best post ever


By popular demand, here are the slides from my Ignite Portland 12 talk. I have to give extensive credit to my brother Connal for his help with ordering the slides, as well as making the graphs look incredibly slick. I also need to thank my mother for her endless supply of encouragement, and Robert for being my whimsical anchor.

Click here to see the slides in a new window: HUGHES IGNITE FINAL.

Video of my talk is now accessible here, through the Ignite Portland Youtube Channel.  I have also added it to an Encyclopedia Briannica playlist, where I will talk more about language topics just like this. Stay tuned.

What can I say? I’m proud of it.

EDIT: You can now get these slides, and more information on cutthroats, on my more respectable site,


November 15, 2013

in 2013,best post ever,career,compounds,Words & Origins

I have recently completed my master’s degree for Linguistics at the University of York. I am publishing the title and modified abstract for the 15000 word dissertation I submitted in September 2012 here as a reference for fellow linguists who may be be interested in obsolete English compounds and their link to language development. For any questions regarding the dissertation, Appendix A, or historical linguistics, please email: hughes.brianne at

=====ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃ =====

From Turncoats To Backstabbers: How Headedness and Word Order Determine the Productivity of Agentive and Instrumental Compounding in English

=====ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃ =====

Abstract: According to a study by Clark et al (1986), English-speaking children spontaneously create exocentric V+N (turncoat) compounds during the development of agentive and instrumental compounding. Historically, the turncoat pattern has low productivity in English. Appendix A (attached) is a chronological list of all of the known turncoat compounds that entered English between 1050 and 2009. Only two new words of this pattern have been created in the past fifty years: Xpel-air and Pesterchum.

Turncoat compounds are advantageous for children learning verb-object (VO) languages such as English and Spanish because the pattern mirrors the syntax. Forms which are simple and transparent in accordance to the headedness and word order of a language are productive for both children and adults. Patterns that are structurally unclear, or that conflict with syntactic features, will be abandoned.

The advantage of simplicity that turncoat compounds offer to children is outweighed by its unmarked structure and many semantic limitations. The synthetic N+V+er (backstabber) pattern, on the other hand, complies with the headedness of English, is not limited by semantic clumping or verb transitivity, and can describe neutral objects as productively as it can reductive insults. Backstabber compounds also flourish in West Germanic languages, which share right-headedness with English.

Turncoat compounds are memorable and evocative descriptors of objects and occupations, but because of their clash with the headedness of English, their productivity cannot be sustained. Turncoat compounds will never challenge backstabber compound productivity.

=====ʃʃʃʃʃʃʃ =====


October 21, 2012

in 2012,best post ever,career,compounds,dissertation,english,University of York,Words & Origins

So I’m looking at verb-noun compounds in English for my dissertation, which are not the most popular patterns around. Endocentric verb-nouns show up every so often in swimsuit, hovercraft, and shakeweight, but there have not been any new exocentric ones since carrycot in 1943. Other exocentric verb-nouns include killjoy, pickpocket, daredevil, and breakfast.

We have so many other patterns that V+N is not really missed, but the old words we have from the pattern are so fun that I’m tempted to try to force a new one into the world, and put it on a t-shirt and wear that t-shirt to nerd events. More about that in Part 2. But first…

[and then suddenly…]


June 29, 2012

in best post ever,compounds,Words & Origins

Back of kooBi Front of kooBi (with duckie)

My first computer was a laptop called kooBi. It was an iBook. Its accompanying iPod was called doPi. It was great, went to Spain, and got a lot of stickers on it. Then poor kooBi aged and got tired. The disc burner stopped working, and that kind of feature is important to me, so I got a new one, a MacBook which I named McBook. Its iPod shuffle sidekick was called McPod. For graduation in 2008, I was given an iPod Touch named iToca, which is still with me. McBooks life was tragically cut short when it drowned in the summer of 2009, leading me to buy a MacBook Pro. I’m very attached to my laptops, the first 2 are living in a box in California, and I’ve taken this new one with me everywhere (Korea, Walnut Creek, Germany). But! It doesn’t have a proper name.

After 3 years of companionship, it’s still the new guy, and there’s some kind of smugness that comes with the title Pro that I do not enjoy associating myself with. So… back in 2009 I covered up the MacBook Pro label with a sticker that no one understands, because it’s in Latin. The label says Vade Mecum.

[and then suddenly…]


April 17, 2012

in Autobiographical,best post ever,career,computers,history of language,latin,sex,Words & Origins

This is a companion post to last month’s Alcoholic Watergate Hamburgers post. (I just learned that a com-pan-ion is someone with whom you eat bread. So adorable.)

So my friend [ɦɑnɑ] has been playing Jeremina Paxmina for the University of York University Challenge team for the last few months, and while their fate in the tournament is a mystery until July, Hannah’s involvement in British quizzing got me to look into the serious fare offered in the UK. Here’s what I found: Serious British quiz shows are MEAN. They are unforgiving, humorless, exacting, and demanding of minutiae in zero seconds. I checked out University Challenge episodes on Youtube, as well as Only Connect, a Question of Genius, Countdown, Eggheads, and Mastermind.

My favorite of the bunch is Only Connect, which ruthlessly demands teams to find the connection between words with the fewest clues possible. (I made my own Only Connect Wall but I wasn’t able to upload it onto the site.) On the Champions of Champions episode last August, one question revealed the word Marathon, followed by Hamburger, Alcoholic, and finally Watergate. Having recently written about this, I knew the connection when I saw Hamburger.

[and then suddenly…]


March 22, 2012

in best post ever,career,english,greek,IPA,neologism,wordnik,Words & Origins,yiddish

I break into song a lot, and this trait seems to manifest exponentially during my radio show. Tonight, I was talking about Becky’s 366 Days in the Life photoblog and how I’m famous because of a picture when I heard someone open the door to the radio station. I couldn’t see them at first, and so I nervously sang “I hope they don’t kill me.”

Hear the clip: Don’t Kill Me

I’ve included the full 90 second arc from mentioning Becky’s blog to joyfully wishing Ali a happy birthday. I have done this as a study in panic and the danger of death question. I’m pretty sure it’s the best moment of any of my radio shows, including the 4 years at KDUP.

Subliminal Panda DJ (still alive)

Also Happy Birthday to Finnegan from Tinker’s people!


March 18, 2012

in Autobiographical,best post ever,end of the world,Music,singing,Subliminal Panda,University of York,URY

Does that title make you as happy as it makes me? Probably not, but let’s see if I can change that.

Linguistics Llama Knows What I’m Saying

Part 1: Ghoti is a satirical spelling of fish [fɪʃ]. It is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but he doesn’t take credit for it. Ghoti is used to mock spelling inconsistencies in English and advocate reform. (There’s a clever bunch who even say ghoti should be silent). I don’t deny it, English spelling is very irregular. It’s a Germanic language at heart, but with massive word-borrowing from French and Latin, and PTSD from the GVS (Great Vowel Shift). This is the phonetic thinking behind ghoti:

GH is [f] as in TOUGH
O is [ɪ] as in WOMEN
TI is [ʃ] as in NATION

Obviously, the ‘sh’ in nation needs a larger environment to have its unusual pronunciation, as in ghotion.  Likewise, ‘gh’ in tough needs to be syllable-final, as in roughotion [rʌfɪʃən]. That works, I guess, except for that tricky vowel. That silly vowel that makes people say WOAH-man. [and then suddenly…]

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January 24, 2012

in best post ever,career,english,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,IPA,Words & Origins

1. Four of Two – They Might Be Giants

2. Madeleine – Jacques Brel


November 7, 2011

in best list ever,best post ever,Music,Playlists,short list,tmbg

Boarding a flight from PDX to SJC, I sat in the window seat, waiting for the plane to fill. A man buckled in and settled into the aisle seat and then I realized- I was missing something important. I felt terrible, but asked the man to let me get by. I opened the overhead compartment, unzipped my backpack, and grabbed one little green thing. I closed everything up, swung back into my row, and felt relieved. What the man thought, I’ll never know. What I grabbed was Failte.

[and then suddenly…]


July 29, 2011

in best post ever,career,China,countries,europe,france,gaelic,korea,latin,Panda,pandas,travel

The University of York Coat of Arms

Most likely, the title of this post means nothing to you. For me, it was signpost in a series of cute irresistible signposts that suggested I go to the University of York in the fall to get my masters in Linguistics. [and then suddenly…]


July 20, 2011

in best post ever,career,Etymology,history of language,insignificant linguistics mystery,latin,University of York,Words & Origins