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January 14, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-01-14  |  4202 hit(s)

I missed last week due to being at a linguistics conference, but while I was there I picked up another batch of language-related terms:These are well known to real linguists (I presume), but new to me.

Anyway, those aside, it's time for another Saturday edition of Friday words (oops). Oh, and PS, Happy New Year!

The first new-to-me word this week (leaving aside the list above) is wikidrift, which defines a situation I am all too familiar with. This is the practice of (or game of, if one does it with intent) following links in Wikipedia from article to article. The drift part alludes to the notion of moving further and further away from the original starting point. A supposed outcome of unlimited wikidrift is that one eventually gets to the topic on philosophy.

My second term for this week is white-labeling, which came up at work recently. This is not a new term, and I'm a bit surprised I'd never heard it. (That I know of.) To white-label, is, in effect, to put your brand on something created by someone else. A typical example is a store brand, like Archway for Target, Lucerne for Safeway, and Kenmore for Sears.

The term apparently came from the music business, and specifically from the business of vinyl records. Demo or promo versions of new records were created before the artwork for the album was finished, and the record would be sent out to radio stations with only a blank white label. Thus the idea of a "blank" product that a seller could add their own information to.

For etymology today I've got myriad, meaning "a lot," as in There are myriad ways to say "a lot." Sure, I knew what the term means, but I didn't realize it had such a precise etymology: it's a Greek word meaning "ten thousand." Apparently the Greeks had a number system with a specific word for ten thousand.

The word has been used for centuries in English both to mean ten thousand of a thing and as term for "a countless number of specified things," as the OED has it. Still, if you run into one of those annoying people who insist that decimate can only mean "reduce by one-tenth," see if you can get then to admit that the only proper use for myriad is when they mean "ten thousand."

And speaking of numbers, read James Harbeck's writeup on using myriad, couple, and other numbers in The Week.

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