Lessen vs. Lesson

Lexical Vexations

lessen 1. v . to decrease.

lesson 1. n. the presentation of information, a tutorial,  a teaching.

Words in the Wild: Simon’s driving lessons really seem to have lessened the frequency of his car accidents—he’s only had four of them this year.

I spotted a lessen trying to pass itself off as a lesson in a document I was editing last week. These words sound identical and on a cursory glance almost look identical, too. It’s an easy one to miss in your writing.

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

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Stephen Fry on the Evolution of Language

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Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Apocrust’ic, a. having a repelling power; astringent.

Word in the Wild: If you’re planning to make your own dandelion wine, do be sure the blossoms you pick haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, which will result in an unfortunately apocrustic vintage. Oh, and a poisonous one, too.

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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Le blogue des mots et mon voyage indirect et lent envers le bilinguisme

Je suis heureuse que vous avez me trouver dans tout l’internet. Comme vous pouvez deviner, j’aime beaucoup tous les mots, mêmes celles des langues que je ne parle pas si biens—le français, par exemple.

Je vais déménager à Montréal cet été, donc je faisais les efforts d’améliorer mon français. Je parlais avec les francophones très sympas, je lisais les romans et les nouvelles, et j’écrivais les courriels tous en français. Même si c’est difficile pour moi (qui est fière de ma maitrise de l’anglais et gênée de mes manques en français) de publier les articles qui je sais doivent avoir les fautes grammatiques, je vais, quand même, les écrire et les partager avec vous.

En fin de compte, il y a une seule méthode d’apprendre une nouvelle langue, et ça c’est de la pratiquer. Je vous inviter de correspondre avec moi. Dites-moi ce que vous voulez—corrigez mes fautes; partagez vos pensées sur les mots, le Montréal, le Québec, et n’importe de quoi d’autre; donnez-moi les recommandations pour les livres; demandez-moi les questions de la langue anglais ou ce qui vous intéressez! J’ai hâte de vous entendre.


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The History of Typography – Animated Short

The History of Typography – Animated Short from Ben Barrett-Forrest on Vimeo.

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The Evolution of the International Symbol of Access

Okay, so this post isn’t about a word per se, but I’m willing to stretch the purview of the Word Blog for a day, so I can share the evolution of the International Symbol of Access (ISA) with you. The ISA is part of a language read daily all over the globe: the language of ISO 7001 pictograms.


Unlike most languages and unlike the pictograms in most furniture-assembly instructions, the ISO 7001 pictograms have been carefully crafted to be quickly and easily  understood by almost everyone. They use very specific high-contrast colour schemes and line widths to represent all sorts of pressing health, safety, and travel concerns. But as carefully crafted as they are, even this language needs to evolve as the culture changes around it, which brings us to the ISA.

Brian Glenney and Sara Hendren of the Accessible Icon Project started looking hard at the existing ISA about 5 years ago, and what they saw was an image of mechanical passivity. The focus is on the chair. The person in it looks almost a part of it. Is that the chair’s back or the person’s, the person’s arms or the chair’s? Without the head at the top of the symbol, we might never know the chair was occupied at all. Glenney and Hendren were troubled by the inert qualities of the sign and the societal assumptions it inadvertently reinforced about people with disabilities. So they decided to make a new symbol of their own.

They began by making stickers of their new symbol and applying them over existing signage to make people rethink the symbol they’d grown accustomed to. As reported in Fast Company’s Co.Design, it started as a guerrilla art project, an effort to get viewers to rethink their assumptions. But it quickly became much more than that. People who saw the new symbols recognized the improvement—this new sign shows a person using a chair, not just occupying it. The new sign shows action and agency.

New ISA Symbol

The road from first concept to finished ISO 7001–compliant symbol involved a lot of iterations (which you can read about at Co.Design), but the new symbol has all the readability any word could want and has evolved to better reflect our culture. Like any other word or sign, it doesn’t speak to everyone—it’s been rightly pointed out that the image of a person in a wheelchair doesn’t visually represent all people with disabilities, but it goes much further to reflecting their agency and personhood than did the old sign. For these reasons the new sign has been met with enthusiasm and adoption of the sign is spreading quickly. For instance, as areas of New York City that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy are repaired, this new sign will be used to replace the old.

For more information about the evolution of the new ISA, check out the stories linked to from the Accessibility Icon Project’s Press page.

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It’s not lonely work; it’s quiet work.

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Vest-Pocket Vocabulary

Zetic’ula, n. a small private room.

Word in the Wild: After sharing a room with her sister for the past 8 years, Annicka needed a place of her own to gather her thoughts and hide her diary. She claimed the front-hall closet for her zeticula and begged her dad to find somewhere else to put the mound of coats she’d left in the hallway.

The provenance of this one has me stumped. This word doesn’t appear in the OED and it isn’t in Merriam-Webster, either. I wonder if it’s at all related to zetetic—after all, it seems as if a zeticula would make good surroundings for a zetetic conducting important research.

Can anyone out there hazard a guess at where this word comes from? I’d love to know.

You can find a complete listing of the Word Blog’s Vest-Pocket Vocabulary entries and learn more about where they come from here.

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Freedom to Read Week 2013

Freedom to Read 2013It can be easy to think that we don’t have to worry about censorship in Canada, that we can relax and let down our guard. It just isn’t true, though.

Censorship is an ongoing concern anywhere people create works that others don’t like. Which is pretty  much everywhere. Even Canada.

There are Freedom to Read events taking place across the country this week. Hopefully you can find one or two to attend. You can check out the calendar of events here.

If you live in Toronto, why not come out the the Toronto Reference Library this Friday at 7:00 p.m. for Beyond Book Burning: Disappearing Books in the Digital Age? This panel discussion will be hosted by PEN Canada and promises to be an illuminating look at the changing face of censorship.

If you can’t make it out to any of the events, you can still participate on your own. You could write to your MP expressing concern about the muzzling of government scientists. Or you could curl up with a classic Canadian book  like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Wars by Timothy Findley, both of which have faced challenges demanding their removal from school libraries and classrooms in recent years. If you want more inspiration, the Freedom to Read website has lots of suggestions for ways to get involved.

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