The Commonest 2-Syllable Words

Today’s Mental Floss Brain Game notes that the 25 most commonly used verbs in English are all one-syllable words and asks what #26 is, the most common two-syllable verb in the language.

And the answer is… (Go ahead and guess as you scroll down!)

become.

The number 27 verb is also a two-syllable word: include. However, you only have to go seven words down the list of commonest adjectives to find one that’s multi-syllabic: little. And only two nouns down to find person.

Of these, it’s interesting that only person makes the overall list of 100 commonest words. (Or people as it happens to be listed.) Bumping so many two-syllable nouns, verbs, and adjectives down the ranks are a slew of single-syllable conjunctions, articles, and other function words.

(Mental Floss’s Brain Game source, and mine, is “Facts About the Language” at Oxford Dictionaries.)

Grammar Burn!

“Don’t forget,” Mitt Romney said to President Obama at their first debate, “you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of breaks, into—into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this—this is not—this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.”

And Tesla CEO Elon Musk kept quiet. But this week, Tesla won Motor Trend’s prestigious Car of the Year award as the Model S (0-60 in under 6 seconds, ultra-quiet motor, no fuel) became the first car ever to win the award without a combustion engine. And he couldn’t help jabbing back at Mr. Romney’s calling his company a loser:

“In retrospect he was right about the object of that statement, but not the subject.”

(Found at Future Tense.)

Your AME Rules, My AME Sucks

So the word IZ plays for some Words With Friends players, and not for others. Judging by the big search engine hits for that post, many of you are ready to enter IZ in the dictionary only if its definition is something like “A perfect(ly awful) cocktail of neologism, meaninglessness, and competitive injustice.”

Here’s another one: AME.

I lost on that one this week: A buddy played it successfully; a few turns later I tried to take the lead and go out by playing it myself under his exact same word (my A beneath his M, my M under his E); and the game dictionary in my Kindle said, No! I still love you, WWF, but I might have to start calling you Not-Quite-Words With Friends.

(On the other hand, there’s this particular irony: M-W says AME (AmE, actually) means “American English.” The smile I got out of that almost made up for the bitter, bitter loss.)

An Exceptional Heist

Sometimes, it seems like we’re just pretending that there are rules about the use of ‘i’ and ‘e’ together.

We scored a eight steins of caffeine, a gneiss dreidel, a surfeit of codeine, and a beignet from that fraulein, all before reveille!

(Found at Grammarly.)

6 Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks

R.L. Stine (of the Goosebumps books) on the em-dash: “When a moment of true horror arises in a novel, there’s no better punctuation than a —”

Drew Magary (of GQ, Deadspin, et al) on the period: “What kind of asshole doesn’t give the reader a break once in a while? Get me to the period so that I can take a moment to digest and go eat a Pop Tart or something.”

Kurt Loder (film critic & TV personality) on the ellipsis: “The ellipsis acknowledges that everything about any subject can never be said—that there is always the possibility of deeper contemplation, the promise of further nattering…”

Maureen Corrigan (NPR book critic) on the semicolon: “The semicolon is my psychological metaphor, my mascot. It’s the punctuation mark that qualifies, hesitates, and ties together ideas and parts of a life that shot off in different directions.”

Peter Sokolowski (Merriam Webster lexicographer) on the colon:  “My favorite is a dictionary-specific mark of punctuation: the symbolic colon (which is a boldface colon). This colon is what immediately precedes the definition in every Merriam-Webster dictionary, and was established by Philip B. Gove, Editor-in-Chief of Webster’s Third Unabridged Dictionary.”

Peter Sheidlower (editor-at-large of the OED) on the space: “The humble space is the punctuation mark to beat. [The rest] are all seasonings. The meat of it is the space, and if you’ve ever tried to read manuscripts from the era before the space was regularly used, you’ll know just how important it is. It’s what gives us words instead of a big lump.”

(Found at The Atlantic Wire.)

2,848 Possible Poems in Silk, by Su Hui

Chinese poet and palindromist Su Hui lost her husband to a concubine in the fourth century. Her first response was timeless: she beat the woman up.

When this failed to assuage her grief or quell her love for her husband, but instead made things worse with him, her next response was timeless in a whole other way: She set out to win him back by composing an ingenious array of 841 characters that can be read forward, backward, horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Xuanjitu.GIFEach seven-character segment corresponds to a poetic line, and can be read in either direction. At the end of each segment, “you encounter a junction of meridians and can choose which direction to go,” explains anthologist David Hinton. “You can begin anywhere, and the poem ends after four lines have been chosen. This structure generates 2,848 possible poems.”

For example, the character 心, or heart, sits right in the center of the poem. The nine-character line 蘇氏詩圖璣璇始平心(reading counter-clockwise from the character directly to the left of 心) can be read as:

Su’s picture-poem of revolving possibilities starts hence, a heart at peace.

Or:

Su’s picture-poem of potentials revolves around a heart here at 始平 [the name of her hometown].

File:Su Hui with a palindrome.jpgShe stitched her gorgeous, navigable multi-verse in several colors on a small piece of silk and sent it to her husband. It is said that Su Hui’s husband was so moved that he sent away the concubine and rejoined her.

Amazing.

(Details about Su Hui found at Futility Closet & Late Monsoons. Images from Wikipedia.)