Monday, February 25, 2013

New words

I learned a new word. It's isogloss.

I like words. I've been a professional writer for most of my working life: journalist, public relations officer, communications manager. They are my talent, so it's quite rare when I learn a new one. I've already added it to my 26 words A-Z page .

One of the things about being a professional wordsmith is that I pride myself on being able to dissect words to work out what they might mean. I had no idea with this one.

The first part of the word, iso-, is derived from the Greek isos. It means 'equal'. It's sort of like the stem of isobar (a line on a map that shows connected points of equal pressure).  Or isomer (a compound with an identical chemical formula to another substance, but with differently-shaped molecules, like diamond and graphite).

The second part, -gloss, escaped me at first. It wasn't until I knew what the word meant that I made the connection. Like glossary, it's to do with language. In fact -gloss also derives from Greek, from the word glossa, meaning language.

So an isogloss is a line that defines the limit of a language, or more accurately in the study of linguistics, the limit of a dialect. It's the point at which "our 'ouse" (the way I pronounce the word) becomes "are 'arse" (the way they pronounce it in South Yorkshire).  Or similar boundaries in other parts of the country.

If you read my other blogs you'll know that this kind of thing fascinates me. I recently wrote a post about how different accents affect people's perception of the speaker. I discovered this word in a radio broadcast by the poet Ian McMillan called The 'Arse that Jack Built. It's still available online. Take a listen.

2 comments:

snafu said...

Interesting new word and the link was funny, I like the ice cream one causing confusion.
One of the funniest things I know about accents, is that Butch Casidy, as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, came from the same town as George Formby and presumably they sounded similar. No wonder he took to crime.

Stew Adams said...

All those words that sound the same or even spelled the same and mean different things only exist to confuse us.