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An intriguing new theory holds that Egyptian animal mummies were intended as messages to the gods. The theory is yet more fodder for an age-old problem: how do we reconcile our dependence as humans upon language to communicate to divine beings who in nearly all cases are thought to have pre-existed the emergence of languages that we use and who could never have learned them in the natural way that we do?  Continue reading...

If you read the Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day you know that it often explores word origins. Even without keeping count, you are probably vaguely aware that the language mentioned more often than any other besides English is Latin. Statistics about the English lexicon reflect this.  Continue reading...

Years ago, when the furniture in the Language Lounge was still spick-and-span, I wrote a column about reduplication. Not a day has passed since then that I did not use, hear, and delight in one or more reduplicative words; they constitute a reliable source of infotainment in English, and no speaker's lexicon can or should be without a ready supply.  Continue reading...

Google's Ngram Viewer, especially with its addition of wildcard searching, provides an inexhaustible trove of material for understanding the ways that speakers and writers impart influential nuances to the connotations of words over time. The legacy of any particular word is subject to the whims of the people who use it.  Continue reading...

The Clean and the Unclean

In the recent Congressional showdown that resulted in the government shutdown, Senator Charles Schumer warned about what would happen if the House of Representatives sent the Senate a bill that was "unclean." What associations reverberate from his use of unclean to characterize the budget legislation?  Continue reading...

How speakers introduce additions to the language that then gain circulation is difficult to document: even today in the Internet age, tracing the origins of linguistic innovation is a sleuth's game and it's a subject that intrigues linguists. Now researchers are trying to bring more light to the process by which people create, learn and use new words.  Continue reading...

Premium is a versatile word that occupies a unique semantic space in English, with nodes corresponding to ideas of scarcity, superior quality, preference, payment, and reward. The ways in which the usage of premium has changed in the last century or so have given premium a kind of circuit-training workout, allowing it to exercise its meanings vigorously at each of these nodes at different times.  Continue reading...

1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 8-14 of 120 Articles