Today, September 18th, is Samuel Johnson's 300th birthday. The English essayist, poet, novelist, and witty conversationalist whom we know mostly through the anecdotes recorded by his friend and biographer, James Boswell, and his other friends, became famous in his day for his two-volume Dictionary of the English Language
, published in 1755. Dennis Baron, professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois, wishes Dr. Johnson a happy birthday — and a happy birthnight.
We've been talking to Bryan A. Garner about the new edition of Garner's Modern American Usage
. Garner's book is not simply a compendium of do's and don't's: he also offers thoughtful essays advising writers on a wide variety of topics related to usage and style. Here we present Garner's essay on "Plain Language," a useful tonic to muddled and belabored prose.
Bryan A. Garner wears many hats: he is a lawyer, a prolific lecturer, and an equally prolific author. Since 1995, he has been editor-in-chief of Black's Law Dictionary
. He is also the author of Garner's Modern American Usage
, a widely respected guide to contemporary usage that has just been published in its third edition. In this, the first of our two-part interview with Garner, we learn what it means to be an "informed prescriptivist," and why you should be wary of anyone who uses prior to
instead of before
Just in time for the beginning of the school year, linguist Neal Whitman investigates how "back to school" got transformed from a prepositional phrase to a noun phrase.
It's time for back to school! With Labor Day just around the corner, back to school is days away for many students across the nation, and for many others it has already come.
Earlier this week we spoke to Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier than a Monkey's Armpit
, a compendium of curses and insults from around the world. By way of introduction to this lively and engaging book, here is a (lightly expurgated!) letter to readers from Stephen, musing on the boundless creativity of the "gems of abuse" he has collected.
Want to insult someone in Japanese? Try misokakku
('scum of soya paste'). In Polish, try motyla noga
('butterfly's leg'), and in Turkish, muhallebi çocuğu
('child of pudding'). These and hundreds of other colorful put-downs from around the world can be found in the delightful new book, Uglier Than a Monkey's Armpit
by Stephen Dodson and Dr. Robert Vanderplank. We spoke about the book with Dodson, known to many language lovers by his nom de blog
Last week, in part one
of our interview with author Paul Dickson, we talked about the work that went into the new edition of his Dickson Baseball Dictionary
— a thousand-page monument to baseball's bottomless linguistic riches. Now in part two, Dickson discusses the diverse influences on the language of baseball, and how the sport has become a metaphorical source in politics and elsewhere.