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The word marriage has been the subject of a huge amount of political and legal wrangling, and dictionaries have lately been caught in the crossfire. With major English dictionaries expanding their definitions of marriage to encompass same-sex unions, lexicographers have taken hits from liberals and conservatives alike. Those opposed to same-sex marriage would prefer that dictionaries maintain the traditional definition, while those on the other side of the debate argue that same-sex marriage shouldn't be treated as secondary. Lexicographers find themselves in a no-win situation.  Continue reading...
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In the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee, the words were as diabolical as ever, but Snigdha Nandipati of San Diego, California took it all in stride. When it came time to spell the final word, guetapens, a French-derived word for "an ambush, snare, or trap," she wasn't snared by its strangeness and calmly spelled it correctly.  Continue reading...
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The 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee kicked off yesterday, with 278 spellers getting whittled down to 50 semifinalists who will compete in the nationally televised action on Thursday. A precocious six-year-old didn't make the cut, but an old friend of ours, Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio, will be back in the thick of it for his fifth consecutive year.  Continue reading...
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When news emerged that Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin was renouncing his American citizenship to avoid taxes related to Facebook's IPO, two senators reacted by proposing legislation that would go after the likes of Saverin. Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey said it was time to "defriend" Saverin, and they announced a bill called the Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy Act, or the Ex-PATRIOT Act for short.  Continue reading...
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This week has seen many encomiums to the great children's book author Maurice Sendak, who died on Tuesday at the age of 83. As it happens, tomorrow marks the two hundredth birthday of one of Sendak's predecessors in playful children's literature: Edward Lear. That got me thinking about the grand tradition of wordplay in books for children, from Lear and Carroll to Seuss and Sendak.  Continue reading...
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This weekend I had the opportunity to ruminate about the self-consciously self-referential word meta for NPR's "All Things Considered" and for my language column in the Sunday Boston Globe. That's an awful lot of meta-commentary, but I've still got some more thoughts on meta, or make that meta-thoughts on meta.  Continue reading...
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Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. So many of us learned that outrageous mouthful of a word at an early age, when it was truly a verbal milestone to be able to pronounce it without getting tongue-tied. And just saying the word is an invitation to start singing the song from the classic 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins. But how did the word come to be? When I heard the news that one of the Mary Poppins songwriters passed away last month, I set about to answer that question, taking me down many unexpected alleyways of 20th-century popular culture.  Continue reading...
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9 10 11 12 13 Displaying 71-77 of 320 Articles