Whether you like or loathe it, I bet you've noticed the return of –mentum: a suffix that fills the Internet during election season much as a sulfurous smell fills hell. This suffix is also a terrific reminder of a sad truth: the media will never, ever treat a presidential election as anything more than a sporting event with fewer concussions.  Continue reading...
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A popular song from early in the 20th century, covered many times since then, was Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine. The song came to my mind last month, when I returned to the East Coast to attend an annual party that I had missed two years running. All the old familiar faces were there, but with a twist: three of the party's couples, previously "partnered," are now married.  Continue reading...
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Presidents, more than any other individuals, symbolize the values and ethos of the United States. Their words, whether proclamation or prattle, have been better preserved than the words of many who surrounded them, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the ways in which presidents through the centuries have expressed their ideas about religion in speech and writing.  Continue reading...
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Are you baffled by the perplexing terminology favored by American politicians and pundits? A new book by Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark is here to help. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an informative and humorous guide to deciphering contemporary political lingo. Here we present an excerpt from the book's introduction.  Continue reading...
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Just in time for the 4th of July, our own Ben Zimmer investigates how the term "Yank" started off as a term of disparagement but was reclaimed as an expression of patriotic pride in settings from world wars to the World Cup.  Continue reading...
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Tradecraft, which has been spy jargon since at least the 1960s, has been making its way into more mainstream consciousness recently, as we hear about operations like the search for Osama bin Laden, or about Edward Snowden's training as a spy. It's a good example of how words with seemingly transparent meanings can settle into semantic idiosyncrasy through historical circumstance.  Continue reading...
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If you have any interest in apologies, language as performance, or politics, you'll enjoy Edwin L. Battistella's Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apologies. This is a terrific book, full of compelling examples and expert analysis. Reading this book will not only help you become better at making a mea culpa: you'll become a sharper observer of other people's apologies too.  Continue reading...
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