Babies learning words in the womb

This news article reports a study which adds to research that babies learn sound patterns/words in the womb. The study used EEG sensors and found that babies who repeatedly heard a made up sound in the womb were more likely than the control group to recognise/respond to the sound after birth. However there were no tests to see if the memory of the word is retained past a month old. I haven’t read the original report on the study however on average the word was played more than 25,000 during the last few months of pregnancy and I do wonder if a common content word would be said this often in normal speech? It seems a lot! Also the made up word was ‘tatata’ (with the middle syllable varied). The constant vowel repetition is a common pattern in early speech (‘dada’, ‘mama’, ‘baba’ etc.) so I also wonder if a word without this pattern would have triggered the same results? Although it might not matter for recognising words.




Gay marriage in dictionaries


This short news story tells me that Macmillan Dictionary has edited their entry on marriage to reflect the use of the term in referring to same-sex relationships. Back in July we were told that the Oxford English Dictionary was also updating their marriage entry and the OED does now have a note under their definition to say that marriage is also used to refer to same-sex relationships, although the main definition still defines it as husband and wife. Gay marriage still has its own definition under the entry for ‘gay’. It’s good to know we’re slowly seeing changes to reflect modern usage!


New words added to the Oxford English Dictionary

Okay, well not new-new, this is the list of words added in June, but it is the first time I’ve seen it. There are a few words in the list I found interesting, some vulgar, some not. Here I ramble about six of them:

geekery, n. – while the original sense (bizarre acts preformed by a carnival geek) is recorded as being in use since 1947, I imagine that this word has only now just been added because of the rise of ‘geek culture’. They define it as actions typical of geeks: an unfashionable person with an obsessive hobby. I think that the meaning of ‘geek’ is so tied up with people’s  connotations about it that it seems hard to properly define.

headfucking n. – this shows how flexible the word ‘fuck’ is. While not unheard of I thought it was interesting that a word ending with an ‘-ing’ suffix has become a noun.

smeg, n. (and int.) – added over twenty years after it made its way into popular culture by Red Dwarf! Defined as ‘a general expletive’.

young adult, n. and adj. – recorded as being used from 1762, but I guess it’s only recently that they’ve decided to class it as one word instead of just having ‘young’ modifying ‘adult’. I would love to hear the decision making process behind a choice like this: when two words collocate so closely that they become one.

trans- prefixed words such as ‘transperson’ and ‘transphobia’ –  out of all of the words on the list I am most surprised that these have only just been added! ‘transexual’ was added to the OED in 1986 and I had just assumed that related ‘trans-‘ prefixed words would have been added already too. Interestingly it seems that ‘cissexual’ isn’t even in the OED yet, I wonder how long that will take to get an entry?

heart-stopper, n. – I just thought that this was a cute description of someone who makes your heart jump a beat! Seems like it should be a far older term than only having the first recorded use in 1940.


Bookshelfies and dating sites

Oh gosh, this post has alerted me to a tumblr called bookshelfies that shows photos of people posing in front of their bookcases with a list of a few of the titles that can be found there. I’m torn between yelling “No, you’re a reader, you should know better than this! Don’t copy them!”, having the urge to grab my camera and take a picture of myself with one of my book cases, and thinking that this could probably really hit it off as a theme for a dating site if everyone had their profile pictures like this.

There already are dating sites catering for book lovers, but a quick glance seems to show me that they’re still fairly traditional in their profile poses. I actually did a coursework project on initial interactions in dating sites and – in my expert opinion 😉 – think that bookshelfies dating profiles could probably work if it was a theme for everyone’s profile picture.

Would I actually pick a date on their reading tastes? Probably not. Reading is most definitely attractive (I was put off Austen’s charming Mr Bingley when I read that he didn’t read) but I wouldn’t date someone primarily on their taste in books.

p.s. I’ve managed to resist grabbing my camera so far.


Literary characters’ business cards and hypothetical wedding table names

Here are some business cards of literary characters. I adore this idea but find the execution a bit lacking. For example, I can’t see Miss Jean Brodie being happy with such a conformingly simple card. This definitely inspires me to practise my Publisher skills and make some of my own! Quite excited by this idea. Oh gosh, now the decision is whom to pick?

Miss Jean Brodie’s business card. From Publishers Weekly

Tonight I spent a delightful meal with a friend where we got into a silly conversation about using authors’ names as wedding table names. We amused ourselves by thinking about placing guests at tables depending on their personalities in relation to the author’s works. So the witty guests on the Wilde table, the dramatic romantics on the Bronte table, the negative people on the Plath table, etc. I wonder if the guests would pick up on it? It’s a silly thought but it was quite fun to think about which books embody the characteristics of various friends and family members. I’m still not sure which table I’d be at?


Once in a blue moon

Tonight is a blue moon. It’s currently hiding behind the clouds but there won’t be anything specifically to see anyway. However I love looking at the night sky even on uneventful nights. Outside my window there  is a ledge where if I clamber out=I can sit on the roof overlooking the city. This is one of my favourite places. If I’m feeling upset or stressed I can sit on the roof and look out across the roof tops or at the sky. I feel so tiny and insignificant it puts all my problems into perspective. One of my favourite phone apps is the Google Sky map. Using the app if you put your phone in front of the area of sky you’re looking at it (approximately) shows you what stars and constellations you’re looking at. Really cool.

I was going to look up the meanings around the phrase ‘once in a full moon’ as I never really knew if it meant something that’s impossible or something that’s really rare. I guess the literal translation would make it be more likely to mean a rare occurrence rather than in impossible one. While this seemed to be the case I couldn’t find a definite source for where the meaning came from, however I might have a deeper look another time. When you Google ‘once in a full moon’ it gives you ‘= 1.16699016 × 10-8 hertz’. This is an Easter egg playing on the literal translation of the phrase to mean occurring  in a calendar month in which there has already been a full moon, which happens every 2.7154 years. I find the literal – figurative cross over here really pleasing. I guess it’s kind of a pun and puns are always fun.


Language in the news: British Library blocks Hamlet

There’s currently a news story (here) about the British Library’s computers accidentally blocking access to Hamlet. While the initial reaction is “how ridiculous, the place you’d think would be the easiest to access it you can’t”, I think it does reinforce how much violence there actually is in Hamlet. Violence, mental health issues and suicide are all touched on in the play and in other contexts it may well seem acceptable to exclude such content from a safe search. Of course, then there’s the whole debate about whether there should be any restrictions at all on the content. Hamlet is one of my favourite books and plays but I think that watching actors play around with swords does distance you from the violence a bit, and in my own (slight idolisation) of Hamlet I almost forget how bloody it actually is.