Sunday, 27 December 2009

Shakespeare overtaken in the neologism stakes by the Simpsons?

In The Age newspaper yesterday Ken Nguyen wrote about the perils of quoting from the Simpsons; he sets out a range of possible faux pas, the worst of which is 'to use any of the early seasons' self-consciously manufactured catchphrases' - Eat my shorts, for instance.

I won't be likely to make this faux pas, as I don't know any phrases from The Simpsons.

Not consciously, that is. But I may be more influenced by this television program than I realise. Nguyen refers to a comment by Mark Liberman of Language Log that The Simpsons has apparently taken over from Shakespeare and the Bible as our culture's greatest source of idioms, catchphrases and sundry other textual allusions.'

Liberman originally mentioned the idea only in passing, but it's spreading around the Net.

Considering that The Simpsons has now been around for twenty years I guess it could have had a massive impact on our vocabulary, but I'd doubt it could equal the huge number of nelogisms attributed to Shakespeare. Here's a piece from The Washington Post that quotes from Harper's Weekly:

If you had lived in Shakespeare's time you might not have ranked him as the best of the London dramatists. In the April issue of Harper's, Jonathan Bate explores how Shakespeare emerged to become the most famous writer in the world, and how his works have endured all the changes in taste and political fashion over the past four centuries. I can't find a (free) link to the story online, so I'm going to type in a passage on Shakespeare's neologisms. It's not true, Bate writes, that Shakespeare coined more English words than anyone else. But his coinage was still impressive:

'He gave us such verbs as "puke," "torture," "misquote," "gossip," "swagger," "blanket" (PoorTom's "blanket my loins" in Lear), and "champion" (Macbeth's "champion me to the utterance"). He invented the nouns "critic," "mountaineer," "pageantry," and "eyeball"; the adjectives "fashionable," "unreal," "blood-stained," "deafening," "majestic," and "domineering"; the adverbs "instinctively" and "obsequiously" in the sense of "behaving in the appropriate way to render obsequies for the dead." Many of Shakespeare's coinages are not new words but old words in new contexts (such as the application of "manager" to the entertainment business, with Midsummer Night's Dream's "manager of mirth") or new compounds or old words wrested to new grammatical usage. Although twenty-first-century electronic databases diminish the extent of Shakespeare's actual coinages, they immeasurably enrich our sense of the astonishingly multivalent, polysemous quality of his language.'


limom said...

The Simpson's may endear, but it will not endure.

parlance said...

I guess we won't be around to learn the answer to that one - maybe in a couple of hundred years Simpsons words will still be in common usage, but who can know?

theregatha said...

I have been watching a bit of the simpsons lately. Especially interested in the representation of 'religion' and spirituality, so taken with Ned Flanders character. Sadly it seems his approach is very fire and brimstone, do good, fundamentalism. Sadly, because I was hoping that such an iconic representation of modern US culture may be a bit mellowed on this subject. Anyhow parlance, my quest at present is to try and define the concept of spirituality. Any suggestions re the etimology of the word and possible reference?

parlance said...

theregatha, I've always assumed spirituality had something to do with the spirit, of course, but have never given it proper thought. I had a quick look at an etymology site and realised the work spirit has to do with breathing.
I thought it was a rather good overview at a humanist site, where they said,

If you look up the etymology of the word "spiritual," you’ll find that it derives from the Latin "spiritus," meaning "wind" or "breath." Standard dictionary definitions of spiritual contrast it with physical or material, so dualism is more or less built into the ordinary conception of spirituality.

The site is about how we can come up with a non-religious spirituality, so maybe it is the sort of thing you're looking for. I'm going to bookmark it for my own interest, actually.

theregatha said...

Thank you this is very helpful.

parlance said...

theregatha, do you know the daily email called "a word a day"? I get it each day and it's very interesting. Just search that phrase if you're interested, or I could give you the address if you have problem.

this week the words are all about religion and there's a reference to a book called 50 reasons People Give for Believing in a God

Looks interesting

Anonymous said...

This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

parlance said...

Anonymous, I'm glad it was helpful to you.

Anonymous said...

so very weird, i was just searching the Humanist sites re: spirituality again this morning, and then anonymous's comment alerted me to your blogg. An interesting reminder of how long i have been pondering this topic and/or avoiding writing about it.
thanks for the reminder