I have a confession to make. I know I’ve always been totally transparent here, perhaps even a little TMI. But maybe I’ve not been totally open about the full extent of my nerdiness. So, here it goes: I’m obsessed with language, more specifically with words. OK, maybe that’s not so surprising given that I’m a writer. But, like, I read dictionary entries for fun. Etymologies, the way words connect, synonyms, all that jazz…I care about it. If you do too, then this post is for you! Below is a list of the resources that basically completed the linguistics minor I never got around to in university.
Netflix’s History of Swear Words
I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m more excited by the fact that this series features Kory Stamper, the woman who got Merriam-Webster to update its definition of the B-word to include “offensive”, than I am by the fact that it features Nicolas Cage. Basically, if you, like me, have the very specific interest of watching comics wax poetic about their favorite swear words interspersed with PhDs dropping knowledge about the history and science of swearing, then watch History of Swear Words.
Langfocus is a YouTube channel in which a Canadian EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher named Paul Jorgensen shares his knowledge about different languages, dialects, creoles, slangs and language phenomena. He himself has seriously studied more than 10 languages and does extensive research for each video, often working with native speakers of the subject language. Like I said, Paul is a teacher, so, do be aware that the videos have a very “educational” tone. But, I, um, like that sort of thing.
The Origin of Everything
Sadly this YouTube show is now extinct, but of course, nothing really dies on the internet. Now, most of the “everything” explored on this PBS show was not language-related, but oh man, the semiotics of hashtags? Now that’s a classic. There’s also a lot of great stuff about sociolinguistics (like, race and the US census, for example). Also? Host Danielle Bainbridge is awesome sauce.
Urban Dictionary is a crowd-sourced slang dictionary. For this slot, I’m just gonna put some screenshots of entries for my name. Cause I’m a Melis like that.
I may or may not have a mug with one of these definitions on it…
Online Etymology Dictionary (& App!)
Did you know that the word “hi” entered the English language before “hello”? Or that “thou” was never more formal than “you”? If this was a TIL for you, clearly you need to get your butt over to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The folx over there use dozens of print sources so you don’t have to.
Chambers Thesaurus Desktop App
Okay, so there is a Chambers Thesaurus print edition and a website, but I’m all about the desktop app. It works offline (yay!) and only takes up a portion of the screen. In addition to being a writer, I’m an EFL teacher/copy editor and believe me, it’s a lifesaver when it comes to fixing Google Translate’s gaffs.
Yes, I love semicolons; however, I am actually talking about the book Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecilia Watson. Semicolons are definitely confusing; as it turns out, their history is even more so. This book taught me a lot about the general history of English grammar and punctuation as well; basically, there were no rules about punctuation for a very long time. So; do: whatever, you. Want?
Spanish Language Stuff
I’m putting this in one category because I don’t want the article to be half Spanish-language stuff, since idk how many of y’all speak Spanish. But, anyway, Spanish is a language (a muy important one at that), and I spend a lot of time using the internet to practice it. On YouTube, I love to watch Superholly. The bilingual former radio host has got two channels on which she shares her life stories and language lessons (many for Spanish-speaking learners of English, like the one below). I also love listening to podcasts, such as TED en Español. Of course, Netflix has come through for me too. Shows such as Élite, La Casa de Flores, standup comedy and even Narcos have been integral to improving my Spanish.
One last thing before I go…
The past, present, and the future walked into a bar…it was tense.
This article was originally published 1/12/21