As is the annual tradition, it is time once again to look back at the new and notable words of the past year. In 2015, could the most significant word have been a lowly pronoun?  Continue reading...
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For the latest installment of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley, I look at how the seemingly random number eighty-six became a verb meaning to get rid of something, thanks to a long-forgotten code of hash houses and soda-fountain lunch counters.  Continue reading...
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The latest episode of Slate's podcast Lexicon Valley is a hoot and a half, as I take a look at the origins of hootenanny, a word that emerged from rural America with many meanings before finding fame as a name for folk-music gatherings.  Continue reading...
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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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