CONTRIBUTOR : Ben Zimmer

Ben Zimmer is executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. He is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society.
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We all know the old fairy tale: Goldilocks enters the house of the Three Bears and samples their porridge, their chairs, and their beds. Each time she finds one item that's "just right." In recent years, the familiar story has been making the rounds, with the word "Goldilocks" showing up in some unexpected contexts, from astronomy to economy. Continue reading...
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The persistent glitchiness of HealthCare.gov, the website implementing the Affordable Care Act, has given us much time to ponder that peculiar little word, glitch. As it happens, some new research on the word brings its origin, most likely from Yiddish, into a sharper perspective. Continue reading...
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With the government shutdown over and the default crisis averted, what many commentators called a "game of chicken" has finally ended on Capitol Hill. In my latest column for the Wall Street Journal, I take a look at how political stare-downs earned this appellation, and how chickens became animalistic symbols of cowardice in the first place. Continue reading...
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Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke foiled the predictions of many analysts that September would usher in tapering, or the gradual slowdown of the bond-buying policy that the Fed instituted to keep long-term interest rates low. Those analysts even had renamed the month Septaper, but now they're looking ahead to a possible Octaper. After that, it gets a bit harder to come up with clever month-blends. Continue reading...
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The situation in Syria has revived a number of well-worn foreign-policy phrases, from "boots on the ground" to "slam-dunks" and "smoking guns." As the American response to the conflict has involved far more in the way of words than deeds, it's worth taking a closer look at the words used by officials and commentators, no matter how hackneyed. Continue reading...
TOPICS: Politics, Usage, Words
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"We have to turn the page on the bubble-and-bust mentality," President Obama said in a recent weekly address. After the economic ruin of the housing bubble, it's hard to argue with that sentiment. But "bubbles" have long been with us — the metaphor of the bubble has been applied to fragile financial schemes for nearly three centuries, originating as a literary device. Continue reading...
TOPICS: Word Origins, Words
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With endless drama swirling around disgraced baseball players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, the word doping has been firmly ensconced in American sports headlines, just as it has been in international coverage of cycling and track and field. How doping came to refer to taking drugs to improve one's athletic performance, however, is a complicated story. Continue reading...
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1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 8-14 of 299 Articles