January 18th is celebrated as Thesaurus Day to honor the birthday of the author of the first thesaurus, Peter Mark Roget. Get into the spirit by reading our two-part interview with Roget biographer Joshua Kendall here
. Also check out an ode to the thesaurus penned by Franklin P. Adams here
and Johnny Carson's hilarious "Funeral for a Thesaurus Editor" sketch here
In the wake of all the gleeful bashing of "phablet" (an ungainly blend of "phone" and "tablet"), we're opening up the floor. What words get your goat? "Moist"? "Slacks"? How about "nostril"?
"Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious," the sesquipedalian word made famous by Mary Poppins
, has a peculiar and contentious history. Ben Zimmer told the story of his hunt for the word's origins, ending up in Syracuse, in his Word Routes column
. Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Sean Kirst talked to Zimmer about the search in his latest column. Read it here
"Santa Claus is male, so why isn't he Saint instead of Santa? Does he have a gender issue?" On the Grammarphobia blog, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman answer that holiday question by looking at how "Santa Claus" entered American English from Dutch. Read their explanation here
Christmas songs: On city sidewalks and every street corner... from Black Friday through New Year's... they're broadcast inside and out, they stick in our heads, they are parodied and rewritten, and yet many of us, even as we sing along, don't give much thought to what the words mean.
Earlier this week, an article in the Guardian
reported that "an eminent former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary covertly deleted thousands of words because of their foreign origins and bizarrely blamed previous editors." But it turns out that this seemingly sensational story is "completely bogus," according to OED editor at large Jesse Sheidlower. Read Sheidlower's explanation on The New Yorker's Culture Desk blog here
. (Update, 12/3
: Our own Ben Zimmer has a column about the pseudo-controversy on the New York Times op/ed page