Swiping, Ghosting, Tinderella, and Phubbing: Relationships in the Age of Technology

In honor of launching our new podcast, Relationship Doctor, and his episode about three ways technology can ruin your relationships, I have the run-down on a few words related to online dating.

Swipe Right

First is “swipe right.” This phrase originally came from the dating app called Tinder because in the app, your swipe right on a profile to show you like that person. Your hottie isn’t notified that you’ve swiped right unless they have swiped right on you too, and then it’s a match. But unless you are both feeling good about each other, swiping right just tells the algorithm “I like this person” or maybe more generally “This is the kind of person I like; show me more like this.”

But “swipe right” has moved beyond dating both in apps and in real life, and people now use it more generally to say they like something. For example, you might see a hot fudge sundae and say, “I’d swipe right on that.” 

It’s not in the major serious dictionaries yet, but it’s been in Urban Dictionary since 2014.

Not surprisingly, “swipe left” means the opposite. You swipe left to say you’re not interested in someone on Tinder, and you can use “swipe left” as slang to say you don’t like something. 

Ghosting

Ghosting isn’t a new behavior, but technology makes it easier…or maybe harder.

Ghosting is when someone you’re dating cuts off communication and disappears, like a ghost. I got ghosted in college, but there wasn’t a verb for it back then. 

Today, when it’s so much easier to be in touch—when everyone is just a text message away—there’s really no denying that you’re being avoided. You can’t just say, “Maybe his roommate didn’t give him my message,” or “Maybe her answering machine is broken.” If someone is suddenly unavailable in every way, you’ve been ghosted.

The English word “ghost” is quite old and is one of the words that goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European so has similar words in related language. We get the noun “ghost” from the Old English word “gast.” But according to Etymonline, it also existed in Old Saxon (“gest”), Old Frisian (“jest”), Middle Dutch (“gheest”), Dutch (“geest”), and German (“…

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Eponyms: Words Named After People

An eponym is a word that’s based on a person’s name.

For example, Adolphe Sax was a Belgian instrument maker who brought a new instrument to a Victorian event in 1851 called The Great Exhibition. His main job was making flutes and clarinets, and his invention, which looks like something of a mash-up of those two instruments, was dubbed the “Saxophone.”

Other things that were named after people that you might know about include:

  • Braille, the language of raised dots that blind people can use to read, invented by Louis Braille
  • Scientific terms like Fahrenheit, Celsius, pasteurize, ampere, ohm, volt, and watt, all named after famous scientists
  • Terms we’ve covered before in the podcast or in my books, like guillotine, teddy bear, and bowdlerize.

The guillotine was named after Joseph Guillotin, who was opposed to the death penalty but lobbied for the device to be used for beheadings during the French Revolution because it was more humane. Teddy bears were named after US president Teddy Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a cute, captive bear on a hunting trip. Bowdlerize came from Thomas Bowdler and his sister Harriet, who liked to edit words they found offensive out of Shakespeare’s writing.

Today, I have more interesting eponym stories, including stories from our listeners.

Estelle

[From a listener] “Hi. My name is Biddy, and I’m in North Carolina. I have two family words that we’ve used all our lives. One is “Estelle” as a verb. We had a maid whose name was Estelle. She always like to stack things up to make the room look neat … and my father started asking where something was, and then when he couldn’t find it, he would say, “It’s been Estelled,” which means the maid hid it in a pile of papers. and my brother actually grew up and became an adult, and he was in college, and he use that verb, and he realized it was just in our family that we used it.”

Cardigan

Here’s one you’…

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Apostrophe Catastrophe (Part Two)

You didn’t realize it at the time, but last week was part I of apostrophes, and today is part II. Today’s topic is tough apostrophe issues.

How do You Make Singular Words Ending in S Possessive?

I said it in the last episode about apostrophes, and I’ll say it again: there are some confusing situations when it comes to apostrophes. For example, Christine, from Portland, Oregon; Judy from Traverse City, Michigan; Katy from Australia; Kristi from Washington, D.C.; and Rick from Las Vegas, Nevada, all asked how to make a singular word that ends in S possessive.

I know that this is a raging debate even at the highest levels of government because Tracey from Mountain View, California, and a listener named Arman both sent me a funny article a while ago describing U.S. Supreme Court squabbles over making the word “Kansas” possessive. Words such as “Kansas” that end with an S can be stumpers when it comes to apostrophes.

Is it “Kansas’s statute” with an apostrophe-S or “Kansas’ statute” with just an apostrophe at the end? 

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and left off the extra S, referring to “Kansas’ statute” with just an apostrophe at the end, whereas Justice David Souter wrote the dissenting opinion and used a double S at the end of “Kansas,” writing about “Kansas’s statute” with an apostrophe before the final S.

So who’s right? Well, they’re both right, and they really should have a Supreme Court style guide so their writing is consistent. They’re both right because this isn’t a rule; it’s a style choice. Justice Thomas, whose name ends with an S, seems to favor AP style, which recommends leaving off the extra S. 

AP style is Kansas’ 

Chicago Manual of Style Apostrophe Rules

Justice Souter seems to prefer the recommendations of The Chicago Manual of Style, which says to add the apostrophe-S to almost all singular nouns and names that end with S. 

Chicago style is Kansas’s

Chicago Manual of Style Apostrophe Exceptions

Chicago used to make exceptions for names with two or more syllables that end in an “eez” sound and nouns or names that end with an

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Ampersand

In the recent episode about vacation words, we said that you write the abbreviation for “rest and relaxation” with an ampersand—“R&R”—and I thought some of you might want more information about the ampersand because it’s an odd little symbol that used to be part of the alphabet, and it also turns out that it’s name is something of a mondegreen, a word based on a misunderstand or mishearing.

The History of the Ampersand

Nobody knows who invented the ampersand, according to Keith Houston, who writes the Shady Characters website about punctuation and symbols and has published a book by the same name. The earliest known use of an ampersand is in graffiti on a wall in Pompeii. 

The Latin word for “and” is “et,” and the ampersand symbol was originally formed as a blend of those two letters: E and T. Today, when letters are connected like this in typefaces, we call them ligatures. When I think of ligatures, I always think of the A and E you sometimes see connected in words like “encyclopædia.”

I can’t recommend the Shady Characters website to you enough if you’re interested in more history on the ampersand, or really any punctuation mark or symbol. Here’s one delightful line from Keith’s pages on the ampersand:

Sim­il­arly, the it­alic am­persand has be­come something of a play­ground for ty­po­graph­ers, and many it­alic am­persands are in­tric­ately de­signed works of art when com­pared to their con­form­ist ro­man coun­ter­parts.

And it’s true. Play around with typing ampersands in different fonts and then changing the text to italics to see the huge variety in how it’s styled.

The Ampersand Was Once Part of the Alphabet

So how is the name “ampersand” a mondegreen? Well, first you need to know that the ampersand used to be the last “letter” of the alphabet. Children would recite the end of the alphabet as “X, Y, Z, and per se and.” with that last “and” being the ampersand symbol. “Per se” is Latin for “by itself,” so they were essentially saying “X, Y, Z, and by itself and.”

And as an aside, back in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, they used a completely different rhyme from what kids today use to learn the alphabet called “Apple Pie…

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Spoonerisms, Mondegreens, Eggcorns, and Malapropisms

This is one of a few questions I got about mondegreens after I mentioned them in a recent episode about the poop emoji.

“Hi, Mignon. This is J.T. Morris from Evergreen, Texas. I’m a huge fan of Grammar Girl, and I just listened to the episode today in which you had a segment about an eggcorn related to the poop emoji. It was the word “holy” and the proper spelling of that in relation to that text. In listening to that segment, I realized I think I have been misusing the word “mondegreen.” I always assumed that what you referred to and as eggcorn was a mondegreen. So I would love some feedback on the differentiation between an eggcorn and a mondegreen for clarification purposes. Thanks so much, and yeah, I totally love the podcast. Bye!”

Thanks for the question, J.T. 

There are so many different kinds of errors that sometimes it seems overwhelming, but fortunately, a lot of them are funny, like thinking Creedence Clearwater Revival sang “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise” and saying something is a “little fit bunny” instead of a “little bit funny.” (1)

I’ll start with eggcorns and then explain how they’re different from mondegreens, and then we’ll also talk about spoonerisms and malapropisms because they’re similar too.

Mondegreens

Mondegreens happen when you mishear something, usually a song lyric, and create a new meaning. The Creedence “There’s a bathroom on the right” mistake is mondegreen, as it is when people listen to “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and hear “Olive, the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names” instead of “all of the other reindeer.”

The name “mondegreen” was coined by a writer named Sylvia Wright who misheard a line from a 17th-century Scottish ballad.

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl of O’ Moray,

And laid him on the green.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the future of word play), Wright heard the last line as “And Lady Mondegreen” instead of “And laid him on the green.”

Wright had imagined a second slaying victim where there was none, and when she discovered the error she decided to name the…

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Surprise! The Semicolon Is Exciting

Today, I have an interview with Cecelia Watson, author of a new book I absolutely loved called “Semicolon: The Past, Present,  and Future of a Misunderstood Mark.” Cecelia also teaches writing and humanities at Bard College in New York. We talked about how grammar writers in the 1800s became fabulously wealthy, struggled to create rules, and had vicious arguments; and we talked about how researching the book changed her approach to teaching writing and a whole bunch more.

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above or by finding the podcast on any podcasting app, but if you prefer to read it, we also have a complete (rough) transcript.

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Phenomenon or Phenomena

If you watched the children’s program Sesame Street growing up, you probably recognized the little bit I sang earlier. “Phenomenon, do do do do do.” Well, it turns out, I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, they were saying “phenomena,” but when I watched the clip on YouTube while I was working on this article, I realized they were saying a nonsense word: “manamanah.” Still, whenever I heard the word “phenomena,” I think of that Sesame Street skit, and I’m nearly certain I’ve heard other people refer to it too. And if you need a good laugh, the video is still funny after all these years.

Either way, “phenomena” and “manamanah” are fun words to say. I actually plan to talk with the Savvy Psychologist in a couple of months about why some words sound so much more pleasant than others, but for now, I’ll just help you remember the spellings of “phenomena” and “phenomenon” because they’re easy words to confuse.

Today, “phenomenon” means “a fact or a thing that happens,” and we usually use it to describe something extraordinary or at least unusual. For example, 

Ball lightning is one phenomenon I’ve never seen.”

“Phenomenon” comes to English from Greek through Latin. According to Etymonline, in Greek the word meant “that which is seen or appears,” so essentially the same thing it means today.

The singular is ‘phenomenon.’ The plural is ‘phenomena.’

Its meaning hasn’t changed, and you still make it plural like you make Greek words plural. The plural is “phenomena.”

It’s just like another word that came to English directly from Greek: “criterion.” That’s the singular form—“criterion”— just like “phenomenon” is singular, and it’s plural is “criteria,” which ends with an A just like the plural “phenomena.” 

He outlined all the criteria they were going to use to make their selection.

There are more strange phenomena on earth than you can possibly imagine.

Quick and Dirty Tip: To help you remember that “phenomenon” is the singular form of the word, remember…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

Phenomenon or Phenomena

If you watched the children’s program Sesame Street growing up, you probably recognized the little bit I sang earlier. “Phenomenon, do do do do do.” Well, it turns out, I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, they were saying “phenomena,” but when I watched the clip on YouTube while I was working on this article, I realized they were saying a nonsense word: “manamanah.” Still, whenever I heard the word “phenomena,” I think of that Sesame Street skit, and I’m nearly certain I’ve heard other people refer to it too. And if you need a good laugh, the video is still funny after all these years.

Either way, “phenomena” and “manamanah” are fun words to say. I actually plan to talk with the Savvy Psychologist in a couple of months about why some words sound so much more pleasant than others, but for now, I’ll just help you remember the spellings of “phenomena” and “phenomenon” because they’re easy words to confuse.

Today, “phenomenon” means “a fact or a thing that happens,” and we usually use it to describe something extraordinary or at least unusual. For example, 

Ball lightning is one phenomenon I’ve never seen.”

“Phenomenon” comes to English from Greek through Latin. According to Etymonline, in Greek the word meant “that which is seen or appears,” so essentially the same thing it means today.

The singular is ‘phenomenon.’ The plural is ‘phenomena.’

Its meaning hasn’t changed, and you still make it plural like you make Greek words plural. The plural is “phenomena.”

It’s just like another word that came to English directly from Greek: “criterion.” That’s the singular form—“criterion”— just like “phenomenon” is singular, and it’s plural is “criteria,” which ends with an A just like the plural “phenomena.” 

He outlined all the criteria they were going to use to make their selection.

There are more strange phenomena on earth than you can possibly imagine.

Quick and Dirty Tip: To help you remember that “phenomenon” is the singular form of the word, remember…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

'Phenomenon' or 'Phenomena'

If you watched the children’s program Sesame Street growing up, you probably recognized the little bit I sang earlier. “Phenomenon, do do do do do.” Well, it turns out, I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, they were saying “phenomena,” but when I watched the clip on YouTube while I was working on this article, I realized they were saying a nonsense word: “manamanah.” Still, whenever I heard the word “phenomena,” I think of that Sesame Street skit, and I’m nearly certain I’ve heard other people refer to it too. And if you need a good laugh, the video is still funny after all these years.

Either way, “phenomena” and “manamanah” are fun words to say. I actually plan to talk with the Savvy Psychologist in a couple of months about why some words sound so much more pleasant than others, but for now, I’ll just help you remember the spellings of “phenomena” and “phenomenon” because they’re easy words to confuse.

Today, “phenomenon” means “a fact or a thing that happens,” and we usually use it to describe something extraordinary or at least unusual. For example, 

Ball lightning is one phenomenon I’ve never seen.”

“Phenomenon” comes to English from Greek through Latin. According to Etymonline, in Greek the word meant “that which is seen or appears,” so essentially the same thing it means today.

The singular is ‘phenomenon.’ The plural is ‘phenomena.’

Its meaning hasn’t changed, and you still make it plural like you make Greek words plural. The plural is “phenomena.”

It’s just like another word that came to English directly from Greek: “criterion.” That’s the singular form—“criterion”— just like “phenomenon” is singular, and it’s plural is “criteria,” which ends with an A just like the plural “phenomena.” 

He outlined all the criteria they were going to use to make their selection.

There are more strange phenomena on earth than you can possibly imagine.

Quick and Dirty Tip: To help you remember that “phenomenon” is the singular form of the word, remember…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

Phenomenon or Phenomena

If you watched the children’s program Sesame Street growing up, you probably recognized the little bit I sang earlier. “Phenomenon, do do do do do.” Well, it turns out, I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, they were saying “phenomena,” but when I watched the clip on YouTube while I was working on this article, I realized they were saying a nonsense word: “manamanah.” Still, whenever I heard the word “phenomena,” I think of that Sesame Street skit, and I’m nearly certain I’ve heard other people refer to it too. And if you need a good laugh, the video is still funny after all these years.

Either way, “phenomena” and “manamanah” are fun words to say. I actually plan to talk with the Savvy Psychologist in a couple of months about why some words sound so much more pleasant than others, but for now, I’ll just help you remember the spellings of “phenomena” and “phenomenon” because they’re easy words to confuse.

Today, “phenomenon” means “a fact or a thing that happens,” and we usually use it to describe something extraordinary or at least unusual. For example, 

Ball lightning is one phenomenon I’ve never seen.”

“Phenomenon” comes to English from Greek through Latin. According to Etymonline, in Greek the word meant “that which is seen or appears,” so essentially the same thing it means today.

The singular is ‘phenomenon.’ The plural is ‘phenomena.’

Its meaning hasn’t changed, and you still make it plural like you make Greek words plural. The plural is “phenomena.”

It’s just like another word that came to English directly from Greek: “criterion.” That’s the singular form—“criterion”— just like “phenomenon” is singular, and it’s plural is “criteria,” which ends with an A just like the plural “phenomena.” 

He outlined all the criteria they were going to use to make their selection.

There are more strange phenomena on earth than you can possibly imagine.

Quick and Dirty Tip: To help you remember that “phenomenon” is the singular form of the word, remember…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

Phenomenon or Phenomena

If you watched the children’s program Sesame Street growing up, you probably recognized the little bit I sang earlier. “Phenomenon, do do do do do.” Well, it turns out, I was remembering it wrong. In my memory, they were saying “phenomena,” but when I watched the clip on YouTube while I was working on this article, I realized they were saying a nonsense word: “manamanah.” Still, whenever I heard the word “phenomena,” I think of that Sesame Street skit, and I’m nearly certain I’ve heard other people refer to it too. And if you need a good laugh, the video is still funny after all these years.

Either way, “phenomena” and “manamanah” are fun words to say. I actually plan to talk with the Savvy Psychologist in a couple of months about why some words sound so much more pleasant than others, but for now, I’ll just help you remember the spellings of “phenomena” and “phenomenon” because they’re easy words to confuse.

Today, “phenomenon” means “a fact or a thing that happens,” and we usually use it to describe something extraordinary or at least unusual. For example, 

Ball lightning is one phenomenon I’ve never seen.”

“Phenomenon” comes to English from Greek through Latin. According to Etymonline, in Greek the word meant “that which is seen or appears,” so essentially the same thing it means today.

The singular is ‘phenomenon.’ The plural is ‘phenomena.’

Its meaning hasn’t changed, and you still make it plural like you make Greek words plural. The plural is “phenomena.”

It’s just like another word that came to English directly from Greek: “criterion.” That’s the singular form—“criterion”— just like “phenomenon” is singular, and it’s plural is “criteria,” which ends with an A just like the plural “phenomena.” 

He outlined all the criteria they were going to use to make their selection.

There are more strange phenomena on earth than you can possibly imagine.

Quick and Dirty Tip: To help you remember that “phenomenon” is the singular form of the word, remember…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips

How and Why the Internet Is Changing Language

In this interview with Gretchen McCulloch of the All Things Linguistic blog and the podcast Lingthusiasm, we talked about Gretchen’s new book, “Because Internet.” These are the major things we talked about:

Why internet language isn’t a sign of laziness.

Why people tend to lowercase more words when writing on a digital medium.

Why you probably love words your family makes up but hate words your boss makes up.

Why Mark Twain wasn’t sure about the telephone.

Why older people will answer a phone call during dinner but younger people will text.

Why the weak ties of the internet make language change faster than it used to.

Why people edit keysmashes.

Why it’s possible to use emoji ungrammatically.

What we can learn from access to the informal language databases online.

How Gretchen created a special meaning for the word “Dijon.”

How emoji are like gestures.

You can listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above or by finding the podcast on any podcasting app, but if you prefer to read it, we also have a complete (rough) transcript.

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips