Stump the Trivia Master With These Linguistic Facts

2 min read

If you pride yourself on your mastery of the English language, you probably already know how to use your apostrophes, and you might not need spell-check — but we bet we can surprise you with some linguistic trivia. Instead of correcting someone with their use of "its" when they clearly meant "it's," try to make a few friends by bonding over these quirks of the English language.

Keep It Short and Sweet

A complete sentence contains a subject and a verb. If you have these two parts of speech, you have a complete thought. Thus, the shortest sentence you can create in English is the short and sweet, “I am.” How very philosophical of you.

Building Blocks

Lots of words are borrowed from other languages, but even the building blocks have to come from somewhere. The word "alphabet" comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.

We Steal From Entertainment

Sometimes words are just downright funny. The “spam” in your junk email folder comes from a Monty Python skit. In it, a couple asks a waitress what’s being served and she replies, “Well, we have eggs and Spam, eggs, bacon, and Spam, eggs, sausage, bacon, and Spam, eggs, Spam, sausage, Spam, Spam, bacon, Spam, eggs and Spam, Spam, spinach and Spam.” Computer programmers began to reference the sketch to refer to floods of emails and data, and the spam in your inbox was born.

Don’t Leave Any Out

You’ve probably seen the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog” before, but do you know why it's so special? It uses every single letter of the alphabet, which makes it a pangram. Pangrams are commonly used to display different fonts or when testing keyboards, because you hit every letter key at least once.

Forget Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

The longest word in the English language is "Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis," and it refers to a type of lung disease caused by inhaling ash and dust. Try to sing that one, Mary Poppins.

Blame the Printer

Even dictionaries need copy editors. Sometimes a word makes it into the dictionary for one mistake or another, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. These words are called ghost words. For example, the nonexistent word “dord” appeared in the dictionary for eight years in the mid-20th century.

It’s Not for a Broken Leg

But it can help you out anyway. Crutch words are used frequently but give no added value to your sentence. Think: "like," "honestly," "basically," and "literally."

Turn Your Head Upside Down

Here’s a fun trick: Look at the word "SWIMS." Now flip it upside down. It still spells "SWIMS." Impress the little kid in your life by teaching them about these words, which are called "ambigrams."

Ask Your Pilot

English is the language of the skies. That means all pilots have to identify themselves and speak in English while talking to air traffic control, no matter their country of origin.

It’s a Girl Thing

Remember that language evolves. "Girl" used to be genderless. It simply meant "child," regardless of gender. At some point, boys got tired of being lumped in with girls, and we got the linguistic differentiation of boys and girls.

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