January 10, 2007

Semantic drift in the classroom

Amazingly enough, the string {"making off with tons of booty"} is unknown to Google.

[Update -- David Denison writes:

Nice cartoon on Language Log just now. Just to tell you that it's happened to me. In a history of the lang. class a couple of years ago I used the word booty in its original sense, not so much cluelessly as thoughtlessly - didn't see the risk till the word was leaving my lips - and sparked a fit of the giggles in a couple of students. Had to come over all stern and middle-aged.

But the piece about the Sunday Times was more important, and horribly dispiriting. I'd love to believe your closing sentence.

Keep up the good work - Language Log is a much better excuse for not getting on with my own work than almost any others I've been able to come up with.


[Update #2 -- Dennis Paul Himes writes:

The first thing I noticed about that Zits "booty" comic when I read it was that the teacher's statement was just as correct for the students' alternate meaning of "booty" as it was for the intended meaning. DNA analysis of Icelanders has confirmed that their ancestry contains a great deal of Celtic booty.

A truly generation-bridging response!]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 10, 2007 07:22 AM