“To adapt a biblical comparison, it seems easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a new word to take residence in the permanent vocabulary of a language,” according to Dr. Allan Metcalf (PhD), professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill. and an occasional contributor to the “Lingua Franca” blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“I can confidently say that the odds of a neologism becoming part of our permanent vocabulary are not nearly as long as the odds of winning half-a-billion dollars with a Powerball ticket,” Dr. Metcalf wrote in a 2012 post, in which he reviewed the factors he has identified as contributing to the longevity of new words:
- Frequency of use
- Diversity of users and situations
- Generation of other forms and meanings
- Endurance of the concept
If the wording of that list seems a bit — how shall we say? “tortured”? — he said he arranged them to spell FUDGE. Before you roll your eyes, keep in mind the similarly tortured (and worse) names of some clinical trials.
The most important of the five factors, Dr. Metcalf said, is unobtrusiveness. “Consciously-coined neologisms generally are in-your-face with cleverness or humor,” he wrote. “We admire and laugh at them, but we don’t adopt them. Sometimes, though, the cleverness and humor are forgotten, and a once-funny term becomes permanent.”
Keep these FUDGE factors in mind as new words and phrases appear in posts headed “Word Watch” here.
I know better than to judge an entire story by a headline — or in the case, a cutline (commonly known as a caption) on a Page One picture. I hoped this cutline (newspaper-speak for the text below a photo; a “caption” is the photo’s “headline”) was just meant to draw me into the paper, where the full story actually appeared on page A18:
“Adrienne Lotton, a 34-year-old veterinarian, was accepted into a drug trial to treat her advanced melanoma. But she landed in the control group of patients, who didn’t get the drug. Should a life potentially hinge on a random selection?” Continue reading →
The plethora of meteorological indexes — wind chill factor, humidex, UV index, air quality index, pollen counts — may have to make room for a new “slipperiness score” proposed by clinicians at the University of Michigan.
The researchers, led by two surgeons, analyzed a sample of U.S. Medicare claims from 2007 for distal radius fracture (a cohort of 21,507 patients, or 25% of all of Medicare beneficiaries with distal radius fractures that year) and correlated the diagnoses with weather data for the date and location of each injury in the cohort.
From that analysis, they devised a novel “slipperiness score,” from zero to seven, for the severity of slippery weather conditions. Continue reading →
The Globe and Mail took a bit of flak last week for a “Health Advisor” blog post by a homeopath on “Eight easy, natural ways to keep the flu at bay.”
Today, the Globe‘s public editor Sylvia Stead issued a mea culpa of sorts. In her article, she noted that the blog post had “garnered criticism” in six of the eight comments posted to it and on social media. The criticisms were that the recommendations of Bruce Wylde, the blogger in question — including raw onion juice, honey, garlic, probiotics and an “immune-boosting” soup containing astragalus root, shiitake mushrooms, onions and tumeric — lacked evidence.
“I think there should be a bias toward medical professionals writing about medicine and, while there is room for some coverage on alternative or homeopathic treatments, care should be taken to always balance such coverage with a doctor’s or other medical professional’s experience and expertise,” Stead wrote in the column titled “Homeopath’s advice needs to be balanced.” Continue reading →