Ta-da! You're about to read my eightieth column for Visual Thesaurus—Happy Column! Penning (on computer of course) twelve hundred words on aspects of writing every few weeks has been a pleasurable discipline that's taught me, I hope, to say a lot in a little.  Continue reading...
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When I recently heard a news reporter say that "China doesn't want a failed nuclear state on their doorstep," I was taken by surprise. Did China seriously want North Korea to succeed in their nuclear ambitions?  Continue reading...
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Zero derivation—that is, the ability of a word to perform different grammatical functions without a change in form—is a celebrated feature of English. A sideshow of zero derivation is the fact that English has no barrier to using a principal verb form—the past participle—as an adjective. What's not to love, you may think, about the simplicity of using a single form to do so many jobs? I have no argument with this fantastic and flexible feature of English, only with the license it gives speakers and writers to use it in a weaselly way.  Continue reading...
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I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based credit card processing firm Gravity Payments. He's been in the news because of his decision to set the minimum salary for his employees at $70,000. What interested me in the interview was his use of pencil out, a phrasal verb that was new to me. Lexicographers are to words like birders are to birds: when we spot one that's not on our life list we get very excited, even as others' eyes may glaze over.  Continue reading...
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"Verbing weirds language." Ad copywriters have made the weirding of language – and especially the verbing of nouns – a signal feature of the current brandscape. They're only the most visible of the language-weirders who are making the culture more expressive... or more vexing, depending on your point of view.  Continue reading...
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Many verbs that entail some advanced cognitive capacity are commonly used in predicates for subjects that are not human. All speakers are comfortable with sentences like "Verizon revamps mobile plans and ends 2-year contracts & subsidies." Most speakers, however, reject sentences like "Microsoft is vividly imagining a purple square."  Continue reading...
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Many writers today strive to avoid the passive voice. Do you know what I mean by passive? Don't be too quick to say yes!  Continue reading...
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