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Zero derivation—that is, the ability of a word to perform different grammatical functions without a change in form—is a celebrated feature of English. A sideshow of zero derivation is the fact that English has no barrier to using a principal verb form—the past participle—as an adjective. What's not to love, you may think, about the simplicity of using a single form to do so many jobs? I have no argument with this fantastic and flexible feature of English, only with the license it gives speakers and writers to use it in a weaselly way.  Continue reading...
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The periodic table of elements is an iconic image familiar to anyone with even the rudiments of education and it is perhaps one of the most successful visual representations of information ever conceived: it brings a high level of order to a field of knowledge that is too complex to organize in memory and it rewards study at every level.  Continue reading...
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We're coming up on the 240th anniversary of the signing of the chief founding document of the United States, the one we call the Declaration of Independence—now its official title, even though that wording doesn't appear on the document itself. When written, the document called itself "the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America," admittedly less catchy than the name that now prevails.  Continue reading...
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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona. The decision, handed down on June 13, 1966, ushered vocabulary into American English that is in nearly everyone's lexicon today, including Miranda Rights, Miranda Warnings, and even the verb mirandize, which means "recite the Miranda warnings (to a person under arrest)". Nearly 10 years after Miranda, philosopher of language Paul Grice began to develop his theory of conversational implicature and the Gricean Maxims that are part and parcel of it.  Continue reading...
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Speakers are prone to misinterpret an expression for various reasons and then incorporate the incorrect usage into their lexicons. When such misusages become widespread, the question that arises is whether the new and nominally incorrect version of an expression should be regarded as acceptable.  Continue reading...
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One of the ways in which massive corpora (databases of natural language examples) have revolutionized lexicography is by providing access to a level of statistical analysis of language that was never before possible. The data in a corpus can tell us, with the effort of a few keystrokes—and backed by the effort of hundreds of person-hours of software development—all we need to know about the most frequent uses and collocations of words.  Continue reading...
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Even if you don't have an online news alert set up for the word dictionary, you may have caught wind of the recent tempest involving the exemplification of the adjective rabid with the phrase "rabid feminist" in some Oxford dictionaries, especially a dictionary that is used on smartphones.  Continue reading...
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1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 1-7 of 142 Articles