President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.
It’s remarkable, this “shithole” remark—and no, I don’t just mean the racist xenophobia lurking in President Trump’s language, not to mention its utter ignorance of international affairs and an abject dearth of humanitarianism.
On the Strong Language blog, Merriam-Webster’s Kory Stamper explains why newspapers printing shithole, as their editorial policies have been variously averse to do, is such a boon to lexicographers:
So when the word “shithole” shows up above the fold in the news section of a newspaper, that tells me, as a lexicographer, that this word is not just the province of BuzzFeed or Twitter or pulp fiction, but might actually be (shitty, shitty) Wonder Bread.
The “Wonder Bread” here, in Stamper’s apt metaphor, is an earlier reference to a word as “boring and everywhere…remarkable only because it is wholly unremarkable[.]”
We’ve left the farm and have wandered into the woods to discover where some very basic and common animal words came from – fundamental words like dog and pig, which number among some of the first children learn to read, even say.
We just don’t really know where this group of everyday words comes from, which is nothing short of fascinating.
I also have two pieces up on Strong Language. The first is “When fucks fly.” In this post, I ask the big questions: “What exactly is a flying fuck? And why does this fuck fly?”
In spite of being all about zero, I think my latest post on Strong Language has it all: linguistics, mathematics, politics, sociology, media and cultural studies. I can’t even keep count. Good thing we have the Count.
But you should ignore him. Give a fuck and head on over to Strong Language for my piece, “Something from nothing: A zero-fucks game.” It takes a brief look into an interesting sweary construction I’ve observed, zero-fucks-X.
Up on the Strong Language blog, I have new post on the many uses–er, circles–of hell, from hell yes! to hell-to-the-no. Noun, verb, intensifier, prefix? Hell hath a lot of linguistic fury in the English language. Readers here may be particularly hellbent on the etymology of hell:
In Norse mythology, Hel is Loki’s daughter and goddess of the underworld, which is one way to raise Hel, I suppose. Her name is indeed a cognate of English’s own hell, whose Old English source, hell, comes from the Proto-Germanic *haljo (“the underworld,” literally “the concealed place”). Descending further into the origins of hell, some etymologists believe *haljo hails from the Proto-Indo-European *kel-, “to conceal” or “to cover.” English sees this same root in the very unhellish hall, hull, and cell, as well as that very conceal, to name a few hellions.
I’m extremely excited to share Strong Language, a new “sweary blog about swearing” masterminded and managed by James Harbeck (@sesquiotic) and Stan Carey (@stancarey). (Those two are tops; you should be following their work in its own right, to be sure.) Follow the project on Twitter, too: @stronglang.
Strong Language has assembled an impressive and growing cast of contributors, from the indefatigable Ben Zimmer to the illustrious Jonathon Green. I’m really honored to be among them, and I’ve already posted on the etymology of bastard.
Don’t hold your breath or bite your tongue: vulgarities and profanities—and some really insightful and intelligent linguistic commentary from some of the best language writers around—are a click away. Stan Carey’s latest post will fill you right in.