December 2022: New Zealand and “Uzhe” in The Atlantic

This month, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic for the first time! It’s about when the connection between spelling and pronunciation breaks down.

You walk into your favorite coffee shop. You greet the familiar barista, who knows your daily order. You say “Hi, I’ll have the”—wait, I can’t figure out how to write the next word. You know, “the usual,” but shorter. Hip! Casual! I’ll have the … uzhe. I mean, the yoozhThe youj?!

Why does this shortened form of usual, which rolls off the tongue when it’s spoken, cause so much confusion when we try to write it down? When I offered my Twitter followers 32 different options for spelling the word, nobody was fully satisfied with any of them. Youge to rhyme with rougeYusz as if it’s Polish? Usjhe in a desperate hope that some letter, somewhere, would cue the appropriate sound? The only thing everyone could agree on was that all of them felt weird.

How Do You Spell the Short Version of “Usual”? (Gretchen McCulloch in The Atlantic)

I spent much of the month in New Zealand, also for the first time! I gave a talk about Using lingcomm to design meaningful stories about linguistics, co-authored with Lauren Gawne, at the New Zealand Linguistics Society annual meeting in Dunedin, then went to Christchurch to give a department talk (Data-driven approaches to lingcomm: A case study of internet linguistics) at the University of Canterbury, and then went to Wellington to visit a non-linguist friend and see some birds! It was really fun to get to meet lots of linguists and hear what people are working on!

Some of my ideas from Because Internet were featured in a Vox meme explainer, which was fun to see!

When people refer to “Gen Z humor” or “TikTok humor,” what they’re really talking about is the chaotic, meaningless-seeming mishmashes of various references that are impenetrable to anyone not chronically online. But that’s just an extension of what the Washington Post once dubbed “millennial humor,” which should actually be called “Gen X humor,” considering the ages of the first internet forum posters who realized that weird, meaningless references made for good comedy. Instead, in her book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, the internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch has what I think is a far better way of categorizing internet users: She divides people according to when they truly “got online.”

Toward a unified theory of “millennial cringe” (Rebecca Jennings in Vox)

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Love and fury at the linguistics of emotions. The bonus episode was Speakest Thou Ye Olde English? We also got some, ahem, entertaining end-of-year stats from Spotify.

Finally, look, I can’t take a whole lot of credit for these two excellent things existing, but I am very pleased to have played a role in connecting the two.

Selected tweets:

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This month’s image is one of the many examples of Māori language I saw on public signage, beginning with a user interface option on Air New Zealand in-flight displays.

The screen on the back of an airplane seat with widgets displaying in Te Reo Māori. In large letters: Kia whaka-ngahautia koe

November 2022: Melbourne and Mastodon

I spent November in Melbourne, Australia, where I gave a talk about linguistics communication at La Trobe University, did lots of hanging out and behind the scenes work with my Lingthusiasm cohost, Lauren Gawne, and met up with various other delightful linguists, including attending the annual meeting of the Australian Linguistic Society at Melbourne University. All of which were extremely good, modulo a tiny bit of accent-based name confusion:

Also, this is what happens when you hang out with linguist friends from a variety of places: you can no longer trust that anyone’s linguistic forms are characteristic of where they’ve lived, because you’re probably picking up things from each other.

Twitter began getting weird and unstable, so if you want to make sure that you have linguistics in your feed wherever else you might end up, I’m also on Mastodon (which I’ve been on for a few years but a bit more active there lately), Instagram, and Tumblr. Plus, of course, this email newsletter, which you can read at gretchenmcculloch.com and/or get in your email if you don’t want to trust the vagarities of algorithms to put it in front of you. (If you’re doing that already, thank you!). Anyway, though expectations of twitter’s demise seem a bit premature, I did a greatest hits thread anyway.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Episode 74: Who questions the questions? The bonus episode was Bonus 69: 103 ways for kids to learn languages. Lingthusiasm celebrated our 6th anniversary of podcasting and got a Mastodon account this month, as did my cohost Lauren Gawne, so you can follow the whole trifecta there if you like. The Lingthusiasm listener survey is open until December 15, 2022 (and will run again next year if you didn’t get to it the first time around).

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This month’s image is from a cafe in Melbourne where I was getting coffee (well, a flat white and an iced tea) with Lauren Gawne, the beginning of a month of hanging out and scheming and considerably better weather than Montreal.

A flat white coffee and an iced tea on a green outdoor cafe table also featuring a vase of wildflowers, water jug, knives and forks

October 2022: Visiting Singapore and Linguist Halloween

This month, I went to Singapore! It’s the beginning of my multi-month trip that’ll also take me to Australia in November and New Zealand in December. I stayed with Suzy J Styles, gave a talk about linguistics communication at Nanyang Technical University, and met up with lots of lovely linguists who made sure that I tried many delicious Singaporean foods (thank you!). Also I got to hear people speaking Singlish, which is indeed as neat as everyone says it is.

This month’s shenanigans involved finishing my series of twitter polls in order to determine the least confusing way (okay they’re all confusing, but) to spell the clipped form of “usual”.

Also I wrote a double dactyl about celebrities with great names.

The main episode of Lingthusiasm was Episode 73: The linguistic map is not the linguistic territory. The bonus episode was Bonus 68: Linguistics and science communication – Interview with Liz McCullough. We also launched a Lingthusiasm listener survey to celebrate our 6th anniversary of making a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics, which is coming up in November.

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This month’s image is a joke Halloween costume design that I made as part of a Halloween costume meme going around. But seriously if anyone does this for real please tell me, I want to know:

Halloween costume package with a photo of Amy Adams from Arrival in an orange spacesuit holding up a whiteboard reading "human"
Captioned: Linguist "Human" Costume
Included: Orange jumpsuit, helmet, whiteboard, marker
Not included: Alien grammar, causality violation