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Back in the old days (pre-Internet), when life was simpler, dictionaries were thought to carry a certain authority. People consulted them in order to learn or verify the proper and accepted meaning of words, to resolve disagreements, and sometimes to find an authoritative hook on which they could hang arguments. Today, the Internet and other technological developments make those scenarios a little less dependable and straightforward.  Continue reading...
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Celebrating Labor (and Labour) Day

On the first Monday in September, the United States observes Labor Day, while Canadians celebrate Labour Day. If you want to know why labour is the accepted spelling in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries like Canada, while Americans prefer labor (and color, favor, honor, humor, and neighbor), check out this classic Word Routes column by Ben Zimmer.
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Earlier this month, the Times Higher Education reported on the practice of "Roget-ing," in which plagiarism is disguised by swapping synonyms found in Roget's Thesaurus for words used in the copied paper. Though untraceable, the resulting language ranges from not quite right to cataclysmically horrible.  Continue reading...
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A few weeks ago I started a regular feature on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley called LinguaFile, in which I present the hosts with a word and have them try to guess its origins. Last time it was discombobulate, and for this week's episode I went with another one of my favorite words, lagniappe, meaning "a bonus gift (as given to a customer from a merchant)."  Continue reading...
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Here is the latest in a series of tips on usage and style shared by Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl. With students returning to school, Mignon asks if they're best described as "anxious" or "eager."  Continue reading...
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In the world of branding, coined and contorted names often hog all the attention. Less commented-on are the successful contemporary brand names with long pedigrees: "real" dictionary words that have been used by English speakers for centuries.  Continue reading...
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: the single most enjoyable way to improve your writing is to read good books. Take a moment waiting for the bus one day and think, "What's a classic that I know by name but have never read?" If one strikes your fancy, get it, open it to page one, and start reading.  Continue reading...
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1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 8-14 of 160 Articles