Knock yourself out

Monday, 29. June 2009

My favourite is gnarly, which different dictionaries define differently to mean anything from horrible to loud to simply gnarled (like an old tree). Actually the meaning I find most inventive isThe OC type usage where it means ill tempered in a cool sort of way. The Americans are brilliant at inventing new expressions. Would you like to share any?

Knock yourself out.

7 Responses to “Knock yourself out”

  1. Vincent Says:

    In my view there are too many inventive new expressions coming from America, and I resist their incursion when they become clichés before their meaning is understood. A word carries its own heritage and world-view. I don’t like it when the traditional English words and phrases are forced out by Americanisms which are no better but seem to kill off the native species like grey squirrels wiping out red. I was brought up with the phrase “brought up”, not “raised”. It had its own poetry, as in my step-father’s observation: “X wasn’t brought up, he was dragged up.”

    If you look at the online Urban Dictionary you can see thousands of expressions you’d never want to use, because they arise from people and attitudes you’d not want to live next door to.

    The kinds of Americans I admire the most are those who admire cultures outside their own.

  2. Steven Holmes Says:

    I love ‘em. I think the Americans are truly inventive with language.

  3. Stan Wright Says:

    My middle son Marcus’s fiancé came out with a brilliant new word for him the other day “sneakative” what a great word.


  4. jeremy_dent Says:

    Language is an evolving beast and pompous attitudes don’t help. It will evolve despite revisionism.

    I like ‘gaff’ for my place.

  5. Michael Heaney Says:

    Before the bearers of the English Language came along and kicked nine bells of shite out of the Irish they had a language all of their own – They called it the Gaelic –and it was great craic..

    It meant that they had thoughts that they could express in a language that fitted perfectly what they meant.

    But the conquerors banned their language and stopped it being taught in school. Everyone had to speak English. That might seem to be a cruel imposition on a conquered people – but it delivered a great boon to the people of Ireland.

    So much so that the Irish took to this new language as a playground for new ideas and expression and delivered a strand of genius that they like to think is recognised across the world.
    Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney to name just a few.

    A lot of this freshness and inventiveness in their writing was in fact just them playing with their new toy, seeing how far they could bend it and mold it and as they still had ready access to the old vocabulary they could appear wise and profound just by finding translations of old commonplace Gaelic phrases.

    The Inuit may have 47 words for snow – but the Irish have countless expressions for being drunk, including the one that drags in religion as an explanation of someone’s behaviour –
    “He was absolutely miraculous”.
    Now that is using the language. And it has worked…

    Their fame has spread so far and wide that right now you can bid on ebay for “Famous Irish Writers Set of Four Corked Wood Coasters” – for less than twenty bucks.

    Fame indeed

  6. Vincent Says:

    The bearers of the English language did the same trick on the Welsh and the Scots, I understand, but without comparable effects on the literature of those speakers.

    Surely it was a cruel imposition on a conquered people! It was done to the African slaves too and the results may be seen in what the Jamaicans achieve in their patois. You can see examples on the Web and I especially recommend those on proverbs in patois.

    But then, other countries have done the same thing on their own populations in the twentieth century, for nationalistic (racist) reasons. Malaysia for example has three main population groups: Malays, Chinese and Tamils, in about equal proportions. Until some time after independence, they happily used English as a lingua franca whilst retaining their own languages within their groups. But Malaysian government imposed Malay (bahasa malaysia) on all groups.

  7. Vincent Says:

    I recommend Language Log and You Don’t Say for voluminous discussions on what is and is not correct in English, with comments on its fluid development. Language Log has many authors in the trade, including professors of linguistics and members of committees who write dictionaries.

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