In the realm of vocabulary-building: lexicographer Erin McKean plunges into the kerfuffle over the Baltimore Sun's use of "limn" in a front-page headline earlier this month. McKean notes that the word raised a few hackles because sporting a flashy vocabulary is often viewed as a form of social one-upmanship. To follow the saga, check out an older column by the Sun's resident grammar guru John McIntyre gently chiding those who had their feathers ruffled to add a "limn" to their tree of knowledge. McIntyre also responded to McKean's accusations of language-elitism.
"Limn" has kicked up dust before. We were reminded of a scuffle back in 2002, when New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani took flak for overusing the term. Publisher and blogger Dennis Loy Johnson outlines the debate that drew in a number of contenders, and provoked heavy-hitting columnist William Safire to bat the term away as a "vogueword." Judging from her latest review of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, Kakutani refuses to be bullied. We'd love to hear your thoughts—should words like "limn" be considered valuable linguistic loot? Should newspapers avoid such snooty words? What stake do major media outlets, like newspapers, have in the national vocabulary anyhow?
Plus, a few grammar goodies:
- For you eagle-eyed editors who want turn a BP Spillcam on word-gaffes pouring into common parlance, Grammarphobia dives into the history of phrases like "you know" and "I mean"—I mean, can you really take the author of Northanger Abbey to task? What’s the best way to avoid these pesky freeloaders? Well, one of the BloGG's writers had a tough-love professor who interrupted students whenever they used such "crutch words" and basically, you know, we learned to monitor every sentence if we hoped to reach the end in one piece.
- Grammarians, hoist the red flag: the American Heritage Dictionary is giving the black spot to these most often mangled words. The Dictionary admonishes you to cherish your cache of cachet and not to flounder about in the wordhoard or you may founder to the bottom—where only a stout-hearted editor can rescue you.
- Monday bonus: some fun for language mavens languishing on the subway. The Huffington Post has lassoed their favorite puzzle game iPhone apps for word-lovers. Online Scrabble is a good fix for commuter malaise, and we're enchanted by a game called Bookworm, in which the player feeds a hungry, bow-tied bookworm by building words from lettered tiles—while preventing fiery letters from reaching the floor and engulfing the library in flames.