Field Notes — 05.06.14

Field Notes headerThis week, we’ve got three articles that each take a look at ways that language functions in ‘real-life,’ from rap to Russia to grad school classrooms.  Read on for the full stories.

Yeezy or the Bard: Who’s the Better Wordsmith?

Anyone who ever completed high school has heard of the Bard’s linguistic prowess.  Shakespeare is reputed to have used more than 800,000 unique words in his works — many of which he coined himself.  But what about the wordsmiths of our generation?  This NPR article summarizes a recent study that charted the vocabularies of hip hop artists in comparison to Shakespeare and Herman Melville.  Their results?  Surprising.  They found that Shakespeare was out-worded by 15 rappers and Melville was topped by three.

Vladimir Putin’s Four Dirty Words

On Monday, Vladimir Putin signed new legislation that outlaws profanity from movies, theater productions, and concerts.  Russia’s flexible “lexicon of profanity”, though, has been a part of its culture and publications for hundreds of years.  This piece from The New Yorker describes the implications of attempting to change the language of the people and considers the idea of artistic license in relation to the new legislation.

Bubble Vocabulary: The words you almost know, sometimes use, but are frequently unsure of

In an article that seems particularly pertinent to grad students, Seth Stevenson at Slate describes the moments when “we brush up against the ceilings of our personal lexicons.”  An encouraging read, Stevenson stresses that you’re not the only person who’s mispronounced palliative or has only a faint understanding of sui generis and prima facie.  He argues that the best way to expand your vocabulary is to use those words that you secretly question in your head.

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