Say you're reading the "About Us" page on a company's website, and they tell a little story about how they came up with a common word long ago, perhaps as part of an early advertising campaign or in the creation of a consumer product. Should you believe the story? Don't count on it! That's the lesson of my latest On Language column in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, exploring the tricky terrain of corporate etymology — or rather, etymythology. Continue reading...

Blog Excerpts

A Singular Blog

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A new usage of the word blog is emerging, and not everyone is happy about it. As Grant Barrett writes on the blog of the Copyediting newsletter, for some people blog can now mean "a single, dated, first-person post on a web site" rather than "an entire site of such posts." But according to an informal survey, most copy editors aren't on board with the new meaning. Continue reading...
Pay attention to the lyrics of the songs at the top of the pop charts these days, and you'll hear one slangy word used with surprising frequency: Imma (spelled in various different ways). Our resident linguist Neal Whitman investigates. Continue reading...
We welcome back Stan Carey, a professional editor from Ireland who writes entertainingly about the English language on his blog Sentence First. Here Stan cuts through the red tape to take a long look at the word bureaucracy. Continue reading...
This past weekend I was pleased to take part in the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society, held this year in Philadelphia. I was on a lively panel entitled "Your Grammar Questions Answered," with Merrill Perlman, who managed the copy desks at The New York Times for many years, and Bill Walsh, multiplatform editor for The Washington Post. For an hour and half, the ACES crowd peppered us with all manner of grammar questions, from the well-worn to the unexpected. Continue reading...
For this Sunday's "Health and Wellness" issue of The New York Times Magazine, I've contributed an "On Language" column looking at how we all started talking about wellness (as opposed to health) in the first place. The word has had an odd trajectory: from an occasional antonym of illness dating back to the 17th century, to an uneasy label for preventive and holistic approaches to health in the '70s and '80s, to an established element of our linguistic landscape in the '90s and beyond. Continue reading...
Last month, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced that it had acquired a dictionary owned by David Foster Wallace, as part of its extensive Wallace archive. Wallace's copy of the American Heritage Dictionary was full of words that the late writer had circled. The Ransom Center released a sampling of Wallace's circled words, but now Slate's Browbeat blog has revealed the complete list. It's a fascinating collection. Continue reading...
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