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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...

In my latest column for the Boston Globe, I look at the recent craze for "cronuts," which are a croissant-doughnut hybrid created by an upscale French bakery in Manhattan. It was such a hit that imitators have created their own hybrids using names like dossant or doissant. Regardless of these concoctions' culinary qualities, is cronut a more appealing name than other combinations of croissant and do(ugh)nut?  Continue reading...

When Fox News host Megyn Kelly gamely took on Erick Erickson, a contributor to the network, for his provocative statements about gender roles last week, she was puzzled by one word in particular that Erickson had used to describe his ideological opponents. "I don't know what the word is... some sort of liberals, eco-liberals, what did you call them?" "Emo liberals," Erickson clarified.  Continue reading...

Much of the buzz leading up to the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee had to do with the first-ever inclusion of vocabulary questions in the off-stage portions of the competition. But in the end, it came down to a traditional spelling face-off over tricky words originating from other languages. Arvind Mahankali of Bayside Hills, New York had been stumped by German-derived words in the last two Bees, but this time a German word was his salvation.  Continue reading...

Two hundred eighty-one young contestants took on the new-and-improved preliminaries of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which for the first time included questions about words' definitions along with their spellings. After the dust had cleared, 42 of them managed to make it to Thursday's semifinals.  Continue reading...

3 4 5 6 7 Displaying 29-35 of 333 Articles