What would graduation season be without complaints about the misuse of the verb graduate? Usage guides these days warn against using graduate as a transitive verb, as in "She graduated college," or "He never graduated high school." The standard phrasing uses the preposition from: "She graduated from college"; "He never graduated from high school." Continue reading...
A few weeks ago, we reported on a mini-controversy stemming from the raid of Osama bin Laden, where the code name "Geronimo" was used. That drew the ire of some Native American groups who saw an unfortunate equivalence being drawn to a legendary warrior. Now we have a new code name controversy: for President Obama's visit to the United Kingdom, Scotland Yard has used the code name "Chalaque," which some newspapers have explained as a Punjabi word meaning "smart alec." Continue reading...
Last week we heard from Mike Pope, a technical writer and editor at Microsoft, about how mathematical terms evolve in common usage. Now Mike introduces us to some unusual jargon in the computer programming community. Continue reading...

Blog Excerpts

Words of 1911

On his site Wordorigins.org, David Wilton has started a series of posts on "words first used in English for a particular year," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In his first post, he begins with the year 1911. Did you know that air force, floozy, lettergram, mozzarella, and taxi were all first documented a century ago? Read Wilton's post here.
Bob Dylan turns 70 today, and among the hosannas from his fellow musicians is this one from Emmylou Harris: "He changed the way we think about the English language." Surely Dylan has vastly expanded the lyrical possibilities for songwriters who have followed in his wake, but his use of language has also left some more subtle fingerprints on the lexicon. Continue reading...
Yesterday, President Obama gave his much-anticipated "Arab spring" speech, setting out his foreign policy objectives in the Middle East in the wake of the revolutionary wave that has shook countries from Tunisia to Bahrain. But how did we come to call this moment in history the "Arab spring," considering that the Tunisian protests that got the ball rolling started way back in December? Continue reading...
Hot dog. This all-American food term has long been shrouded in mystery, with many competing theories for its origin. But new research points to intriguing early evidence from an unexpected source, in the city of Paterson in New Jersey. Most intriguing of all, the original "hot dog man" may have been a Jamaican-born, German-speaking former circus strong man who plied his wares in Paterson in the late nineteenth century. Continue reading...
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