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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...

Blog Excerpts

Debatable Words

On Word Face-Off you can look at different word-based analyses of the second presidential debate between McCain and Obama.

It's a dirty little secret of lexicography that for every new word or meaning that gets added to a revised edition of a dictionary, something usually has to come out. Only the mammoth Oxford English Dictionary has the luxury of never doing away with old entries. Smaller dictionaries are expected to introduce new words with every edition, but they're usually mum about what is removed to keep the published work to a reasonable size. Collins English Dictionary, on the other hand, is taking a novel approach by announcing old words that are on the chopping block, in order to see which words the public thinks should earn a stay of execution. Continue reading...
Mark Peters' first article for the Visual Thesaurus ("Euphemtastic!") was such a hit that we've decided to make him a regular contributor. Every month he'll be sharing some outrageous euphemisms from his personal collection. Continue reading...

Jennifer A. of Concord, CA writes:

Recently, Apple launched some new products, including the new iPod Touch. According to the slide shown at the keynote presentation, this is the "funnest iPod ever." Ugh. I grew up with my parents correcting the use of funnest and funner so this is like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Not only was the word used in the presentation, but it's right there on the Apple.com homepage too.

Continue reading...
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