Linguist Michael Erard, the author of Um. .. Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean who we recently interviewed, graciously sent us this article, which he first wrote and published in the magazine Lingua Franca:
In a recent issue of the moderated e-mail list Linguist, Brown University anthropologist William O. Beeman addressed an odd phenomenon: Apparently, there is a different word for butterfly in every language, even though historical relationships and geographic contacts often suggest the words should be similar. Beeman called it "the butterfly problem."
They say that breaking up is hard to do, but English words seem to have just as hard a time of it forming stable relationships. This month in the Lounge we examine recent trends.
How do our words relate to our thoughts? What does language tell us about human nature? What are we doing, language-wise, when we swear, use innuendo or name our babies? Harvard professor Steven Pinker
examines these questions -- and much more -- in his terrific new book, The Stuff of Thought
. We had a fascinating conversation with him about his research into language and cognition:
Chef Terrance Brennan is the founder of Artisanal Premium Cheese, a company that practices the fine art of affinage -- the age-old craft of maturing and aging cheese to achieve peak flavor. He's also something of a cheese revolutionary -- a chef who's helped Americans discover and appreciate the sublime magic of handcrafted artisanal cheese (we'll get to that word in a minute). What better person to ask about cheese words?
Paste. "The body within the rind of the cheese, what the French call the 'pate.' In other words, the interior of the cheese."
Farmstead. "Cheese milked and produced from the same farm."
is something of an institution on the Internet, an online community started by computer-engineer-turned-linguist Anu Garg back in 1994 that now reaches more than 600,000 subscribers in 200 countries with its daily A.Word.A.Day newsletter. This email is more than just a new word every day: Anu also adds a daily, delicious quote from his extensive literary readings to inspire, challenge -- and surprise -- us. The Visual Thesaurus is proud to sponsor A.Word.A.Day and delighted to speak with Anu about his own, latest, book, on "the hidden lives and strange origins of words" entitled, The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two
. Our conversation: