Topic:Usage

Last August, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries published a list of words that they were adding to their dictionaries. Among them was neckbeard, which is listed as "A growth of hair on a man's neck." But this self-describing definition is not why the term was added. More interestingly, the term connotes someone with "poor grooming habits" and who's "socially inept." Continue reading...
TOPICS: Language, Usage, Words
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Over the weekend, The New York Times presented an interactive quiz on newly prominent slang terms entitled "Are You On Fleek?" But what does "on fleek" mean, and how did it get to be such a trendy expression, especially on social media? Our resident linguist Neal Whitman investigates. Continue reading...
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In January, I took part in an interesting discussion on Twitter. Washington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh posted a headline: "Hole-in-the-walls: East, west, and downtown, 19 named." He asked, "Would you take your sister-in-laws to such a place?" Continue reading...
TOPICS: Grammar, Language, Usage
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The story of Steve Henderson — a software engineer bent on single-handedly fixing every use of the word comprise in Wikipedia entries where compose would be more appropriate — has captured the popular imagination. Yesterday, Southern California Public Radio invited our own Ben Zimmer to explain the difference and weigh in on the wisdom of Henderson's quest. Continue reading...
TOPICS: Grammar, Usage
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On the surface, and/or seems like a helpful but mostly harmless little phrase — a little ugly, perhaps, but still useful for those times when you want to be extra clear about what all the options are. Most people associate the phrase with legal writing, but it turns out that a surprising number of lawyers and judges hate it, claiming that it's actually unclear and thus impossible to interpret. Continue reading...
TOPICS: Usage, Words, Writing
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It's never easy picking a Euphemism of the Year. For 2014, it feels like a four-horse race—or should I say a four-pronged equine competition. My picks for EOTY are a Gwyneth Paltrow special and three other mounds of mumbo-jumbo. Read them and weep for clear, honest, non-sneaky language. Continue reading...
TOPICS: Fun, Usage, Words
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We have all seen this tired loop of "instruction": distribute word list, have students look up words, ask students to use the words in original sentences. While encouraging usage is never a bad idea, it's not realistic to expect students to pivot from definition to usage without guidance. We suggest ditching (or at least delaying) the idea of originality and instead asking students to model their sentences on usage examples written by those people who are especially skilled with using words: professional writers. Continue reading...
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