Gathering in Washington D.C. for its annual meeting, the American Dialect Society has made its 26th annual selection for Word of the Year. And as predicted in this space last month, the winner is a lowly pronoun: they used as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she, with special attention paid to its use as an expression of "non-binary" gender identity. Continue reading...
The fourth Republican debate was, in terms of content, an exploration of the future of the United States economy. Linguistically, however, it was a bit of a throwback. Several of the candidates used words and phrases that can strike the modern ear as a bit antiquated. Continue reading...
Intensive purposes? Slight of hand? Linguist Adam Cooper contemplates phrases whose meanings are in transition as we replace unfamiliar words fossilized with language that sounds more reasonable to our modern ears. Continue reading...
Do you like sowing your wild oaks? Do you sometimes feel like a social leopard? Could you use a new leaf on life? Or do you just enjoy the infinite creativity of the English language, even when people make mistakes? If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to check out Robert Alden Rubin's terrific new book Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Books Language
Alphabet, Google's new parent company, has generated lots of business buzz this week. But the choice of "Alphabet" for the company's name is equally newsworthy. Not only does it signal a departure from Google's blandly descriptive naming style — Google Plus, Google Maps, Google Mail, and so on — but it also takes an imaginative flight away from geek-speak and toward a universe of names inspired by language and literature. Continue reading...
When English-language Scrabble champ Nigel Richards, who does not speak French, won a French-language Scrabble championship, analysts rushed to analyze how much memorization that actually entailed. Ben Zimmer explains that to get a full understanding of Richards' achievement, a simple counting of words in the dictionary only gives a partial picture. Continue reading...
Topics: Fun Language
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...
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