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Gathering in Washington D.C. for its annual meeting, the American Dialect Society has made its 26th annual selection for Word of the Year. And as predicted in this space last month, the winner is a lowly pronoun: they used as a gender-neutral alternative to he and she, with special attention paid to its use as an expression of "non-binary" gender identity.  Continue reading...
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The breathless anticipation is now at an end and the festivities can commence: it is 2016, the International Year of Pulses. If your main dialect of English is a North American one, you may begin by wondering whose pulses are included, since you probably think of pulse as designating the rhythmic contraction and expansion of the arteries with each beat of the heart. But there is the other pulse, familiar to speakers of other English dialects, that is more or less synonymous with legume.  Continue reading...
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It's been a while since I've written a column for this space, and in large part the hiatus has been due to my (successful) campaign for a seat on my local school board. Or board of education. Which is it? Is there a difference?  Continue reading...
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In 1948, the American journalist and language chronicler H.L. Mencken wrote an essay for The New Yorker, "Video Verbiage," in which he analyzed the lingo of the fledgling medium of television. Several of the words he gathered are now obsolete: vaudeo ("televised vaudeville"), televiewers (now just "viewers"), blizzard head (an actress so blonde that the lighting has to be toned down). Others are with us still, including telegenic and telecast. Nearly 70 years after Mencken published his essay, television itself is undergoing a massive redefinition, and so is our TV lexicon.  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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Intensive purposes? Slight of hand? Linguist Adam Cooper contemplates phrases whose meanings are in transition as we replace unfamiliar words fossilized with language that sounds more reasonable to our modern ears.  Continue reading...
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During the short-lived media celebrity of the recent "blood moon," I spent some Internet time bringing myself up to speed on the phenomenon—as I suspect many others did. My interest as a lexicographer was to investigate why this celestial event is called a blood moon; thinking in the literal way that I do, and knowing the color of blood, I was perplexed at the disconnect. Blood, of course, is red—deep, vivid, saturated red—and the moon was not. It achieved a kind of Marsy orange, but it was not red.  Continue reading...
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1 2 3 4 5 Displaying 8-14 of 838 Articles