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Former President George H.W. Bush was deep in nuclear negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The 1990 talks, focused on an arms control treaty, were suddenly interrupted when a seasoned Soviet interpreter made a critical mistake.

The interpreter, Igor Korchilov, said the word "verifying" in English, instead of "verified." Everyone in the White House Cabinet Room froze and turned toward him — including his boss.

Gorbachev quickly said: "No, no — I never said that."

Arguably, these eyebrows are on fleek.
Public Domain

We all have those words. The ones you hesitate to say because you've only ever seen them written (which have a large overlap with the ones you realize you've been using wrong for your entire life). Where do you go to be enlightened? To the dictionary, of course.

Merriam-Webster editor-in-chief Peter Sokolowski says the data from those lookups can move words onto a list of ones to watch - a status recently achieved by "thirst trap." 

Nearly 20 percent of people in Washington and 15 percent in Oregon speak a language other than English at home. Emergency managers from around the West are grappling with how to reach people in foreign languages in the midst of a disaster. A new Washington state law seeks to raise the bar.

Courtesy of Penquin Random House

As crazy as the world seems sometimes, author Steven Pinker argues our ancestors would most certainly envy us. From life expectancy and standards of health to general prosperity, peace and happiness, he argues we’re better off than they were — and don’t get him started on anesthesia.

Closeup of a dictionary page.
Flickr Photo/Marcy Leigh (CC BY 2.0)/flic.kr/p/Q34Sfh

"Moist."

Did you get a little grossed out reading that? If so, you're not alone. Moist is one of the most hated words in the American English language. But why do we have such strong feelings about an ostensibly neutral word?

If you were a teenage girl in 1997 you'd probably recognize the song "Everybody" by the Backstreet Boys. But if you heard it in the Salish language, would you still be able to sing along?

Keegan Heron can. He translated the song into Salish and performed it this week for the annual Salish Karaoke contest in Spokane, Wash. He's only been studying the indigenous language for about nine months.

"There's a lot of words that I didn't know two weeks ago," he says.

Heron teaches preschool on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana.

What’s the best way to learn a language? Salish teachers are using music and song to introduce their Native American language to new speakers. It’s a language spoken by many tribes across the Northwest.

Every year, a conference that celebrates Salish culminates in an annual karaoke contest in Spokane. Contestants have to translate a song and perform it in front of judges.

This week, nearly 500 teachers and students of Salish are in Spokane to celebrate the indigenous language. It’s considered ‘critically endangered,’ but tribal elders are optimistic that younger generations aren’t going to let the language disappear. 

Native speakers from across the Northwest and Canada are in Spokane this week to speak Salish and learn from those who teach it.

When it comes to meeting that special someone, we've gone from IRL to swiping right. Online dating has changed the way people meet and communicate — and as that old saying goes, when you're trying to find bae, communication is key.

With new ways to flirt, date and find love come new lingo to describe the adventures — or misadventures — of online dating.

As part of Morning Edition's series, What Makes Us Click, here are some words and terms in the online dating lexicon.

Bae

Forget losing weight. How about a more achievable New Year's resolution, like cutting back on swearing?

People curse for a variety of reasons, including social: they want to fit in, or seem cool or accessible. "But largely, people curse for emotional reasons, when we experience strong transcient emotions: anger, fear, surprise, elation, arousal," said Benjamin Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego.

Dictionary.com has selected "complicit" as its word of the year for 2017, citing the term's renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics — and noting that a refusal to be complicit has also been "a grounding force of 2017."

The website defines "complicit" as "choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity."

Courtesy of Zuheera Ali

My mom, my Hooyo, has a special way of teaching you so much about the world and so little about herself.

She tells you the parts of her life that are going to push you to succeed the way she did, without letting you see the struggles she went through.


It's not just what you say that matters. It's how you say it.

Take the phrase, "Here's Johnny." When Ed McMahon used it to introduce Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, the words were an enthusiastic greeting. But in The Shining, Jack Nicholson used the same two words to convey murderous intent.

With addiction such a prominent problem, experts say it’s time to use words that don’t carry judgement. Studies show that saying “addiction” instead of “substance abuse,” and “person with substance abuse disorder” instead of “junkie,” affects the treatment patients receive, as well as public policy.

Dr. Ralina Joseph and Sade Britt
KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter

Is it OK to call someone of color ethnic? What does half-white mean? 


Bill Radke talks with Roman Mars and Helen Zaltzman about the history of the term "sanctuary." Mars is the creator of the podcast 99% Invisible and Zaltzman is the creator of the language podcast The Allusionist. 

The campaign began under cover of darkness.

It opened with a skirmish or two in Bristol more than a decade ago — a superfluous apostrophe scratched off a street sign here, a possessive rendered plural with the stroke of some tape there.

But now, the battle between one mysterious man and the grammatical mistakes besieging the British city has spilled into the harsh light of international media.

Many of us feel irked when we hear people speaking "incorrectly." Whether it's using "like" a few too many times, or the word "literally" to mean "figuratively," we have a sense that there is a correct way to speak, and that that isn't it. While new speech patterns might be irritating, the linguist John McWhorter says they can't possibly be wrong. His new book is Words on the Move: Why English Won't and Can't Sit Still (Like Literally).

Professor Ralina Joseph at the University of Washington says to just start talking about race.
University of Washington

Why is race so hard to discuss? Ralina Joseph, founding director of the University of Washington’s Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity, talked about coded racial language, from Seattle liberals to Trump. This is a transcript from her interview, lightly edited for clarity.


Rewind to August 2015: Then-candidate Donald Trump is on stage in Cleveland at the first Republican presidential debate.

"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct," Trump tells the moderator, Fox News' Megyn Kelly. "I've been challenged by so many people and I don't, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time, either."

It has become a familiar story in a world bristling with live mics. A public figure is caught out using a vulgarity, and the media have to decide how to report the remark. Web media tend to be explicit, but the traditional media are more circumspect.

T
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

For the millions of Spanish-speaking Americans who caught the presidential debate on Univision Monday night, there was a familiar voice: Vicente de la Vega.

De la Vega was the simultaneous interpreter for Donald Trump during the debate broadcast — a role he's played at various times during the campaign. He's also the president and CEO of Precision Translating Services.

Flickr Photo/Lynn Friedman (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/d1c4F3

Bill Radke speaks with Benjamin K. Bergen about his new book, "What the F." In the book, Bergen explains why we find profanity so shocking, but also so appealing at the same time. Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at University of California San Diego. 

Grammar Alert: The case for the 'singular they'

Sep 1, 2016
Flickr Photo/Timothy Allen (CC BY SA 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8zZfU9

There’s a debate among wordsmiths over something called the "singular they".  That’s the gender-neutral pronoun, an alternative to the pronouns "he" and "she". 

An example: A parent wants their child to succeed. 


Amber Hayward and her sons
Courtesy of Amber Hayward

Amber Hayward's kids weren't sold when she started speaking Lushootseed at home. It sounded different and some of the words were hard to say. 

But Hayward kept at it. She made her bathroom, where she gets ready, an English-free zone. From there she hollered at her kids in Lushootseed to guide them through their morning routine: Brush your teeth, get dressed, wash your face. And in time, her kids got on board. 

What Does 'Radical Islam' Mean?

Jun 22, 2016

The tragedy in Orlando has prompted a debate over use of the term “radical Islam.” Here & Now‘s Robin Young talks with William McCants of the Brookings Institution about what the words mean, and why they are controversial.

Interview Highlights: William McCants

On the history of the term “radical Islam”

Confused about the word Eskimo?

Emojis were supposed to be the great equalizer: a language all its own capable of transcending borders and cultural differences.

Not so fast, say a group of researchers who found that different people had vastly different interpretations of some popular emojis. The researchers published their findings for GroupLens, a research lab based out of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

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