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How do you refer to a person or people with characteristics outside the perceived norm? Why should you do so at all?
Describing a person as belonging to a certain race or ethnic group or having a physical or mental disability, or commenting on a provocative or embarrassing topic, is a challenge on more than one level. Linguist and cognitive science Steven Pinker has called the first level of challenge “the euphemistic treadmill,” a form of pejoration (a shift of meaning to a negative connotation or a less sophisticated sense) or semantic change (an alteration of meaning).
- The False Allure of Group Selection – Steven Pinker – The Edge (richarddawkins.net)
- On the Word ‘Racism’ and Some of its Definitions (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
Societal is the pedantic alternative to social. They both mean “pertaining to society,” but as the latter word, first attested in the Middle Ages, was increasingly used in the modern era to refer to interpersonal contact rather than in the context of complex forces within human populations, societal appeared in the latter part of the nineteenth century as a more serious, scholarly alternative. It is mostly seen in such usage and is otherwise considered pretentious.
- Social vs. Societal (dailywritingtips.com)
- Capitalism, the Superior Societal System (constitutionclub.org)
- On the True Devastation of Social Stigma (ofglassandpaper.com)
The Oxford English Dictionaryhas an insatiable appetite for new entries: Every three months, it expands its inventory with dozens of words. A recent newspaper article, however, sensationalized recent acquisitions by selectively announcing a pile of pop-culture-inspired terms, missing the whole point of a dictionary.
The OED, like most other dictionaries, is descriptivist: It describes the state of the language. Some descriptivist resources weigh in on the formality of given entries, or their acceptability by a panel of language experts. The procedure for approving candidate terms for inclusion varies, as dictionary staffs differ on how long a term should have been in general circulation before it earns the stamp of approval.
The German language has provided English with a huge inventory of words, many of them pertaining to music, science, and politics, thanks to the influence of German-speaking people on those areas of human endeavor. Here are some of the more useful German terms borrowed into English.
1. Achtung (“attention”): an imperative announcement used to obtain someone’s attention
2. Angst (“anxiety”): a feeling of apprehension
3. Blitz (“lightning”): used only literally in German, but in English refers to a sudden movement, such as a rush in a contact sport
4. Carabiner (“rifle”): an equivalent of the English word carbine, this truncation of karabinerhaken (“riflehook”) refers to a metal loop originally employed with ropes in mountaineering, rock climbing, and other sports and activities but now widely employed for more general uses
5. Delicatessen (“delicate eating”): a restaurant or food shop selling meats, cheeses, and delicacies
6. Doppelgänger (“double-goer”): in German, refers to a look-alike, but in English, the primary connotation is of a supernatural phenomenon — either a spirit or a duplicate person
- A Little German Goes a Long Way (bigguylittlecar.com)
- ‘The Story of English in 100 Words’: 1,400 Years of Linguistic History in Bite-Size Portions. Tasty! (Review) (popmatters.com)