For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word. Continue reading...
Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you've noticed the return of –mentum: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Words Politics
With the boxing movie "Southpaw" opening, it's a good time to ponder where the term "southpaw" came from as an epithet for a left-hander. Baseball and boxing have both used the term for a long time to label lefty athletes, but which came first? Continue reading...
Pluto is coming into startingly sharp focus, thanks to the first images and data received from the space probe New Horizons last week. As we learn more about this distant cousin of Earth, we're also expanding our linguistic horizons. Here's a closer look at some of the words and names in the Plutonian news. Continue reading...
To Whom It May Concern: who is a subject and whom is an object. Who acts and whom receives. Say what? Who is like "he" or "she" and whom is like "him" or "her." Who is collecting money for homeless kittens? He is! Then to whom does the money go? Send the money to him. Continue reading...
How do you comfort grammar snobs? Pat them on the back and say, their, there. You see, they're easily comforted, but you have to get it in writing because those words sound alike. Their shows possession (their car is on fire), there is a direction (there is the burning car), and they're is short for "they are" (they're driving into the lake). Continue reading...
The verbs lay and lie are total jerks. People often say lay when they mean lie, but it's wrong to lay around. You have to lay something, anything — lay an egg if you want. But you can lie around until the cows come home! Continue reading...
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