Laughter is always good medicine, and today the Internet has put at our disposal the ability to draw it out through the combination in unexpected ways of two things that pervade modern culture: pictorial representation and vernacular language.  Continue reading...
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Jan Schreiber, a noted poet, critic, and translator, notes that traversing the border between American and British dialects of English can reveal unexpected complexities. "The challenge, if we choose to pose and accept it, is to translate one into the other," he writes.  Continue reading...
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For Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at the origins of an expression that turns nervousness and apprehension into a jokey malady: the heebie-jeebies. It turns out we can pin down not just the coiner but the very day that he coined the word.  Continue reading...
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Pluto is coming into startingly sharp focus, thanks to the first images and data received from the space probe New Horizons last week. As we learn more about this distant cousin of Earth, we're also expanding our linguistic horizons. Here's a closer look at some of the words and names in the Plutonian news.  Continue reading...
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This week's publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-dormant sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, has gotten a tune running through my head: "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." Two titles, same number of syllables, and the same syntactic structure, right down to the use of go plus another verb right next to it. But how do both those verbs fit into the place where just one verb should go?  Continue reading...
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The news coming out of Greece these days can be downright perplexing, leading many in the news media to recycle the old phrase, "It's all Greek to me." I talked to NPR's Weekend All Things Considered about the origin of the expression.  Continue reading...
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I've just finished reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility—not for the first time, probably for the fourth or fifth time. I started reading her when I was a teenager and I try to re-read one of her novels every year. They never disappoint, and at each stage of my life, I find new facets to explore in her analysis of human nature and relations, and in her unparalleled mastery of the expressiveness of English.  Continue reading...
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