Words collide. A popular website, Pinterest, allows users to “pin” images of their favourite things to a virtual bulletin board. The idea, Whitney Friedlander wrote in the Los Angeles Times on April 29, is to post “images of your favourite platforms or coloured jeans, waiting for the social affirmation of a virtual thumbs-up” from other “pinners.”
The origin of the word Pinterest is simple enough. It crosses pin with interest. But it muscles in on the territory of another much-used word, Pinteresque, an adjective that describes the work of the late playwright Harold Pinter. If someone who pins her favourite jeans on Pinterest is making a Pinteresque gesture, the act (as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it) will be “characterized by implications of threat and strong feeling produced through colloquial language, apparent triviality, and long pauses.”
Perhaps those platform shoes are only seemingly flighty, and the happy display of treasured possessions or dream objects masks a seething competitive streak.
Elsewhere in Wordland, although poetry books and guides to proper grammar are common, it’s rare to find them combined. A year ago, a friend of mine circulated a few verses by one of her friends, Toronto editor and designer James Harbeck, who delighted not just in language but in the building blocks of language. Harbeck has now gathered his work into a book, Songs of Love & Grammar (www.lulu.com), and it’s an ingenious assortment.
Consider a poem about love and the well-placed ampersand. “She was r&y, I confess,/ but l&ed me in some distress/ when, after weeks of fun & joy,/ she p&ered to another boy....”
He complements his verses with footnotes explaining the grammatical devices and errors with which he toys. The eggcorn, for instance, is an incorrect word that sounds much like the correct one and may even have a plausible ring to it – the relationship of eggcorn to acorn.
The poem My Veil of Tears begins: “Oh, woeth me! I’ve fallen hard,/ hosted by my own petard!/ In one fowl swoop, my just desserts/ have been served up – and boy, it hurts! I have betrayed my love, but plead/ compulsion by deep-seeded need!” Another 66 lines follow, and then a page and a half noting all the eggcorns: “veil of tears (vale of tears), woeth me (woe is me), hosted by my own petard (hoist with my own petard), one fowl swoop (one fell swoop), just desserts (just deserts), deep-seeded (deep-seated)” and so on.
The mailbag brings a letter from reader Toni Allen, who wonders about the origin of “the cutting edge,” referring to the latest fashion or pioneering development.
As a simple description of a sharp edge, cutting edge has been around since the 1820s. Because the sharpest edge of a knife is the one that leads the way into new territory, writers began using the noun phrase in the 1850s to describe advances in research (something is “on the cutting edge”). Surprisingly, the adjective (as in cutting-edge research) appears to have been coined only in the 1970s.
The similar phrase “leading edge” was in use by 1877 to describe the forward edge of a moving object, but, again, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was first used in the sense of the forefront of technological change.
A third phrase, bleeding edge, popped up a couple of times last month in this newspaper. After an article referred to an appearance by the late rapper Tupac Shakur as “a clever use of bleeding-edge holographic projection,” letter-writer Rob Cruickshank countered that it “was a clever use of a bleeding-edge 19th-century magic trick known as Pepper’s Ghost.”
The bleeding edge has since the 1960s referred in cartography and printmaking to the edges of a printed image that bleed – carry over – beyond the usual margins of a page. In the 1980s, it was seized upon as a pun on leading edge and a play on cutting edge (cut, bleeding) to describe the latest scientific innovations.
Think of it as an intentional eggcorn.