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
At the second Republican presidential debate, held last night at the Reagan Presidential Library and aired on CNN, the candidates jockeyed for the attention of primary voters. There are many ways of judging their performances, but what better way than to analyze their choice of words? Continue reading...
On Minnesota Public Radio, our executive editor Ben Zimmer explored the problematic history of the word refugee, now frequently heard in media accounts of the European migration crisis. Continue reading...
Topics: Usage Words Politics
We have all seen this tired loop of "instruction": distribute word list, have students look up words, ask students to use the words in original sentences. While encouraging usage is never a bad idea, it's not realistic to expect students to pivot from definition to usage without guidance. We suggest ditching (or at least delaying) the idea of originality and instead asking students to model their sentences on usage examples written by those people who are especially skilled with using words: professional writers. 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...
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