It's back to school, and that means it's time for dictionaries to trot out their annual lists of new words. Dictionary-maker Merriam-Webster recently released a list of 150 words just added to its new Collegiate Dictionary for 2011, including cougar
, a middle-aged woman seeking a romantic relationship with a younger man, boomerang child
, a young adult who returns to live at home for financial reasons, and social media
-- if you don't know what that means, then you're still living in the last century.
Two weeks ago, the British writer Matthew Engel set off a trans-Atlantic ruckus by writing an opinion piece for the BBC online magazine entitled, "Why Do Some Americanisms Irritate People?" Engel's piece, along with a followup of reader peeves, attracted the attention of American language watchers. Lexicographer Grant Barrett had some pointed criticisms for Engel, which the BBC ran in diluted fashion. Here we present Barrett's unexpurgated response to Engel.
When people talk about whether a word is "in the dictionary," have you stopped to think about what "the dictionary" actually means? In the following excerpt from her new book How to Read a Word
, Elizabeth Knowles takes readers on a brief tour of the dictionary and its historical authority, informed by the likes of Voltaire and Samuel Johnson.
Long before last week's verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, viewers of Nancy Grace's Headline News program had gotten used to her referring to Anthony, accused of murdering her daughter Cayley, as the tot mom
. People hearing tot mom
for the first time sometimes ask if it's connected to another parenting-related compound word that has gained prominence in recent years: baby mama.
The Supreme Court is using dictionaries to interpret the Constitution. Both conservative justices, who believe the Constitution means today exactly what the Framers meant in the 18th century, and liberal ones, who see the Constitution as a living, breathing document changing with the times, are turning to dictionaries more than ever to interpret our laws.
What would graduation season be without complaints about the misuse of the verb graduate
? Usage guides these days warn against using graduate
as a transitive verb, as in "She graduated college," or "He never graduated high school." The standard phrasing uses the preposition from
: "She graduated from
college"; "He never graduated from
The killing of Osama bin Laden by a team of Navy SEALs has brought new attention to the military term kinetic
, referring to violent (or lethal) actions in the field of battle. Our resident linguist Neal Whitman takes a look to this addition to the lexicon of war.