Language / XML · 2005-05-01

The Language Log

A while back I followed a link somewhere at Michael Kaplan’s blog to the Language Log. This site offers up a steady stream of linguistic insights and tidbits that are just plain fun to read. One discussion is about “words needed for words used for special reasons”:

I’ve recently come across another kind of communicative act whereby words are used for something other than their conventional effect, in a way that doesn’t seem to have a conventional name. This is where you say something not because you mean it, exactly, but because it gives you a chance to use a word or phrase you’ve been saving up.

Make sure to read the whole entry to see an example of this phenomenon in comic-strip form. I can think of another halfway famous example: “I hope not sporadically!” In the technical documentation world, DocBook provides the wordasword element, which is for when you want to revert to a regular English (or whatever) meaning after having twisted a word all out of shape for some technical purpose; depending on whether you see technical jargon as “conventional” or “unconventional” usage, wordasword is either used for examples of this phenomenon or as an antidote to them…

The post never does find the word it’s looking for, but it eventually alights on a discussion of the Nihilartikel, a fake dictionary or encyclopedia entry created for playful or copyright-trap reasons. LRF should count as a Nihilartikel, at least on a metaphorical level — shall we call it a Nihilwort?

UPDATE: Ben Hyde had me laughing out loud with his response to what you call the communicative act of using a word because you’ve been saving it up:

I thought the word for that was blogging.