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Double negatives are supposed to be a bad thing. Using two negatives in one clause is not only ungrammatical, it's illogical: it creates an unintended positive meaning. According to this thinking, if you say "Studying grammar rules won't do you no good," you're really saying, "Studying grammar rules will do you good."
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I've spent 81.7% of my life watching Seinfeld,
but I just realized I never mentioned a Seinfeldian euphemism in one of my columns. Bagel technician,
meaning someone who makes bagels, is the preposterous title on Kramer's business card during "The Strike" episode, which is better known for launching the holiday Festivus.
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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.
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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.
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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)."