For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word. Continue reading...
Pluto is coming into startingly sharp focus, thanks to the first images and data received from the space probe New Horizons last week. As we learn more about this distant cousin of Earth, we're also expanding our linguistic horizons. Here's a closer look at some of the words and names in the Plutonian news. Continue reading...
This week's publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-dormant sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, has gotten a tune running through my head: "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." Two titles, same number of syllables, and the same syntactic structure, right down to the use of go plus another verb right next to it. But how do both those verbs fit into the place where just one verb should go? Continue reading...
The news coming out of Greece these days can be downright perplexing, leading many in the news media to recycle the old phrase, "It's all Greek to me." I talked to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered about the origin of the expression. Continue reading...
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
Did that headline peak your interest? Or did it pique it? I'm waiting with baited breath for your answer. Or would that be bated? All of us have a tendency to replace a fossilized word, whose nuances have been lost, with a more standard definition of that word or a different word entirely. Through this process, phrases, like words, can change meaning over time. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Words Language
It's NBA Finals time—a time I love. I've been watching the NBA since I was a wee lad, back in the mythical time of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the Minotaur. (I think the Minotaur played for Portland, but let me fact-check that.) Continue reading...
Topics: Words Fun Language
1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 1-7 of 436 Articles