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Back in the old days (pre-Internet), when life was simpler, dictionaries were thought to carry a certain authority. People consulted them in order to learn or verify the proper and accepted meaning of words, to resolve disagreements, and sometimes to find an authoritative hook on which they could hang arguments. Today, the Internet and other technological developments make those scenarios a little less dependable and straightforward.
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Earlier this month, the Times Higher Education reported on the practice of "Roget-ing," in which plagiarism is disguised by swapping synonyms found in Roget's Thesaurus for words used in the copied paper. Though untraceable, the resulting language ranges from not quite right to cataclysmically horrible.
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A few weeks ago I started a regular feature on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley called LinguaFile, in which I present the hosts with a word and have them try to guess its origins. Last time it was discombobulate
, and for this week's episode I went with another one of my favorite words, lagniappe
, meaning "a bonus gift (as given to a customer from a merchant)."
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We have another Euphemism of the Year candidate—and perhaps an entirely new category. In reference to her impending divorce, singer Jewel called the event a tender undoing
, apparently seeking to create a more gibberish-soaked term than conscious uncoupling
, which Gwyneth Paltrow famously used to describe her own divorce.