Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Benjamin Franklin and the Basketball Playing Linguist

Neologism (nee-ol-uh-jiz-uhm): n. 1. a new word or phrase. 2. the introduction of new words or meanings of words

Benjamin Franklin once said of neologisms that “I cannot but wish the usage of our tongue permitted making new words.” The interesting thing about living languages, is the manner in which they get updated-sometimes purposely, other times accidentally, often times incidentally. One addition English has enjoyed is the slang phrase, “my bad,” a small, two word apology for a slight mistake.

That phrase was coined by former NBA defensive player of the year Manut Bol who died this past Saturday of acute kidney failure. The wording originated from his broken English and, like many trends in history, caught on unexpectedly-even inexplicably. The 7'7” Sudanese center was famous for a myriad of things: a distinguished if not peculiar basketball career, killing a lion with a spear while working as a cowherder, and perhaps most importantly, his selfless charity work towards the end of his life. But his diminutive contribution to our language, a two word phrase, assures him a special place in the hall of fame for sports-loving philologists like myself. I can't help but think that perhaps somewhere in heaven Dr. Franklin, the original American polymath, is meeting a new Scrabble partner.

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