On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Americans kick off the holiday shopping season with a bang. In his Word Routes column last year, lexicographer Ben Zimmer explored the origins of the phrase "Black Friday." It is not, as many believe, the day when retailers' balance sheets change from red to black.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Visual Thesaurus assisted the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses with its annual Spelling Bee supporting the work of independent literary publishers. As in past years, the VT supplied the words to challenge some of New York's leading literary lights, and this year singer-turned-memoirist Rosanne Cash emerged victorious.
The knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets has won the National League's Cy Young Award, given to the league's best pitcher. We've been Dickey fans ever since we learned that he keeps a dictionary and a thesaurus in his locker. At the beginning of the 2011 baseball season, Ben Zimmer devoted a Word Routes column to Dickey, who had already emerged as a fan favorite, "not just for his way with a knuckleball, but for his way with words." Read it here
It's hard to believe but it's already the time when dictionary programs begin selecting their "Words of the Year." Oxford University Press has selected one Word of the Year for the UK and one for the US. The UK word is omnishambles
("a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged"), while the US word is the acronymic verb GIF
("to create a GIF file of an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event"). The UK announcement is here
, and the US announcement is here
As Veterans Day is observed in the United States, a question of military usage continues to pose a puzzle: if "50,000 troops" refers to 50,000 people, then does "one troop" refer to one person? Linguist Neal Whitman looked into the matter on Veterans Day in 2009. Check out his column here
As most histories of Halloween will tell you, Hallowe'en
) is a shortened version of All-Hallow(s)-Eve
, but how and why did eve
turn into e'en
? For that matter, what is a hallow? Why did the all
David Skinner's new book, The Story of Ain't
, is about the controversy that surrounded the 1961 publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, which was blasted for not coming down hard enough on nonstandard words like ain't
. Skinner looks at how far we've come in our view of slang and dictionaries in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, "Ain't This Good English?
" And read more about Webster's Third in Ben Zimmer's Word Routes
column last year celebrating the dictionary's 50th birthday.