Why Linguistics?

This is a guest post by Oli Rainford.

When explaining one of the major decisions of your life there’s often a temptation to glamorize the reasoning behind your choice, perhaps to imply that your past-self predicted the future importance of such a decision with weapons-grade foresight, so with that in mind,

Why did I choose to study Linguistics?

Maybe I had a revelation, some dream-borne epiphany that showered me in a ‘greater-meaning’.

Alternatively, perhaps whilst trekking in a land far-away, I was overcome by the languages around me, the beauty of the experience filling me with an inexplainable emotion that required I find out what a ‘wug’ is immediately.

Or, in a series of events that could rival the Lion King, perhaps a recently deceased relative appeared to me in the clouds with a cracking philosophical one-liner like ‘words are at the heart of all’, leading me on a quest to find out what that really means.

Are these the reasons I chose to study linguistics? Well, rather boringly, no.

I slept epiphany-less, like most teenagers, in my room at my parents’ house, both of whom are alive and well and live in Sussex, not somewhere renowned for its linguistic diversity or gap-year mystique. I spent my days doing what everyone else did, going to class and preparing for what was sold to us as ‘the most important part of our lives so far’, unburdened by anything that even vaguely resembled a higher calling.

That being said I did find things interesting, a lot of things actually; the run up to that year’s UCAS deadline saw me mull over numerous university courses. Human Geography, Toxicology, Journalism, Anatomy, Philosophy; all ideas I considered spending 3 years of my life on. I reached Linguistics about two weeks before UCAS forms were due to be submitted, and whilst on the one hand it may have seemed like the 6th subject to come to mind, and thus probably not a solid choice, there was something that set it apart from my other considerations.

I found all my other possibilities interesting, fascinating in a lot of cases. Take Toxicology as an example: did you know the chemical that makes poison ivy toxic is part of a group of chemicals also found in mangoes? Meaning that if you are allergic to mango, there’s a very high chance that poison ivy would do far more than leave you with a rash. Now, to me that is fascinating, but I totally appreciate that anybody else would find it uninteresting at the best of times, utterly tedious at the worst.

With Linguistics, however, it was different. Looking into course guides and suggested reading lists I was engrossed in what I found, discovering an enthusiasm that I hadn’t had for an academic subject in years, and the more I read the more I struggled to believe that anybody could find the study of language boring. At the time, had you asked why I chose linguistics, I probably would’ve supplied that as my answer, and if asked why I was so interested I probably would’ve answered something along the lines of, ‘I don’t know, I just am’.

As it turns out I did have reason for picking it, but as with most major life decisions, back then it was simply a strong gut feeling, one that I couldn’t put into words. However, 4 years later and armed with the gift of retrospect, I think I can articulate what it was that caused me to choose linguistics, and it didn’t come from a textbook or a lecture. It came from when I sat down and spoke to people about language.

Everybody has a view on language, an intuitive understanding built on a life of practice, and it was whilst observing this I discovered how revealing linguistics can be. When people sit and talk with you about any aspect of their language, it’s nearly always accompanied with personal experience, and more often than not those experiences aren’t grand or steeped in a deeper meaning, they’re about everyday life; bog-standard, boring, wonderful everyday life.

Because at the end of the day, the study of language is the study of something beautifully human; something so stupendously impressive yet so familiar and common at the same time. In Linguistics, no matter how complex a model becomes, or how deeply debated a question remains, the fact will always stand that that which we model and debate over is what allows us to model and debate in the first place. Language is such a part of humanity that now, having graduated, I firmly believe that to study it is to take a step towards understanding what it means to be a human, a bog-standard, boring, wonderful human.

To see the beauty in the everyday, the spectacular behind the boring, the innermost workings of the outermost nothings.

That is why I chose to study linguistics.

Is the importance of linguistic content in video advertising diminishing and does this matter?

Maynard says: ‘Chew chew chew chew…’Maynard says chew

This will never not be weird.

It seems to me that whenever we now see an advertising campaign, especially when in the online or video–format, the actual linguistic content and its importance becomes belittled. That’s not to say that the linguistic content of these adverts are not necessary, but rather that the emphasis is placed more on the bizarre imagery of the advert in the pursuit of a viral success.

Bizarre, you say? Take for example the very famous 2009 Cadbury ‘Eyebrow’ advert. This advert was very popular due to its parody-inspiring children moving their eyebrows impressively in time with Freestyle’s `Don’t Stop the Rock’ whilst waiting to have their school picture taken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5aDCrYUKIMo . A minute later the advert simply ends with `A glass and a half full of joy`; the Cadbury’s slogan  leaving you a little confused and amazed at the same time, especially after seeing the advert for the first time. At this point, you are now more distracted with the fact that you can’t make your eyebrows move that fast and ending up looking like a James Bond impression with a face full of trapped nerves.

My point being that the viral nature of an advertisement is more important than attention to the actual product itself – clearly, dancing eyebrows don’t usually have a connection with chocolate or… fame. It does rather seem that the entire point of the advertisements is more for the conversation afterwards between you and your friends:

`Have you seen that eyebrow advert? `

All of Cadbury’s adverts since 2009 this eccentric all-purple approach following the success of the eyebrows adverts (on fleek?) from men in tiny purple cars to hairdressers smashing chocolate. The entire purpose of the advert is to baffle you with a minute or less of strangeness so that you feel like you have to talk about it to everyone you know.

eyebrows on point

Eyebrow game strong?

Another good example is 2010’s `Maynard says chew`, an advert for Maynard Wine Gums; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5pBm2UBTF8. There is actual speech in this advert however, it consists of only one word; Chew. This ad follows people about their normal day-to-day business before they encounter a stuffed moose head which then proceeds to hypnotise them into chewing their wine gums as if he’s the long lost touchy-feely cousin of Futurama’s Hypotoad.

laser owl

Laser owls!

Fast forward 5 years and this is still a very popular advertising method. See Ribena’s new ad, `You Can’t Get Any more Ribenary`: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTOP6TOJwOI. As some of the many features of this advert is owls shooting lasers from their eyes wearing helicopter hats and I think you would agree this ad is of a similar bizarre calibre. In fact, the advert is so busy with flying blackcurrants, owls and bunny rabbits that it makes the ad easier to re-watch. The most-catchy aspect is definitely the music and after watching it 15 times, you’ll be humming the nonsensical lyrics too– zoobydoo zoobydoo…

Adverts have always had an air of oddness to them at points, but the influence of the internet and social media sharing has had to have had an effect. Perhaps with the rise of social media and the influence of the internet on commercialism, the visionary aspects of an advert have the most effect and this is just the winning format for success.

With this in mind, can it really be said to be a bad thing and does it actually matter? Often the more bizarre an advert, the more entertaining it is, the more likely it is to receive a positive response. What the ever changing nature of adverts does bring is new levels of creativity and diversity to advertising and a real-world scenario where a marketing executive can seriously suggest, `yeah, but what if the owls also shot Ribena-emitting lasers from their eyes? ` What’s not to like about that?



Image sources: www.coloribus.com, www.thedailymail.co.uk , www.tvadvertsongs.co.uk

Purity, Excellence and European- the true meaning behind brand names

Heinz, Starbucks, Sony, Kodak. These are just four of the hundreds of brand names we often see televised, bill-boarded, and purchased by ourselves on a daily basis. But how much do we actually know about these names and all the rest? After scouring the internet for answers, here are a few of my personal favourites:

  1. Häagen – Dazs
    If someone was to ask me to guess the reason behind this brand name, I’d say it was because it was a rich Danish guy’s creation. Clearly it had the intended effect, since the brand is entirely American and not Danish at all. Although the name does make the product feel more premium, the American’s lived up to their stereotype of ignorance by overlooking the fact that Danish doesn’t even use umlauts. Oops.
  1. Adidas
    I had to mention this one, as around the age of 10 somebody convinced me it stood for ‘After Dinner I Did A Shit’. Another more believable and popular belief is that it stands for ‘All Day I Dream About Sports’. Unfortunately neither is true, and the famous sportswear brand is actually a portmanteau of the founder’s name- Adolf (Adi) Drassler. Although a small part of me was hoping for the former, crude explanation I came across, I think anyone who owns an item from the brand is glad they’re not walking around sporting the name ‘Adolf’ in big bold letters.
  1. Nivea
    Niveus is apparently Latin for Snow White, and they wanted a name that reflected the colour of their signature skin cream. What better than the image of purity to go with white? So if you’re looking to feel better the morning after a night before, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of purity priced below £3.
  1. Venus- Gillette
    Gillette named their razor targeted at women after the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite- who we’re all aware of as being the Greek Goddess of love, sex, and fertility. If I’m honest, I could have done without the action of putting a razor to my skin being sexualised, but I am guilty of buying them for the pink handle.
  1. Durex
    An abbreviation of Durable Reliable Excellence. This had to make into my top 5 just for the contrast to the American bestselling condom brand Trojan, which brings up more imagery of viruses than the virility of the Trojan people they were aiming for.

By Natasha Nayga

Yo, Baby White!

Names have always put me in a bit of a quandary. I’ve never been one for nicknames, unless I’m being highly sarcastic (which if you know me well, is in fact most of the time). ‘Imogen’ seems to be abbreviated to all kinds of horrors; ‘Imy’, ‘Imo’, ‘Imy-G’, even ‘Starkinator’. I recall one time being mistaken for an ‘Emma-Jane’, but I’ll save that complaint for a future post. Being blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a surname like Stark, it’s difficult for me to stray from the world of Iron Man and Game of Thrones. Whilst I appreciate the witty nature of the pop culture references, the many times I’ve been asked if Tony was my dad or if winter is coming can get a little repetitive.

To be honest though, I’ve gotten away quite lightly with Stark. My other names (Imogen, Laura and Elizabeth) are all pretty standard these days, despite that they’re so ridiculously posh. Occasionally, I come across someone who compares me to the infamous Imogen Thomas from Big Brother. Just brilliant. (Please do not sing her jingle to me. Ever.)

Consider the poor sods who’ve been named after Disney’s latest fad, Frozen. Whilst Anna has been acceptable for quite some time, Elsa’s on the rise, and who’s to say whether or not a little Olaf will make an appearance soon?

Any Game of Thrones fan will know that Khaleesi and Daenerys are popular girl’s names since the series has hit new heights. I’ll admit that I quite like the two but I can’t imagine a world in which my daughter is called Daenerys Stark. Imagine the uproar about Targaryen vs Stark!

My largest disgust with baby names and pop culture stems from Peppa Pig. Any child named Peppa has now most likely been named after a pig. A cartoon pig. Who snorts. A lot. Really?!

However, I don’t have much opposition to Hazel, Augustus and Isaac from The Fault In Our Stars, probably because John Green is a literary god and any name his characters don will be acceptable. Likewise, Piper from Orange Is The New Black to me is fine… if you want your child to be known as the pretentious drug trafficker who had pie thrown for her. If OITNB is as popular as we think it is, are we going to see names such as Poussey and Crazy Eyes on the rise? Maybe Chocolate and Vanilla Swirl or Dandelion will make an appearance in future primary school registers.

Will Anastasia and Christian follow suit bearing in mind the unfortunate popularity of the recent 50 Shades franchise? Imagine knowing your name was chosen all because your Mum (or more worryingly, your Dad) read some cheesy sex novel?

Most importantly, can we just take a minute to think about the prospect of a baby Walter White or a little Jesse? Psycho Skyler and purple-obsessed Marie? Think about a young Hank whose first word would most definitely have to be “minerals”.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that most names these days have any number of connotations to some kind of pop culture reference, whether it be positive or negative. I’d be curious to find out the name of the next person you meet; think of any pop culture reference possible that’s related to their -perhaps unfortunate- name. Let me know in the comments if it tickles you!

Imogen Stark

Word of the Week

‘buckminsterfullerene’ (n.): An extremely stable form of pure carbon which has a cage-like structure consisting of interconnected pentagons and hexagons

See if you can slip that one into your next conversation!

Word of the Week – Friday 13th Edition


There is a lot suspicion and superstition surrounding Friday 13th and indeed, the number 13 itself. We don’t really know why. There are theories but for some it is simply unlucky and for others it simply isn’t. Regardless of your superstitions, here are some fantastic and strangely named phobias for just that!

First of all, the fear of the number 13:


Secondly, the fear of Friday the 13th:

‘paraskevidekatriaphobia’ or ‘friggatriskaidekaphobia’

Don’t ask us which you should be using because either way,  you are going to need good luck with that pronunciation, yeesh.



Sourced from: http://speculativegrammarian.tumblr.com – check out this site for other interesting `satirical` linguistics content.

Image sourced from: http://www.todayifoundout.com/

What’s in a (user)name?


Like most students, I’m no stranger to procrastination; it can be incredibly hard knuckling down to one task when there’s just so much interesting stuff out there. One morning not so long ago, I was finding it particularly difficult to focus. I’d already checked my emails, caught up with the latest news (via both the BBC and Facebook) and ‘spent’ an impressive £300 I didn’t have browsing on ASOS. I knew I should be starting my assignment, but no. Instead, I told myself ‘just a couple more minutes’ and turned to one of the most dangerous sites known to modern procrastinators: Youtube.

In my defence, I wasn’t intending to just trawl aimlessly through videos of animals looking cute and people making fools of themselves. I was simply going to log into my account, check my stats, and log out again. However, when I logged in and found (much to my amazement) that I’d topped 1,000 subscribers, my plan went out the window. 1,000 people, all interested in my videos! I had to take a closer look.

As I scrolled through my list of followers, I found myself thinking more and more about the usernames people had chosen. What did they say about their owners? Was ‘John123’* really just an average, slightly unimaginative bloke called John? (Quite possibly.) Was ‘catwoman23’ really the batty old lady with 23 cats who immediately popped into my head? (Perhaps not.) Names ranged from fairly unremarkable to a bit quirky to just plain bizarre, but they always, always seemed to cause me to make some sort of general assumptions about character. And those assumptions fascinated me.

Offline, we have relatively little control over our names. But online, we are given chance after chance to come up with our very own label. Pretty much every major website seems to require a username in some form or another, and in choosing that short combination of characters, we’re influencing the way we are going to be seen.

On sites like Youtube, most people won’t suffer any real harm from posting under a slightly questionable username. Okay, so a more outlandish choice might spark the odd curious/bemused/witty comment from a fellow user, but as long as it’s not offensive, it’s unlikely to cause any real problems. Elsewhere, though, and a username might be really quite significant. Take ebay, for example. Common items can be listed by hundreds of different people, all competing for business. When prices and ratings are comparable, how do you choose where to go? Personally, I look at the names. Whoever I get the best vibe from, I buy from.

It’s quite frightening, really. There are so many possibilities, and even subtle variations might prompt very different judgements. What makes it even more complicated is that it’s all so subjective. A name that sounds clever to one person might make another immediately conclude, ‘try-hard’. A more fun, playful name might seem plain childish to somebody else. It’s impossible to know how much or in what ways our usernames influence other people, but it’s worth thinking about. They may not seem like much, but at the end of the day we’ve singled out those specific combinations of characters to represent ourselves. As with all our language choices, it would be foolish to think that they don’t have any consequences.


*All usernames in this post are fictitious and are not intended to bear any resemblance to real online users.