Friday, 3 February 2012

Word of the day - niche

Today's word is niche, used as a verb. In fact, used at a meeting that I recently attended, in the sentence "We have to niche up some of the messages." It is interesting that niche seems to take the preposition "up" although it could just as well have taken the opposite - "niche down". 

Dictionary.com accepts niche as a verb and gives the brief definition "to place [something] in a niche." Google's definition search facility amplifies this definition: Place or position (something) in a niche: "these elements were niched within the shadowy reaches"; "decorated with niched statues". (NB: to use the Google definition search, you just type in the word and add the word "definition", e.g. "irony definition").

The meaning of the illustrative sentence I have given you is that we must position ourselves with a wide range of interested groups, even though they may be small, by targeting our messages more explicitly. I guess that's a good idea.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Word of the day

Today's word is caveat, used as a verb. Used in a meeting right here, yesterday. But I loved it at first sight. In fact, this usage goes back some time. 

We all know what a caveat is in normal usage - it is used in the sense of a qualification or warning, a limitation to a statement's face value meaning. It is from Latin, and is used in Latin expressions such as caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Here's an example from the Wiktionary of this usage, from former US Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig, famous for his creative use of English: 'I'll have to caveat my response, Senator, and I'll caveat that' - from Robert McCrum's The Story of English.

The legitimacy of Haig's usage as been debated, but as McCrum says, he was simply displaying the virtuosity of English, if not its grace. Don't caveat me, and I won't caveat you.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is goat rodeo. According to the notes on my CD of The Goat Rodeo Sessions, quoting the Urban Dictionary, a goat rodeo is "A chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what's going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into", or "A situation that order cannot be brought to any time."

For example:"Management's nuts. By the time each of them has his say and policy gets to us, it's a goat rodeo."
and
"We had Ondine's fifth birthday party yesterday. What a goat rodeo!"
Yo-Yo Ma, in calling his classical cello meets bluegrass sessions a goat rodeo, is being ironic. You can read all about the CD on Yo-Yo Ma's own site, or in a nice piece in Billboard, or on the Readings online site.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Word of the day

Names are always a source of interest, and one of my favourite categories of names is people with two surnames - like Gordon Thomas, or Jackson Jackson. Unlike most names in English, they are also reversible.
Today's word is Jay, a name and a letter. I have been reading about the tussle between Mike Rann, premier of South Australia, and Jay Weatherill (picture with family, and article about him here). Mr Weatherill was nominated by "the factions" to succeed Mr Rann, and this will happen today. I have been struck how odd it sounds to hear a name which is also an initial - Jay in this case. It only becomes less odd through familiarity. The names Bea, Dee, Kay and Em may have the same initial effect, but I have gotten used to them, attached as they are to real people. 
These are the only names I know in English which sound like a single letter of the alphabet, and all but one of them is an abbreviation. There aren't any more, but I could be wrong - let me know.

Word of the day

Today's word is litotes, a word I cannot remember ever reading before. Off, because the meaning of the term is something we do every day. Well, I do. It means, according to the Wikipedia, "a figure of speech in which understatement is employed for rhetorical effect when an idea is expressed by a denial of its opposite . . ." For example, "not as young as he was", meaning "old". It is common in English and many other cultures. 

An interesting search, too - try it. The search for litotes returns almost entirely definitions rather than uses of the word in a practical context - in other words, people seem to define the word more than use it. They use the concept (double negatives for emphasis, or ironical emphasis) frequently. So about.com quotes Queen Victoria's "We are not amused" as a litotes, and has a useful entry with lots more quotes. Wiktionary points out that it is an anagram of toilets, but not if you use the Greek spelling of λιτότης  

The Alpha Dictionary reads one pronounciation of it to you and provides the valuable information that the singular and plural have the same form. The SIL site has examples from the Bible (John 6:37) and Eduard Schevardnadze, and proper references. The SIL is or was the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Even Facebook has a page on litotes although, alas, it is taken from the Wikipedia. It does add the information that 111 people like the word. One of them is me.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Word of the day

If you are a fan of Roddy Doyle - and who isn't? - then you will enjoy his column on Dublin in The Daily Beast, or Newsweek as it is also called. "Dublin city is the sound of people who love words, who love taking words and playing with them, twisting and bending them, making short ones longer and the long ones shorter, people who love inventing words and giving fresh meaning to old ones." 
His word is "what's the story?" - a common Dublin greeting. He introduces us to the house hatcher "a boy or girl - more often a boy - who stays at home all day, won't come out, because he's 'too into the Xbox' . . ." And he tells us about the many ways of using the word buzz.

Word of the day

Today's word is mass personalisation - a clever formulation because it is apparently an oxymoron, but in fact not. It means that much in contemporary education, especially higher education, should be optional at the student's option. Such things as attendance, learning styles, scheduling, on/off campus learning, and so on. Along with this concept is the idea that content is ubiquitous, and teaching is the differentiator between good and bad education. It also relates, given its commercial origin, to the idea of the student as customer. My thanks to the ever creative Swinburne visioning process for the term.

The expression is not new - it already has a Wikipedia entry which defines the term as "custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users' tastes and preferences", and there are references to the concept back into the nineties. Despite this, the mass personalisation website describes itself as a "stealth-mode startup in an exciting niche" - another way of saying that it has no content yet. Browse the web and enjoy - plenty of hype, but a growing reality.