Blog Excerpts

The Return of Lexicon Valley

Lexicon Valley, Slate's podcast for language lovers, has just returned after an extended hiatus. First up is an interview with Columbia University professor John McWhorter about his new book The Language Hoax. Listen to the podcast here, and also check out Mark Peters' review of McWhorter's book here. And stay tuned for news about our own Ben Zimmer joining forces with the Lexicon Valley podcasters!
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"Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." That's Aristotle, writing in the fourth century BCE. Most of the wiles and schemes by which modern-day crafters of clickbait entice you to take the fateful step of clicking on a link were anticipated by the Master.  Continue reading...
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On Twitter, the single word "blessed" has been pressed into service as a popular hashtag, often appended to self-serving portrayals of enviable lifestyles. The overuse of "#blessed" has led to a backlash against the hashtag, and now it frequently appears in tweets sarcastically. Has "#blessed" run its course? Our own Ben Zimmer joined in a discussion about the shelf-life of hashtags on Huffington Post Live.  Continue reading...
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Many popular Internet memes rely on a usually predictable manipulation of language as a part of their humor. Examining a number of popular memes suggests that they all in fact rely on theme and variation in order to proliferate, and the linguistic aspect of the meme is integral to its ability to spawn siblings and offspring.  Continue reading...
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Blog Excerpts

How ALL CAPS Became Code for YELLING

Ever wonder why we think that someone who types a message in all capitalized letters appears to be YELLING? In The New Republic, Alice Robb digs deep into the roots of how the ALL CAPS style has been interpreted in the Internet era (with some help from our own Ben Zimmer in the digital archaeology department), and explains why excessive capitalization is bad netiquette. Read her piece here.
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To many, the selfie — a picture of yourself, taken by yourself and shared on social media — is a sign of rampant narcissism. I tend to share that belief. Even before I heard the word, I thought there was something mentally amiss with my Facebook friends who posted over a hundred head shots of themselves. However, as a lexicographer, I have to admit the selfie trend is now broader than the self.  Continue reading...
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The Chicago Manual of Style Online has a monthly Q&A called Shop Talk, and this month Ben Zimmer, executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, is featured. In the interview, Ben talks about the way that technology is shaping language and how sites like the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com can engage with "digital natives."  Continue reading...
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