Libero­sis: The desire to care less about things.
22. Altschmerz: Weari­ness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same bor­ing flaws and anx­i­eties that you’ve been gnaw­ing on for years.
23. Occhi­olism: The aware­ness of the small­ness of your per­spec­tive.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“Tsun­doku,” the Japan­ese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the Eng­lish Lan­guage

The Largest His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish Slang Now Free Online: Cov­ers 500 Years of the “Vul­gar Tongue”

How a Word Enters the Dic­tio­nary: A Quick Primer

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

How a Word Enters the Dictionary: A Quick Primer

Giv­en that you’re read­ing this on the Inter­net, we pre­sume you’ll be able to define many of the over 800 words that were added to the Mer­ri­am-Web­ster dic­tio­nary in 2018:









But what about some of the humdingers lex­i­cog­ra­ph­er Kory Stam­per, for­mer asso­ciate edi­tor for Mer­ri­am-Web­ster and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dic­tio­nar­ies, unleash­es in the above video?




ety­mo­log­i­cal fal­li­cist

(Bonus: bird strike)

And here we thought we were flu­ent in our native tongue. Face palm, to use anoth­er newish entry and an exam­ple of descrip­tivism. (It’s when the dic­tio­nary fol­lows the culture’s lead, accord­ing nov­el­ty its due by offi­cial­ly rec­og­niz­ing words that have entered the par­lance, rather than pre­scrib­ing the way cit­i­zens should be speak­ing.)

To hear Stam­per tell it, dic­tio­nary writ­ing is a dream gig for read­ers as well as word lovers.

Part of every day is spent read­ing, flag­ging any unfa­mil­iar words that may pop up for fur­ther research.

Did teenage slang give rise to it?

Was it born of busi­ness trends or tech indus­try advances?

Stam­per is adamant that lan­guage is not fixed, but rather a liv­ing organ­ism. Words go in and out of fash­ion, and take on mean­ings beyond the ones they sport­ed when first includ­ed in the dic­tio­nary. (Have a look at “extra” to see some evo­lu­tion­ary effects of the Eng­lish lan­guage and back it up with a peek inside the Urban Dic­tio­nary.)

Before a word pass­es dic­tio­nary muster, it must meet three cri­te­ria: it must have crossed into wide­spread use, it seems like­ly to stick around for a while, and it must have some sort of sub­stan­tive mean­ing, as opposed to being known sole­ly for its length (“antidis­es­tab­lish­men­tar­i­an­ism”), or some oth­er struc­tur­al won­der.

“Iouea” con­tains all five reg­u­lar vow­els and no oth­er let­ters. The fact that it exists to describe a genus of sea sponges may seem some­what beside the point to all but marine biol­o­gists.

What new words will enter the lex­i­con in 2019?

Per­haps we should look to the past. We set Merriam-Webster’s Time Trav­el­er dial back 100 years to dis­cov­er the words that debuted in 1919. There’s an abun­dance of good­ies here, some of whose WWI-era con­text has already expand­ed to accom­mo­date mod­ern mean­ing (anti-stress, fan­boy, super­pimp, unbuffered). Read­ers, care to take a stab at fresh­en­ing up some oth­er can­di­dates:













Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Largest His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of Eng­lish Slang Now Free Online: Cov­ers 500 Years of the “Vul­gar Tongue”

“Lynchi­an,” “Kubrick­ian,” “Taran­ti­noesque” and 100+ Film Words Have Been Added to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary

Dic­tio­nary of the Old­est Writ­ten Language–It Took 90 Years to Com­plete, and It’s Now Free Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City Jan­u­ary 14 as host of The­ater of the Apes book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Why Is English So Hard to Learn?: The Ingenious Poem, “The Chaos,” Documents 800 Irregularities in English Spelling and Pronunciation

In 1920, Dutch writer and trav­el­er Ger­ard Nolst Tren­ité, also known as Chari­var­ius, pub­lished a text­book called Drop Your For­eign Accent: engelsche uit­spraakoe­fenin­gen. In the appen­dix, he includ­ed a poem titled “The Chaos,” a vir­tu­oso, tongue-twist­ing demon­stra­tion of some­where around 800 irreg­u­lar­i­ties in Eng­lish spelling and pro­nun­ci­a­tion. No one now remem­bers the text­book, and the poem might have dis­ap­peared too were it not for efforts of the Sim­pli­fied Spelling Soci­ety, which tracked frag­ments of it through “France, Cana­da, Den­mark, Ger­many, the Nether­lands, Por­tu­gal, Spain, Swe­den and Turkey.”

The poem’s his­to­ry, as told in the Jour­nal of the Sim­pli­fied Spelling Soci­ety (JSSS) in 1994, shows how it trav­eled around Europe, in pieces, con­found­ing and bedev­il­ing aspir­ing Eng­lish speak­ers. Full of homonyms, loan words, and words which—at one time—actually sound­ed the way they’re spelled, the poem’s fifty-eight stan­zas may be the most clever and com­pre­hen­sive “con­cor­dance of caco­graph­ic chaos,” as the JSSS puts it. Admired by lin­guists and his­to­ri­ans of Eng­lish, it has, since its 1994 repub­li­ca­tion, become some­thing of a cult hit for enthu­si­asts of lan­guage every­where.

You can read it here, hear it read above by YouTube’s Lindy­beige, and see a tran­scrip­tion into IPA, the inter­na­tion­al pho­net­ic alpha­bet. Though it’s pop­u­lar­ly rep­re­sent­ed as a kind of sort­ing mech­a­nism for “the Eng­lish-Speak­ing Elite,” that’s hard­ly accu­rate. Eng­lish once sound­ed like this and this, then like this, and now sounds com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent accord­ing to hun­dreds of region­al dialects and accents around the world. The soci­ety ges­tures toward this in their intro­duc­tion, writ­ing, “the selec­tion of exam­ples now appears some­what dat­ed, as do a few of their pro­nun­ci­a­tions. Indeed a few words may even be unknown to today’s read­ers.”

“How many will know what a ‘stud­ding-sail’ is, or that its nau­ti­cal pro­nun­ci­a­tion is ‘stun­sail’?,” asks the JSSS. It seems rea­son­able to won­der how many peo­ple ever did. In any case, Eng­lish, Lindy­beige writes, “is a rapid­ly-chang­ing lan­guage,” and one that has not made much pho­net­ic sense for sev­er­al cen­turies. This is exact­ly what has made it such a bear to learn to spell and pronounce—for both Eng­lish lan­guage learn­ers and native speak­ers. Try your hand at read­ing every word in “The Chaos,” prefer­ably in front of an audi­ence, and see how you do.

via Men­tal Floss/The Poke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Eng­lish Would Sound Like If It Was Pro­nounced Pho­net­i­cal­ly

Hear Beowulf Read In the Orig­i­nal Old Eng­lish: How Many Words Do You Rec­og­nize?

Hear What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like in the Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Napoleon’s English Lessons: How the Military Leader Studied English to Escape the Boredom of Life in Exile

When we talk about coun­try club prison sen­tences, we tend to imag­ine a mar­gin­al amount of time spent on the inside, though the phrase sounds like an extend­ed vaca­tion. Napoleon Bona­parte—exiled to the island of St. Hele­na for his crimes against Europe—got the full treat­ment, what some might even call a sweet­heart deal. As the Pub­lic Domain Review notes, “the British had agreed to pro­vide Le Petit Capo­ral with plen­ti­ful wine, meat, and musi­cal instru­ments.” He was giv­en his own com­fort­able lodg­ings, a spa­cious coun­try house, though it’s said to have been draughty and full of rats.

On the oth­er hand, Napoleon had to foreswear “what he most craved—family, pow­er, Europe,” for a con­di­tion of extreme iso­la­tion. The loss weighed heav­i­ly. After spend­ing six years 1200 miles from shore, he died, some say of poi­son­ing, but oth­ers say of bore­dom. Of his few amuse­ments, con­vers­ing with Count Emmanuel de Las Cases—“historian and loy­al sup­port­er who had been allowed to voy­age with him to Saint Helena”—proved most stim­u­lat­ing. Pre­vent­ed from receiv­ing news­pa­pers in French, he longed to read the few he found in Eng­lish.

Las Cas­es endeav­ored to teach Napoleon the lan­guage of his jail­ers, and the for­mer Emper­or strug­gled might­i­ly to learn it. After three months on the island, he spent the fol­low­ing three study­ing every day, even­tu­al­ly pro­duc­ing trans­la­tions from his French like that below:

When will you be wise
Nev­er as long as j should be in this isle
But j shall become wise after hav­ing passed the line
When j shall land in France j shall be very con­tent…

My wife shall come near to me, my son shall be great and strong if he will be able to trink a bot­tle of wine at din­ner j shall [toast] with him… / The women believe they [are] ever pre­ty / The time has not wings / When you shall come, you shall see that j have ever loved you.

Eight pages in Napoleon’s own hand remain from his time as a stu­dent of Eng­lish on St. Hele­na in the first few months of 1816. They are “some of the most evoca­tive doc­u­ments we have from Napoleon’s time” on the island, the Fon­da­tion Napoleon writes, bear­ing “poignant wit­ness to the frus­tra­tion Napoleon felt in exile…. It is tempt­ing to read a refusal of exile in these sheets, both in the sen­tences them­selves, and in Napoleon’s insis­tent use of ‘j’ (as in the French ‘je’) rather than the Eng­lish ‘I.’”

In one let­ter that sur­vives from March 7, 1816 (see it scanned above), writ­ten for Las Cas­es to cor­rect the fol­low­ing day, Napoleon takes stock of his progress, or lack there­of.

Count las­cas­es — Since sixt week j learn the Englich and j do not any progress. Six week do four­ty and two day. If might have learn fiv­i­ty word four day I could know it two thu­sands and two hun­dred. It is in the dic­tio­nary more of four­ty thou­sand; even he could must twin­ty bout much of tems for know it our hun­dred and twen­ty week, which do more two yars. After this you shall agrée that to study one tongue is a great labour who it must do into the young aged.

Las Cas­es reports that his stu­dent “had an extra­or­di­nary intel­li­gence but a very bad mem­o­ry.” Gram­mar came much more eas­i­ly than vocab­u­lary. His frus­tra­tion over being “impris­oned in the mid­dle of this lan­guage” is record­ed in Las Cas­es’ Mémo­r­i­al de Sainte-Hélène, a record of his fif­teen months on the island with Napoleon. The book became “a pub­lish­ing sen­sa­tion” and would “do much,” the Pub­lic Domain Review writes, “to turn the per­cep­tion of Napoleon from a dic­ta­tor into a lib­er­a­tor.”

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Napoleon’s Kin­dle: See the Minia­tur­ized Trav­el­ing Library He Took on Mil­i­tary Cam­paigns

Vin­tage Pho­tos of Vet­er­ans of the Napoleon­ic Wars, Tak­en Cir­ca 1858

Napoleon: The Great­est Movie Stan­ley Kubrick Nev­er Made

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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