In the home stretch of the presidential campaign trail, John McCain has been saying that his opponent Barack Obama is so sure that he's bound for the White House that he's already "measuring the drapes." It's a durable political expression, though very often it's said as "measuring for drapes" (which makes a bit more sense), and sometimes it's curtains that get presumptuously measured (for), rather than drapes. What's the difference, anyway? Continue reading...

Blog Excerpts

VT Bee @ OUP

On OUPblog (the official blog of Oxford University Press), Ben Zimmer sings the praises of the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee.

Today's question for Mailbag Friday comes from our own puzzlemaster, Brendan Emmett Quigley, who's been watching a lot of football. "What gives with all these sportscasters saying 'Team A out-physicaled Team B'? Physical, last time I checked, is an adjective and not a verb, right?"

Brendan's question reminds me of a saying attributed to the great philosopher Calvin (the one from "Calvin and Hobbes," of course): "Verbing weirds language." Continue reading...
Our old friend Orin Hargraves, who contributes our monthly Language Lounge feature, has a new book out called Slang Rules!: A Practical Guide for English Learners. We recently caught up with Orin to hear about how his book, a companion to Merriam-Webster's Advanced Learner's English Dictionary, illuminates the richness of American slang for a global audience of language learners. Continue reading...

It's time once again for Mailbag Friday! Marc T. of New York, NY writes: "John McCain recently said that he put his campaign on hold to work on the Senate bailout package because 'it's not my style to simply phone it in.' Why do we talk about doing something in a lackluster or perfunctory way as phoning it in? Who originally did the phoning in, anyway?"

The history of American slang is often illuminating, and this is no exception: tracing the origins of this expression tells an intriguing story about the intersection of the technological and the theatrical. Continue reading...
On the occasion of Noah Webster's 250th birthday, Dennis Baron assesses the legacy of the groundbreaking American lexicographer. Baron is professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois and writes regularly on linguistic issues at The Web of Language. Continue reading...
What will persist in our collective memory from last week's presidential debate, the second of three between John McCain and Barack Obama? The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that only two remarks will be remembered: McCain referring to Obama as "that one," and Obama's defense against charges of naivete, "that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears." McCain's "that one" has already become an ironic catchphrase, even generating a website selling "That One '08" T-shirts. But what's the deal with "green behind the ears"? Didn't Obama mean "wet behind the ears"? Continue reading...
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