One of the ways in which massive corpora (databases of natural language examples) have revolutionized lexicography is by providing access to a level of statistical analysis of language that was never before possible. The data in a corpus can tell us, with the effort of a few keystrokes—and backed by the effort of hundreds of person-hours of software development—all we need to know about the most frequent uses and collocations of words. Continue reading...
Even if you don't have an online news alert set up for the word dictionary, you may have caught wind of the recent tempest involving the exemplification of the adjective rabid with the phrase "rabid feminist" in some Oxford dictionaries, especially a dictionary that is used on smartphones. Continue reading...
A time-honored ritual around the world at year's end is to nominate Words of the Year, originally inspired by TIME magazine's Person of the Year. But words can be much more different from each other than people are. People of the Year are normally distinguished by their great influence. Words of the Year bear myriad relationships to the things they represent and because of this, the ways in which they distinguish themselves are extremely divergent. Continue reading...
Topics: Language
The breathless anticipation is now at an end and the festivities can commence: it is 2016, the International Year of Pulses. If your main dialect of English is a North American one, you may begin by wondering whose pulses are included, since you probably think of pulse as designating the rhythmic contraction and expansion of the arteries with each beat of the heart. But there is the other pulse, familiar to speakers of other English dialects, that is more or less synonymous with legume. Continue reading...
Topics: Language Words
I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments. He's been in the news because of his decision to set the minimum salary for his employees at $70,000. What interested me in the interview was his use of pencil out, a phrasal verb that was new to me. Lexicographers are to words like birders are to birds: when we spot one that's not on our life list we get very excited, even as others' eyes may glaze over. Continue reading...

Written in Blood

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During the short-lived media celebrity of the recent "blood moon," I spent some Internet time bringing myself up to speed on the phenomenon—as I suspect many others did. My interest as a lexicographer was to investigate why this celestial event is called a blood moon; thinking in the literal way that I do, and knowing the color of blood, I was perplexed at the disconnect. Blood, of course, is red—deep, vivid, saturated red—and the moon was not. It achieved a kind of Marsy orange, but it was not red. Continue reading...
Topics: Language Words

Weed Words

- 7 comments
I live in the heart of a small lexical explosion—Boulder, Colorado, home to about 100,000 people (of whom 30,000 are university students), and about two dozen retail marijuana dispensaries. The lexical explosion is in the marketing vocabulary of a product that until recently, despite its being universally known and widely used, was contraband. Continue reading...
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