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10 Pointy Pieces of Slayer Slang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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The Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) universe, or the Buffyverse, has always been about more than dusting vampires and banishing demons. It's also been about language. Slang, neologisms, new word forms. English professor Michael Adams explores them all and more in Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Here we put a stake in 10 of our favorites on the 20th anniversary of the show's debut.

1. BUFFY

The Buffmyster. The Buffster. The Buffinator. Whatever you call her, she's the Chosen One. She also has a name that was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, perhaps because of Buffy Sainte-Marie—a Native Canadian singer prominent at the time—or the character Buffy on the sitcom Family Affair, which ran from 1966 to 1971.

In the movie Bring It On, the name refers to a stereotypical cheerleader: "Can we beat these Buffys down so I can go home?" It’s not clear if this refers to Buffy’s short stint as a cheerleader on the show although there is a Bring It On-BTVS connection: Three actors in the film—Eliza Dushku, Clare Kramer, and Nicole Bilderback—were also on Buffy as, respectively, Faith, Glory, and unnamed lackey of mean girl Cordelia Chase.

2. POINTY

"Punishing yourself like this is pointless," Giles says. "It's entirely pointy," Buffy responds. Pointy here means purposeful and meaningful—the opposite of pointless. It's also the nickname of Buffy's favorite vampire-slaying stake, Mr. Pointy.

3. SLAYAGE

The slaying of vampires, demons, or any otherworldly baddies. Adding the suffix -age is common in Buffyspeak, according to Adams. There’s saveage, as in "world saveage," and kissage, a term for kissing. Kissage was actually first used by Rudyard Kipling in 1886.

4. SITCH

Shortening or truncation is also a common technique. "What's the sitch?" Buffy asks. In other words, “What’s the situation?” According to show writer and linguist Jane Espenson, Buffy creator Joss Whedon has used "sitch" since at least his college days. “Sitch me” translates as “Bring me up to date on the situation.”

5. SCOOBY GANG

Also known as the Slayerettes and the Scoobies, the Scooby Gang's core members are Buffy, watcher/librarian Giles, witch Willow, and wisecracking everyman Xander. The gang also includes a rotating cast of characters such as Cordelia, vampire-with-a-soul Angel, and former demon Anya. Scooby Gang is named after the "meddling kids" from the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! A 2002 film version starred Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne.

6. FIVE BY FIVE

“As long as you don't go scratching at me or humping my leg,” rogue slayer Faith tells sometime-werewolf Oz, “we're five-by-five, you know?" This term meaning satisfied or good originally referred to the “the clarity of a radio signal,” Adams writes, “as measured according to five-point scales.” It originated in the 1940s as U.S. military slang.

Five by five made a recent reappearance in the Gilmore Girls revival, written by professed Buffy-holic Amy Sherman Palladino. "I’m five by five,” Rory says. “I was watching a Buffy marathon and some things stick.”

7. WIGGINS

"That place just gives me the wiggins," Buffy says. The wiggins is a state of fear, perhaps like an agitated version of “the creeps.” The term comes from 1950s slang wig out, to get excited or upset.

8. OVERSHARE

In the Buffy episode "Halloween," the slayer notes that Angel is “not exactly one to overshare." While not coined by the BTVS writers, this term for excessively sharing personal information may have been popularized by the show. Visual Thesaurus says an early usage is from 1996 while this episode of Buffy aired in 1997.

9. EDGE GIRL

"You really got some quality rage going. Really gives you an edge,” Faith tells Buffy. "Edge Girl," Buffy responds. "Just what I always wanted to be." Edge Girl is a play on It girl, a stylish and well-known young woman. The term "It girl" was coined by British writer Elinor Glyn in reference to silent film star Clara Bow, while “it” meaning sex appeal originated with Rudyard Kipling.

10. SCULLY

"I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me," Buffy says to Giles. Scully, of course, refers to skeptical Agent Dana Scully of The X-Files.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Something Something Soup Something
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      This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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      Something Something Soup Something

      Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

      That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

      Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

      The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

      You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

      [h/t Waypoint]

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