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During the five or so years that I have been writing the Word of the Day feature for the Visual Thesaurus, I have noticed a pattern: certain words in English that sound and feel just right — words that are easy to remember and fun to use because their sound seems to evoke the thing they stand for so well — are often of unknown, obscure, or disputed origins. Is this just a coincidence? Read on and decide for yourself.  Continue reading...

A news story that flitted across the headlines earlier this year reported on a study called "The Geography of Happiness," in which researchers in Vermont subjected 10 million geotagged tweets to sentiment analysis. Their object was to arrive at a metric for the relative happiness of people in a place. "The Geography of Happiness" breaks new ground in the analysis of digital-age linguistic data, while also raising interesting questions about the limits of obtaining reliable results from algorithm-driven research on big bags of words.  Continue reading...

On the shortlist of the American Dialect Society's word of the year for 2012 was Gangnam-style. It lost out to hashtag, but like the winner, it's a compound word (in fact all of the nominees were) and it points up an interesting feature of English: the way that people coin adjectives with the productive suffix -style, and the way in which speakers are assumed to interpret them correctly on the basis of real-world knowledge; such compounds are rarely defined in dictionaries.  Continue reading...

Figures of speech in which a part stands for the whole contribute to making linguistic expression so rich, flexible, complex, and interesting. For human speakers, it's a lifelong learning opportunity and a palette from which to paint word pictures and create new expressions. For computers trying to understand language, it can be an intractable problem.  Continue reading...

The phrase going forward is impossible to avoid: it is beloved by politicians, journalists, and marketers. Going forward does, however, provide an opportunity to look at the many ways that English offers to unite "now" with what may lie ahead, and the ways in which fashions in usage, among other factors, influence how speakers and writers signal their expectations or wishes.  Continue reading...

Few of us get through a week without asking some version of the question, "What's happening?" There's always a lot going on and there are always a lot of people who want to know about it. Authorities want to know about it too, if what's going on threatens the safety or security of a population that is under their protection. A 21st-century way that authorities try to find out what's going on is called event detection.  Continue reading...

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is now specifically interpreted to mean that individuals have a right to possess a firearm for traditionally legal purposes. The Supreme Court case on which this interpretation of the amendment rests came down to arguments over language and definitions.  Continue reading...

1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 15-21 of 120 Articles