Have you ever struggled to explain a nuclear meltdown caused by an incredibly stupid mistake? You would have been grateful for alternative terms, such as "a core rearrangement caused by an ill-advised learning opportunity." You can find these terms and more in Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Books Language
Although turkeys were domesticated by Native Americans, turkey itself is not a Native American word. In this excerpt from a new book The Language of Food, linguist and Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky charts the complicated path the word turkey followed into English, then serves up a slice of etymological pecan pie. Continue reading...
Are you baffled by the perplexing terminology favored by American politicians and pundits? A new book by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark is here to help. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an informative and humorous guide to deciphering contemporary political lingo. Here we present an excerpt from the book's introduction. Continue reading...
"A breath of fresh air." "Few and far between." "At the end of the day." These are just a few of the clichés examined by Orin Hargraves, an experienced lexicographer and one of our regular contributors, in his new book It's Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches. In this excerpt, Hargraves explains how to "free your speech and writing of unneeded and detrimental clichés." Continue reading...
As Black History Month comes to a close, we are proud to feature a fantastic new reference book: Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. states in the foreword, it is an "impressively researched and documented collection of the finest thought produced by writers throughout the African diaspora." Here we present an excerpt from the preface by the book's editor, Retha Powers. Continue reading...

The Crossword Revolution

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Dec. 21, 2013 marks the hundredth anniversary of the crossword puzzle. But the crossword has come a long way since Arthur Wynne's first creation for The New York World. In a lively new book entitled The Curious History of the Crossword, Ben Tausig, himself a noted constructor and editor of crosswords, argues that the day Will Shortz took over the New York Times crossword 20 years ago marked a watershed moment in the puzzle's history. Continue reading...
Topics: Fun Language Words
Some punctuation marks hog the spotlight, like the versatile, omnipresent comma and the flirty, oft-abused semicolon. Question marks and exclamation marks — the good cop, bad cop of punctuation — are forever in your face. The period subtly but emphatically makes its presence known, while parentheses are off gossiping and tittering like teenage girls. These are the usual suspects most people think of when it comes to punctuation. Continue reading...
Topics: Books Language
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