One of the delightful features of English is what we might call a mashup. That's a good term for this type of word because it exemplifies the phenomenon: a word formed by the fusing of a verb and a particle, nearly always a particle that can operate independently as a preposition or an adverb, sometimes as both.  Continue reading...

Back in the old days (pre-Internet), when life was simpler, dictionaries were thought to carry a certain authority. People consulted them in order to learn or verify the proper and accepted meaning of words, to resolve disagreements, and sometimes to find an authoritative hook on which they could hang arguments. Today, the Internet and other technological developments make those scenarios a little less dependable and straightforward.  Continue reading...

A peculiar feature of some adjectives ending in -y is their ability to take on a semantic life of their own, separate from the meaning of their root. A handful of food-based adjectives fit this pattern, in which an English learner would be at a great disadvantage in thinking that the adjective's meaning might be composable from its parts. Think of corny, meaty, fishy, and cheesy.  Continue reading...

"Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." That's Aristotle, writing in the fourth century BCE. Most of the wiles and schemes by which modern-day crafters of clickbait entice you to take the fateful step of clicking on a link were anticipated by the Master.  Continue reading...

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has recently written a book, Six Amendments, in which he proposes changes to the United States Constitution. I was curious to examine the language of Justice Stevens' book to get a better handle on what he perceives as the faulty connection between the Constitution's words and today's reality that may have arisen from the way we have interpreted those words.  Continue reading...

Many popular Internet memes rely on a usually predictable manipulation of language as a part of their humor. Examining a number of popular memes suggests that they all in fact rely on theme and variation in order to proliferate, and the linguistic aspect of the meme is integral to its ability to spawn siblings and offspring.  Continue reading...

Now that we're in the brave new world of the 21st century, there may be a challenger to the monopoly that human languages enjoy in complex and fully functional grammars, and the challenge may come from robots. There is no need for alarm, but if the hunch of robotic researchers is confirmed, it's possible that in due course, a natural grammar will emerge from the robots' linguistic interactions.  Continue reading...

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