CONTRIBUTOR : Ben Zimmer

Ben Zimmer is executive editor of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus. 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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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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The eagerly anticipated final season of "Breaking Bad" has led to a lot of viewers catching up on past episodes marathon-style. For my latest Wall Street Journal column, I use this moment of mass-media consumption to dive into the history of "binge-watching." Continue reading...
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For my most recent "Word on the Street" column in the Wall Street Journal, I consider the history of a word very much in the news: drone, referring to a pilotless aircraft guided by remote control. It turns out the term has been on a long, strange trip from early prototypes in the 1930s to the current controversial U.S. program of covert drone strikes. Continue reading...
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Edward Snowden's leaking of National Security Agency information has put the term whistleblower back in the news. Since the early 1970s, whistleblower has come to be seen as a positive term, but before that it had been decidedly negative for many decades. Continue reading...
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Some stories about word origins recall the old Italian saying, se è non vero, è ben trovato: even if it is not true, it is well invented. One such too-good-to-check story involves the sporting usage of upset, which, it is said, came to be because an unfavored horse named Upset beat the great thoroughbred Man o' War. Continue reading...
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3 4 5 6 7 Displaying 29-35 of 317 Articles