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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What sounds do you make when words fail? A garbled stutter? A whistle? Or is there just the resounding bump of your jaw hitting the floor? Turns out, there are words to capture the wordless shock we experience when we're confronted by mess, noise, violence, or otherwise sticky situations. They're linked by sound: repeated syllables and long vowels that are onomatopoeically evocative of the sounds that come out of our mouths when our brains are overwhelmed.  Continue reading...
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Sunday is the longest day of the year and the official start to summer. To get ready, we're taking a look at the words and terms enshrined in our language that capture our collective experience of the summer season — trotted out once again like the shorts and sandals we've been waiting all winter to wear again.  Continue reading...
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On the latest episode of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at a classic Yiddishism: kibitz, which can mean "make unwanted comments (as a spectator at a card game)," or something more general like "chitchat." While it's a word with a rich history, its origins are ultimately mysterious.  Continue reading...
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"I'm trying to stave off a cold," a friend said. Another responded, "Wine will work for that." Neither probably realized that, indeed, to "stave off" has its origins in wine, or something like wine.  Continue reading...
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For the latest installment of the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, I take a look at the peculiar history of the word pumpernickel — a kind of German bread with an origin that turns out to be downright devilish.  Continue reading...
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People awakening from a "nightmare" often have the sensation that they can't breathe. Not surprising: That's where the word "nightmare" comes from.  Continue reading...
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