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February 28, 2013

Words And Phrases - Old And New

New words and phrases emerge all the time in our language, and thanks to popular culture and its constant revisiting of historical eras, we see words used (or misused) in their original historical settings.

Shows like Downton Abbey and movies like...

...Lincoln, J.Edgar, and many more, show us phrases that may or may not sound familiar to us.

All versions of the English language seem to attract idioms and phrases that capture cultural or technological developments - and our cultural expressions - like television and film - express - and remind us of these terms.

Film and television script writers are not historians, however. We expect them to get most things right and vocabulary is only one element. Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, for example, worked on getting Abraham Lincoln's tone of voice just right.

Of course we don't have any recordings of Lincoln, but we do have first written accounts of the tone of his voice.

But then again, how many of us see a film to get a history lesson?

Do we really care if every detail of tone, or accent or even topic of conversation is historically precise?

Here's a link to an NPR segment on how much historical accuracy really matters - http://www.npr.org/2013/02/26/172955182/historical-vocab-when-we-get-it-wrong-does-it-matter.

And if you are interested in the 'back story' of some common idioms, you might want to take a look here - http://www.npr.org/2013/02/28/173060110/dictionary-of-idioms-gets-everybody-on-the-same-page.

Here's an example from their website; "Steal someone's thunder"

"This idiom for appropriating someone else's idea comes from an actual incident in the early 18th century. Playwright John Dennis rattled a sheet of tin to create a "thunder machine" for his play Appius and Virginia. A few days later, he heard the device used during a performance of Macbeth, leading him to exclaim, "They steal my thunder!""

Be sure to send us any words or phrases that puzzle you, and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing, constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Posted by mmorf at February 28, 2013 10:11 PM


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