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With endless drama swirling around disgraced baseball players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, the word doping has been firmly ensconced in American sports headlines, just as it has been in international coverage of cycling and track and field. How doping came to refer to taking drugs to improve one's athletic performance, however, is a complicated story.  Continue reading...

The eagerly anticipated final season of "Breaking Bad" has led to a lot of viewers catching up on past episodes marathon-style. For my latest Wall Street Journal column, I use this moment of mass-media consumption to dive into the history of "binge-watching."  Continue reading...

For my most recent "Word on the Street" column in the Wall Street Journal, I consider the history of a word very much in the news: drone, referring to a pilotless aircraft guided by remote control. It turns out the term has been on a long, strange trip from early prototypes in the 1930s to the current controversial U.S. program of covert drone strikes.  Continue reading...

Edward Snowden's leaking of National Security Agency information has put the term whistleblower back in the news. Since the early 1970s, whistleblower has come to be seen as a positive term, but before that it had been decidedly negative for many decades.  Continue reading...

Some stories about word origins recall the old Italian saying, se è non vero, è ben trovato: even if it is not true, it is well invented. One such too-good-to-check story involves the sporting usage of upset, which, it is said, came to be because an unfavored horse named Upset beat the great thoroughbred Man o' War.  Continue reading...

Last December I commemorated the two hundredth anniversary of what was then the first-known appearance of "Uncle Sam" as a personification of the United States, which turned up in a Bennington, Vermont newspaper. Now, just in time for the Fourth of July, comes new evidence that "Uncle Sam" was in use as early as 1810, more than two years before the phrase's popularization in the War of 1812.  Continue reading...

American courtrooms can produce some fascinating linguistic specimens. Two high-profile court cases have put language on display. In Boston, the trial of mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger has provided testimony full of old-school crime lingo. Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia's dissenting opinion on the Defense of Marriage Act featured some "legalistic argle-bargle."  Continue reading...

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